reported by Derek Bedry
(originally published March 29 at www.vancouver.openfile.ca)
Miss Universe Canada officials said they booted transsexual Vancouver woman Jenna Talackova from the competition earlier this month because she lied about being born a female. But while debate rages over the pageant’s discrimination against transgendered people, some activists and academics argue that she didn’t lie at all.
In her application to the pageant, 23-year-old Talackova apparently violated a 2003 clause requiring that participants be naturally born female. Her ouster has generated international interest, including a petition started in Brooklyn, New York, to have her reinstated. Canadian transsexual performer Nina Arsenault, who in February wrapped a Vancouver run of her one-woman show The Silicone Diaries, said she doesn’t think Talackova lied.
“I think that as transsexual women we are born women,” Arsenault said. “I think when women are born, they’re born in lots of different types of bodies. Fat bodies, thin bodies, bodies of different races. Women are born sometimes without an arm or without a hand. It doesn’t mean that they’re not women. What makes you a woman is what’s in your heart and your mind.”
Arsenault said the pageant’s requirement strongly implies that trans women aren’t real women—a hypocritical position, given the overtly constructed version of femininity it displays.
“Women don’t come out of the womb looking like they do in a Miss Universe pageant,” she said. “Let’s acknowledge how that type of femininity is based on artifice. So why do you have to be born a woman to do it?” She added the pageant should include trans women as a way of celebrating that such a gender performance is not natural, but an art form.
University of British Columbia gender studies instructor Carellin Brooks agreed Talackova’s presence in the pageant would destabilize conservative views of femininity. “If anyone can enact this performance of gender, it’s really irrelevant,” Brooks said. She added the government seems to validate transsexuals by accommodating changes to passports and identification.
However, she said it’s reductive to insist that the experience of being a trans woman is the same as that of biological women. “It’s a much more complex conversation,” she said. “Trans people may say ‘I’ve always been a woman,’ but other people’s experience of them is not of a female up to when they have sexual reassignment surgery … [Being trans] is a different experience from being born a woman. When do we say they should be treated as women, and when do we treat them differently?” She cited difficulties trans women face playing women’s sports and volunteering as rape counsellors.
Although the B.C. Civil Liberties Association had not released an official position by the time of publication, policy director Micheal Vonn said the pageant rejects plenty of applicants for various discriminatory reasons. “They disqualify you if you’re pregnant, if you’re married,” Vonn said. “And if you’re four-foot-nine you probably aren’t getting in.” She added though the competition is antiquated, it isn’t clear that participating in a beauty pageant is a right.
What is clear is that, in a society where a broad spectrum of gender expression is increasingly accepted, traditional beauty pageants appear increasingly retrograde. Arsenault pointed out that she knows many trans women who have had full sex changes but live as “butch” women, or who keep their male genitalia, or who simply don’t identify as trans, pointing out Talackova’s reference to herself in a video from Thailand’s Miss International Queen 2010 pageant as “a woman, with a history.”
Whether or not the experience of being a natural woman is the same as having a feminine mind, a world where gender is increasingly self-determined may be simply incompatible with an organization that prescribes what femininity must look like.
—>Tasman Richard’s installation at the MOCCA (952 Queen Street West) about ten days and I can’t stop thinking about it. I strongly recommend going to see it, and I recommend experiencing alone. (It closes on April 1.)
(The following text from the Globe and Mail’s RM Vaughm review of Tasman Richard’s Necropolis, an installation at the MOCCA. I didn’t agree with the whole review but I like the way he talks about the central piece of the installation called Memorial.)
“My favourite works in the maze are the beautiful Memorial, an assortment of close-ups of Joan of Arc – as played by Maria Falconetti, Ingrid Bergman, Jean Seberg and Milla Jovovich – projected through a cut-out replica of one of Notre Dame de Paris’s famous rose windows.
In each ring of the window, each layer of petals, if you will, Joan smiles, gnashes her teeth, looks to Heaven, and puts on her battle face [moving on short video loops]. But in the clover-shaped centre cut-out – normally the space reserved for the most holy entity in any actual rose window – a menacing film of roaring flames chugs along, they being the flames that will eventually consume each Joan.
If every generation gets the movie Joan it deserves, it is also true that, no matter the directorial take, Joan’s story always ends at the stake. This is an interestingly resigned message of consistency, a nod to eternal truths, from Richardson, an artist who otherwise specializes in generating intentionally unstable meanings.”
