The Silicone Diaries reveals Nina Arsenault's quest for plastic beauty

In <em>The Silicone Diaries</em>, Nina Arsenault reveals her sex work, her endless surgeries, and her redefinition of what a woman can be

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      Nina Arsenault knows that she contains multitudes. She’s convinced that you do too.

      In her solo show, The Silicone Diaries, the transsexual Arsenault shares the story of her epic, often dangerous pursuit of beauty. She talks about how, when she was a five-year-old boy named Rodney, growing up in a trailer park in Beamsville, Ontario, she went to Zellers with her mom and encountered the most beautiful woman she had ever seen: a mannequin. As an adult, Arsenault transformed herself into a woman whose appearance is every bit as stylized as a mannequin’s—although, unlike a mannequin, Arsenault is voluptuous, a 36D-26-40 bombshell. In The Silicone Diaries, Arsenault’s goal is not to pass as a cisgender—female-born—woman, but to sculpt herself, with her Mexican surgeon’s help, into a state of idealized femininity, to carve her will into her flesh.

      Speaking on the phone from the Toronto office space of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, the company that’s producing her show, Arsenault says that she felt it was important to avoid the traditional strategy of trans material, which is to concentrate on the trans person’s tortured, pre-operative existence. “So many people have told that story already,” she says. “Seriously, I remember being a kid in the ’80s and seeing a transsexual tell that story on Donahue, in between Oprah and All My fuckin’ Children. For years now, I’ve been hungry for a trans woman to talk about something else.

      “I’ve made big choices,” she goes on. “I’ve done things that other people would consider unreasonable, and for me, that is more interesting than some teary-eyed story about how you got bullied in high school. I think it’s important that those stories get told, but that’s not what my play is about.”

      Choices that other people might consider unreasonable include doing sex work to pay for almost $200,000 worth of surgeries and other procedures, many of which—including black-market silicone injections to shape female buttocks and hips—are extremely dangerous.

      In facing that danger, she drew upon her parents’ support. “They loved me no matter what,” Arsenault says simply. “They accepted my overt sexuality. They accepted my being a whore. They accept that I have taken risks. And they accept that I like to live life with the volume turned way up.”

      And, she adds, determination might just be part of who she is. “I tell ya, I’m a hungry person,” she explains. “I want more. I want more life. I want more sex. I want more success. I want more opportunities to make art. You know how they say that a shark always has to keep moving? I think that would be a very appropriate animal totem for me.”

      Arsenault sees her ravenous exploration of beauty as a kind of spiritual path. According to her, beauty, Eros, and spirituality are all closely linked, if not identical. “I have an erotic response to painting,” she explains. “I have an erotic response to conceptual art. And I have a very erotic relationship to my own art.”

      And make no mistake: Arsenault’s reshaping of herself has been a deliberate artistic process. In The Silicone Diaries, she tells her surgeon’s assistant that, when she comes out of the anesthetic, she doesn’t want to find that she has a nose like an average woman’s; she wants a nose like Barbie’s. At another point in the script she says: “If you cannot look like a normal woman, sacrifice being normal. I will be plastic. I will think of geisha.”

      But why can’t she look like a “normal” woman? “I’d done as much with the surgical procedures as I possibly could, but I still wasn’t passing,” she explains. “I had the choice to eradicate the masculinity more from my body and my face but, in doing that, I would make myself look plastic. You can’t build a natural beauty. You can do that a little bit, but once you start pushing things further and further, you’re going to be plastic.”

      She says that she understands that, for some people, plastic beauty isn’t beauty at all, but she adds: “I just decided to take that prejudice out of my mind completely. As a kid, I used to look at statues of ancient goddesses and stuff. And they were always slightly abstracted. More like a geisha girl, a kind of a symbol of a woman. I’ve always seen beauty in that. So I was like, ‘You know what? Go there. There’s blood there, vitality. There’s a chance to be sexually everything you want to be. There’s the chance for pleasure.’ And I risked my life for that.”

      Considering her dedication to the feminine, Arsenault’s choice to keep her penis, although she has had her testicles removed, might seem striking to some—but not to her. “I certainly never walk around thinking, ‘I’ve got a dick,’ like that means anything,” she says. Pressed, she responds: “Listen, when I first started to transition, I thought, ‘I want to be a woman. I’m going to have a sex-change operation. I’m going to have a vagina.’ And then, as I did the surgical procedures, I began to reevaluate what a woman can be. I have trans women girlfriends who’ve never had surgery in their lives and who are completely gorgeous, and some who have never had surgery and who are still quite masculine-looking and who are totally happy like that. I see all of them as women. Once you start loosening those rules, you start reevaluating everything.”

      When that reevaluation involves reshaping your body, the road can get challenging. Near the end of The Silicone Diaries, Arsenault says: “I don’t think my body knew I wanted to have all of these procedures. I think my body thought I was getting into car accidents over and over.”

      Asked how she’s feeling in her flesh these days, she replies: “Great. Doing this play has helped a lot. Training as an actor is all about getting back into the body and experiencing sensation, having breath move into the deepest parts of you. I think that I was performing an image of myself for a while. As a trans woman, you can think that a woman is sort of outside of you. But, strangely enough, it was the theatre and acting training that has been redemptive for me, that has put me back in my body, gotten me back in touch with the animal side of myself. That’s why I use animal totems like the shark. I’ve got a lioness in there, too. And a little child. There are lots of different kinds of bodies inside our bodies. And I think everyone has that. The animal stuff puts feelings on the inside of my body; it puts me in touch with psychological states. And, strangely enough, that is what makes me feel like a real woman.”

      Arsenault is clear on what she hopes audience members will take from The Silicone Diaries: the understanding that their lives are mythic. “Yes, I am different,” she acknowledges, “but everybody’s lives are mythic, everybody’s lives are big. It’s a lie of TV, capitalism, propaganda, that our lives are casual, that if we could see inside the homes of families, their lives would be like a sitcom. It’s a lie.”

      The Silicone Diaries runs at the Cultch from Tuesday (February 14) to February 25.



      joe fuck

      Sep 2, 2013 at 4:16am

      men and women around the world dream about sleeping with nina-if there was a line, it would be at least a milllion people. men want that gorgeous penis in their mouth and women fantaasize about being pumped by nina. she makes madonnna lok like dog do-