Nina Arsenault: Canada's Most Famous 'Trans Woman'
BDSM fetishist influenced policies at top Canadian hospital
Nina Arsenault is a Canadian trans-identified male who has had over 60 cosmetic surgery procedures. Arsenault funded his surgeries via the sex industry while working as a lecturer at York University, including camming, stripping, and prostitution.
His performances are overtly sexual in nature and include near total nudity, mimicry of intercourse, and self-flagellation by whip, a practice commonly found in BDSM. Arsenault is widely considered to be the most influential trans-identified male in Canada.
Arsenault has been a frequent guest speaker at universities in Canada and the United States and has collaborated with Mount Sinai Hospital where he lectured staff about ‘gender identity’.
Arsenault was previously romantically involved with sadistic killer Luka Magnotta, who was exposed in the Netflix documentary Don't F*ck With Cats.
Rodney into “Nina”
A 40-minute film documenting Arsenault’s surgeries, spanning the years 1998 - 2001, “Into Nina” begins when he was 24 years old. Born Rodney Bernard Arsenault, he states that he came out of the closet as a gay man when he was 17 years old, then “came out as a transsexual” at the age of 21.
Arsenault, when describing his childhood, explains that he performed a female role during play, and explains that from the age of eight he had a very specific idea in mind: “My childhood fantasy wasn’t really about just being a woman. I was a wealthy, beautiful, glamorous woman who was taken care of, but also had this tragic, dramatic life. I want to be looked at like a woman, treated like a woman.” It is clear that by looked at and treated like a woman, Arsenault is associating womanhood with objectification.
In order to fund his surgeries, Arsenault began supplementing his income from York University, where he taught, and by camming at night.
“I worked as a teacher at York University, and I worked at acting schools as well, as an acting teacher, and also as a directing teacher. At night, I work at an internet site where I wear a wig and I wear makeup, and I do a transsexual sex show. It’s turned out to be a good job for me. On top of the money, there’s other things. Guys send me gifts. One guy was paying my rent.”
Arsenault describes some of his many surgeries:
“I had seven millimeters shaved off my forehead and I had my jaw shaved. I had my Adam’s apple shaved. I had my hairline pulled forward to have a smaller forehead.
I’ll have either one or two ribs removed on both sides at the bottom. They’re pulled out of the back. Besides that, I want to have my entire ribcage broken and reset and bound into a smaller shape. That’s about creating an hourglass figure like a woman. After rib surgery, I’ll do breasts… I feel like I’ve really accomplished something.
Now I can get guys to pay for my dinner. Now I can get guys to pay for my cab. I can get guys to pay for a hotel room. I can get guys to take me shopping, buy me lingerie.”
At about nine minutes in, Arsenault seems to unintentionally reveal a possible motivation for undergoing these procedures, suggesting that his goal is to expand his dating pool to include heterosexual men.
“There is a whole range of men who are into trannies. I have sex with men now, but I think there’s going to be a transition, maybe more straight men might try and pick me up eventually.”
Public Speaking, Performances, and Media
Arsenault has been featured extensively by Canadian media outlets over the past two decades, including appearing on national television. Arsenault is a frequent lecturer at Canadian universities in sociology, sexual studies, fashion communications, and theatre departments, where his writing, performances, and images are studied in course texts.
In an interview with Xtra Magazine, Arsenault describes his self-produced pornographic BDSM calendar titled The Whore of Babalon as “artistic” and “very well-composed.”
“I always felt that I was deconstructing ideas of patriarchal beauty because I was so plastic,” says Arsenault, apparently oblivious to the ways in which he is in actuality promoting patriarchal notions about women.
“It’s the deepest, sleaziest, darkest parts of my sexuality… further than sadomasochism, just pain, the technology in my body. I never thought that I would find surgical procedures erotic. It wasn’t erotic until I finally stayed awake during a facelift. I could watch the knives going into my face, I could see myself being cut and feel no pain. The doctor, a beautiful man, with his hands in my face, really stretching me, he wasn’t just f*cking my face, he had his whole hand in my face. That was really eye-opening. I talk to guys who like to get fisted and they totally get it.
Also, the post-surgical pain, recovering in this very very beautiful hotel in Mexico, not having anything to do but just aching in pain and waiting for the doctor to arrive. It was just like being taken care of, like a doll. I love to express myself through each of these men’s visions.
I’ve worked with the top objectifiers of bodies in Canada… it’s very normal for gay men to aestheticize women. There are gay men who do very pornographic stuff, because the gay male gaze can take what a woman’s doing… he’ll see it differently.”