***I’d also like to respectively suggest that the centre of the rose window, the filtering flash of film, also represents the glorious spirit within Joan. Each ring of the window contains a Joan played by a certain actress, and the closer to the fire she is the more compelling is her life/ movie. I don’t believe Joan wasn killed by the flames of her faith. She was killed by an assembly of men who punished her for the depth of her religiosity. –Nina
Immanent Space; New Toronto Works 2012
Programmed by Alexis Mitchell, Sharlene Bamboat & Zoe Heyn-Jones
Saturday, March 31, 8pm @ Tallulah’s Cabaret, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander St. $8/ 5 Members + Students
It is an auspicious time for moving images in our city. 2012 has had an air of the monumental thus far; anniversarial milestones for the Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto and the Images Festival, for instance, contribute to a heightened sense that it is a propitious moment for image-making communities here in Toronto.
It is with this sentiment, that we have considered the film and video work generated by our local community. Inherent in these ‘New Toronto Works’ are notions of positionality, temporality and a meditation on the spatial properties of the corporeal and the community. Invoking French philosopher Giles Deleuze, we can accept that durational aesthetics are at play in all film and video work. However, the pieces that we highlight here work together to foreground some particularly fascinating and salient spatial and temporal concerns, forcing us to re-think our engagement with the space around us as we move towards the hype created by apocalyptic uncertainty.
La Revue, Coral Aiken & Eve Majzels, 2010, 4:44
Choke, Michelle Latimer & Terril Calder, 2010, 5:31
BA Chamber, Cressida Kocienski, 2010, 6:20
Memory Worked by Mirrors, Stephen Broomer, 2011, 3:00
Jameson Avenue, Mary Porter, 2011, 3:06
Ecoleidoscope, Britt Wray, 2011, 2:14
Manholes (Brian), Wrik Mead, 2011, 3:47
Birth of Alseides, Erin Buelow, 2011, 7:00
Cooling Reactors, soJin Chun & Alexandra Gelis, 2010, 2:00
Left To Eat Cake, Ananya Ohri, 2011, 4:17
to be veiled, Faye Mullen, 2011, 5:00
Plane of Immanence, Jordan Tannahill & Nina Arsenault, 2011, 14:00
Little Fires, Gustavo Cerquera Benjumea, 2011, 1:24
[Untitled], Mark Kasumovic, 2010, 4:00
Lying in Wait, Ambereen Siddiqui, 2011, 3:51
Sponsored by Buddies In Bad Times Theatre, CFMDC & Vtape
PLANE OF IMMANENCE TRAILER:
PLANE OF IMMANENCE ARTIST STATEMENT:
Plane of Immanence began as a guerilla intervention at the (re)construction site of Maple Leaf Gardens, which artists Jordan Tannahill and Nina Arsenault found in a gutted, liminal state of transition. In this video, this iconic space rich with national cultural significance – a historic arena of masculinity – is realized into a new potentiality as a metaphysical labyrinth and virtual womb. The queering presence of the body of Arsenault, both naked and constructed, climbing through a jungle of rebar, front-end loaders, and caution tape, reveals to us a multilayered allegory for the trans body, the Deluezian notion of the ‘body without organs’, and permutations of the divine within the Self and the material world.
Nina Arsenault / Jordan Tannahill
14 mins / Canada, 2011
Jordan Tannahill bio:
Jordan Tannahill is a film and theatre director living in Toronto. His works of multimedia performance have been developed and presented on some of Canada’s most prominent stages including Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Canadian Stage, Great Canadian Theatre Company, and the Harbourfront Centre. He is the founder and artistic director of the award-winning theatre company Suburban Beast. Recent honours include the Inside Out Film Festival’s Emerging Canadian Artist Award, the Ken McDougall Award for Emerging Directors, and being named one of Canada’s Top Twenty Under Twenty.
(Identification, Embodiment and Being: Nina Arsenault’s Self-portraits is a talk that was given at McGill University, March 20 2012, by queer performance scholar J. Paul Halferty. It is a repeat of a talk given at the National Gallery of Canada, June 2011, which coincided with the Magnetic North Theatre Festival’s production of my one woman play The Silicone Diaries.)
“[Arsenault] referred to herself as having a kind of cyborg body, which, of course, references the imaginary creature from the genre of science fiction, but is also an appeal to an very important essay written in the mid-1980s by Donna Haraway, called “The Cyborg Manifesto’ In this essay Haraway powerfully and famously argued that by the late twentieth century “we are cyborgs.”
She contends that formerly distinct divisions between human and nonhuman animals, between organisms and machines, and between the physical and non-physical have become very imprecise for us. Examples of each are: animal-to-human organ transplants and gene splicing, laser-eye surgeries, pacemakers, and the Internet as a virtual space for digital avatars as well as other forms of social networking and communication technologies. [also cosmetic procedures, pharmaceutical drugs which affect brain functioning, human growth hormone, body building aids, hair extensions, anti-aging supplements, genetically modified diets and processed food, to name a few more. --Nina]
Like Haraway’s theory of the cyborg, Arsenault’s body as self-portrait repeatedly demonstrates the interrelatedness of culture, imagination and material reality in her life, and, by inference, in all of our lives.
