Once as Tragedy, Again as Farce

Speaking truth to power. This description is almost cliched by now; indeed, it gave its name to Prof. Hill’s autobiography. But like the best cliches it derives its overuse from its utterly trenchant accuracy.

Not long ago I attended a conference at New York City’s Hunter College commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings where Professor Hill, in damning detail, publicly testified to her experience at the hands of now-Justice Thomas which included sustained sexual harassment. Her courage caused open discussion of sexual harassment to burst violently onto the national scene, unapologetically breaking the silence felt by millions of women who had been shamed, threatened, and cajoled into pretending what had happened to them was business as usual. The conference sought to honour Professor Hill and featured a variety of speakers, activists old and new, commentators, reporters, academics and friends who all offered their perspective on the matter. It was elucidating and, to turn that blessed cliché, empowering.

The volunteers at the university all wore T-shirts that read “I Believe Anita Hill.” It was a powerful and dangerous message,as much now as it was then: to suggest that one accepts a woman’s reality as real.

It is a cosmic irony that just a little over two weeks after this conference, one which at first felt like it was summoning up something confined to the misty history of the early 1990s, I should discover that Politico posted a special report about how Republican presidential nominee Herman Cain had sexual harassment allegations levelled at him by at least two women some fifteen years ago.

It is as if I attended a special seminar on handling emergency situations and then, practically upon leaving, I find myself having to use all of the tools given to me therein with the utmost urgency. Within the last 48 hours events in the commentariat have spiralled out of control and old revenants that haunt American politics now shriek with window-shattering violence. Clarence Thomas’ sins have been resurrected, countless commentators on the right have resumed bashing Anita Hill, the words ‘hi-tech lynching’ took less than a day to appear at the very cusp of the breaking news froth (on the BBC, no less), and a cavalcade of racism and racist appropriations have gushed forth from the mouths of every white talking head within shouting distance of a satellite link-up.

Yet what is of special interest to me, and what prompted me to say something, are the particulars of what a well-known white conservative woman has been saying about this scandal:

Ann Coulter, a right-wing commentator, called the claims “another high-tech lynching”, saying liberals couldn’t stand strong black conservatives.

She has quite a lot to say about Clarence Thomas, up to and including her beliefs about where accusations like this originate from:

 “If you are a conservative black, they will believe the most horrible sexualized fantasies of these uptight white feminists,”

I’ve just returned from the washroom and after careful examination I have concluded I’m not white. But, moving on:

“Our blacks are so much better than their blacks,” she said, speaking of Democrats. (Source.)

I could just end the article right here as this, in some ways, can say everything that needs to be said about how white conservatives have handled this latest issue with Herman Cain. But much more should be said.

Continue reading

A Hex on Both Your Houses

I generally do not waste too much time expounding on general American political issues because they’re done to death just about everywhere else. For all of your Red vs. Blue, lib vs. con cockfighting there are quite literally hundreds of sites for your fancies. What I try to do here is to shed light on viewpoints that are not likely to, say, be repeated on HuffPo ad nauseam. Nevertheless occasionally something comes along, down that corroded mainstream pipeline that I find is being analysed in a way that elides its most interesting elements.

Ladies and gentlemen: Christine O’Donnell had sex with a witch. Liberals wish for you to know this and meditate on this.

Ms. O’Donnell and I likely agree on nothing save for, perhaps, the colour of the sky and Goddess knows I hope she’s trounced in the November election, for all the good it will do. But in watching the ascent of the Tea Party’s women I’m noticing a familiar pattern emerging here and one I am not especially fond of. When it comes to women like Sarah Palin, liberal men tend to forget that they’re theoretically committed to the idea of being anti-sexist and tolerant in general. Thus, enter one of the infamous “Mama Grizzlies,” Ms. O’Donnell and some video clips of her 11 years ago on Politically Incorrect.

I’ll waste no more words here. In watching the splashy press coverage of this we are expected to accept as uncritical fact the idea that it is scandalous that Ms. O’Donnell was involved in witchcraft, and that she had sex with a witch on what she describes as a “Satanic altar.” This, to me, is not a scandal. I’m going to leave aside the important issue of the fact that “Satanism” and “witchcraft” are two completely different things, and this erroneous conflation of the two on O’Donnell’s part has gone unchallenged. It’s more important to focus on two things here:

  • Yet again, a woman having had a sex life is automatically a scandal.
  • Witchcraft = Bad according to liberals. Thanks, boys.