In 2012, an article by theatre critic Richard Ouzounian in the Toronto Star describes Arsenault’s theatre performance titled 40 Days and 40 Nights: Working Towards a Spiritual Experience. Outside of the venue, Arsenault hung a red neon sign reading, “The Whore of Babalon” to alert patrons they had arrived at the correct pop-up. Leading up to the performance, Arsenault intentionally starved himself and deprived himself of sleep. The performance contained, in total, about 45 minutes of self-flagellation carried out in the nude:
“She raises [the whip] and strikes her back. The sound is real. The marks she leaves on her skin are also unmistakable. Only the fact that Arsenault shows no pain in her face makes you doubt it’s really happening.
It continues 45 more minutes. She doesn’t whip herself constantly, but often enough that you can see the welts rising through the glistening sweat and hear the involuntary, animal-like sounds of hurt that pass unbidden through her lips.
When it’s over, she dresses in virginal white, picks up one of the dozens of lit candles that fill the room and sinks onto the floor in meditation.
After eight years and 60 cosmetic surgeries, she became a star on the Toronto theatre scene, but finally felt that enough was enough and the surgery must stop.
Then she found her features starting to blur, look old, grow unattractive and so she prepared for the grandest of all her quests, merging psychosexual spirituality with a lust for the surgeon’s knife.”
The ‘performance’ was preceded by an hour-long monologue called “The Ecstasy of Nina Arsenault”, wherein he described “the bliss [he] feels as the surgeon’s scalpel carves pockets of fat out of [his] skin,” which Ouzounian likens to “Frank Wedekind’s Lulu, the woman who could only truly find pleasure under the knife of Jack the Ripper.” Wedekind’s play, which ends with the prostituted protagonist being violently murdered, was adapted into an opera by Alban Berg, which received a glowing review from The Guardian in 2009 and was labelled “a murder most fabulous” of a “greed-filled, lusty prostitute” who “gets murdered by Jack the Ripper” and “seems an indisputable candidate for the greatest opera of the 20th century.”
Apart from the obvious eroticization of violence against women, the comparison of a narcissistic male undergoing cosmetic surgery for fetishtic reasons to the grotesque murder of a woman trafficked in the sex industry is an insult of tremendous proportions.
In an interview aired on Canadian radio CUIT 89.5 FM, Arsenault describes his performance titled 40 Days and 40 Nights as a form of sadism conducted for spiritual reasons.
“I wanted to take 40 days of my life out and have a spiritual experience. If you look at the stories, myths, and religious practices, there are certain experiences that are classified as spiritual experiences that they all have in common. For instance, fasting, rigorous exercise, sometimes pain induction, like self-whipping. I believe in God, I had faith.
“I would do two hours on an exercise bike as I self-whipped every day with a cat-o-nine-tails. I loved it… S&M enthusiasts know this already, that pain and pleasure are very intricately linked, and the interplay between those can lead someone to a place where pain and pleasure, there is no division between them, and that becomes bliss.”
In a trailer for Asenault’s autobiographical play, The Silicone Diaries, he states, “I absolutely do have a massive ego. I get obsessed with things, and I do things that I get obsessed with. There’s so much of my body that’s made of silicone, that’s been technologically altered and medically altered. I actually identify more as being artificial than I do in being transgendered… I think some women experience me as walking patriarchy, as walking oppression.”
A video uploaded to YouTube from Arsenault’s account features clips from an annual talk he gave to York University students from 2007 - 2012 for a class called Introduction to Critical Sexualities, which Arsenualt describes as “combined semiotics with some real life stories and my history as a sex worker”.
Titled The Eroticization of MTF Transsexuals by Heterosexual Men, Arsenault explains to the students that it is difficult for people to grasp men’s attraction to transsexuals, and that the body of a transsexual is a product of technology and surgery, not a body type which is found in nature.
“Guys who like transsexuals… it’s really hard for a lot of people to understand them as heterosexual because they like women with penises, and that’s not a regular heterosexual model. You can’t define them as homosexual because they’re not with another man. Generally they like regular, biological women and transsexual women.
We think of our sexualities as something natural that we’re born with. But how can you be born with an attraction to people’s bodies who don’t even exist in nature? As transsexuals, clearly our bodies are the result of a technological and medical process.
When I watch straight porn, when I see female porn stars, those bodies don’t exist in nature either. Sometimes they have enormous breasts, but very tight waists. Again, huge heads of hair that can only be accomplished through extensions. All these things that are really artificial are often the things that are highly eroticized. That really throws our sexualities into questions and destabilizes it.
