Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Duck Island Castle!

So here's a new Duck Island spread for my picture book in progress, where the two meet the king and queen of Duck Island. Here we've gone deeper into the woods, so I wanted it to be a little darker (but not scary dark) with long shadows to add drama.

The shaft of light effect I used in this one and that last Duck Island image is inspired by Pascal Campion who's always really affective at using this and other dramatic lighting techniques, though I didn't want to go quite as saturated as Pascal tends to with the color. That kind of color works more for Pascal who has a very graphic approach.

One of the things I love about Pascal is that, like Bob Staake, another favorite, he's not trying to make his art look like it was done on anything else but a computer, doing the most remarkable things with the most basic Photoshop tools. Staake even gets away with a liberal use of the gradients, something many of us avoid for fear of looking too "computery." This unapologetic computeriness seems to suit them both very well. As people are always saying, it's just another tool. I use the computer more to compose my images than as a way to generate them from scratch. Maybe some day. 

Here's the complete inked background:

The perspective is simple two-point but still a little bit of a challenge for me because of all the ellipses. Fortunately the duck heads poking out of them made up for any imprecision. It's great to have an opportunity to experiment with architecture. Architecture is something I'd really like to do more of. This was a mash-up between a birdhouse, a Medieval castle and a ziggurat.

The background was originally drawn as one piece, then inked in parts using a light box and reassembled on the computer to avoid masking. Otherwise I'd have to use some kind of liquid or adhesive mask for each element, and this approach both saves time and is easier to control.

In the image above that line with the ticks on it was used so each element would register with one another and the vanishing points would all line up.

No tick marks for the trees, since it was less critical that they lined up.

Below is one of the background silhouettes I used to give the forest more depth. This was originally done in straight opaque ink and the color was added later.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Reframing the Argument: Feminism in a Post LGBT Civil Rights World

In my earlier essay I discussed why I considered myself a feminist, and in describing the current climate of feminism I found it impossible not to talk about LGBT rights. First I should note that when I say “post LGBT civil rights” I don’t mean that we have reached any point of resolution on the issue. It is and continues to be an ongoing struggle. I only mean that, like the black civil rights movement in the 60s, the LGBT civil rights movement has reached a point where it can no longer be ignored by the general population. Significantly, with the inclusion of transgender into the popular discussion of lesbian, gay, and bisexual advocacy, the broader issue of gender identity must become an integral part of that argument.  The issue of feminism has always been, more broadly, the issue of gender. In a civil rights context gender identity means gender freedom--not only the right to be recognized as the gender with which you identify, but the acknowledgement of the notion that gender is a cultural distinction as much as a genetic one. By acknowledging gender as a cultural distinction in the popular conversation in so significant a way, we reframe the discussion of feminism completely.

The transgender model suggests that gender identity is a discrete concept from gender role: I may identify as female, but as a result of my socialization, I live my life in the role of a man. This suggests just how mutable the concept of gender role is, how so much of what we assume is inherent about gender is in fact, cultural. This is not to say that gender identity is a choice, only that the cultural institutions of gender are constantly evolving, and that there is little about gender that we should consider a given.

What it means to be a woman in the 21st century has changed significantly since the 19th.With the growth of the women’s civil rights movement, women have taken on roles that have been traditionally masculine in the culture and in the workplace, roles that before were considered the exclusive domain of men. There are multiple examples of women who have dressed as men to become soldiers during wartime, not necessarily because they identified as male, but simply for the right to participate. It’s only recently that female soldiers in the U.S. have been permitted to enter into combat. Not insignificantly, the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"  preceded this. This only further illustrates to me how sexual identity and gender identity are linked as civil rights issues.

Union cavalryman Jack Williams (left) fought in 18 battles and was wounded three times and taken prisoner once. He was later revealed to be Frances Clalin a mother-of-three from Illinois

GLBT Rights, and Assimilation

First march on Washington by the Mattachine Society

The strategy of the LGBT civil rights movement from the beginning has been public acceptance. The easiest way to gain acceptance is to look as much as possible like the group you want to be accepted by. The earliest gay civil rights marches were done by women in formal dresses, and men in shirts and ties. By the 70s all of that changed.

With the advent of the sexual revolution we saw much more experimentation with gender roles, particularly in the gay and lesbian community in urban centers. Cross-dressing was both a deliberate co-option and defiance of the heterosexual institutions that were represented by traditional gender roles. These experiments took an even broader turn with the introduction of the concept of genderfuck.(I apologize if the term gives offense--if there was another name for it, I’d use it, but this is the term that has the most historical precedent for the concept--what later evolved into "genderqueer"). Genderfuck was  the conflagration of male and female dress, a deliberate parody and subversion of gender role identity. Men would wear women’s clothing and make-up along with beards and mustaches, making no effort to conform to the feminine or masculine ideal.

