To say that Nina Arsenault looks like a cyborg Barbie is almost an understatement. At five-foot-11, with 36-26-40 measurements, pillowy lips locked in a permanent pout, and a cascading mane that changes colour according to her whims and wigs, she’s definitely not the girl next door. And she never aspired to be. Born male, she underwent 60 cosmetic procedures between 1998 and 2006, at a cost of $200,000, to re-sculpt her face and body into the woman she had always dreamed of being. Arsenault’s epic transformation is documented unflinchingly in The Silicone Diaries, her solo show that returns to Buddies in Bad Times Theatre this fall after a sold-out run last season. The piece kicks off when Arsenault is five years old, living in Beamsville’s Golden Horseshoe Trailer Park, and exploring her fascination with the flawless skin and arched brows of department store mannequins. It delves into the time she spent moonlighting for a porn Web site while working as an assistant prof at York; she marked students’ papers during her live sex shows. One of the funniest and saddest moments tells of an encounter at Ultra Supper Club on Queen West with former Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee, who tried to pick her up before realizing she had a penis. Delivered in a direct address format—Spalding Gray is an influence—Arsenault’s story features a raft of shocking details, from the illegal silicone injections that built her curvaceous figure to the horror story of a transsexual severely disfigured by a botched surgery. But provocation is not the piece’s raison d’être. At its core, The Silicone Diaries is a trenchant deconstruction of what it means to be a woman and what it means to be beautiful, from someone who has gone to considerable lengths to achieve both.
The Silicone Diaries
Nov. 25 to Dec. 11, Buddies in Bad Times