Usually when this sort of nonsense comes up I’ll typically hear out a liberal apologist who says this is merely about exposing hypocrisy. It reminds me of a debate I had with one liberal cis woman who thought calling Ann Coulter a “tranny” was just hi-fuckin’-larious, and it was okay! Because it just showed up Ann Coulter as a hypocrite and because *she* was transphobic, then it was just all ironic and shit to imply she was a trans woman. You know. Like it’s a bad thing! But that doesn’t mean liberals are being transphobic. They’re just being “clever.”

So it is with Ms. O’Donnell. They’re not hating on pagans or witches, they’re just showing up Ms. O’Donnell as a hypocrite, is all! Cause she’s all Fundie now. However, note how there is precious little explanation of this complexity, nor any attempt in any of the many salacious news stories about Ms. O’Donnell’s indiscretions to set the record straight about what witchcraft is. In any just world, being a witch would be no more scandalous than being Episcopal. Yet, as usual, when it comes to anyone who isn’t white cis men, liberals play a bit of a shell game. They are ‘merely’ exposing hypocrisy while also ‘cleverly’ trading on the stigmas surrounding witchcraft and female sexuality. It’s all for a good cause, of course. Sundering the evil conservatives.

Who cares if you use exactly the same methods people like Christine O’Donnell uses to discredit her ideological foes? And, hey, who cares if you reinforce nasty stereotypes about religious minorities, eh? We need liberalism to protect the weak, after all.

In watching the usual sexist sophistry of mainstream American liberalism from the sidelines this season I’m left shaking my head and remembering why I’ve increasingly come to distance myself from that philosophical stream. For them, defeating conservatives- while a worthy goal- has become an end in and of itself in a grand game of mounted polo chiefly played by white upper class people who are predominantly male and Christian. Periodically, in the service of these “higher” ideals they espouse, they’ll throw people under the bus in parade: people of colour, gay/queer people, trans people (I haven’t forgotten, Representative Frank), women, and now, hey, let’s give the neo-pagans a turn while we’re at it.

If I sound a tad peeved it’s because this is getting old. In fact it was ‘old’ long before I was born. Thus, in that spirit, I shall show you something tonight you probably never expected: behold, a radical leftist feminist transsexual queer woman goes to bat for Christine O’Donnell. For one thing, I don’t care what she did when she was a teenager. I am concerned about the impact of her political views in the here and now. For all I know, she could’ve been more rad than Angela Davis when she was 18, it does not change the fact that there is something glaringly wrong with her contemporary politics. We all did stupid shit when we were young. Myself included. I guarantee you, who ever you may be, did so as well. Maybe you had hot Satanic sex with two people! (Of course, that’s less stupid and more flaming hot, but… you get the idea). I do not need to know this about Ms. O’Donnell’s past. I kind of figured she’s fucked at some point in her life. I assume that about most people I meet. I even assume they’ve probably done weird shit in the bedroom at some point in their lives. I actually assume this about every politician I’ve ever heard of or laid eyes upon.

I would actually hazard a guess that most people do, regardless of social class or education. No one, not a one, is surprised when some rag runs sex scandal stories. Ever.

People change over time. How would you feel if some bit of youthful nonsense you’d dipped your nose into stalked you for the rest of your life? Christine O’Donnell’s contemporary record speaks for itself without this being thrown onto the pile. So, the rub of this is, irrespective of everything else, the fact that she did this in the past does not change Ms. O’Donnell’s sincerity in her convictions, nor does it make her less serious. That is a fact that those interested in challenging her would actually do well to keep in mind. If she ever was Wiccan (doubtful) she certainly is no longer and represents a legitimate threat to liberty. We would do well to not dismantle it on our end by opposing her with witch-baiting and sexist campaigns, yes?

Secondly and finally, Satanism and witchcraft are not the same things, and both Satanists and Wiccans will tell you this, as will many neo-Pagans. The conflation of the two is a Christian creation designed to facilitate exactly the kind of slandering that Bill Maher and other white liberal men are now using to pursue their own short term political aims. “She’s a witch!!” Really guys? The Fundamentalists called, they want their shtick back.

As far as I’m concerned the mainstream liberals and conservatives can have each other. A metaphorical hex on both their houses.