For these and other reasons, I considered Arsenault to be a transgender heiress to Haraway’s conception of a cyborg feminist: a self-conscious construction achieved through technological intervention; she is a living representation of femininity, inspired by fantasy, Barbie dolls, and pornography. Or as she puts it “an imitation of an imitation of an idea of a woman. An image which has never existed in nature.” All of Arsenault’s self-portraits are, in a sense, ‘cyborg portraits’ because they are rooted in the embodiment of what are considered unreal, imagined, and mutable femininities.”
(reprinted with permission of the author.)
First Prologue to The Bite of the Night
They brought a woman from the street
And made her sit in the stalls
Obliging her to share a little of her life with actors
But I don’t understand art
Sit still, they said
But I don’t want to see sad things
Sit still, they said
And she listened to everything
Understanding some things
But not others
Laughing rarely, and always without knowing why
Sometimes suffering disgust
Sometimes thoroughly amazed
And in the light again, said
If that’s art I think it is hard work
It was beyond me
So much beyond my actual life
But something troubled her
Something gnawed her peace
And she came a second time, armoured with friends
Sit still, she said
And again, she listened to everything
This time understanding different things
This time untroubled that some things
Could not be understood
Laughing rarely but now without shame
Sometimes suffering disgust
Sometimes thoroughly amazed
And in the light again said
This is art, it is hard work
And one friend said, too hard for me
And the other said, if you will
I will come again
Because I found it hard I felt honoured
“a triumph” , from Press+1 Stage Reviews
“Nina Arsenault is a genius… The Silicone Diaries is a masterpiece” from homorazzi.com (where homos judge everything), Feb 2012
“inspiring and downright mesmerizing… a living work of art”, from Fun! Fun! Vancouver!, Feb 2012
“Arsenault moves fluidly between the realms of the real and the hyperreal, gliding from spiritual depth into naive innocence, and the impression given is that life, everyone’s life, is important and complicated, and more specifically, each life lived is a barometer of the society that surrounds it.”, from POSTpacificPOST.com
(this review originally published on March 1st, 2012 on the website for the Greater Vancouver Professional Theatre Alliance www.gvpta.ca)
I have never, ever, had an emotional reaction to a theater (or any art piece, or any movie, or book for that matter) as strong as the one I had to The Silicone Diaries. After the standing ovation finally died down (and it took awhile) I walked slowly out of the theater, afraid to speak because if I did the lump in my throat would dissolve and I’d lose it. It wasn’t until we were in the car that I let my guard down and began to cry, not even sure what I was crying for.
Nina Arsenault is a 30-something-year-old woman whose battle with her mind, her critics, and especially her body are laid bare in her one-woman show The Silicone Diaries. Written like a diary would read and performed as a diary would sound if read aloud by it’s author, The Silicone Diaries is an open book if ever I’ve witnessed one. Jason said he felt like he had watched a documentary, I felt like I had lived inside Nina’s heart, mind, blood, and silicone for an hour and 45 minutes.
While sometimes Nina’s delivery wasn’t as tight as her latex dress, her straight up emotion and personality was thoroughly engaging. I was on her side, fascinated by the content and was intrigued from start to finish.
The Silicone Diaries tells the story of a little girl who entered the world trapped inside the body of a boy. This little girl gazed upon the world of feminine beauty through a shroud of confusion and fear, with no outlet to functionally grow into the woman she was destined to become. In order to fund over 60 procedures that would “scrape the man from her face”, give her the fishy(sp?) figure of her dreams, and later the visage of a beauty icon, Nina worked as a web cam “girl” for the online porn industry. Once she had enough money, and enough connections through the men she met online, she began the long and painful process of changing…everything. Her hips (illegal silicone injections), her fundamental figure (rib reshaping), her face (jaw, nose, cheekbones, eyes, forehead – several times), and her hair (extensions sewn into a weave sewn into her own hair). She didn’t stop at looking like a “passable” woman, and she documented all of it.
Through photography and video (which was extremely captivating, well edited, and timed) played behind Nina between scenes, she showed us bits of who she was and what she looked like along the way. A little boy, a college kid, a man in a wig, a beautiful young woman, and finally a striking image of “the perfect woman” we met onstage. Big hair, small nose, big tits, small waist, big hips, phenomenal shoes.
