TEDxToronto Women: Nina Arsenault, Transsexual Artist

In anticipation for the TEDxToronto 2015 Conference (October 22nd), each day this week Shedoesthecity will post top-notch career and life advice from some of the powerhouse women that will be speaking at the conference this year. Innovative, gutsy, groundbreaking: a lot can be learned from these phenomenal women.

For this installment, we spoke to Nina Arsenault. Arsenault is a multi-disciplinary artist who has worked nationally and internationally to critical acclaim and controversy, exploring the limits of sex, gender, beauty, the sacred and the profane, as well as the potentials for furthering the rights and dignities of trans women.

SDTC: What life lesson that you learned as a young adult do you often refer to?

NA: As a young queer in the nineties I picked up that my work could be much more sexual than the careers my cisgender friends were entering. I didn’t really learn queer Pride until I was a young adult. Because I was born to straight people, I wasn’t instilled with a heritage of tradition, cultural art forms or historical pride in what would become my identity.

What have you recently learned about yourself?

I have learned that I might get married. I’m discovering the charm of good old-fashioned values. I want security, now that I understand I will live past 40.

What motivates you?

I want to be able to share what I have learned in my profession as an avant-garde artist and having lived a transgender life. I want to share things that don’t have anything to do with my transgendered life.

When/where do you do your best thinking?

At home alone. Late at night. While working out. When I’m in love.

Do you remember the moment where you recognized that you were on the right path? How did you know?

I walked all over all those paths.

What change do you hope to bring to the world?

I hope that transwomen are treated as equal to cisgender straight men. You might say, “Don’t you just want to be treated as a ‘normal’ woman?” No, I see the way you treat them, too, so maybe you could just treat me with straight cisgender male privilege, if you know what that is.

What are you most proud of?

Continuing to do work that is meaningful to me and my community.

What’s your best advice for individuals who are feeling uncertain of their next step? 

If you are strong enough to answer the call to adventure, answer it. If you are not strong enough, don’t. Both decisions are equally strong … or sometimes there comes things like tenderness.

Professionally speaking, what impresses you? What qualities in a colleague or boss do you admire most?

Artistically I’m interested in things I haven’t seen before, feats, or unseen variations of already existing themes in culture. I like management that is frank and reveals all. I tend to be open and transparent so I am looking to enter business relationships where that “naivety” or conservative value isn’t appreciated.

What are you striving for right now?

I have an incredible idea for a novel: something with mixed flavours of The Devil Wears Prada, Slaves of New York, Men Who Stare at Goats and multidisciplinary performance theory on Adderall. Or, I could return to being a sex worker. I prefer the first option.

TEDxToronto is Canada’s largest TEDx event, a platform for exceptional ideas, and a catalyst for profound change.

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