ETA: Apparently us witchy folks are speaking up rather loudly about this now. Note, however, that the criticism is being levelled chiefly at O’Donnell, as well it should since she herself was defaming Wicca/witchcraft in her initial interview. I maintain, however, that the media’s uncritical use of this soundbyte and screaming headlines of “O’Donnell says she dabbled in witchcraft” were meant to speak to a presumed audience of Americans who would assume witchcraft is bad and scandalous, and thus the thrust of my criticism- directed at liberals who sought to make a tempest in a tea (party) cup- remains trenchant, in my view. The headlines were not “O’Donnell insults Wiccan community,”  they were oriented at shaming her for her association, however tenuous and distant in the past, with something vaguely approximating witchcraft.

The scandal was not her bigotry, it was the insinuated association. The media’s uncritical repetition of this meme is reflective of far larger problems than O’Donnell’s individual rantings and it is this, I feel, that merits the most criticism.

Invisible Woman

“This is a bill that begins to confuse the gender differences between men and women to the point of trying to allow men to use women’s restrooms, and, of course, that means sexual predators going after young children,” Tom Minnery, senior vice president of public policy at Focus on the Family Action, said… (Source.)

There are things that words often fail to describe adequately. My reaction to the above quote was one of those things. But I will take a good stab at explaining why this is wrong using my usual flawless logic.

First of all, the onus is on the Christian fundamentalists to demonstrate using anything other than tautological bullshit that gender-identity discrimination protection empowers sex offenders. I like to think of myself as a fair minded woman, willing to walk in another person’s shoes for a while (they’re probably less painful than heels for sure). But for the life of me, looking through the eyes of these Christian radicals I still can’t see what they see apropos paedophila. All I see is that they’re scared of me.

Again we return to the nuclear unicorn thing. I am again being portrayed as this deadly weapon that is an unmitigated threat to society, restrained only by a lack of laws recognising my dignity.

To address this directly, we all know that tragically women and children have been raped or assaulted in restrooms. Yet that’s exactly the point, the absence of pro-trans legislation hasn’t in any way restrained these monsters. If such legislation exists, exactly what loophole can they exploit to do something they’re legally unable to do now? If a man walks into a women’s bathroom and starts leering and groping, he’ll get arrested. Why? For sexual assault. This bill is not decriminalising rape, assault, or sexual harassment. It only ensures that I’m not discriminated at work because I’m a trans woman and that I can use the bathroom of my choice.

Why does this matter, asks the ignorant Christian rightist? Well this may shock you, quite a bit, so prepare to have your mind blown. I use the restroom to relieve myself. I go in there to pee and if I’m really desperate, take the occasional dump. I do not go in there to draw pentagrams on the floor in goat blood and sacrifice babies to our lord Beelzebub while groping various asses that may come my way.

This is quintessential othering. Here’s one more thought exercise: if they’re so concerned about sexual assault, why would they send me- a woman- who is dressed like a woman, looks like a woman, sounds like a woman, into a men’s bathroom? They’re not worried about the catcalling, questioning, groping or leering I might experience? But of course, this isn’t about protecting women or children, and as ever it is a mere smokescreen of incredibly acrid bullshit meant to make people hate us. Yesterday I said that as we are de-voiced we are tragically made all things to all people. Well, you can add ‘paedophile’ to the list of things Christians insist on believing about us.

The fact that it never occurs to these people that I might just want to use the bathroom to pee and wash my hands tells you how deeply ingrained their sense of us as this evil alien species is, and of course they view gays and lesbians in much the same way.

Logically speaking such laws do nothing to help sex offenders. This argument has been trotted out countless times and every time so-called liberal lawmakers do not get up to bat and beat this down; we’re just trannies, why risk their careers on us? But it’s a monumentally stupid and offensive argument. In New York City we have an ordinance that allows trans people to use the sex-segregated facilities of their choice. That’s brilliant. You may also have noticed no commensurate increase in bathroom rape here. That’s because no one can reasonably use those laws to get out of an assault charge. Why? Because the law isn’t about assault.

It’s about allowing me to use the restroom and dispose of my bodily waste.

But really it’s starting to get very tiring to hear these conservative arguments on an academic level just because they’re so old and repetitive. Really, what’s next?

“This is a bill that begins to undermine American energy independence by charging so-called polluters for their waste, and, of course, that means sexual predators going after young children.”


“This is a bill that will allow poor families to access healthcare for the first time and prevent people from being denied coverage, and, of course, that means sexual predators going after young children.”

