Monday, January 15, 2018

School, Siblings and Other S***

I don't think I ever posted this pic here.  It was a commission for fellow artist Fraylim whose feminization art I've admired through the years while perhaps feeling a bit intimidated by their talent at the same time.  I worked really hard on the last book I illustrated, and the little feedback I saw was mostly positive, but I also saw one comment from some insensitive individual who said that the publisher should have gotten Fraylim to illustrate it instead.   Well, I was flattered someone like Fraylim would want to commission me and I was determined to bring my A-game to this piece.  

For this commission, Fraylim wanted a before & after type of piece featuring their character Stuart/Stacy from a mostly unrealized series of theirs called School Daze.  Stuart is a shy, stereotypical nerd whose aunt takes it upon herself to make him more popular at school.  Naturally, she decides that the most effective way of accomplishing this is by transforming her wallflower nephew into an attractive girl.  The rest of the details were left up to me. 

As someone who knows a little something about what it was like to be a shy, unpopular, somewhat nerdy kid, I was able to draw upon some of my own real life experiences for this: chiefly, my memories of sitting alone at lunch through most of middle school.  There was also an incident in fifth grade in which a kid at the next table tossed a roll at me.  I tossed it back at him and the vice principal made me stay inside during recess.  The other kid didn't get punished because she hadn't seen him.  One of the few times I decided I wasn't just going to meekly tolerate the almost daily harassment I received and I was the one who got in trouble for it.  Dredging up that memory caused me to become incredibly irate at the inherent unfairness of it all, even all these years later.  This is why I tend not to dwell on the past much; it angries up the blood.

Painful memories from my time at school were the primary reason I turned down an illustrating gig last year.  An author with whom I've worked a few times in the past (one who I meet through Bea, actually) contacted me to enquire if I'd be willing to illustrate a book about a school in which the boys are forced to wear girls' uniforms.  Based on that bare-bones description, it sounded intriguing, plus no other illustration projects had come my way in quite a while, so I expressed a tentative interest.  Then I read a draft of the story and I could feel my enthusiasm draining out of me. 

One of the main characters in this story is sent to this school against his will as punishment for misdeeds that were actually committed by his troublemaking twin brother, who seems to revel in his twin's unhappiness.  That was bad enough, but the fact that all the authority figures in the feminized twin's life are either blind to or (in the case of the lady who runs the school) actively enable his brother's asshole behavior really stuck in my craw.  To be honest, I have such discriminating tastes, I haven't liked most of the feminization stories I've illustrated, but I've usually managed to put aside my personal feelings when doing my work.  Unfortunately, this story hit a little too close to home for me to simply shrug off my misgivings.  I didn't have an evil twin, but I was picked on so much by my peers and was so miserable in school that I couldn't bring myself to work on a story like that, particularly one where there's no happy ending.  My assumption is that people buy stories of this nature in order to be titillated, but all this one did for me was make me extremely annoyed and frustrated.

As far as I'm concerned, that was more than sufficient cause for me to back out of the project, but if I'm being completely honest there was another reason.  No, not laziness.  The more I thought about it, something about the tone of the story really rubbed me the wrong way.  Spoiler alert: the real reason this school is forcing boys into skirts and silky blouses (this author is really in love with the word "silky"; I counted over a hundred uses in the draft I was sent) is to influence change in society that will  supposedly somehow gradually lead to a complete reversal in traditional gender roles.  Now, within this genre, a secret conspiracy by women is probably a pretty common trope.  But the way words like "progressive" and "politically correct" were employed by the devious so-called "feminist bitches" in the story, it read less like a crossdressing fantasy and more like some right wing crackpot's paranoid fears of feminism run amok.  Perhaps I was overreacting, but liberal snowflake that I am, I didn't feel comfortable lending my art to a narrative that seemed to have a warped view of what any of those terms actually mean.  

It's puzzling to me that a fantasy about being feminized and subjugated by women can simultaneously come across as so misogynistic.  I dunno, maybe there's something inherently sexist about a scenario that paints being made to look and act feminine as degrading.  It would probably take someone smarter than me and with a better grasp of psychology to explain this apparent paradox.

If I sound liberal, you ought to meet my youngest sibling who, last spring during a car ride, told me that they now identify as gender neutral, had changed their name to a less gender-specific one and didn't want to be called by male pronouns anymore.  I felt barely phased by this news at the time and accepted it in my typical blas√© fashion.  While I may be more than a little ambivalent about my own gender, I can't claim that I fully understood where my sibling was coming from, but I could tell that this was a difficult thing to tell me and felt that the least I could do was be supportive, especially when I knew that our dad would never be on board with this.  As I thought about it some more after we parted, however, I couldn't help feeling a little melancholic. 

It's not an easy adjustment when someone who you've known since they were born suddenly wants to be called by a different name.  I'm pretty open-minded, but I've also led a rather sheltered life, so this was a new concept to me.  My sibling was so nervous telling me about this, I was half-expecting them to say that they wanted to be a woman (which might have explained their predilection for kilts).  That actually would have been easier to not only get my head around, but relate to.  When you look and act like a guy for the most part, though, it just kid of seems like you're making life unnecessarily difficult by taking issue when people refer to you as "he" or "him" or as a dad.  I don't want to be a jerk about it; I just wish I understood it better.

Ironically, their birth name, while mostly associated with boys, can also be a girl's name.  I try to refrain from mentioning Star Trek in every conversation to avoid coming across as overly geeky, but during that car ride, I was tempted to point out that the lead female character in the then-impending new Star Trek series had been revealed to have the same first name that my sibling had just eschewed for being too masculine.  

The one thing that gives me a bit of a headache about all this is having to say "they" and "their." Because the English language isn't really equipped for referring to people in a non-gender-specific way, I've tap danced around using pronouns when talking about certain people online when I'm not sure what gender they wish to be identified by, but it's a difficult thing to avoid, particularly in casual conversation.  It can be confusing, too.  New Year's Eve, my sister, when talking about an upcoming visit by our younger sibling, said, "They're flying in on the fifth."  I spent over an hour under the mistaken impression that our sibling was being accompanied by their wife.  Sheesh.  How did I end not being the weirdest one in our family?  

This is completely apropos of nothing, but seeing that I've already basically hijacked the blog to talk about whatever's on my mind, I might as well finish by taking a quick moment to acknowledge the passing of Dolores O'Riordan, the lead singer of The Cranberries, which I learned about as I was in the middle of writing this.  I'm embarrassed to say that I've never bothered to retain the memory of her name before now and I didn't even know the band was still together after all this time, but I've been a fan of their music for over a couple decades now and it's just a bummer to lose someone whose work you've enjoyed, especially at such a relatively early age.


Rosie Petals said...

Hi Dave,

you're never going to please everyone, so you shouldn't let the few negative comments get to you, especially on the internet.

I don't always comment on your contributions, so I'm taking this occasion to say that I find your art very hot, and wish you'd share it with us more often.


rocketdave said...

Thanks, Rosie. I'd post art here more often, except not everything I draw is pertinent to this blog, plus I frequently get into slumps, so I'm afraid my artistic output in general has been rather pitiful. However, I'm trying to make it a goal to put more time and effort into my art this year.