Cartoon: The Knife Cuts Both Ways


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Another collaboration with Becky Hawkins.


There are oddly similar visuals between the “woman trapped in a man’s body” trope and the “you’ve got a thin person inside you” trope.

The “woman trapped in a man’s body” is how some trans women (or vice versa, for trans men) describe their experiences. But often the media treats this as the Universal Trans Narrative, probably because it’s a way of conceiving being trans that cis people (and cis reporters and editors) find easy to understand.

The “you’ve got a thin person inside you” trope is just pro-diet propaganda. But it’s an image that many fat people have internalized (as it were). We’re taught to consider our actual bodies warped, unlovable and wrong, and to imagine we have a true self who is a thin self, waiting to burst out of our fat cocoons.

I find the common visual of a person trapped inside a wrong body intriguing. But of course there are enormous differences between the lived experience described by each cliché.

One difference we shouldn’t forget is effectiveness: There’s a great deal of research showing that treatments like gender confirmation surgery are extremely effective at providing relief for gender dysphoria.

In contrast, all weight-loss programs, including bariatric surgery, usually fail in the long term. The weight comes back, the fat person remains a fat person, and the “thin person inside” either never emerges, or emerges only temporarily.

Another big difference is the direction of social pressure. Trans people face enormous social pressure to not change their body’s initial status quo; they are told to stay closeted and continue identifying with the sex they were assigned at birth.

Fat people, in contrast, face enormous social pressure to change our bodies, as quickly as possible, and damn the consequences.

And that brings us to this cartoon.


Kivan Bay writes:

I have heard from multiple trans people that they’ve had their surgery withheld while being pressured to undergo bariatric surgery.

And surgery isn’t the only treatment withheld:

This is from people seeking breast enlargement, people seeking vaginoplasty, people seeking estrogen, people seeking testosterone, and people seeking mastectomies. It absolutely impacts the all genders in the trans community who are seeking transition related medical care.

In another essay, Kivan wrote:

We must recognize the terrible pressure trans people are under to lose weight, and we must relieve that pressure. Statistics show that diets simply do not work, and that dieting to lose weight discourages the dieter and makes it more likely that they will gain more weight. There’s nothing wrong with being fat but there’s definitely something terrifying about being dysphoric and untreated because of your body.


Despite differences, there’s a lot in common in how society treats fat people and how it treats trans people (not forgetting that these two groups overlap). Katelyn Burns writes:

Visibly trans bodies are considered unworthy of dignity or respect and are marginalized from society in many of the same ways that fat bodies are. Fat people are constantly told that being fat is based on their own irresponsible decisions. Society says to just eat right and exercise and then they’ll consider your feelings or respect your bodies. Society demands transgender bodies look like cis bodies and then they’ll consider you a “real woman” or a “real man.”

Quenby writes that internalized fatphobia made it hard to realize that they’re trans.

For me, this discomfort in my body didn’t make me realise I was trans. As a fat person I’d internalised that I should be disgusted by my body; the idea that I could ever feel comfortable in my skin was laughable to me.


While writing this, I came across a 2016 romance novel called The Thin Person Inside; the publisher’s description includes this screamingly awful sentence: “Sean thinks it’s tragic that a pretty girl is trapped inside such a huge body.” It would take a team of academics a month to unpack everything wrong with that sentence.


While Becky was working on this cartoon, I doodled some suggested body language options for a figure in panel four. I think I was putting off doing some work I actually needed to do, but I had fun.


TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON

This cartoon has four panels. Each panel shows the same scene: Two women on a sidewalk talking to each other. They’re standing in front of a storefront. Posters on the storefront read “Peace, Mindfulness, a smaller BUTT” and “YOGA – Because YOU could be BENDIER.”

The woman on the left is fat. She has reddish-brown hair, tied loosely on top, and is wearing a green blouse with a floral pattern paired with a brown skirt and low-heeled boots. Let’s call her FLOWERS.

The woman on the right is thin. She has blonde hair, cut just above the shoulders, is wearing a purple tank top and blue capris, and is carrying a rolled-up yoga mat strapped to her back. Let’s call her MAT.

PANEL 1

Flower is talking on her cell phone, looking annoyed as she tells a story, one fist on her hip. Mat, overhearing, eagerly jumps in, one finger raised high.

FLOWER: My doctor gave me this total sales pitch for bariatric surgery. I told her “hell no.”

MAT: Surgery to make you thinner? You should do it!

PANEL 2

Flower lowers her phone, calm but annoyed. Mat keeps on cheerfully explaining, her hands held in front of her, palms-up, in classic “explaining hands” gesture.

FLOWER: Excuse me?

MAT: Why be stuck with your body, when doctors can fix it?  You’ll be so much happier!