Come up with something new, guys, seriously. Also, word of advice: Don’t talk about “the children” until you stop opposing things that actually help kids like Head Start and CHIP.

This particular brand of hate meshes very well with that of the malevolent forces in the psychiatric establishment who work tirelessly against the liberties of trans people by attempting to categorise us as disordered. Recently I took this piss out of Kenneth Zucker, the lead doctor at Toronto’s infamous Clarke Institute in Toronto, part of the Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, and with good reason. This man embodies the precise threat of transmisogyny to not just trans women, but women as a whole.

Dr. Zucker, seen here trying to melt his arch nemesis, Barbie, with his mind.
Dr. Zucker, seen here trying to melt his arch nemesis, Barbie, with his mind.

He is a staunch proponent of the idea that “men wanting to be women” are psychiatrically injured and need to be ‘cured’ of this malignancy. Time and time again trans women are at best aggressively questioned and at worst aggressively beaten for ‘wanting to be women’ because, as most men would wonder, why on Earth would anyone want to be a woman? They’re so… frilly and inferior.

Women as a whole must recognise this and take umbrage at it.

Furthermore it’s worth noting that he also enables a particularly stupid argument that a small minority of gay men love to indulge: “Failure to intervene increases the chances of transsexualism in adulthood, which Zucker considers a bad outcome. … Why put boys at risk for this when they can become gay men happy to be men?” This was written by J. Michael Bailey, a fellow traveler of Zucker’s who cannot believe that I am happy and empowered by being a woman despite the downstairs mixup.

But the point is, folks, I’m a lesbian. I’ll defend the rights of gay men to the death, but I’m not one of them. I’m part of the GLBT movement we all share, yes. But I am not a gay man. I’m a lesbian (trans)woman. That’s just how my cards fell. What does Zucker say to that? I should also add that I’m a very broad minded woman. It took a lot of introspection to get to where I am now and most important of all, self acceptance. Given everything that trans people have to endure and the stigmas we carry (see: what started this article) I cannot fathom that any real person who has gotten to this point is suppressing gay-ness to do something that is monumentally harder, more expensive, and more inviting of trouble on one’s house.

In short, if I truly was gay, and assuming all else about my mind and personality were equal, I’d have had no trouble accepting it.

I’m a woman and it’s as simple as that.

Why should I be ashamed of that or need to be cured of it? Why must I and my experience be made invisible because of it? That’s a worthwhile question for all women to consider.

The Trans-feminine Mystique

When I first began writing this journal/blog thingy I wondered in my very first post if I should come out or not; if I should restrain myself from letting that little dirty secret slip into a Google-searchable journal. In the end I realised something rather important, so I just said “fuck it” and wrote that into the very first post. I knew I couldn’t hold that back. It’s in the DNA of this journal’s name, as the first post explained.

But what I also realised is that there are still so precious few outlets for trans people to get the message out there. There are certainly more than ever. The Internet has been a remarkable help in this regard. Many books are now on the shelves that are autobiographical, political or both, and that’s a wonderful thing. Yet even so, none of us can name a really good movie that portrayed a trans person sympathetically, seriously, and non-stereotypically, much less a TV show.

We are shown as crude caricatures, or with our high heeled legs pointing up out of a dumpster, or as cruel temptresses who will defile unwitting young men with our secret sausage. Trans women are those crude and cruel mockeries, trans men don’t even exist at all in the media, save for the needed telling of some tragic tales like that of Brandon Teena. But beyond those sad true life stories, we do not hear much about trans men or trans women- certainly not the triumphs of our every day lives, nor do we see any beautiful pictures painted on screen depicting the realisation of our simple dreams.

Transamerica came closest but even that film, despite having had several trans women consultants like Andrea James whose life story would make a damn fine movie on its own, blew chunks in its portrayal of us. Felicity Huffman’s character was portrayed as a hyper feminine almost wanna-be character that stumbled in her high heels. That’s bollocks, for one thing. You adapt to high heels pretty quickly. Her character is years into transition and that stumbling does little more than assist the audience in not taking her seriously as a woman; as if to say walking in heels is some arcane art of women that cannot be imitated by trans women because of their knobbly bits.

There are countless moments like this, such as the portrayal of her putting on her makeup and spending a tremendous amount of time ‘putting woman on’ which reinforces the idea that she has to put on a costume and deceive. Unlike an actual woman, is the implicit message, intended or not. This belies the countless stories of real trans women who roll out of bed in a tank top and jeans and get groceries in the morning without spending two hours putting on makeup.

