Nina Arsenault warns me that she’s not about to tell the “typical” transsexual story to Nakai Theatre’s Pivot Festival audiences.
You know the story, she says, “Her name is Barbara, she used to be Markus, she never felt right in her own body, she met a doctor and now she’s getting boobs. It’s the same thing over and over.”
The problem is not in the “trannie” telling the story, she tells me, it’s the reporters, the media, the way they want to streamline every transsexual story the same. It’s the facts they want to give an audience. So, she’s glad when I tell her that she and I are just having a conversation and that it can go where she likes.
Arsenault likes writing her own message in this one-woman show: “I’m interested in art or discourse. I want to go beyond the thing itself. It’s time for the discourse to progress.”
Her show, The Silicon Diaries, tries to show the complexity of her process to become a beautiful woman. It tells the story in diary entries and multimedia of Arsenault’s 60 surgeries over an eight-year period. It is her exploration, the “dark and the light” moments during that time.
“My show is queer in that it doesn’t behave exactly how it’s supposed to,” she says. “It isn’t just campy. It’s a very personal exploration of what I’ve been through.”
It took her awhile to tell her story the way she wanted to. The Silicon Diaries just ended a strong run at Buddies in Bad Times and now, with Pivot, she has a chance to show it here.
She knows it’s not just a queer story, though. It appeals to a wide audience. Everyone is interested in beauty, self-improvement, courage, identity and the power to change — this is part of the story she tells.
“Some people are very moved in their empathy. Obviously I’ve touched something in them. And then, some don’t like it all. For different reasons. They’re offended by so much effort to become beautiful. It’s politically incorrect, a sign of privilege and pleasure in our culture. It’s unfortunate that as soon as you want to be beautiful, you’re criticized for being superficial.
“But on a primal level, everyone responds to beauty. We are compelled by it. It is a powerful force inside us. We can’t discount discussion of it.
“I’m trying to explore these ideas with serious artistic thought,” she explains. “Our culture is obsessed with beauty. And the pursuit of beauty can create pain and suffering. And I think it’s naïve and simplistic to give up something that powerful just because it causes pain and suffering.”
Her pursuit of becoming a beautiful woman has transformed her on the inside, too, into a stronger person. “I’m living my principles. That’s not always easy or comfortable.”
But it gives her a great, complex, and, yes, a beautiful story.
Nina Arsenault’s show, The Silicon Diaries, will be performed at the Old Fire Hall Jan. 28 to 30, with a talkback on the 28th and 29th. Tickets are available at the Yukon Arts Centre Box Office and Arts Underground.