The Trans Story Journalists Love To Tell

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Some of my cartoons are what I think of as – oh damn this might sound pretentious, and I don’t mean it that way, but oh well – “eavesdropping” cartoons. Cartoons that basically don’t come from me; instead, they come from me listening to what a particular group of people is talking about and thinking “how can I translate this into cartoon form?”
When I do an “eavesdropping” cartoon, the great test is when the cartoon is shown to people from the community I eavesdropped on. Do people from the community smile and nod in a “yeah, exactly” manner? Do people from the community share it on Twitter, saying “this”? No cartoon will every be loved, or even liked, by everyone – within any community, there are always a range of reactions, because people are individuals. But if I see a bunch of individuals from a community reacting as if the cartoon is on target, I feel like the cartoon has succeeded.

Some of the “eavesdropping cartoons” I’ve done in the past have succeeded. Hopefully this one will, too. (It’s already passed the “smile and nod” test with a couple of trans folks I’ve shown it to.)

* * *

The thing I like drawing the least, on the human figure, is feet or shoes. Some cartoonists don’t like drawing hands, but I’d happily draw hands all day long – but feet! Aaargh! They’re made of weird shapes that my brain refuses to absorb.

So panel three of this cartoon was definitely one of those times artist-Barry looks at the script writer-Barry provided and goes “what the hell, man? What did I ever do to YOU?”

(Maybe I should have asked Becky to draw this one. :-p )

Panel 3 also dictated the form of the entire cartoon. In my initial script, this cartoon had a standard 2×2 grid layout, like most of my cartoons. I like grids for political cartoons; they’re simple, sure, but because they’re simple readers parse them without even noticing them, hopefully letting the point of the cartoon shine more clearly.

But the “rumble” panel just wasn’t fitting into a square; it wanted to be a long horizontal shape, and kept looking small and inconsequential as a square. So I broke away from the 2×2 grid, and – to my eyes at least – that made the finished piece look more like a comic book page than a political cartoon.

That’s the sort of thing I can decide to do, because I’m being supported by patrons, rather than having to fit every cartoon into a magazine’s preset mold.


This cartoon has four panels. The first two panels are more or less square shaped; the third and fourth panels are wider than they are tall.

Three people – A dapper man wearing a bow tie and suspenders, a woman with a bob haircut and a hoodie, and a woman with tattoos and a skirt with a donut pattern – are walking along a path on a grassy hill. Behind them we can see clouds, a tree, a house. The guy with the bow tie is cheerfully reading something aloud from his cell phone. The woman with the donut skirt, also smiling, is hitting her forehead with her palm in a “duh!” gesture. The woman with the hoodie isn’t smiling.

BOW TIE: Another study ahs found that transitioning improves life for nearly all trans people.
DONUTS: Well, duh. Transitioning turned my life around.

The three have come to a stop, as Hoodie speaks, looking a bit nervous, shrugging and scuffing the toe of one sneaker into the side of another. The other two are a bit surprised by what she’s saying.
HOODIE: Not me. Honestly, I’ve found the whole experience miserable.

A long horizontal shot of a crowd of legs, in various types of clothing and shoes, all running fast in the same direction. There is a very large sound effect.

The largest panel in the cartoon shows Bow Tie and Donuts looking very surprised as Hoodie is suddenly surrounded by a crowd of at least 16 reporters, all holding out their cell phones towards her to record what she says. Hoodie, looking left and right, is shocked and panicked. The reporters are yelling out questions and offers.
REPORTER 1: I’m a reporter – can I interview you?
REPORTER 2: Me first!
REPORTER 3: …write a profile of you?
REPORTER 4: …write a column for the Times?
REPORTER 5: …TV segment?
REPORTER 6: …appear on our podcast?

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2 Responses to The Trans Story Journalists Love To Tell

  1. 1
    Malparkage says:

    It’s been interesting watching the reaction to that Times op-ed get the trans equivalent of a “shanda fur die Goyim” treatment.

    My guess is that this is a sign of an immature political movement based on the idea that progress this far has been extremely tenuous and built on performing pain for cis audiences in a very specific way.