Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Drawing Married Couples, Regardless of Their Genitalia

Rainbows for Everyone! 

I've spent some time today and yesterday looking at my ever-increasingly-rainbow-colored Facebook feed and reading all the posts about the Supreme Court's ruling on gay marriage.

What does this have to do with caricature? Well, a couple of things. Number one, we work weddings. And weddings (or, specifically, wedding vendors who refuse service to gay couples) have been a hot topic in the news this year. No doubt you've heard of the bakers, florists, pizza makers, and even a mechanic weighing in on the national stage to proclaim that they would refuse services to openly gay people as a way to exercise their religious rights. Businesses at the center of news stories like this were sent donations by people on one side of the debate and boycotted by people on the other. The coverage angered me on two fronts: it ticks me off that gays who want to marry are being discriminated against, and it ticks me off that wedding vendors are being represented on national TV by these few jerkwads.

One artist posting on the ISCA forum a few months ago mentioned that he had been asked discreetly when getting hired, "This is for a gay wedding, do you have any problem working it?" To his credit, he did not have any problems, and he lamented the fact that the organizer felt a need to issue such a trigger warning to him. I know a lot of artists (gay, straight, religious, not religious, conservative, and liberal), and I can't think of any who would have any problems working such an event. There might be a few in my Facebook list, but if so they've certainly never told me they are prejudiced in this way and would turn down a gig in protest.

The only group we all seem to discriminate against is broke Americans. You are too broke to pay us? Well then we won't be working your event. (And actually, that comes with an asterisk too, since plenty of us do work for charity gigs on a regular basis).

Discrimination and Stereotypes

I'm tempted to say "having more gay weddings is going to be FABULOUS, they are such party people!" but the truth is I know a couple of gay folk who are kind of sticks in the mud. Stereotypes aren't ever across-the-board true, even the positive ones.

While every bar in America hangs up a sign that says they reserve the right to refuse service to anyone, I'd always assumed that was the "in case of A-hole" emergency lever. If someone is being a terrible human being, you can point to the sign and eject them. But assuming all persons in a particular group are terrible, and preemptively refusing to do business with them? That's discrimination--not to mention a really awful business plan.

Like it or not, we all discriminate in some ways--big, little, often unnoticed even by us, so it's valuable to self-examine on a regular basis. Our nervous systems are practically DESIGNED to discriminate and form stereotypes, it's a means of self-preservation. Poisonous red berries made your ancestors sick once or twice and BAM, they avoided all red foods after that. Fast-forward a few hundred thousand years and I know caricature artists who cringe whenever they get approached by certain demographics of the public because of previous awful experiences. It doesn't even have to be your experience, you can just hear about how awful something (or someone) is from your peer group and it will have an effect.

Caricaturists (I like to think) are especially good at noticing patterns, so we certainly fall prey to this primal drive to stereotype. Plus cartoonists have historically made a living poking fun at stereotypes or relying on them for gags. As one coworker said recently at a fair, "I'd like to learn more about your culture, so that I can more accurately make fun of it, please." But it's not all fun and games: being reluctant to draw an Indian couple that walks up to the booth because they "just don't get caricature" (unless it's Indians with an accent from the UK, then hell yeah, sit them down!) or jockeying to get the Japanese couple because "they so get caricature" and usually tip well . . . those are both examples of stereotyping/discrimination on the caricature circuit. Artists are human, and so what they believe about those groups is based on experience or what's repeated in our peer group. But, very importantly, I must point out that I've never seen an artist flat-out refuse to draw someone based on their ethnicity, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. They'll complain, sure: one fellow I worked with rattled off song titles he wanted to write about stereotypical customer groups that rankled him. There was a country ballad called "Black Women with Yellow Hair Scare Me," and a punk number called "Screaming Mexican Baby." Yet every bleached-blonde African American woman and every screaming Latino toddler got good service from this guy, he never once refused their business.

See, I'm all for acknowledging that we have a lizard part of our brain, and it wants to hate people (or at least categorize them). But part of being an adult citizen of this great country of ours is realizing one must act in such a way that overcomes that lizard-brain tendency. In fact, it's kind of fun to rack up a count of how many people at the average fair (or mall, or party) completely defy the stereotype associated with their demographic. People surprise you, that's a constant you can bank on. 

Events That Go against Your Morals

Yes, I will happily take a slice of that gay wedding business!
Many of the gay-partay-nay-sayers explain that it's not the people they hate, it's the event. Hate the sin, love the sinner; so, hate the wedding, love the guests? In light of the Supreme Court's ruling, some fellow artists have taken this opportunity to happily announce (or re-announce) on social media that they are available to work gay weddings, just as they always have been. I honestly cannot recall working one of those in recent memory, but within the past month I've drawn a lesbian proposal commission and an anniversary picture of two boyfriends. I've also been hired for fundraisers, private parties, and corporate events by members of the LGBTQ community, just as I've worked alongside gay artists and hung out with my gay friends. So working a gay wedding would be no problem at all. Of course, that's easy for me to say--I have nothing against gays or the idea of them getting married to each other.

