I thank God & Hugh Hefner -
While working as an instructor at York University, I started having
plastic surgery during holiday breaks and reading weeks to make
myself look like a woman. I’d return to class refreshed and
with new body parts. Staff and students were dazzled by my transformation,
but when I sashayed into a staff Christmas party with four-inch
stilettos and pouty lips, newly pumped full of silicone, one grad
student saw just what type of woman I was becoming and gasped. She
cursed the patriarchy and said something like: “Aren’t
you victimizing yourself by constructing your new identity out of
the oppressive misogynistic values that you were socialized with
as a male?” Maybe, but I still looked hot.
I grew up, a little girl inside a little boy’s body, in the
Golden Horseshoe Trailer Park in Beamsville, Ontario. At the age
of five, I worshipped the prepubescent hellraisers of my little
town – foul-mouthed boys who already smoked and who probably
ended up doing time for petty crimes. One summer afternoon, they
allowed me a peek at the sacred images they had heisted from their
fathers’ hidden caches of Playboy magazines. I was awestruck
by the portraits of an elusive, fully sexual femaleness that must
exist far beyond the borders of my humble home. Little did I know
that, at that moment, the other girls in the community were being
scolded for taking Barbie’s clothes off in front of Ken. “Not
until they’re married and Ken buys her a trailer!”
As I got older, the countless images of sexualized females that
permeate our culture filtered into my tiny trailer park. I discovered
that X-Men’s Storm fought the powers of evil in a sexy disco-inspired
super-bikini with a killer bod to boot. Titillated, I watched a
cleavage-bearing Princess Leia escape enslavement by a maniacal
space alien with wandering hands. And by the time I hit my teens,
models like Cindy Crawford were posing doggie-style in the surf
for “sports” calendars and Madonna was slinking across
the floor on all fours, telling me to express myself. I listened
to M, wanted to emulate her, longed to be her. Then I got moist
when she was chained to a bed, licked milk out of a saucer and got
roughed up by some greasy brute she’d just met.
Other moms and dads might worry that all this scandalous female
behaviour would turn their daughter into a loose woman. But my parents
thought I was developing normally into a red-blooded Canadian male.
Not so, but in time I started to look like one. When I was 18,
people said I resembled character actor Crispin Glover (Michael
J. Fox’s dad in Back to the Future, and the Thin Man in the
Charlie’s Angels movies). In other words, I looked like a
dude…and not even a hot one.
So when I started having plastic surgery, I super-feminized some
features to compensate for other manly traits that were outside
the power of the doctor’s scalpel – my broad shoulders,
and the fact that I was nearly six feet tall. I told my doctor to
make my lips as big as he could. Then go a little bit further. Then
go a lot further. Once I had received the blessing of the surgeon’s
blade, I realized just how tantalizingly easy it was to enhance
my appearance. And I kept going, and going, and going back to the
doctor for more. I’m still going.
Now, when I look in the mirror, after applying MAC lip gloss and
#7 false lashes, I see an extremeness that reminds me of my childhood
idols, the cartoon superheroines and the glossy airbrushed goddesses
who were first shown to me by the bad boys of my trailer court.
Interestingly, I now date the grown-up, tattooed versions of these
young bruisers, and I love to carry on like their personal Playboy
So maybe that York grad student was right, and maybe the woman
I’ve turned myself into is a victim of my male upbringing.
But when biological women approach me and say things like “I
wish I could be more like you, but I was raised to be such a good
girl,” I am quietly thankful for my childhood. I thank God,
my parents, everyone in my trailer park, and Hugh Hefner.
• nina arsenault