Cartoon: Walter, The Guy Who Thinks Nothing’s Changed Since 1860


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This is one of those cartoons that’s based on an annoying thing I’ve seen a bunch of right-wingers say, usually while making excuses for racist GOP policies – that the Democratic party is “the party of slavery.” This is usually said by mindless twitter trolls, but has also been said by President Trump. (Arguably a distinction without a difference.)

The logic is poor. First of all, that the Democratic party had, and almost certainly still has, a racism problem doesn’t exonerate the GOP’s racism problem. There can be more than one racist institution in society at a time.

But second of all – and this, obviously, is the cartoon’s focus – is that the Democrats of 1860 (who did defend slavery) simply aren’t the Democrats of today.

So the question for a cartoon like this one is, will enough of my readers have encountered this ridiculous argument to enjoy a comic strip making fun of it?

Artwise, I had fun drawing this one. There’s definitely something appealing about being able to draw these tiny body characters in full figure. It really gives me an opportunity to try to do expressive body language.  And it makes more room for backgrounds, as well. (The downside is that faces and expressions can’t be as detailed as they would be in strips with close-ups.)

Also, admittedly the car in panel two is really only the front third of a car – but nonetheless, I drew a cartoon car and I’m happy with how it looks! That almost never happens. Now I have to do is learn to draw the back 2/3rds.


TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON

This cartoon has four panels.

PANEL 1
This panel is mostly the title of the cartoon: “WALTER, THE GUY WHO THINKS NOTHING’S CHANGED SINCE 1860!”
The title is in large, cartoon-style lettering.
At the bottom of the panel we see Walter, a man with black sideburns and a black top hat, wearing an 1860s style suit.
WALTER: What’s a “phone”?

PANEL 2
Walter and a woman are on a sidewalk. The woman is walking towards a car that’s parked nearby. Walter is pointing at her and laughing as she looks back in annoyance.
WALTER: How will you move this carriage without any horses? HA!

PANEL 3
Walter is walking down a grassy hillside, talking at two women who are walking away from him and trying to ignore him. One of the women is rolling her eyes. Both women are wearing pants.
WALTER: A train that goes from coast to coast? HA! What a fairy tale!
WALTER: Kansas isn’t a state!
WALTER: Why are ladies wearing trousers?

PANEL 4
Walter, smiling, is inside a house (or some sort of building, anyway, talking to an annoyed-looking Black man with glasses and a goatee.
WALTER: You can’t call Republicans racist when it’s the Democrats who support slavery! HA!

Posted in Cartooning & comics, Race, racism and related issues | 3 Comments  

Haiku Round-up #1

Lately I have been posting haiku to my Patreon.

While I was having trouble writing fiction, a friend of mine showed me a haiku they’d been working on. I couldn’t manage something like a whole story, but writing seventeen syllables of poetry came easily, and felt right.

These are only sort of traditional haiku. For one thing, I used English syllables instead of trying to adapt English words to Japanese morae which are similar to syllables, but not the same. I did use a seasonal reference in the first line of each, but they aren’t necessarily the kind of seasonal imagery that would have been used in a traditional poem. Also, I talked a lot more directly about what I was feeling, instead of using the metaphors to convey it.

However, I did try to convey the moments as I experienced them in that transient moment. I also tried not to revise, to just let them be in the moment they were. I think I cheated a couple of times, though.

I’m going to send out a haiku every few days for a while, at least until I run out of haiku. (I also wrote a couple of cinquains.) They aren’t necessarily in order, and they’re from a bit ago, so they won’t be a read on my direct emotional state, but I hope the words mean something to you

Here are the first nine:

Humid, intruding
hours that won’t shape into days,
heavy, unwelcome.

Night, that bit too hot.
He sweats and works and I don’t
know when night will cool.

Night is cooler now.
Restless nothings pace my mind,
private and anxious.

Bright green against blue.
Another day forthcoming.
I hope it stays bright.

Mimosa blooms fade.
I am content to watch them
this mild afternoon.

Berries dapple leaves.
They and I, windlessly still,
hope we are ripened.

White with slanted sun,
the too-bright sky is stolen
with painful glances.

Smoke taints blue-bellied sky.
All things contain their reverse.
No moment is pure.

School opens again.
I don’t know why I am sad.
Memories, perhaps.

Posted in Poetry, Rachel Swirsky's poetry | Leave a comment  

Q&A on Being a Jewish & Disabled Author

A patron of mine asked me some questions recently about Jewish identity, and writing while Jewish and disabled.

I thought y’all might find the answers interesting. Hopefully, I’m correct!

Are secular Jews overrepresented in the media?

