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This strip was drawn by my frequent collaborator Becky Hawkins. As usual, Becky excels at communicating setting after setting in small panels; I think the store interior in panel 3 is particularly nice. I also love the way she ages Lucy and Lucy’s dad from panel to panel.
“They’re coming after your children!” was, for decades, an argument made by the right against lesbian, gay and bi rights. (And other groups! Becky and I lampooned this back in 2017). And although some conservative diehards are still making that argument, by and large they’ve switched to claiming that rights for transgender people are endangering children.
This argument comes in a lot of forms. The one this cartoon is about – the idea that recognizing that some children are transgender is sexualizing those children – is one that I’ve mostly heard from random angry transphobes on Twitter, but this false connection is also made in more respectable sources, like the Heritage Foundation.
The cartoon is also about the ways that adults project their own ideas about gender roles onto children. (Very heteronormative ideas, I would add.) This sort of projection is not exclusively right-wing: Virtually all people look at young boys and girls and see whatever they believe about sex roles reflected back at them.
So the answer to the dad’s question in the last panel? Ordinary people do. And they do it all the time.
When I was doing research for this cartoon, I found some of the photos from child pageants so disturbing that I decided to switch the scene of panel 3 from “Lucy” actually in a pageant to Lucy’s dad shopping for the dress, just so I could have the dress be on a mannequin rather than on a girl.
TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON
This cartoon has four panels, plus a tiny “kicker” panel below the bottom of the comic.
Two toddlers, one a blonde girl dressed in pink, and the other a boy in blue, are playing in a sandbox in a park. They aren’t paying any attention to each other. The girl is just sort of making a pile of sand; the boy is experimentally biting on the handle of the little plastic shovel (and seems to be enjoying it). In the background, two adults are watching the kids and talking to each other, a red-headed man (who I’ll call “Dad”) and a blonde woman.
DAD: Look at Lucy, flirting and making eyes at him!
WOMAN: Look at him, showing off for her!
We seem to be outside a school building or daycare; the building is made of red bricks, and we can see paper cut-out hearts taped to the large windows. In front of the building, near a hopscotch game chalked onto the pavement, is Lucy (two or three years older, but we can recognize her by the similar shade of pink and the blonde hair) and another boy. The boy is yanking on Lucy’s pony tail, and Lucy looks annoyed. In the foreground, two adults – including the redheaded dad from panel 1 – are watching, looking amused. (The other adult is a woman, but not the same woman as the woman in panel 1).
DAD: I think Lucy has a boyfriend!
WOMAN: It’ll be so cute if they marry each other someday!
We are in a shop with fancy, bright-colored dresses and costume jewelry and stuff. The redheaded man, now maybe a bit fuller around the waist, is chatting to a shopgirl while gesturing towards a burgundy outfit on a mannequin. The outfit is very fancy, and has two pieces, a band shirt and a short skirt, leaving the mannequin’s waist bare. Lucy, now looking a few years older, is looking up at the outfit expressionlessly.
MAN: I just couldn’t wait to get Lucy on the pageant circuit! Lucy, let’s try this one on you!
Some years later, Lucy – now looking like a young teen – and her dad (now quite a bit chubbier, and his hairline is beginning to recede) are sitting at home, dad in a comfortable looking armchair, while Lucy sits at a table in the background doing homework. Lucy is looking up at her dad, and a “!” has appeared next to her head. Dad is speaking and gesturing angrily at something on his smartphone.
DAD: Just look at this! Diagnosing children as “trans”… Prescribing “puberty blockers”… What kind of people sexualize children?
SMALL KICKER PANEL BELOW THE BOTTOM OF THE CARTOON
Barry the cartoonist is speaking to the redheaded dad. The redheaded dad – apparently older, as his hairline has receded further – is turning away from Barry the cartoonist.
BARRY: Trans children’s healthcare isn’t about “sex.” It’s about identity, comfort, and—
DAD: Can’t talk — Lucy and I need to practice our purity ball dance.