"Genderfuck:" Hibiscus of the theater troupe, The Cockettes

The post AIDs Reagan era saw the evolution of a gay culture that was a kind of parallel to straight culture. Once again, the emphasis was on acceptance and assimilation. The kind of gender experimentation of the 70s is embraced more reluctantly—it’s the kind of thing you might see in gay pride parades, but the public face of the gay and lesbian community is one of assimilated normality. So while now we live in a culture where gays and lesbians are increasingly able to marry and transgender men and women are increasingly accepted, it’s been at the sacrifice of other gender freedoms.

 We still like our gender identities to be unambiguous. Even bi-sexuality is looked upon with suspicion in the gay community, and on a certain level, understandably—we may not be able to choose who we love, but bisexuals have more choices. If you are gay or lesbian, 100% of the time the person you love is not going to exist within the accepted mainstream heterosexual model. Pursuing a romantic relationship, by default, becomes a political act. It’s understandable why someone who is gay or lesbian would look upon someone who is bisexual as potentially slumming.

In my earlier essay, I discussed how traditionally feminine behavior in men and masculine behavior in women is often associated with homosexuality, and, particularly for men, has been a traditional signifier for homosexuality. I similarly discussed how, for this reason, the demonstrative exhibition of behavior of the opposite gender by a heterosexual, again, particularly a man, can be perceived--whether true or not--as a deliberate deception in this regard. Effeminate men can similarly be seen as slumming.

The problem is that this only further discourages men from exhibiting behavior that is traditionally female without it becoming mired in questions of sexual identity or transgender issues. On a certain level this may only be a question of window dressing—men aren’t discouraged from taking on many of the practical roles traditionally associated with women such as child caregiving in contemporary middle class society, at least not in quite the same way. But heterosexual men are discouraged from being flamboyant in both behavior and dress, and cross-dressing in heterosexual men is considered a marginalized form of paraphilia.

For the most part I don’t see this is a great hardship considering all the other advantages straight men enjoy in our culture. Do we need to create yet another category for effeminate heterosexual men so that we can fit them in yet another discrete box to incorporate into the culture? Or should we see gender identity as a more fluid concept in general? And maybe after a while, all these discrete and acceptable categories for behavior will no longer need to be segregated from the broader concept of gender.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"I'm Not a Feminist But..."

I'm a Feminist

Someone in my writing group brought up this phrase that often precedes, what for all intents and purposes, are feminists statements. "I'm not a a feminist, but."

I remember making the statement myself in college. At one point someone called me on it. They asked, "And why aren't you?" and I could think of no good reason why I wasn't. Still, I was ambivalent about the word.

The word "feminism" has been vilified for as long as it has existed. People don't want to be associated with the word for fear that it may imply that they don't like men, have animosity towards men, or, in the case of men who identify as feminists, that they loathe some aspect of themselves.

This is simply not the case.

Being a Feminist Is Not Noble

One problem with identifying as feminist if you're a man, is the assumption that it implies that you're trying to be noble. This very well could be for some people. But I don't think it has to be. For me, being a feminist is in my own best interest.

Being a Feminist Is Not Weak

I've uncomfortable with the emotionally cut-off,  aggressive, macho and sexually predatory model that has been held up to me by the culture as an example of what I'm supposed to be as a man. Not only do I not identify with this model, but trying to be who the culture keeps telling me I'm supposed to be is unfulfilling work. I don't consider this model to be "strong." I consider it to be a barrier.

I like women because I like people. I don't want the imposition of gender role identity to interfere with my relationships with either men or women.

It is in my best interest as a person who wants to enjoy full relationships with people who have a lot to offer me, both male and female, to be conscious of the conditioning and social institutions that reinforce the negative aspects of these roles.

Gender Stereotypes Are Not All Bad, But They're Not All True, Either

Machismo happens to be an aspect of my gender that I do not personally embrace, but I don't condemn it either. You can be macho without being an asshole. You can love sports and lift weights and swagger and be aggressive and still be a feminist. It's a challenge--since machismo often suggests dominance, and dominance does not reconcile well with equality--but the affectations of machismo do not have to include a lack of consideration for others. It's harder to be macho without being an asshole, but it's possible.

Many of us, myself included, often resent the expectations associated with our gender roles, and machismo is only one small aspect of this. Men who wish to be child care givers. Men who wish to be homemakers. Men who wish to take on any role traditionally associated with women. 

There are many traditional aspects of gender role that are positive and useful. Being a feminist does not mean relinquishing these traditions, or condemning them. It means that it's important to be mindful of them, to understand what's useful and what isn't. 

The Inflexibility of Gender Role 

The great thing about gender equality is that, ideally, women get to have these same traditionally male affectations if they want to have them, without fear of being vilified for being too masculine.  Similarly, men who demonstrate traditionally feminine traits wouldn't be condemned for being too feminine. Unfortunately we do not live in that magic ideal. But like all ideals, this does not mean that we can't strive to get there. 

Traditional gender role stereotypes are straight, so it makes sense that some gays and lesbians would resist and combat these stereotypes by embracing behaviors of the opposite gender. In this way, assuming traits of the opposite gender in a world that does not accept your sexual orientation becomes an act of defiance, particularly when no other behavioral model presents itself. Not a weakness, but a strength.  