PANEL 3

Flower puts the hand holding the cell phone on her hip, and makes a negatory “stop” gesture with her other hand. Mat rolls her eyes and holds her hands in front of her in an “all right, all right, I give up” gesture. (There are so many hand gestures! Seriously, I use them all the time, and Becky does too – everyone in our comics talks with their hands.)

FLOWER: I’m fine with my weight. Okay?

MAT: Sigh. Okay.

PANEL 4

Flower talks, for the first time looking eager and happy. Mat looks horrified. Both of them make appropriate palms-up gestures.

FLOWER: What I asked for is gender confirmation surgery.

MAT: Gasp! NO!! You can’t let doctors mutilate your sacred body!


The Knife Cuts Both Ways | Barry Deutsch on Patreon

This entry posted in Cartooning & comics, Fat, fat and more fat, Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans and Queer issues, Transsexual and Transgender related issues. Bookmark the permalink. 

21 Responses to Cartoon: The Knife Cuts Both Ways

  1. 1
    Dreidel says:

    Ampersand, your artwork is professional — but don’t you get tired of writing the exact same idea over and over endlessly (clueless person getting slapped down by a deft comment)?

    There are a million other ideas/topics that a “lefty cartoonist” could draw about without being repetitive. Your older cartoons (circa 2019 and earlier) are good examples of this variety.

  2. 2
    Dreidel says:

    > “Your comment is awaiting moderation.”

    Come on, Barry — What are you so afraid of after all these years, that you keep putting all of my tame comments in hours of “moderation”??

    Did I say something ages ago that offended your delicate sensitivities?

  3. 3
    Ampersand says:

    Oddly enough, this cartoon does NOT feature “a clueless person getting slapped down by a deft comment.”

    Also, thanks for your compliment about my artwork – but this particular strip was drawn by Becky Hawkins.

    Finally, allow me to quote from the Alas comments policy:

    If you’ve been banned on “Alas,” you can still submit comments, but each comment will need to be individually approved by a moderator. If you impress a mod with how smart, interesting and civil your comments are, they could appear. But they won’t appear right away, and they might not appear at all. And even if some of your comments are approved by moderators, that doesn’t mean we’ll approve any more comments from you.

    (Moderators have lives and jobs and may not see your immortal prose until Tuesday, or next year.)

    You were banned years ago – not really for any specific comment (iirc), but for your habit of being pointlessly rude in a way that doesn’t fit with the desired tone for this blog. That your request to have your status changed was itself pointlessly rude is, I admit, kind of hilarious, but doesn’t persuade me to change your status.

  4. 4
    Dreidel says:

    So being blunt is “pointlessly rude” by this site’s standards?

    Maybe you or Becky should do a cartoon calling out some clueless “pointlessly rude” person.

  5. 5
    bcb says:

    The particular observation of hypocrisy in this comic has not been made by any of Barry’s previous comics, so calling it “the same” seems like a stretch to me.

  6. 6
    Eytan Zweig says:

    Also, literally no one makes a “deft comment” in this cartoon. FLOWER is just stating facts. MAT literally gets the last word and no one “slapes her down”.

    I guess there’s a chance in which Dreidel interprets the last panel as MAT “slapping down” FLOWER with their “deft comment” in the last panel. That would be a pretty amazing misreading of the situation. But then again, so is the idea that asking “Did I say something ages ago that offended your delicate sensitivities?” is blunt rather than rude.

  7. 7
    Dreidel says:

    “The same” refers to the formulaic setting of two people with totally different viewpoints talking/interacting with each other. Eight of Barry’s last ten cartoons on this website (from November 30 back to September 10) show this situation.

    This setting works as a political cartoon, but using it over and over with varying dialogue is repetitive.

    (Hey, I read the website regularly, so obviously it holds my interest.)

  8. 8
    nobody.really says:

    As far as I can tell, the quality of everyone’s output varies over time. I like some of Amp’s political cartoons more than others, and I expect many of us could opine on his greatest hits. (Sock puppet? The Lord Your Deficit? Myth of Sisyphus? Time traveler? Job applicant–apply within?” Do you even hear the words I’m saying?”) MAN, he’s had some awesome ones….

    I don’t know that I’d rank this cartoon in that pantheon–but it strikes me as a perfectly solid cartoon. Really solid, actually. By shifting the focus from fat issues to trans issues in the last frame, Amp skillfully slides in a surprise ending that seem to illustrate a hypocrisy. It’s not just clever, it addresses an important contemporary issue. And while I think I have a pretty wide strike zone when it comes to fairness in a political cartoon–the medium is designed for polemics–this one doesn’t need it; as far as I can tell, he pitches this cartoon straight down the middle. (Except for the “straight” part, perhaps.) Maybe this just illustrates that I’m insufficiently sensitive to the perspectives Amp is lampooning.