What was particularly annoying about this portrayal was that it tapped straight into a deeply othering meme that infects the wider media. Showing trans women spending lots of time putting on makeup. Even in sympathetic news or talk show outlets that have shown positive stories about us, like Oprah or Vermont’s CBS affiliate, there’s always that money shot of the trans woman putting on makeup. It reinforces this asinine idea that our womanhood is artificial and revolves around the rituals of cosmetics and wigs and stuffing our clothes in the right places. The idea becomes very much implicit in all of this: we’d not be women but for that artifice.

This is insulting to trans women and it’s insulting to women as a whole. I am taken seriously as a woman despite not wearing much in the way of makeup. The most I ever use is a little lipstick because I happen to like what it does to my face. That’s not a crime. But I sure as hell don’t spend hours in front of the mirror using layers of foundation to “make myself a woman.”

In an earlier entry I remarked that trans people were an excruciatingly de-voiced group. These examples highlight the consequences of this. When the powers that be deign to cover us or give us a very filtered voice, it must always be channelled through the filter of their own definitions and biases. This has profound consequences and also explains a particular aspect of what I might call a little ironically The Transsexual Mystique: the fact that we’re all things to all people.

To Christians, Muslims, and other religious conservatives we are sins against nature whose very existence flies in the face of God. To liberals we are diversity chits to showcase their tolerance but not to be taken too seriously as ‘actual’ men and women. To macho, patriarchal men, we are incredibly gay sissy guys who need a beatdown and also a place for them to project their worst misogynist fantasies. To some feminist women, we’re sleeper agents of the patriarchy itself, men in drag who denigrate womanhood by being parodies of it. To psychiatrists we are their social experiment and a place to project their personal ideals so that we might be moulded into them. To some gays we’re merely deeply closeted gays and lesbians unable to grapple with our own latent homosexuality.

You may note that many of these stereotypes are trans woman-specific. This is because trans men are thinly regarded at all by society in this. Their existence puts lie to some of those stereotypes and is thus inconvenient.

The only way this happens is because who we really are isn’t part of the narrative. They know we exist as transsexual people but they don’t know what to make of us. So they project their fears, worries, and fantasies onto us. We are blank slates on which they may write their values, and in so doing they merely rationalise us into some role that buttresses their worldview. Because we sure as hell aren’t being allowed to do it. So few of us can stand up and say “this is my life, I’m a human being and here’s my experience…” So we simply become MacGuffins for everyone else’s political ballgames.

When we are allowed to speak, we always have our words edited by the demands of commercial media and parsed by psychiatrists who allegedly know us better than we know ourselves. Our experience is forever qualified by the desires of others.

So I’m telling this story. My story, and my observations. I don’t pretend it applies universally, but it’s part of the true tapestry of the lives of all trans people. What can be done to fix and redress the media portrayal problems? A good place to start looking and see what the future might look like is Venus Envy, a webcomic by Erin Lindsey that deals with the lives of trans people in a small Pennsylvania town. It can be a little soap opera-ish, but what matters most is that I identified with the main character, Zoe.

She wasn’t a caricature, she wasn’t a cardboard cut out, and she wasn’t comic relief. She was a fictional character who was going through what I went through with the same thoughts, worries, fears, hopes, and some experiences that I had. It matters so very much to see and I ate that comic up, finding hope in Ms. Lindsey’s excellent and heartfelt storyweaving.

One of the other main characters is a trans man as well, and their issues are handled so deftly and expertly that I never felt condescended to. I just felt like this was a reflection of my experience. Trans people as a whole were being taken seriously in this artwork. Lindsey knows how to make us laugh about our own foibles and some of her earlier comics make great play of that. But the joke is not on us, it’s on the absurdity of the situations society leaves us in. That is a critical distinction.

This is why I get so annoyed at people who decry “affirmative action” on television and in films, like some morons at the University of Connecticut’s Young Republican club who actually denigrated Star Trek: Voyager for being such a thing. To hell with you. There is a very distinct power to seeing a reflection of yourself in the media. It makes you feel like you’re part of the society and that your stories and experiences matter enough to be reflected into the general public. I can empathise with white characters and with cis-women characters, and even the odd male character. But it makes my heart sing with I see a trans woman I can truly identify with.