I am personally a secular Jew. I suppose my first question in wondering whether we’re over-represented is — what percentage of self-identified Jews in America are secular? (It also matters what the percentage of secular Jews in media work is, but that seems harder to find.)

I found this here: http://www.pewforum.org/2013/10/01/jewish-american-beliefs-attitudes-culture-survey/

“The changing nature of Jewish identity stands out sharply when the survey’s results are analyzed by generation. Fully 93% of Jews in the aging Greatest Generation identify as Jewish on the basis of religion (called “Jews by religion” in this report); just 7% describe themselves as having no religion (“Jews of no religion”). By contrast, among Jews in the youngest generation of U.S. adults – the Millennials – 68% identify as Jews by religion, while 32% describe themselves as having no religion and identify as Jewish on the basis of ancestry, ethnicity or culture. ”

It goes on to say:

“Secularism has a long tradition in Jewish life in America, and most U.S. Jews seem to recognize this: 62% say being Jewish is mainly a matter of ancestry and culture, while just 15% say it is mainly a matter of religion. Even among Jews by religion, more than half (55%) say being Jewish is mainly a matter of ancestry and culture, and two-thirds say it is not necessary to believe in God to be Jewish. ”

I’m surprised that the percentage of people who think you have to believe in God to be Jewish is that high, actually. There’s a pretty lengthy historical tradition of Jews who participate in their communities without being personally religious. The article does say that Jews who identify as secular now are less likely to be tied into Jewish cultural organizations than other Jews, so I wonder whether there’s an increasing idea that being a secular Jew is the same as being an uninvolved Jew. (I should note that people who convert to being Jews are also definitely Jews whether or not they have the ancestry. Judaism is a desert topping and a floor wax.)

That said, I’m uninvolved in a lot of ways. My grandfather made a decision as a young man to sever himself from his Jewish past. I think this was his reaction to World War II. He never denied being Jewish, or changed his name, or anything like that – but he had no interest in his past as a Jew, or in any of the associated cultural traditions. Our family still exists in the shadow of that decision.

I could try to figure out more about the demographics involved — what percentage of great sci-fi writers, editor, etc, from Christian backgrounds are also secular? Is this a function of Jewishness, or a broader secular cultural trend among people in those industries?

But I feel like the more interesting questions are tangential. What could we gain from having more religiously Jewish creators?

Probably something. My friend Barry writes a series of graphic novels about Hassidic Jews. He himself is a secular Jew, but many Hassidic people have contacted him, grateful for representation of their community that is humanizing and generous. There are clearly religiously Jewish people who are not seeing themselves reflected, or are only seeing themselves reflected in ways that are inaccurate or unkind.

There can be pressure on secular Jews to put their Jewish heritage in the background, especially when antisemitism and white supremacy are on a resurgence. I’ve paid the price for being a Jewish female creator, and it’s a nasty one. So, there’s another point where I think there’s tension over secular Jewish representation in the media–in order to work in the industry, to some extent, we must blend in with Christian normativity.

I had a woman say to me, in all seriousness, in a critique group once, that she was annoyed I had included Jewish rituals in one of my stories. “If I want to read about that kind of thing,” she said, “I’ll just read fantasy.”

I’m not sure this resolves anything (in fact, I’m sure it doesn’t), but those are some of my thoughts.

What about your background and current ideas/beliefs/practices has contributed to your interest in Jewish sci fi?

Right now, I’m more interested in the theological questions of Judaism than I normally am because I have a good friend who is tipping over the border from secular to religious Jew, and his journey is very interesting to me. The way he talks and writes about his burgeoning belief (as opposed to the feeling of irresolution he’d had before) is fascinating; it helps that he’s a very good writer who is fascinating on many topics.

I think my interest in Jewish science fiction stems from my interest in Jewishness itself, which is probably related to my self-identification as Jewish. I’m not sure why I have a strong identification with Judaism — I didn’t have to. As the granddaughter of a secular Jew who tried to cut all connections, I could have just put it aside; my brothers have. Our father is from WASPy blood with deep roots in American history–we’re descended from one of the people who signed the Declaration of Independence–and I could have chosen to identify with that to the exclusion of my Jewish ancestry.

What are you writing about now?

I’m writing a lot about disability. As a disabled person, there’s a lot of rich material to mine–and I still have a lot of unreconciled thoughts about disability, and things I’m figuring out. I think a lot of good writing is produced when the author is still on the edge of revelations, instead of settled.

