Here’s the second part of the interview I did with transgendered performance artist Nina Arsenault on her ex, Luka Magnotta, the Canadian psycho du jour that many people seem to be fixated on–some in the most disturbingly inappropriate, fanatical way. Last week we started to explore the ways narcissism can disfigure reality. Now we go deeper, and also answer some burning questions we’ve all wanted to know about Magnotta.
VICE: You have been involved in the sex trade industry in your life, as was Magnotta. Obviously some people have a quite healthy relationship to this identity, while others struggle with it. What are your thoughts on the issues that may have contributed to his psychosis in relationship to this identity?
Nina Arsenault: The sex trade can make you a lot of money, but it can also allow you to repeatedly hurt yourself by re-enacting your sexual traumas over and over again. I think a lot of those who deal with it negatively have had childhood trauma and/or sexual abuse.
You are transgendered, and Magnotta also had a certain aspect of transgendered identity–cross-dressing, etc. Did this figure in your relationship? Some reports indicate that he was effeminate when he was young, and that he was bullied or teased because of it. How do you think gender issues figure into his story?
I think his gender plays into this more deeply than people know yet, but I don't think I should speculate about that. When I dated him I had had no plastic surgery or procedures to feminize myself, so I was still masculine in my appearance despite make-up and cross-dressing. Magnotta was the first person I dated who showed interest in me as a woman, and he was my first lover as a woman.
This is probably very politically incorrect and salacious to ask, and it may not be at all relevant, but was he a good lover?
Well, was he?
I would have to say… yes.
I suppose he was well-endowed too…
I would have to say yes.
Top or bottom?
Sorry. That was my Barbara Walters moment.
Actually, in a conversation about psychology, I think those are valid questions.
In one of the most horrific twists of the Magnotta story, he mailed body parts of his victim to Canadian political organizations and to two schools. What is your interpretation of this behavior?
I think it was about getting attention, specifically the attention of male authority figures, and symbolically to the adults who are in that position toward children. And of course it was also a way of getting more famous. In a weird way, I think it was as if he thought he was sending out parts of himself.
In a creepy, Freudian way, it's almost as if he was sending out gifts or samples, like people regularly do in the mail. It’s a very disturbing psychology.
You said in your interview on the Dr. Drew Show that the short segments you watched of the grotesque snuff video that Magnotta made of murdering, dismembering, and cannibalizing his victim seemed "unconvincing" in terms of its sexual motivation. Can you explain what you meant by that?
I guess I meant that during the sexual acts on video he seems stilted and dispassionate.
You mean they weren't really authentic fetishes, the cannibalism and necrophilia. It was more an aspect of sensationalism, rather than a genuine sexual impulse.
Yes, that’s the impression I had.
Magnotta constructed multiple identities on Facebook, and he had a variety of aliases and personae that he developed, almost like fictional characters that he inhabited. Is this a new psychopathology that everyone now has to deal with, but which in his case turned horrific and lethal?
I was talking [last week] about the narcissistic tendency to understand oneself and others as images. Obviously thousands of years ago human beings couldn’t conceptualize themselves as moving images, as brands, or as commodities. They didn't have TVs or movies. Representations were rare and sacred. The only way even to see a moving image would have been to take a hallucinatory substance in a temple or a cave with carvings or drawings on the walls. It would have been known as magic.
Back in the 80s it was difficult for people to understand the concept of virtual reality. The term was considered an oxymoron. Now, the minds of an entire generation are developing with virtual selves–representations of themselves which can have exaggerated, false, or accurate relationships to their lived existences. What my generation calls narcissism–understanding oneself and others as a series of images–is being bred into human beings globally. Post-millennial children do not really know what life is like without a virtual self. I don't think we can anticipate where this evolution/mutation will take us as a world culture. What new technologies will emerge to fuse with this mentality? How will it further commoditize us as human beings? How will it continue to construct our understanding of reality as a series of images we are buying, selling, vivifying, living up to or not living up to?
Any final thoughts about or interpretations of this disturbing case history that you would care to make?
Maybe just to mention that Narcissistic Personality Disorder is actually being removed from the 2013 version of the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders, the guide used by psychologists and psychiatrists to treat patients. It’s the nature of mental illness that when these personality traits become more and more like everyone's behavior, we can no longer call it pathology. It becomes the new normal.