Because the trans part of my womanhood is a very specific and very involved set of experiences that are not easily replicated in other demographic groups. Zoe Carter as a character matters a lot to me because of that. Erin Lindsey truly Gets It. It’s no surprise then that she’s trans herself. But we all need to tell our stories, and in her way this is how she tells hers.

I also added a link to the blog roll to Lady Jade Lioness’ Den, a good friend who is writing a wonderful piece of erotic fiction starring a trans woman who, aside from being elegant, strong, and intelligent, can kick some serious ass and knows how to use a pair of daggers to deadly effect. In a word, a badass I can empathise with. It matters to have those sorts of heroes and see them portrayed positively and sympathetically.

It matters not just because we need to feel less alone or because seeing ourselves reflected positively is empowering. It is also because we need to stop being all things to all people and instead be ourselves.

Drawn Into Failure

Quick, how do you draw a political cartoon?

If your snarky answer is “very, very carefully” then you’re demonstrably wrong. If your answer is “with an eye towards elucidating complicated subjects in a visual medium” then I will have to laugh most heartily for thou art a silly one.

Ultimately, political cartooning is one of the most addicting, unedifying, and destructive media in the press at large. Some webcomic authors, all of whom are young people, are already mocking the so-called art. It’s not a slight against the artistic talents of the men and women who draw them, mind. Some are quite good. The problem lies with the almost self-satirising silliness of the medium they’re forced to work in.

One that uses almost comically overdone visual metaphors that fail so much they have to be brazenly labeled in order to be intelligible to the reader.

Ever since the peerless British satire programme The Day Today (a sort of forerunner to fake news shows like The Daily Show) aired its segments with ‘Brant’, the physical cartoonist, it seems that this ridiculous artform has come under ever increasing scrutiny for its overall uselessness, obviousness, and the fact that it’s biased in a thoroughly artless way.

Opinionmakers, like the seductive, incredibly sexy author of this article, are biased by default. But there’s a fine line between making a case and just being an asshole. Most political cartoonists fall into the latter category. When you see a political cartoon odds are you love or hate it, and if you hate it you can think of several arguments against the tendentious point being made.

The point of arguments and of opinion pieces at large is to convince people of the rectitude of your views. Political cartoons merely cheerlead aggressively for their own side. They do not have arguments, facts, figures, or carefully constructed reasoning, just an ugly caricature and a series of speech bubbles in whose brevity all profundity and reason is lost.

How *can* you distill something as complicated as race relations, the war in Afghanistan, or healthcare reform into something as simple as a single unmoving picture? The only way to do so is by leaving out every detail except one relevant one with your personal bias colouring in the rest of the piece. Last time I wrote, I mentioned a couple of major tropes that emerged in cartoons critical of President Obama’s healthcare reform. They were more heat than light, in a very basic way.

What do we learn from seeing Obama gleefully snapping a long rubber glove on while standing behind a white male everyman helpfully labeled “Taxpayer” as Obama says “This is going to hurt”? The ostensible message is that healthcare reform will be painful, unpleasant, and expensive. And apparently that spending money is like being fisted. Unless it’s for a flat screen TV, of course.

We learn nothing. People who know anything about this debate know that expense is one of several angles only, and can under certain circumstances be justified. What is tax money for if not to provide public services that can’t be supplied at a quality level any other way? We may learn that the artist really likes anal sex, however. That’s more than I wanted to know about Glenn McCoy, but hey, no one told me to read the cartoon.

That besides, there are too many political cartoon clichés as is. Those healthcare tropes are just the most obvious from a very contemporary issue. Other related tropes include a patient lying in the OR, helpfully labeled ‘healthcare reform’ or ‘healthcare crisis’. President Obama must be very flattered by the dozens of dashing portrayals of him in a white lab coat. The rest of us must be getting just a little weary of seeing healthcare represented by a five foot tall gel-cap (or maybe it’s a suppository, you know these conservative cartoonists).

Again, these are dozens of different cartoonists, uncreatively using the same images over and over again.

But there are scores more generic mainstays. Let’s look at a few with the help of my beloved slugs:

There’s the family on the couch reading the newspaper and making some tendentious joke about it:

Sluggies on Sofa
I'm quite certain that for some people, this event *would* be an outrage.