Many of my previous writing obsessions have been much more externally focused. Of course there’s a hideous amount of dehumanization and violence directed toward disabled people, but for some of us, there’s also an intense personal struggle of identity and self-knowledge that requires a deep investigation of the psyche. That’s where I am right now–fiction about selfhood and perception.

| 2 Comments  

Open Thread and Link Farm, Picture I Took Of My Cat Edition

  1. “I’m not transphobic, but…”: A feminist case against the feminist case against trans inclusivity–Verso
  2. Jet Li says he rejected The Matrix because he didn’t want his kung fu moves digitally recorded | Abacus
    “They could own [my moves] as an intellectual property forever. So I said I couldn’t do that.” Li’s objection makes perfect sense. But it would be amazing, from an archival standpoint, for such a full record of Li’s moves to exist.
  3. ECHIDNE OF THE SNAKES: The Happy Hour For Birds?
    Birds who eat fermenting berries off the ground get drunk.
  4. Donald Trump, Brett Kavanaugh, and the rigging of American politics – Vox
    This has become a very central issue to my thinking – that the system is enormously rigged against Democrats, and Republicans are determined to use that advantage to increase that advantage.
  5. The Good Place: Watch the exact moment that the cast found out about the big Season One twist | EW.com
    Thanks to Mandolin for this link. And also for the happy hour for birds link.
  6. U.S. Law Enforcement Failed to See the Threat of White Nationalism. Now They Don’t Know How to Stop It. – The New York Times
    I was particularly struck by the way that Republican members of congress went to bat to protect right-wing domestic terrorists, forcing Homeland Security to withdraw a report on right-wing extremism. A similar report on domestic left-wing extremism was not objected to by anyone.
  7. Ideas Have Consequences: The Impact of Law and Economics on American Justice
    “After attending economics training [at George Mason University], participating judges use more economics language, render more conservative verdicts in economics cases, rule against regulatory agencies more often, and render longer criminal sentences.”
  8. Even janitors have noncompetes now. Nobody is safe. – The Washington Post
    In this particular case, the company dropped it’s lawsuit against its former janitor after it became a news story. Which is nice – but doesn’t alter the larger problem.
  9. The Mythical Whiteness of Trump Country | Boston Review
    A criticism of J.D. Vance’s book, and in particular it’s racial politics.
  10. Scientist in remote Antarctic outpost stabs colleague who told him endings of books he was reading – Daily Record
  11. Josh Hastings had a record of misconduct as a Little Rock police officer. Then he shot Bobby Moore. – The Washington Post
    This lengthy article by the amazing Radley Balko makes the point that police abuse and even murder isn’t about a few bad apples in the barrel; it’s about the barrel itself being bad.
  12. Charging ‘Dealers’ with Homicide: Explained – The Appeal
    “Caleb Smith ordered online what he thought was Adderall to help him study. His girlfriend asked to try it. She died from an overdose. It turned out the substance was fentanyl. Prosecutors charged Caleb with “drug-induced homicide.” Then he killed himself.”
  13. Opinion: It’s past time to repeal Oregon’s Jim Crow era jury law
    “But that deliberative process breaks down when a majority of jurors can merely ignore the dissenting views of their fellow jurors.” An issue I’ve never given any thought to before.
  14. Retweets Are Trash – The Atlantic – Medium
    “I made a small tweak to my Twitter account that has changed my experience of the platform. It’s calmer. It’s slower. It’s less repetitive, and a little less filled with outrage.” And, related: How to turn off retweets.
  15. Zinnia Jones on Dating and Transphobia | Noah Berlatsky on Patreon
  16. Millennials Have Caused U.S. Divorce Rate to Plummet: New Study | PEOPLE.com
    Basically, people that in the past would have been likely to marry young and eventually divorce, are now not getting married in the first place, which is predicted to mean a much lower divorce rate.
  17. FBI Data Shows Plenty Of Vandalism, Little Violence Against U.S. Jews
    – The Forward
  18. Lucy Lawless, In A Greenpeace Action, Belts Out Xena War Cries While Illegally Boarding Oil Ship – TMZ.com
    Really, do you need anything more than that headline?
  19. After a mass shooting: A survivor’s life | The Washington Post
    This is a long read, and a deeply unhappy read, but I still recommend it. It’s a portrait of a young woman, and of her mother, whose lives were drastically harmed by a mass shooter.
  20. Massachusetts has an answer to America’s gun problem – Vox
    The right mix of gun laws – particularly but not only the permit-to-purchase system – helps Massachusetts have the lowest rate of gun deaths in the US.
  21. Unprotected
    “An acclaimed American charity said it was saving some of the world’s most vulnerable girls from sexual exploitation. But from the very beginning, girls were being raped.”
    A long read, sad and infuriating, about what happened when an American woman started a school for girls in Liberia. A reminder that there’s good reason for people to be suspicious of the white savior mode of charity. (Via).

Posted in Link farms | 14 Comments  

Cartoon: What Racism Is(n’t) About


If you like these cartoons, please help me make more by supporting my Patreon! A $1 pledge really helps.