    Anyway, if you want to quibble with Amp’s handiwork, I’d think you could find more defensible terrain that this. Just one guy’s opinion. But if it’s any consolation, when people push back and say that nobody shares your point of view, feel free to reply that that’s not true.

  9. 9
    Jacqueline Squid Onassis says:

    I promise you that I can not be bendier. I’ve tried and tried and tried. I do not bend even as much as the average person of my age. I will break before I bend.

  10. 10
    Ampersand says:

    Jackie O – It’s true, the poster is a lie.

    Nobody – “Sock puppet” is an interesting one for me, because I think it’s a great cartoon, but I don’t really agree with it anymore. Anyway, thanks – I’m glad you like those cartoons. I try to have a somewhat (very somewhat) steady output, and some of them I really like and some not, and that’s just how it goes.

    Eytan and bcb, thanks.

    Dreidel:

    “The same” refers to the formulaic setting of two people with totally different viewpoints talking/interacting with each other.

    This is a big shift of the goalposts from your original claim, but that’s okay.

    I’m interested in your count, because I am egotistical enough to want to discuss my own comics. :-p The front page of leftycartoons contains the most recent 20 strips I’ve posted in public.

    Cartoons with the formulaic setting of two people of different viewpoints talking/interacting:

    The Knife Cuts Both Ways
    Selective Heartlessness
    A Living Wage For Everybody (although to me, this seems like a break from the formula, in that the two characters are in agreement by the 4th panel).
    If Mom Hadn’t Gotten That Abortion
    The Free Speech Absolutist
    We’re Not Allowed to say “Women” Anymore

    Kids Today Are So Lazy
    Imaginary Cis Men Pretending to be Trans Women
    Equal Opportunity, not Equal Outcomes

    Other formats:

    Right-winger monologuing:
    Scientific Racism
    Fight Medical Tyranny!
    A Right-Winger’s Guide to Labor Economics

    Lists
    A Brief Taxonomy of Pro-Lifers
    Pro-Lifers in Everyday Life
    Things to Stop Saying to Autistic People

    Story strips
    June Davis Finally Wins
    The Adventures of Timmy the Six Week Fetus

    Other
    Somewhere South of the Border
    Fat Suits in Movies
    The Private Lives of Teachers

    If we look at the most recent ten strips, there are six that consist of “two people of different viewpoints talking/interacting,” and four that don’t.

    If we look at the most recent twenty, there are nine “two people of different…” cartoons, and eleven that aren’t in that format.

    So I’m less repetitive than you think. But you’re certainly right that I use the “two people of different views talking” format more than any other format.

    Should I feel bad about that, or do I accept that I’m drawn to writing those sorts of situations because that’s just my style? I mean, Jules Feiffer did tons of strips consisting of a character monologuing to the readers on a blank background, and I think that’s cool (Not that I’m as good a cartoonist as Feiffer!)

    I have to admit, though, looking through that list of 20, I think the non-2-people-talking-strips are a stronger bunch, as a whole. So that would be a reason to try and get away from that formula.

    (Hey, I read the website regularly, so obviously it holds my interest.)

    Thanks!

  11. 11
    Ampersand says:

    That would be a pretty amazing misreading of the situation. But then again, so is the idea that asking “Did I say something ages ago that offended your delicate sensitivities?” is blunt rather than rude.

    That situation – people being needlessly rude but excusing it as being “blunt” or “just telling it like it is” – might be a good cartoon in and of itself.

    (I don’t want to pick on Dreidel in particular – I’ve seen a bunch of people do that.)

  12. 12
    Ampersand says:

    Of those twenty cartoons, the three most popular (going by facebook views) are Fat Suits in Movies, Things to Stop Saying to Autistic People, and The Knife Cuts Both Ways. I genuinely have no idea why those three are the most popular.

  13. 13
    Dianne says:

    Mild non-sequiturs, but…
    1. Every time I hear the “thin person inside you trying to get out” thing I imagine my skeleton (the ultimate thin person inside me) trying to climb out of my body, only to be trapped by my skin.
    2. Trying to decide which of Barry’s cartoons is the best is like trying to decide which book is the best. Just too many good options to narrow it down to one.
    3. Re the “Somewhere south of the border” cartoon. Why do conservatives insist on threatening us with a good time? Balloons and social support at the border sounds like a great idea.

  14. 14
    Lauren says:

    That situation – people being needlessly rude but excusing it as being “blunt” or “just telling it like it is” – might be a good cartoon in and of itself.

    It seems like another facet of an issue you have tackled in different ways over the years.

