Aric Bales’ journey included addiction and unasnwered questions. Having peer support helped him find answers.
Aric Bales has never wished he had been born a male. He has never felt he was in the wrong body. He is disappointed that life and society presented so many hurdles before he reached a happy place, as a non-binary trans-masculine person. It’s an identity he realized with help from St. Joe’s Youth Wellness Centre (YWC).
“I don’t really identify as a gender. I technically live life as a male,” says the developmental support worker. “I transitioned my documents to male, but only because those are the only two options available. If I have to pick, I pick that one.”
As a child, Aric’s persona began to emerge. A tomboy appearance, short hair and never wearing dresses caused friction at home. “I knew I was gender non-conforming. I was raised in a very Catholic, conservative family.”
Life as a non-conformist was isolating. Aric was bullied by classmates and suffered abuse at home. Aric became depressed, started using drugs and eventually dropped out of high school, left home and turned to a life on the street. Over the next few years, Aric recognized his lifestyle for what it was, at-risk behaviour to the extreme. He turned to many different programs for help in battling his addiction and mental health issues, but found little success.
Aric managed to earn his GED at 18, but continued to struggle with housing, mental health and addiction. After two unsuccessful attempts at post-secondary education in Niagara, Aric experienced a more favourable outcome at Mohawk College. He applied for the Community and Justice Services program, and graduated with honours. He then applied to the Concurrent Disorders program, and again graduated with honours.
Two other things happened at Mohawk that would change the trajectory of Aric’s life. First, one if his professors recommended the Youth Wellness Centre to help Aric master his mental health and addiction concerns. He immediately went home and used the online referral form to begin his journey with St. Joe’s. Among the many things he found at the YWC were confidence, and a sense of belonging. “I was feeling very alone, at times I didn’t want to be alive anymore. The YWC provided me with support, and that feeling that I can go somewhere safe and people want to talk with me to genuinely help.”
Mohawk College was also where Aric made a friendship that would impact him forever. He met a trans person. “I didn’t know what being trans was.” He asked every imaginable question including ones today he would consider inappropriate. Then he went home and researched online. He watched YouTube videos and testimonials of people sharing their trans experience. Reduced to tears, Aric discovered what he had been struggling with his entire life. He found his identity.
The YWC helped him move forward, assisting with the legal aspect of changing your gender and name, enrolling him in the centre’s group sessions for trans-masculine people, and most importantly supported him when he faced transphobia in other health care settings. Offering resources around gender, as well as providing peer support make the YWC so unique, according to Aric.
Now 27, Aric has stable housing, he is over two years sober and works full time with young men in developmental services and he is keeping up with his mental health care. Aric is transitioning to the adult mental health programs at St. Joe’s and the Canadian Mental Health Association, but he continues to be active with the YWC and is a member of its youth council.
Two years of hormone therapy has made Aric’s transition easier for the people around him to understand his identity. Although gender has never been relevant to Aric, co-workers and the general public are more accepting of his masculine appearance.
“To society I am a male, to myself I’m a human being.”