This comic strip deals with the tendency of white people to argue that their personal purity of heart is the essential subject to focus on when the subject is racism.

And this is a tendency I entirely understand! I’m white; I know that emotional/denial place is so easy to jump to. Plus, we’re all humans, and being human tends to overlap a lot with being self-centered.

But it’s a knee-jerk reaction we should resist. And maybe cartoons like this one will help whites like me remember to resist.

****

A bit of trivia about the making of this cartoon: As I think I’ve mentioned, I recently turned fifty. And, technically, I have been working on this cartoon since my thirties.

You see, I write more cartoons than I complete. Very often, when I write a cartoon, I’ll decide that it’s not good enough to draw – but there’s still a seed of an idea there that I believe can work. In those cases, I’ll leave the cartoon lying around in a folder labeled “unfinished.” Every now and then, I browse old ideas in that folder, in case my brain comes up with a way to make any of them work.

So, in September of 2008 (so I was 39 and 11 months old), I made this layout for a cartoon. (I think I must have been in a hurry – you can see that I just cut and paste the same minimalistic lollypop-stickfigures from panel to panel).

I remember, when I wrote this strip, I thought “that” was a pretty devastating final line.

But when I looked at it again, a few days or weeks later, it just seemed too obscure to me, and might leave some readers scratching their heads. Would the theme – that the white character was entirely self-focused, ignoring what’s going on with the Black character – come through?

Plus, the comic strip was so static.

So it just sat in my “unfinished” file for an entire decade. I was too fond of the idea to throw it out, but never had an idea for fixing it.

Until I did.

The idea – “the comic strip starts out entirely focused on the white character, a metaphor for his self-involvement, and the view gradually widens until the reader can see what he’s ignoring” – is pretty simple. But I like it, and I’m pleased I waited a decade for it rather than drawing my original conception for the cartoon.

(Of course, now that I’ve said that, someone will tell me they think the original version was better. That’s always how it goes. :-p )


Transcript of Cartoon

This cartoon has four panels.

PANEL 1
A middle-aged white man, balding, with glasses, a van dyke beard and a v-neck long-sleeved tee, is speaking. He’s in a park, with trees and grass. He holds one palm out in an “explaining” gesture. This is a fairly close shot, mainly showing his head and shoulders.

He is facing towards the left. An unseen person off-panel, on the right, responds to him.

WHITE PERSON: When you say I’ve benefited from racism, it hurts my feelings.
OFF-PANEL PERSON: Racism isn’t about your feelings.

PANEL 2
The camera backs up a bit, but the other speaker is still off-panel. The white guy closes his eyes and puts one hand over his heart, as if he’s swearing a vow.

WHITE PERSON: In my heart, I don’t even see color!
OFF-PANEL PERSON: Racism isn’t about what’s in your heart.

PANEL 3
The camera has backed up enough so we’re seeing the white guy from his waist up. We can also see, just barely in panel, the head of the other speaker, who is a Black man. They seem to be walking The white man is holding up a forefinger to make a point, smiling, and looking ahead rather than looking at the Black man. The Black man looks stressed and is sweating.

WHITE PERSON: My intentions are good!
BLACK PERSON: Racism isn’t about your intentions.

PANEL 4
The camera has backed away enough so we can see both characters from head to toe. The white man, still looking ahead, is making another “explaining” gesture as he walks. The Black man is bent over double as he walks, due to the enormous boulder he’s straining to carry on his back.

WHITE PERSON: Well, if it’s not about my feelings, my heart, or my intentions, then what’s left?
BLACK PERSON: Do you even hear yourself?

Posted in Cartooning & comics, Race, racism and related issues | 3 Comments  

Cartoon: Centrists and Civility


If you enjoy these cartoons, please help me make more by supporting my Patreon. A $1 pledge really helps.


The challenge in a cartoon like this – which really has to be ultra-simple to be effective – is to find ways to make the art worth looking at despite being so simple. So I worked on trying to make the figures seem active and alive, and to really vary their poses and costumes. Hopefully it worked!


Transcript of cartoon

This cartoon has three panels, plus a small additional “kicker” panel underneath the bottom of the cartoon.

PANEL 1
This panel shows three well-coiffed white people – they could be politicians, or pundits on TV – on the right side of the panel, facing towards the left side of the panel. They look angry and are speaking with hostile expressions. There is a large caption superimposed over the image.
CAPTION: RIGHT
WHITE GUY: Cattle don’t get to keep their kids. Why should immigrants?
WHITE GAL: Teh law should protect elections from Black vot- I mean, from illegal voters!
OTHER WHITE GUY: George Soros paid scientists to make up global warming!