Transsexual bodies are obviously different than the bodies of regular biological females. And I don’t mean to be offensive by saying ‘regular biological females’, I just mean women who are born with vaginas. There are different things heterosexual men who are attracted to us can do with us. These are transgressive pleasures. Very specifically, he can suck d*ck and he can get f*cked in the a**. The male prostate is situated back there.”
During a 2015 Ted Talk in Toronto, Arsenault furiously yelled at a stunned and silent audience and compared his attempt to claim womanhood for himself to the history of the slavery of Black Americans, saying:
“A heritage of slavery would be a step forward for us! Think about that the next time you call a trans woman a man!”
In 2010, Arsenault gave a presentation for Idea City in Toronto. The description reads:
“After 60 cosmetic surgeries and procedures, Canada's most celebrated transsexual considers herself a queer artist as well as a queer art object. Her physical transformation, her work, and her personal life have been the subject of numerous mainstream television shows, radio programs, Internet, and print articles.”
“I am not attempting to manufacture a journey of empowerment,” says Arsenault, as he lashes out at feminists who criticize the objectification of women and angrily speaks of the “rejection that women should have plastic surgery, believe in beauty,” and the idea that “we should all stop objectifying women,” views that he clearly disagrees with. “The democratization of social networking sites has been invaluable for me to disseminate my ideas,” says Arsenault, who goes on to state:
“I started objectifying my body at a very young age, probably about 3 or 4 years old, because I knew that I had the spirit of a young girl inside me, but the body of a boy… I create art from obsession. When I make art I… think of imagery, it’s in my mind, and then I check in with what’s happening inside my body.”
(Here Arsenault looks down at his lap).
“My body will respond to the thoughts with sensation. It’s very exciting… what’s happening inside my genitals… and inside my anal sphincter. The images that arouse in me the greatest sensation, those are the things that I create art from. My art is not created from a place where I’m trying to ease the suffering of other women.”
Kink was a Canadian documentary TV show aired on Showcase from 2001 - 2005. Arsenault was featured in season two, where he explains that he earned the money for his many cosmetic procedures through the sex industry. “The more I worked on the internet, the more surgeries I got and the better I looked, the more demand there was for me, so the more money that was coming in. I’d always promised myself that when I was finished having all the surgeries I wanted, I would leave that business.”
Arsenault then detailed how one man paid him $45,000 to have sex with him in Florida for four days. “That was totally enough for all of my surgeries and in fact, that’s why I stopped working on the internet.” (Later, in 2012, Arsenault claimed to have eventually spent a total of nearly $200,000 on cosmetic procedures.)
Speaking about the two-year pornography stint, Arsenault said that being degraded turned him on — a common admission of men who misappropriate womanhood. “I could never stay with a guy for 20 years unless he slapped me around while he f*cked me.”
When discussing his childhood and adolescence, Arsenault became hostile to feminism: “Feminists are going to hate me for saying this, but I do feel like something happened in the womb and my brain developed as a female brain. A lot of old-school feminist academics have a lot of bad things to say about transsexuals and shemales. One of them is that we’re not really women, that we’re men with female-constructed surgically-mutilated bodies.
Once you start drawing lines in the sand and saying, ‘No, you’re not a woman, you have to have these things,’ there’s always going to be biological women who may not have those things… who doesn’t have breasts or was born without two ovaries or without a womb or had a hysterectomy. Once you start saying that you need these physical attributes to be a woman, you get into trouble, and I think it’s sort of fascist.
A lot of feminists criticize transsexuals because we present like a female stereotype or the stereotype of femininity and end up making fun of women. I don’t think all transsexuals are stereotypes of a woman. I don’t know what it’s like to feel like a woman, but at the same time there’s something instinctive in me… I feel like I want to dress like this and I want to be socially accepted as a woman.”
Nina Arsenault’s sadomasochistic vision of womanhood was elevated to the realm of academia when his former professor, Judith Rudakoff, organized the publication of Trans(per)forming Nina Arsenault: An Unreasonable Body of Work (2012). The slim volume includes the script of Arsenault’s play The Silicone Diaries, where he waxes poetic about plastic surgery, alongside commentary from academics who admiringly reference postmodernists such as Lacan, Butler, and Deleuze, while constructing credibility for Arsenault’s blatant misogyny. This book is revelatory in that directly links Arsenault’s desire to ‘transition’ with pornography and female objectification.