There’s the Bludgeon-You-To-Death-With-My-Visual-Metaphor type that has to label everything in order to give it even a tiny bit of meaning:

Political Heat Slug

There’s the old workhorse, the physical caricature, which makes great play of an offending pol’s physical characteristics:

Big Eyed Slug

There’s the perennially lazy “News Item” comics which fail so hard at contextualizing an issue that they have to basically put a headline at the top of the cartoon and have their caricature underneath it in a cheap attempt to make up for the heretofore lack of cartooniness in this political cartoon:

Political Cartoon 3

There’s a class I especially loathe which effectively kills political cartoons as any sort of timeless art. The Referencer. If a popular movie, no matter how bad, hits theatres you can be sure a gaggle of cartoonists will somehow, and often very cackhandedly, work it into their parodies:

Harry Potter Slug
Like the not at all unsubtle banking crisis behind me!


And finally, perhaps the most general trope of all, the “I’m stealing your shit” trope that tries to cast a generalised You as a victim of a highwayman in the form of the government or some other powerful institution:

I'd have drawn him twirling his moustache but he has no hands.
I'd have drawn him twirling his moustache but he has no hands.

There are countless more that I couldn’t take the piss out of by drawing them (My hand got tired):

The car at the petrol pump. The kids going trick or treating. The family around the breakfast table. The college commencement speech. The suburban man answering the door. The suburban couple sitting in front of the TV making a snide joke about some news story they’re watching. (Note that the general stand-ins for us the general public always portray us as roughly middle aged white citizens in a well appointed suburban house. [Don’t get me started on how shabbily political cartoons treat young people].)

Over and over again, we have seen these same images used by liberal and conservative cartoonists alike for dozens of different issues. It’s old, it’s repetitive and it does nothing. Bonus irony, many right wing cartoonists draw particularly snarky cartoons about union workers. These cartoonists are usually in the newspaper union at their place of work.

They are quintessential preaching-to-the-converted, and as the fairly recent debacle with the New York Post monkey comic shows, the medium encourages stupidly offensive and disrespectful imagery. How else to describe a medium that trades on caricature and punishes a politician not for their views but for having a big nose or large ears?

If indeed the newspaper business is dying, let political cartoons be the first organ that fails. Transplant it with a column written with some measure of dignity and with a desire to illuminate. (How’s that for a visual metaphor?)

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman Part I

I have a knack for being snarkily dispassionate about politics, taking a leaf from George Carlin’s playbook about being a disinterested observer with no investment or stake in political horsetrading. The current debate about healthcare, however, is one time where I have to trip and stumble back into the abyss of giving a shit.

It’s too personal for me not to. My own personal stake in the healthcare crisis as an uninsured woman is irrelevant. It’s the people I know personally who lack insurance despite health problems that are eminently treatable but for want of money that drive my feelings on the matter. I’ve been told that I’m unusually passionate about this issue. Well, so be it. If I’m going to be vitriolic and passionate about anything it might as well be this.

When you know someone who is being slowly murdered to support a wealthy business interest or an ideological point of discussion that tends to get one’s dander up just a wee bit.

So let’s get started. This week Democratic lawmakers have acted as the vanguard in President Obama’s new healthcare reform strategy, selling his proposals in town hall meetings nationwide. I won’t mince words, I detest this reform plan. It’s too much compromise and too little solution. But it’s worlds better than what we currently and laughably call a healthcare system. Anything that can get at least some stopgap relief to the armies of men, women, and children who are uninsured or underinsured is at least something.

The fact that a red squiggly line appears under the word ‘underinsured’ reminds one of how often we don’t hear about this, certainly. While the near 50m people without some form of insurance are bad enough, the millions more whose health insurance will not protect them from catastrophic healthcare problems are just as alarming. If you get a cold you’re covered, if you get cancer you’re SoL. That’s not a healthcare system.

Here’s why:

1) Healthcare for Profit is not Healthcare.

One basic thing you will learn in macroeconomics is that most decent economists agree there are some things a complex society needs that market forces cannot produce or maintain in sufficient quantity or quality. These include lots of taxpayer funded services that we take for granted; everything from the armed forces to the police and fire departments to various municipal EMS services to public parks and green spaces.

America is the only industrialised country where we seem to think healthcare should not be included in that list, despite all the economic alarm bells that should be going off when one turns healthcare into a business.

To put it quickly and dirtily when you move from seeing users of the system as patients to seeing them as dollar signs, you’re going to start rationing care to turn a profit.