PANEL 2
This panel shows two lefties, dressed like college students or protesters, on the left side of the panel, facing towards the right side of the panel. They look angry and are speaking with hostile expressions. The woman’s race and ethnicity is ambiguous, the man is Black. There is a large caption superimposed over the image.
CAPTION: LEFT
WOMAN: $#%*! those people!
MAN: They’re terrible hateful bigots!

PANEL 3
This panel shows a white man and an ethnically ambiguous woman, both facing towards the left with scornful expressions. The man is making a “stop that, get away” hand gesture towards the left; the woman has her arms on her hips. There is a large caption superimposed over the image.
CAPTION: CENTRISTS
MAN: Tsk! Why must the left be so uncivil?
WOMAN: Do they want Trump re-elected?

SMALL KICKER PANEL BELOW THE BOTTOM OF THE STRIP
This panel shows the leftists glaring at the centrists, while the centrists smile back.
CENTRIST WOMAN: We’re only saying, both sides are equally bad!

Posted in Cartooning & comics | 117 Comments  

Fake Funeral! Monday November 5th! Tell Your Friends!

(This is sort of a sequel to a fake wedding done in 2008).

The date of the fake funeral has been set! It’s November 5th (by curious coincidence, just a week after my 50th birthday). You’re invited, so please come! And bring your friends! Or, really, bring anyone who is reasonably unlikely to violently attack me or the church building. I’m not fussy.

What’s a fake funeral? Just what it sounds like. We’re going to pretend to put on a funeral. It’s sort of a role-playing game; everyone plays a part, and together we’ll throw the worst funeral of all time. (You can make up your own character, or have one assigned to you.)

The funeral will take place in downtown Portland, at The Old Church (corner of SW 11th and Clay, Portland, OR), at 7:00pm. A brief and (I hope) disastrous reception to follow.

Post questions in the comments, and email me if you’re coming!

Continue reading

Posted in Mind-blowing Miscellania and other Neat Stuff, Whatever | 13 Comments  

A Workshop I’m Leading and Two Reviews of “Words For What Those Men Have Done”

I’d like to share two things from my writing life that I am excited and happy about.


Writing About What You Are Afraid To Write About @ The Ollom Arts Festival

  • When: November 14th, from 6-8 PM
  • Where: One Art Space, 23 Warren Street, New York, NY 10007
  • How Much: $20 (buy tickets here)
  • More Info: info@ollomart.com

From November 10th through November 15th, Ollom Art will be holding its 2018 Festival, the theme of which is “The Hole Project: Mining Portals of Vulnerability.” This year’s festival explores the real and “metaphoric holes in our…bodies and our psychic selves through installations, artistic creations, workshops and panel discussions.” The festival opens with a gala fundraiser on November 10th from 6 to 8 PM, which you can learn more about and for which you can buy tickets here. The money we raise will help to fund Ollom Art’s “Art Heals” workshops. These workshops will be held “across the country [with the goal of reaching] out to communities…and collaborat[ing] with local artists to help demonstrate…how art can open channels” to healing from trauma.

I became involved with the Festival because, as a survivor of childhood sexual violence, I have experienced firsthand how making art can contribute to healing. My workshop, which is called Writing About What You Are Afraid To Write About and is for writers of all kinds and at all levels of experience, will explore strategies you can use to put the thing or things that scare you into words—even when you don’t want to say exactly what it is—and to see that kind of verbalization as an act of hope. I hope you will consider attending, or that you will pass this information on to someone you think would benefit from this kind of workshop. Here’s the full description:

Why write about something you fear? To name it and, in naming it, to gain control over it. To learn how not to be afraid. Or, perhaps, to learn how to live with fear. Why try to make poetry from your fear, to make it beautiful with words? Not the straightforward loveliness of surfaces, but the beauty that puts us in touch with the full depth of what it means to be human, that does not force us to choose between it and ugliness, but rather allows us to experience both beauty and ugliness as they always already exist within us, and in the world around us. Why? Because while a poem may pronounce judgment on what we fear, it does not judge us for fearing it. Poetry is not politics, and it is not therapy, but finding the words that will make your fear beautiful is an act of hope and, therefore, of a kind of healing. In this workshop, we will explore strategies for bringing that hope and that healing into our lives and our work, whether as poets and writers, or as people who simply want to find ways of saying what they haven’t, till now, been able to say.

If this interests you and you’re in the New York City area, I hope you’ll consider coming. If you’re not interested or able to attend, but you know people who might be, I hope you’ll consider passing this information along.