Nevertheless, it's hard for me to sympathize with those who say they discriminate because getting hired for a gay wedding goes against their core beliefs. Because I do have core beliefs. Some of those beliefs are even "deeply held" as the catchphrase goes. When you hang out a shingle and decide you're going to offer a service to the public, the one overriding "deeply held belief" that matters is your work ethic. Do the work. Plenty of people manage to do their jobs. A Muslim ER doctor will treat you even if the Koran defines you as a heretic. An Amish roadside stand will still sell you apple butter even if they see that you were driving a car, not a buggy. 

I have worked so many events that don't align with my core belief structure and morals. That's why it's called working an event and not "attending an event voluntarily because I think it's awesome." I have sat quietly with my head bowed during prayers I disagree with. I have smiled through corporate speeches that are diametrically opposed to my philosophy. I've drawn for associations and clubs that center around stuff I believe is total bunk. I drew at one wedding for out-of-towners that included a long, angry-sounding speech by the father of the bride detailing how marriage is between a man and a woman, as God intended, and nothing would ever change that, etc. etc. (I felt a twinge of embarrassment for the bride, wondering if she shared his views completely or was rolling her eyes as she watched her old man unravel at what was supposed to be her special day.) I have drawn at events held by some of the biggest donors to the Republican Party. I have drawn for Jews, Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Atheists, and Wiccans. I've drawn at Temples and Churches and Strip Clubs. I drew a woman once who asked me to go into the restroom with her to see her hair because she couldn't remove her hijab in public (I did, and she had lovely hair by the way).

I was a paid performer, there to do my job, not take a stand or try to belittle or change the minds of the people who hired me. And you know what? None of those events turned me gay, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Wiccan, or Republican. But it did give me a lot of face-time with people who grew up differently than I did. People in other communities suddenly seem surprisingly similar to you when you sit down and have a chat. They worry about their double-chins and laugh at a good joke. Having some face-time with people different from you is valuable, and I advise everyone to seek it out. It's one of the best ways to combat that lizard-brain tendency we humans have of categorizing and stigmatizing.

My Own Past Bigotry & Gay Marriage

A year or two ago I realized something (darn that self-reflection--sometimes it makes you realize you've been going about something the wrong way!). As gay marriage started getting legalized in more and more states, I examined my typical patter and how I interact with couples who sit for caricatures. And, without realizing it, the marriage question had sort of formed a flow chart in my brain. "So, you two married or dating or cousins or what?" was a typical icebreaker . . . and one I never really used with same-sex couples. And depending on the answer I got, I formed certain notions in my head and asked other questions. "Have any kids?" and so on and so forth.

I mean, I'm no provincial sheltered artist--I've drawn hundreds if not thousands of same-sex couples. Some, who had kids with them, I did just assume were married (or domestically partnered) and I asked them the typical "married life" type questions and made small talk. But for so many other gay couples, I realized, I was just interacting with them as if they were casually dating. And no doubt many of them were . . . but my internal assumption had no basis in fact. Or if it did, it was just the fact that both partners had the same kind of genitalia. With a straight couple, it was just a natural progression . . . "Oh, how long you two been married then?" "Wow, any kids? You leave them at home with grandma & grandpa?" "Oh wow, are you planning a big trip or anything for your 20th anniversary!" And so on and so forth. With gay couples I kind of skirted all that and talked about the weather or their jobs or something else. I can't say why, it wasn't ever a conscious decision.

Someone once argued with me against gay marriage by saying that homosexuals had more partners, more casual relationships than straight people. Therefore they were more likely to cheat and so marriage would be a bad idea for them anyway. (I countered by asking him if we should gather data about the races and, if members of a particular race had more casual relationships / sex partners / adultery than the other races, we should ban members of that race from marrying?) But that question started me thinking, what would my adult love life be like if I were prohibited from marrying? Would I be less likely to form a deep attachment with a partner? Maybe. I'd hope I wouldn't be so stuck on a piece of paper and the legal and tax status it confers . . . but the true answer is maybe. What if, in addition to the government not allowing me to marry, most of the conversations I had with people were framed in such a way that they assumed I would always be single, a casual dater, never have kids, and so on? Well, again, I hope I'd be strong enough to define my own life and love the way I want . . . but again the answer is maybe. Conversations can open up a person's potential, but they can also help close it down. Have enough conversations with a teenager about how worthless they are, and they'll start believing it. Treat someone like marriage or commitment isn't even a possibility with them, and maybe it will have an effect. And if marriage isn't your thing (gay or straight), fine, it's perfectly okay to never settle down, be a casual dater until your dying day. But freedom is about choice.

Conservatives who value the family unit and commitments like marriage should, I think, be celebrating. With this week's ruling, the realm of official, state-sanctioned committed relationships has widened. If you hold up marriage as a good thing, then more citizens being allowed to marry is a good thing. More citizens being treated equally, and being told they can marry someday if they decide to, is a very good thing. 

So, it's just a little change, I suppose, but nowadays I'm asking gay couples if they are "married, dating, cousins, what?" And so on and so forth with the typical married-person banter. Yep, gays and lesbians, you are no longer safe from my corny married-person jokes. Consider yourself warned.


  1. That was so good to read ! I love reading your blogs your work in Art and writing is superb . Carney girl and chewing the fat blew me away . I find myself talking about your writing to folks outside the "Thing" and they get it too. The impulse to flatter issue was one example , that really hit home , I was talking to my neighbor about how awkward it can be , then I ran down some of the things you wrote about judgment by
    Omission , it was a good topic . Thanks for your work

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