“At the outset of The Silicone Diaries, Arsenault addresses the audience directly and recalls two scenes from her childhood. In the first, she recounts seeing a mannequin in the lingerie department of her local Zellers department store. She recalls being overwhelmed by the beauty of the figure; she asked her mother if the mannequin was real. In the second, Arsenault remembers spying on a group of boys in their forest clubhouse, as they surreptitiously consumed pictures of naked women from a pornographic magazine. At first the boys are reverent with these images, but they quickly become violent, ripping pages from the magazine, and then tearing apart these photographs of women’s bodies. Considering the boys’ actions but focusing on the images of the women they are violating, Arsenault has her first epiphany: ‘I don’t know how I know it. Or why I know it. But I know that this is exactly what I will be when I grow up.’”
— J. Paul Halferty
“I live for beauty. I have suffered for it; the suffering is sadomasochistic. The pain of it is thrilling, the endurance, the feats to achieve it have been very much a part of it. It is the act of the forbidden, the joy of the forbidden. We have this horrible schizophrenic thing in our culture, which is: women must be inhumanly beautiful and inhumanly thin. These aestheticized beings. Yet, you’re not allowed to want that or to try for it. I speak the forbidden, I speak the blasphemous: I say I have suffered for it, this suffering has been also ecstatic. Even to call it suffering is to reduce it to one thing. There’s been ecstasy and joy. I enjoy going for surgeries, I like having people taking care of me, I like the anaesthetic needle going in my veins, I like the feeling of the anaesthesia, the ability to see myself one way, one day and then two weeks later having a completely new face. It’s an ecstatic experience.”
— Nina Arsenault
A Homicidal Paramour: Luka Magnotta
Luka Magnotta, a former paramour of Nina Arsenault’s, was sentenced to life in prison in 2014 for the brutal murder of university student Jun Lin. Magnotta created a snuff porn film of the killing, depicting the victim tied to a bed frame being repeatedly stabbed with an ice pick and a kitchen knife, then dismembered, followed by acts of necrophilia. Magnotta, formerly involved in the production of gay porn, identified strongly with Sharon Stone’s character Catherine Tramell in the film Basic Instinct, who also kills a man with an ice pick and attempted to recreate the scene for himself. As a fugitive fleeing Canadian authorities in France, Magnotta disguised himself as a woman.
Some readers may recognize Magnotta’s crimes from the Netflix documentary Don’t F**k with Cats, which documented how his videos escalated from animal abuse to homicide.
In 2012, Arsenault spoke with Dr. Drew about his relationship with Magnotta. Arsenualt blamed drugs for Magnotta’s violent behavior: “The person I knew was not capable of doing these heinous crimes… There are people who have experienced great trauma who often don’t have the privilege of education or an ability to make the same amount of money, and yet they are interacting with us all the time. Some of them are ambitious, some of them want to be seen. Luka’s actions obviously are very extreme, I don’t think it’s an extreme desire for people in our culture to want to be famous.”
In this interview with Xtra Magazine, Arsenault initially refuses to answer questions about Magnotta before divulging that he tends to be attracted to very violent men. “He was my lover. I do have a tendency to fall in love with violent men. He turned out to be very violent. But for me, I don’t have any shame about it, but it was a small part of my life… You can’t have two narcissists in one relationship, it doesn’t work that way. I was not surprised to find out one of my exes was caught for killing someone, I just didn’t think it was going to be Luka. I was not surprised, I was waiting for something like that.”
In a separate matter regarding the case of ‘Michelle’ Kosilek, a man who strangled and killed his wife Cheryl McCaul and repeatedly sued the Massachusetts Department of Corrections for tax-payer funded surgeries and hormones, Arsenault told CNN: “She absolutely should be held inside the woman’s prison. Michelle is a woman.”
Just before the murder, McCaul had walked in on Kosilek dressing up in her clothing. An altercation ensused, ending when Kosilek strangled her with both a rope and with a piece of piano wire, pulled so tightly that he nearly severed McCaul's head from her body.
“[Though] I absolutely find it abhorrent that Michelle murdered her former wife, the correct pronoun to use in this situation would be the feminine pronoun,” Arsenault stated.
Mount Sinai Hospital
Arsenault has collaborated with Toronto’s Mount Sinai clinic on more than one occasion. In this 2014 staff training video, Arsenualt can be seen playing the role of a difficult patient. In heavy drag makeup and wearing black leather gloves, Arsenault refuses to answer the nurse’s questions about his birth sex. The camera pans to his hands as he angrily squeezes the magazine he’s holding, as though he is holding back from striking her.
The nurse patiently explains the reason for requiring this information, and presumably this video is shown to staff as a way of instructing them on how to approach this situation. In reality, it is gaslighting women into accepting not only men’s delusions about what women are, but also it is propaganda for female staff, as the nursing field is dominated by women.
Mount Sinai Hospital's training videos were subsidized by the Toronto Central Local Health Integration Network (TCLHIN), a government-funded organization.