Two Reviews of Words For What Those Men Have Done Have Been Published

Two reviews of Words For What Those Men Have Done have been published since the spring of this year. The first, “Those Words, Those Men,” by Sarah White, was published in American Book Review. The second, by Pramila Venkateswaran, was published on The Enchanting Verses. Aside from the fact that both writers had nice things to say about my poems, what makes these reviews stand out for me is that they are the first ones, of either of my books, to speak plainly, more or less explicitly, and really thoughtfully about how I deal with the theme of sexual violence that runs through my work.

This makes me happy not just because I believe my work deserves that kind of attention, but also, and more importantly, because I hope it represents a small contribution to developing a full-throated critical vocabulary (because we certainly don’t have one now) with which to talk about literary depictions of sexual violence against men and about how the repercussions and consequences of that kind of violation in men’s lives are represented and understood within our culture.

I always appreciate when people respond to my work by thanking me for my vulnerability, or praising my courage, and I especially value those times when fellow survivors, both men and women, have come up to me after a reading and thanked me for giving voice to something they have not yet found their own words for; but I am also aware that those responses, sincere and valuable as they are, make me and not what I’ve written the focus of attention, and that this focus makes it easier not to deal with the issues that I think my work explores surrounding sexual violence against men and what I sometimes call male survivorship—issues with which our culture is still only in the very early stages of grappling.

The women who wrote these two reviews like my work. Even if you don’t, I hope you will consider reading what they wrote, because the conversation their reviews could help to start is an important one for all of us to have.

Posted in Writing | Leave a comment  

Cartoon: Doctors and Fat Patients


If you enjoy these cartoons, you can help me make more by supporting my Patreon. A $1 pledge really helps!


If you hang out for any time among the “fat acceptance” crowd, you’re going to hear the same thing again and again: Fat people talking about going to doctors who refuse to treat what’s wrong, or fail to even diagnose what’s wrong, because they can’t see anything but the fat.

Quoting a story from The New York Times:

Part of the problem, both patients and doctors say, is a reluctance to look beyond a fat person’s weight. Patty Nece, 58, of Alexandria, Va., went to an orthopedist because her hip was aching. She had lost nearly 70 pounds and, although she still had a way to go, was feeling good about herself. Until she saw the doctor.

“He came to the door of the exam room, and I started to tell him my symptoms,” Ms. Nece said. “He said: ‘Let me cut to the chase. You need to lose weight.’”

The doctor, she said, never examined her. But he made a diagnosis, “obesity pain,” and relayed it to her internist. In fact, she later learned, she had progressive scoliosis, a condition not caused by obesity.

My comic strip is silly in its approach, but it’s a serious problem, and one that can make fat people reluctant to visit doctors even for urgently needed health care. And even if we do go, if we wind up with a doctor who only sees the fat, we may not even get the care we need.

For this cartoon, I drew closer to normal human proportions on the figures than I’ve usually been drawing lately. Or, as I privately think of it, drawing “Calvin’s parents proportions” versus “Calvin proportions.” The reason for going “Calvin’s parents” in this strip is pretty simple; it’s sort of hard to make characters clearly thin or fat when drawing those huge-head-tiny-bodies figures.

Over the years, I’ve found that comic strips about discrimination against fat people are the least likely to be accepted by editors or picked up for reprints. So this is definitely a strip that I couldn’t be paid to do if not for my Patreon. Some of the things the internet makes possible are really cool.


TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON
This cartoon has four panels.

PANEL 1
The panel shows a doctor, with thick-framed glasses, neat shoulder-length white hair, and holding a clipboard, in an examining room talking to a patient. The patient is wearing striped pants and a square-collar short sleeved blouse, and has her dark hair in a bun. The patient is sitting on one of those patient examination tables they have in doctors’ offices.

The patient is using her right hand to hold out her left arm, which is not connected to her body, to show it to the doctor.

Important: The doctor is thin, the patient is fat.

The doctor is calm; the patient is also calm, but also concerned.

DOCTOR: Hi, I’m doctor Douglas. What seems to be the problem?
PATIENT: I woke up this morning and my arm had fallen off.

PANEL 2
The doctor, still speaking calmly, is looking down at the patient’s body. The patient, still holding her detached left arm in her right hand, looks a bit annoyed.

DOCTOR: Hmmmm…. First thing, let’s get you on a diet.
PATIENT: A diet? To reconnect my arm?

PANEL 3
A shot from behind the doctor, looking over the doctor’s photo at the patient. The patient is now quite angry, raising her voice.

DOCTOR: Your weight is the real issue here… How many times a day do you eat fast food?
PATIENT: I’M HERE ABOUT MY ARM!

PANEL 4
The doctor, now alone, sits at a desk in an office (desk lamp, degree on wall, books on a shelf). The doctor is typing on a laptop, and looks peeved. Above her, we see words in the air showing what she’s typing.

