Chatting with the Trans Artist Who Got Banned from Westjet After Showing Her Boobs

“WestJet can suck shit through a wool sock"

Jul 3 2013, 4:19pm

All photos by Nina Arsenault, created in collaboration with Lexi Sanfino.

On June 20th a WestJet flight took off from Toronto headed for Edmonton with two transgender women on board: Lexi Sanfino (whose birth name she tells us is “irrelevant to this story”) and Nina Arsenault. They were headed to Edmonton for a wedding, to host some parties and to show a video art piece they created. The two are traveling companions and create provocative and hardcore art together, with Nina being the more philosophical of the two, and Lexi the “wild child” and often star of Nina’s still and moving video works. According to the two, they were harassed and taunted by the crew of the flight with a specific form of transphobia that they have been dealing with for ages. What occurred on the flight and in the airport afterwards was a calamity of failings and poor taste that Edmonton hadn’t seen since Jasper Avenue had that spa billboard showcasing a woman’s power bush.

“It started with (the stewardesses) asking us for makeup tips,” begins Lexi. “Then they referred to us with male pronouns. ‘Cause you guys used to be guys, right?’ They kept asking us if we had sex changes or had the ‘original plumbing’. I guess that was their idea of small talk.” Fed up, she began questioning the crew. “I said ‘Why do people ask us the same old shit everywhere we go? It’s totally inappropriate to ask anyone else about his or her genitals . Can you imagine if I asked them what their genitals looked like ?’ Then they were like ‘I'm just curious. I'm just trying to understand’ but can you imagine if I asked a mother what her genitals looked like now after birth ? Or an old lady ‘What does your old pussy look like now that you're a senior?’ and we get it everywhere. It’s like asking black guys if they are really hung , or Asian guys if they have small ones?’ It’s offensive .”

"I can't control her—not now or on the plane—she does what she wants,” shrugs Nina Arsenault, a published co-author of TRANS(per)FORMING, and Bruce LaBruce collaborator. “If you tell her not to do something, she will want to do it even more. Also, she told the flight attendants what she was going to do before she did it. They were all having a good laugh about it there for a while." “I told them I was going to walk down the aisle topless,” claims Lexi. “They laughed and told me to go for it. They just said: ‘Don’t tell anyone we gave you permission.’” 

Thirty minutes from landing, there was a rushed attempt to cover up Lexi’s exposed breasts while she went through with her threat of her topless, mile-high aisle style. When the WestJet flight finally landed in Edmonton, Lexi was arrested by the RCMP under the charges of indecent exhibition and causing a disturbance. Arsenault attempted to film the arrest and was forced to join her friend; both were detained for two and a half hours. All the while, according to Lexi, the two were subject to transphobia and harassment from the arresting officers.

“THEY asked about my genitals too,” she sighed, “They asked if I was going to get a sex change; called me ‘male.’ One of the officers even apologized for the other’s behaviour. He said ‘Sorry we don’t know about transgender people here. We’re not very educated.’ Nina got off scot-free though. She was born with a golden horseshoe up her ass, up her silicone ass. I think taking her away in cuffs really got the bitch off. She’s freaky-deaky into bondage and male authority figures. Me, I have more a problem with authority.”

Interestingly, the video they were planning to show in Edmonton features Lexi engaged in sexual acts with a masked police officer that straddle the line between consensual sex, sadomasochism, and rape fantasy. “Nina does these bizarre erotic dances in geisha face, and I shove a hammer up a guy's ass ,” Lexi states. “It’s very poetic. Good lighting . Oh yeah, raped by the police over and over in the video: cum facials , plushies , anal gaping , golden showers , brown showers, asphyxiation . Nina's cinematography is beautiful .”

The fallout so far has been that the two were not only barred from flying on WestJet again, but were also denied access to book a flight on Air Canada as well. A WestJet employee (who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of termination) explains that this is out of the ordinary. “Maybe if it had something to do with security issues then maybe I could see information being passed for everyone’s safety and security but for an issue like this I don’t think WestJet would ever ban anybody just because Air Canada had banned somebody, for something like that.”

“WestJet can suck shit through a wool sock,” states Lexi triumphantly. “I did make an offer to Air Canada to have a complete mastectomy so I could travel again. I think that they think my boobs might be terrorists, weapons of mass seduction. I’ve seen guys with bigger tits than me. It’s just a bit of plastic. I might as well have pulled out two pieces of Tupperware and walked up and down the aisle.”

“I definitely wasn’t expecting this,” continues the WestJet employee. “Everyone who works there actually legitimately cares. I’ve been there for so many years and you just don’t lose the spirit of the company. It had to be those few individuals who don’t care at all that ruin the company name. If this story does get bigger and does get the attention that it probably deserves, WestJet as a company will make the decision to—hopefully—lift that ban, because from what I hear the WestJet employees harassed those guests. It probably deserves a lot more attention from the WestJet side, from a higher level.”

"I think it is important to note that this wasn't premeditated guerilla performance art,” Arsenault says, defending her counterpart. “This was Lexi's lived response to how she was being treated. I photographed and videoed what I saw. I am sure other people did, too, especially when we were taken away in handcuffs. I am not sure why I was taken away for that. It isn't a crime, and I didn't interfere with an arrest. Seems like a lot of double standards going on. At home, Lexi listens to Patti Smith and punk rock music. We have some concerns now about dealing with the police in the future, as the artworks-in-making are sexually graphic. Lexi is a maverick. I really don't think she cares what people think. Also, she doesn't care about being famous. She just lives. I am much more the scholar. I am interested in the philosophical questions that the art as well as actions like this raise. I think she is just tired of being oppressed. We're both tired of the mild transphobia that is pervasive in culture. Tired of being treated like third class citizens."

“I was listening to GG Allin before the flight,” finishes Lexi. “Blame it on him.”

Nina’s work featuring Lexi can be viewed on her website. In 2007 she was given an award by Toronto mayor for being “Unstoppable” and in 2010 the Canadian Civil Liberties Association honoured her for Excellence in the Arts and a profound contribution to human rights in Canada. She has also given anti-transphobia talks at Metro Toronto Police Headquarters and Women's College Hospital in Toronto.

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