I’ve said before that I picked my shows for the season as a blogger for the GVPTA based on dates, and because of this tactic I’ve seen some wonderful shows that I normally would not have attended. This piece however, I’m sure I would have seen in a heartbeat. 1) I LOVE The Cultch, especially the Historic Theatre. Just sitting in the seats before a show starts, I always feel like I’m in for something special. 2) I am a Fringe fanatic and so one-person shows are right up my alley 3) I am intrigued by stories of female sexuality and beauty ideals. I had no idea however, just how much I would be struck by this show.
At first, I said to Jason that I didn’t know why I was so emotional. I was moved by the intimacy and intensity of what Nina shared, but I’m a woman who was born into the right gender, as a white woman, in Canada. I was raised by feminist parents who did everything they could to make me feel safe and loved and special and beautiful. Why was this show and this woman and her story striking such a powerful chord? The more I thought about it and as we discussed the show and the topics it raised I realized I could relate, any woman could. Even though I had all the advantages as a girl, my body image is still fucked up. I still managed to have a mild and ridiculous case of bulimia in high school and as a 31 year old woman I still get uncomfortable when my boyfriend sees models on TV when I’m sitting on the couch beside him. As Nina said “What woman looks in the mirror and sees what’s really there?”
While I can empathize, I cannot begin to imagine how someone becomes a woman with not only no guidance, but an overwhelming sense of shame following her every move and experience. Shame at living a lie, and then shame at trying to live in the right kind of body, but never being “real” enough. It breaks my heart. And it broke my heart to watch a woman who has been through such physical and emotional pain bare it all, let us in, so far in I was astonished in the last scene at how far Nina took it, and us.
I am so, so, so glad that Nina is doing this show, and this work. Theater is sometimes meant to be a fun and funny romp, an outlet from the everyday. And sometimes it’s meant to shed light on topics foreign to the audience and to empower writers and performers to get their message to the masses. This show was full of messages I hope as many people as possible see and think about and talk about.
I wonder now if Nina the performer would give up everything she’s been through to just have been born a girl. As painful as her life has been it has developed her into so much more than a 36D-26-40 sized bombshell. She is a caring, smart, and funny woman. She is an artist.
Curated by Sharlene Bamboat, Zoë Heyn-Jones & Alexis Mitchell
Sponsored by Buddies In Bad Times Theatre, CFMDC & Vtape
Saturday, March 31, 8pm
Tallulah’s Cabaret, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre 12 Alexander St.
Now in its 19th year, this member-curated program features cutting edge experimental film, video and installation produced in Toronto. This year the series is called Immanent Space: New Toronto Works.
Michelle Latimer & Terril Calder, Choke, 6:00
Coral Aiken, La Revue 5:00
Stephen Broomer, Memory Worked by Mirror, 3:00
Ambereen Siddiqui, Lying in Wait, 3:00
Britt Wray, Ecoleidoscope, 2:15
Cressida Kocienski, BA Chamber, 6:00
Sojin Chun & Alexandra Gelis, Cooling Reactors, 2:00
Ananya Ohri, Left To Eat Cake, 6:00
Erin Buelow, Birth of Alseides, 7:00
Faye Mullen, to be veiled, 5:00,
Wrik Mead, Manholes – Brian, 3:47
Jordan Tannahill & Nina Arsenault, Plane of Immanence, 15:00
Gustavo Cerquera, Little Fires, 1:00
Mark Kasumovic, Untitled, 4:00
Mary Porter, Jameson Avenue, 3:15
a production photograph from Plane of Immanence, shot in the gutted construction site of Maple Leaf Gardens in 2010.
Snap! 2012, a photographic fundraiser for The AIDS Committee of Toronto is taking place on March 25, 6pm-10pm, at The National Ballet School of Canada, 400 Jarvis Street Toronto.
SNAP! is ACT’s annual photographic fundraiser featuring a live auction of art, a silent auction, and the Elevator Digital Photo Competition.
In previous years, the event has drawn over 700 guests, providing patrons with an opportunity to support ACT’s prorgams and services, increase their awareness of HIV/AIDS, and add to their art collections. The event provides a great opportunity for both major and emerging artists to showcase their work.
SNAP! is now entering its second decade, and has raised over 1.2 million dollars since its inception in support of the important programs and services at ACT.
You can purchase tickets for the event at www.snap-toronto.com
The Beautiful and the Damned is a monthly poetry and cabaret night organized by David Bateman and hosted by Diane Moore. I’ll be reading a series of poems called Landscape with Yukon and Unnatural Beauty. These poems, edited by Judith Rudakoff, were written during and as a response to my two trips to Whitehorse and Dawson City, Yukon, in 2010 and 2011.
They are about finding warmth and light in a foreign land, in my own country, where it was 50 degrees below with only two hours of sunlight a day.
The Beautiful and The Damned takes place on Thursday, March 8, 7-10pm at Zelda’s, 692 Yonge Street (upstairs.)