DOCTOR (writing on laptop): “Patient was uncooperative…”

Posted in Cartooning & comics, Fat, fat and more fat | 6 Comments  

Repost: Notes Towards a Discussion of Male Self-Hatred

(I originally posted this in 2012, but a conversation I had recently with some of my students made me think of it. I still think it raises some interesting questions, and so I am reposting it now.)

In Kayak Morning, Roger Rosenblatt writes:

The literature involving fathers and daughters runs to nearly one thousand titles. I Googled. The Tempest. King Lear. Emma. The Mayor of Casterbridge. Washington Square. Daughters have a power over fathers, who are usually portrayed as aloof or mad. The father depends on his daughter and he is often isolated with her—the two of them partnered against the world. It is a good choice for writers, this pairing. It may be the ideal male-female relationship in that, with romance out of the picture, the idea of father and daughter has only to do with feelings and thoughts…. A girl may speak the truth to her father, who may speak the truth to her. He anchors her. She anchors him.

Rosenblatt’s book explores his grief at the untimely death of his own daughter, Amy, and this passage, in the form of a short-hand literary analysis, mourns the relationship he had with her—one that, for him, was clearly about a kind of truth-telling that only happens between men and women when the possibility of romance does not exist. Rosenblatt’s grief is his own, and I would not presume to suggest that his relationship with his daughter was anything other than what he says it was. His assertion, however, that the father-daughter pairing is a “good choice for writers” because it allows us to deal with issues between the sexes solely in terms of feelings and thoughts, without the messiness of romance, gave me serious pause. It’s not that I think he has mischaracterized the father-daughter relationships in the works that he cites—it’s been long enough since I read any of them that I simply do not remember—but rather that, in a male dominant culture, and we still live in such a culture whether we like it or not, the father-daughter relationship is never only about feelings and thoughts. The daughter’s body and how she uses it—in sex, in marriage—and how that reflects on the father as a man, on his reputation and the reputation of his family, is always already contested ground.

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I doubt most people in the United States see the father-daughter relationship explicitly in these terms any more, though the custom of giving a bride away on her wedding day is an echo of it. Still, it’s important to remember that there are immigrant subcultures in this country—and think, also, of the Christian institution of purity balls—where it is still a father’s duty to manage his daughter’s sexuality, at least until she is appropriately married. In my own life, where fathers have been conspicuously absent, these attitudes have manifested themselves most obviously in the assumptions people make about my relationship with my sisters. Or, more specifically, what they imagine my relationship with my sisters should have been like when we were younger. I am thinking specifically of how most people react to my story about the time I walked in on one of my sisters, who was sixteen at the time and should have been in school when this happened in flagrante delicto with her boyfriend.

I did not care that she was having sex, but the circumstances in my family at the time—she is six years younger than I am—meant that I did need to confront her about playing hooky. So I closed the door to her room and asked her and her boyfriend to get dressed and come out into the living room. I waited for a couple of minutes, but nothing happened. I knocked again, receiving this time a muffled reply from my sister, as if she were sick in bed and my knocking had roused her from sleep. I opened the door and there she was, alone, with the blanket pulled up around her neck. “Where is he?” I asked.

“Where is who?”

“Michael. I saw him.”

“Michael? No. No one else is here.” Her voice cracked as if she had a horrible sore throat.

“Come on. Don’t bullshit me. I know what I saw.” I started to look around the room and eventually opened her closet, where I found Michael trying desperately to disappear behind the clothes that were hanging there. It was hard not to laugh at him, but I didn’t. I just asked again for them to come out into the living room. When they did, I told Michael to go home, that my sister and I had to talk, and I will never forget the look of surprised relief and gratitude on his face when he realized that I was not going to beat him up. He even asked me, “You mean you’re not going to beat me up?” That made me laugh out loud. I told him no, why would I. He said thank you and he left.

More often than not, the people to whom I tell this story, and it doesn’t seem to matter how old or young they are, are as surprised as Michael was that I simply let him leave. When I ask them why—since the idea of beating him up never even occurred to me—they always give the same answer: She was your little sister. It was your job to protect her. And if I ask them what they think she needed protection from, they tell me, From guys “like that,” by which they mean, of course, exploitive, sexual opportunists who tally the women they have sex with by making notches in their bedposts and bragging about it to all their friends. But why should I have assumed that Michael—a decent guy, a guy I liked, a guy my sister clearly trusted—was “like that?” Okay, so maybe you didn’t have to beat him up, but you should at least have put the fear of God into him, just to keep him honest.

Honest about what? I ask.