Draconian ideas begin to creep into the system. Looking at patients as “risks” instead of, say, “people who need treatment” is what these ideas have engendered.

2) Capitalism Rations Healthcare.

You heard it here first, folks. But really this is easily visible on its face when examined the right way: what else do you call tens of millions of people unwillingly uninsured but ‘rationing’? We’ve heard this term used as a far right scare tactic over and over again in this battle, yet it seems to ignore the fact that the health insurance companies’ lust for profits have rationed millions out of the system.

The reason for this is simple. If your source of income (i.e. profit) is very finite, you will not render goods and services to just anyone. Only those who can pay. When it comes to selling, say, cars or computers or laundry detergent, this suits us all just fine. When it comes to healthcare, it starts killing people.

The reason the concept of “risk” exists in healthcare is because the insurers are for-profit.

3) America has 50 million (and counting) horror stories.

The much vaunted “horror stories” from “socialised” healthcare systems in Canada and the UK are designed to convince Americans that any sort of government-run healthcare plan is going to lead to endless tragedies. This would be all well and good except…

It neglects the countless times insurance-payers have been denied treatment because insurance companies saw them as too big a risk to support. Mind, these were cases where the patients had faithfully paid their insurance premiums. The company found a way to get out of meeting their end of the bargain when the moment of truth came. Only a private corporation could justify this using notions of risk versus reward. Only a private corporation could or would put some 25,000 dollars of its profit margin ahead of someone’s life. Even if we’re supposed to get what we pay for.

This doesn’t even begin to discuss the countless people who have no insurance at all. Where are the dreary television ads warning us using their personal tragedies?

4) Public Healthcare is Preventative (read: Cheaper).

It’s worth keeping in mind the simple psychology behind all of this. If you have coverage of some sort you are more likely to go to the doctor at the first sign of trouble rather than, say, wait five weeks for the symptoms to hopefully go away since you sure as hell can’t afford a useless doctor’s appointment.

If, however, you don’t have to worry about paying for even an intake visit you can catch a serious medical condition early and treat it for far less pain and lucre than you would otherwise be able to. For all those who complain so vociferously about paying for others, the simple reality is that they already are in one way or another. When a person who is hospitalised with a serious illness, insured, underinsured, or not, is checked in and treated they are absorbing resources and quite possibly contributing indirectly to increasing your insurance premiums.

One way or another, you pay. Would you rather pay far less through taxes for preventative treatment or far more through your already onerous premiums for people who’ve been conditioned to wait until it’s almost too late?

5) Public Healthcare is quite American, thank you very much.

In the usual rhetorical shell game oft played by politicians in this country we have been pooh poohed and told that we need to find a “uniquely American” solution to our healthcare woes. This is often in a response to questions about high user satisfaction in other countries that have universal coverage.

It’s, as is often the case with such things, a smokescreen.

Between the highly successful programs of Medicaid, Medicare, and military/VA care, we have proven that public plans are as American as apple pie. This by itself puts lie to those condescending dodges.

But the other reason they exist is in part because of American arrogance. Pride goeth before a fall (yet another Biblical idea that religious conservatives love to ignore). In the mid 1980s Taiwan was emerging from poverty and set about building a national healthcare system. They commissioned a blue ribbon panel to go around the world and study other healthcare networks, including America’s. They rejected ours mostly out of hand and instead put together ideas from a welter of other nations to bring about the highly successful, low-premium, smart-card based system every Taiwanese citizen now enjoys.

Are we too proud to examine what ideas can be borrowed from other countries?


There will, of course, be more to come. This is a broad overview of a rather complex subject. One that unscrupulous power brokers have taken it upon themselves to simplify in a dangerous way.

As I leaf through various media outlets and read political cartoons (rant forthcoming on that medium) I find that the debate on healthcare, particularly from the right, has been reduced to encouraging selfishness and fearmongering. Literally dozens of cartoons show President Obama as a surgeon ‘extracting’ a taxpayer’s wallet. A more interesting sub-genre shows him as a doctor snapping a long rubber glove on and a generic white male representing The Taxpayer bent over before him in a gown.

This continues the long running conservative obsession with anal sex, of course.

But more importantly it shows how right wingers are trying to frame this. Protect your own wealth and screw everyone else. They seem to forget that idea, and how it dominated policymaking over the last two decades, is why taxpayers’ wallets are hurting in the first place.