    The person screaming “I am not racist/ sexist/ transphobic/ classist/ fatphobic ..insert any form of bigotry here…, I am just being honest”. Especially prevalent whenever somebody pretends not to understand the difference between criticism (itself a form of free speach) and silencing. Pretty much every hand-wringing article about the grave danger of cancel culture has at least a couple of them. (They could save themselves a lot of time copy-pasting everything that was written a couple decades ago about the dangers of “political correctnes”)

  15. 15
    Lauren says:

    Regarding the actual topic of this cartoon:

    It is always interesting to look at how supposedly principled stances are bent to fit whatever the current argument is. The body is a sacred gift given by god and the person inhabiting it has no right to thwart god’s will by changing it … right until the change is one that is desired by others so they can feel more comfortable. The politicians forcing their forced-birth/ “pro life” politics on everyone had no problem with women being forcibly sterilized in refugee detention camps. Or, to take a current example from my country, the ones screaming for harsh punishment of climate protesters who create traffic jams gluing themselves to the street being the same ones who, a couple years ago, cheered on the farmers blocking traffic with their mashines to get people to pay attention to their struggles.

    I have come to the conclusion that complaining about the methods – whether those of political action or those taken by individuals to improve their quality of life – is pretty much just another version of the tone – argument. And is convienently forgotten as soon as that same method can be used in a way that furthers a cause the former critic approves of.

    (note, despite my examples, that I am aware this is an issue not at all limited to right wing conservatives, I am just more familiar with those ones – confirmation bias etc.)

  16. 16
    Mandolin says:

    I have to admit, though, looking through that list of 20, I think the non-2-people-talking-strips are a stronger bunch, as a whole. So that would be a reason to try and get away from that formula.

    I think, for me personally, the impact of those has been lessened because I know what to expect and more or less how the conversation and punchline will be shaped, especially because you’re (understandably) tending to use a lot of 4-panel cartoons. They start to blend in with each other, for me. So it may be less that the cartoons in other formats are objectively stronger than that they can be more striking and surprising.

    OTOH I really like lists so I could probably read lists for waaaaaaaay longer than other people would be up for. So, grain of salt on my format preferences. And I’m not your average reader for other reasons, too, since I read all your stuff and am very familiar with your whole body of work.

    I feel like one of the things I used to really like about your cartoons was the way that they took weird or surprising or idiosyncratic forms. They sometimes surprised me into having an entirely different framework for an issue. (That said, it’s probably harder to surprise me that way now that I’m a jaded 40 yo instead of a jaded 20 yo.)

    But also–that’s just not something you can keep up at your rate of productivity and there are a lot of very strong arguments for keeping up the productivity. For one thing, it gives you more chances to really hit the “this is not just good, but awesome” target. And, you know, also. Making a living. Frankly, if I could do what you’re doing with my fiction, I would 100% do it!

  17. 17
    Ampersand says:

    I agree with everything you say here, Mandolin. (No surprise, I know!)

    I will say that sometimes the two-people-talking cartoons can provide a framework for an issue that most people haven’t thought about. That’s definitely the case with this cartoon, I think, which is why I like it better than most of my cartoons.

  18. 18
    Görkem says:

    “I have come to the conclusion that complaining about the methods – whether those of political action or those taken by individuals to improve their quality of life – is pretty much just another version of the tone – argument.”

    Ding ding ding. And yes sadly not confined to the right.

  19. 19
    RonF says:

    Lauren:

    The politicians forcing their forced-birth/ “pro life” politics on everyone had no problem with women being forcibly sterilized in refugee detention camps.

    What country was this?

  20. 20
    Adrian says:

    Ron, I think Lauren is referring to incidents in ICE detention centers 3-5 years ago. Pregnant women crossed the border and were detained until they could get a hearing. Not surprisingly, some of them had C-sections. Surprisingly, a few gynecologists took out the uterus as well as the baby, while they were in there. (Maybe not all that surprising that a doctor working for ICE would objectify patients and not care too much about their consent.)

    Did those conservative politicians actively want detainees to be sterilized? Dunno. Did they care about investigating whether a particular hysterectomy was medically necessary, or whether a particular patient’s consent was based on deceit or coercion? Not much, when they just wanted to deport the person anyway.

  21. 21
    RonF says:

    Did those conservative politicians actively want detainees to be sterilized?

    I tend to follow immigration stories myself and I didn’t hear about this. So I looked it up. All I could find is one story reported in numerous outlets regarding a nurse characterized as a whistleblower who alleged that numerous inappropriate hysterectomies occurred in 2018 and about 40 women who filed affidavits or other testimony in support. I couldn’t find any followup. I didn’t find any condemnation by any GOP politicians or office holders – but I didn’t see any condemnation by any Democrat politicians or office holders either! Clearly if true this is horrific.

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