Well, they say, you wouldn’t want your sister to get a reputation, would you? You wouldn’t want him, or anyone he told, to think your sister was just giving it away, right? And most, but not all, leave the next question unasked: You wouldn’t want your sister to think it was okay to give it away, would you? Clearly, it was not her boyfriend from whom my sister and her reputation really needed protection.

But there you have it: Because I was her older brother, these people seem to think, my sister’s emerging sexuality was my problem, not out of concern for her health and safety—and even then it really wouldn’t have been my problem—but because if I did not keep a watchful eye on her she might have undeservedly acquired the reputation of or, worse, actually become, a “slut.”

The people with whom I have these conversations usually try to avoid using that word, because they are afraid it will offend me. Or, to be more precise, because they are afraid I will suddenly feel the need to defend my sister’s “honor,” even after all these years. Yet it’s not really, or at least not only, my sister’s “honor” that they think I should be worried about. Inevitably, when we get to the point in the conversation where they realize that they’re not going to change my mind, that I truly do not think there was anything wrong with my sister having sex, they get down to where the brass tacks really are. What kind of a brother were you, anyway? What they mean, of course, is What kind of a man are you?, and their logic is not so different, really, from the fathers and brothers who murder their daughters and sisters in so-called “honor killings”—and, just to be clear, there is nothing honorable about them—because even the hint of female sexual impropriety is a stain on her and her family’s reputation that only her death will remove. Granted, no one has ever suggested that I should have killed my sister, but they clearly think I should have seen the fact that she didn’t “keep her legs closed” as a threat not just to her, but to myself as well.

Unlike the logic that seems to hold in so-called “honor killings,” however, where the existential threat to family (read: male) honor is embodied by the woman, the threat in this case—at least as perceived by the people I have these conversations with—was embodied by my sister’s boyfriend. His “success” in having sex with my sister, in getting around the protection they tell me I should have been providing for her, is clearly something they see as a stain on my honor that only some form of violence against him would have removed. The fact that I chose not to commit that violence, or even to threaten it, is bewildering to them. How could I have let Michael get away with something so serious?

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I realize I am being reductive here. In fact, the threat to male honor in cases like this comes from both the man and the woman, which is why the male partners of women murdered by their families in so-called “honor killings” are also often killed or beaten; and I have completely left out of this essay the ways in which women—mothers, aunts, sisters, cousins—are expected to preserve this male honor by policing other women’s sex lives. It’s not that the layers of complexity here are not worth writing about. Rather, it’s that these layers of complexity tend to obscure the relationship between the men whose job it is to demonstrate their manhood by protecting their family’s honor (in this case, me) and those whose job it is to prove themselves as men by doing whatever they can to get around that protection (my sister’s boyfriend).

Leave aside, for example, the fact that there really are guys “like that” and that it is possible for an older brother to sniff this out about his younger sister’s boyfriend before she does, and consider the conversation I might have had with my sister in order to get her to stay away from Michael. You don’t understand what guys are like, my part in this discussion would go—and it’s a part we have seen played in movies and TV shows over and over again by countless brothers or fathers, cousins or friends—but I do understand, and I am telling you that when it comes to sex you shouldn’t be so trusting. Sometimes the man who speaks these lines will explain what he means in more detail and sometimes he will not. In each case, however, he is asking the woman to whom he is speaking to recognize that, because he is a man, he is more of an authority on men and male sexuality than she is. Moreover, in doing so, whether he realizes it or not, he is admitting that this authority comes from the fact that, even if he himself is not “like that,” he nonetheless has first-hand knowledge of the truth behind the assumption that most men are. After all, in this way of seeing the world, being “like that” is part of what being a man is all about, and so it is inescapably part of every man, even if he consciously lives his life in opposition to it.

There is, in other words, a kind of self-hatred operating here. Had I tried to protect my sister in the way I have just described, or even if I’d resorted to the violence so many people seem to think I should have used, I would also have been trying to protect her from a version of myself, or at least from the kind of man I knew I was supposed to be if I’d followed the traditional, stereotypical manhood script. To put it another way, whatever beating Michael up would have meant to him and my sister, it would also have been a denial of my own complicity in that script’s definition of getting sex from women as proof of manhood. So, if you understand this story not from the perspective of my relationship with my sister, but rather of my relationship with Michael, it becomes a narrative that is less about the sexual double standard—though it is of course also about that—than it is about men’s internal experience of manhood and masculinity as an identity divided against itself. On one side is the man we are (traditionally, stereotypically) given permission to be with women who are not our mothers, sisters or daughters; on the other, the man whose manhood depends on protecting our mothers, sisters and daughters from what that permission means to all the other men who are not us. To be both those men at the same time, in an integrated way, seems to me impossible—which raises the question of what forms masculinity might take if it were truly unmoored from a notion of manhood that requires us to hate a part of who we are.

 

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