Unfortunately in mainstream gay culture, men and women are still vilified for behavior that is not traditionally of their gender even within that culture. There is far less prejudice within mainstream gay culture for non-traditional gender behavior than in straight culture, but it is present. This ambivalence stems, on the positive end, from these historical and cultural associations--the expression of, particularly effeminacy in men as an act of defiance--and on the negative end, from the desire not to be associated with the stereotype. 

In straight culture--which is to say, the dominant culture--men and women whose behavior is not traditionally of their gender are often identified and misidentified as gay or lesbian for this same reason. Since traditionally masculine behavior in women, and even more so,  traditionally feminine behavior in men has been used as an identifier historically--for lack of a better one--for homosexuality, there is also a sense of ownership of the behavior in gay culture. There is a justified sense that straight men behaving in a traditionally effeminate way, or straight women behaving in a traditionally masculine way, are misrepresenting themselves as gay both by gay and straight culture. Compared to the challenges gay and lesbians face, I don't consider this a great hardship for straight people, but it does further complicate the magic ideal of gender equality when it comes to gender roles. Both gay and straight, we feel pressure to adhere to traditional gender role stereotypes of one kind or another.

How It Effects Us

All behavior traditionally associated with a given gender role is a signifier of that role. Which means: it's hard to assume behaviors traditionally associated with the opposite gender, whether practical or demonstrative, without resistance. 

So yes, being a feminist may not always be noble. But it is a challenge. And being a feminist is more than simply reacting to gender oppression. It's being mindful of how your behavior effects your day to day relationships. How does gender role play a part? And this applies to both genders. If you disagree with female oppression, you must also recognize that men, too, are negatively effected by the traditions of gender. Not to say that men don't benefit in the most obvious practical sense from the advantages of their gender, but the disadvantages and limitations presented by the very fact of gender role is very real. Feminism is a way to subvert these limitations. It represents not just gender equality, but gender freedom.

Adendum: About Gender Identity and the Appropriation of Gay Culture

The question of whether or not feminine behavior in men, or masculine behavior in women could be perceived as an appropriation of gay culture was brought up on another thread. My response:

I think that the gay cultural appropriation issue is mainly in regard to gender ambiguity, not simply non-traditional gender role behavior. Overt feminine affectations in male behavior (or to a lesser degree, masculine affectations in female behavior) are explicitly associated with homosexuality both in gay and straight culture, at least in the U.S., opening up the question of whether that person wants to be perceived as gay. The behavior could be entirely unconscious, but the perception remains the same. As a male, by expressing stereotypical feminine traits, if you don't otherwise identify as female, you're sending out this signifier whether you intend to or not.

The problem is that this perception may not reflect any such intention. A straight male could just be naturally more feminine in their behavior. But largely this behavior is discouraged among straight people as culturally inappropriate, and if the behavior is intentional or affected, it could be perceived as deliberately misleading. I think a lot of young people experimenting with gender identity in their teens and early twenties affect gender ambiguous behavior simply to see how they'll be perceived. I don't see anything wrong with this, unless their intension is to deliberately mislead.

On the downside, when you consider the political and social significance of identifying as gay or transgender, gender ambiguity that represents no long term social or political commitment can easily and justifiably be seen as slumming in the GLBT community.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Duck Island: Now Even Duckier!

So Duck Island, my Early Reader in progress, was lacking a certain amount of pizazz. I had thought of a lot of different ideas for what a duck civilization would look like, and everything I thought up was coming out Ewok Village. Then I thought: birdhouses! Then I thought: bird. houses (this is how literal-minded I am). Thus we have the new Duck Island:

The first of what will be two spreads revealing the world of Duck Island. I think it lacks the ethereal quality of the earlier one but what it lacks in atmosphere it makes up for in style and contrast.

Here's the redone background in black and white, originally done in black ink and brown acrylic ink with drybrush and crowquil:

Why I inked and Assembled the Background in Multiple Parts.

 It was done in three parts, then scanned and assembled. I drew everything together, then inked the trees, birdhouses and duck houses all separately on my lightbox. Why (you ask)? So I wouldn't have to do any masking. It requires more scanning, but the paper I like to work on can't tolerate adhesive or latex masking. It just tears it up. Also: I hate masking, and never manage to get the control I want. Somehow I always manage to miss an edge, and there's no going back!

It takes about an hour to scan and assemble the whole mess--each part also has to be put back together because the image area is bigger than my scanner--but it's worth it. Thus I don't have to worry about losing the fluid lines on the tree behind the birdhouse, or any other textures interrupted by other objects.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Mira Reisberg's Video of Me Explaining my Process

Here you can see me making unintentional goofy expressions and explaining my process in an impromptu interview with Mira Reisberg. At the time of her visit, I didn't know she was bringing a camera so I wasn't quite prepared, but I think she did a pretty good job editing it all together and making me sound comprehendible, though there's a little bit of shaky cam.

Here are the final images that appear in Cricket Magazine:

And I write about the experience, here.