Sonya Saturday Likes a Challenge
If you want to enter Sonya Saturday’s Patreon account, you must be 18 years of age or older. The header gives you an idea of why: carefully drawn images of vibrant feminine figures in various shades of red, purple and pink greet you unapologetically, the only hint of clothing amongst the otherwise naked crew a single thong. Perhaps to counterbalance this small lack of nudity, the wearer, who gazes directly at the visitor, is paired with the only written statement visible on the panel: it reads “Viva vagina.” The image itself is bold and dramatic, yet its effect is subtle and unnerving. This is not a place where visitors go to simply be entertained, laugh and feel comfortable. On the contrary, this is where they go to embrace the challenging of social norms and to grow familiar with their own discomfort.
“I say that my stuff is grown-up humor because a lot of times people can look at my work and think because it's cartoony and bright and colorful it's for children,” Sonya told SB Swartz during an interview one evening. “I don't say it's adult humor because when people think of adult humor, they think of straight up sex stuff. My stuff is about sex, but it's not actually sex. And I don't want to say it's for mature people because grown-ups aren't necessarily mature. I'm an adult, [and] I'm perfectly not mature plenty of [the] time. I mean, I draw dinosaurs with big dicks giving each other blowjobs. It's not really mature, but it's for the grown-ups! There's a difference.”
Grown-up humor is but one of the many tools Saturday uses to explore these areas of discomfort. Throughout her diverse and growing portfolio of artwork she consistently delves into topics relating to queerness, sexuality, and gender, which ultimately also hint at larger themes of self-worth, courage and acceptance. In her photo project "Insecure Los Angeles," for example, Saturday takes Los Angeles cityscapes and projects her own destructive thoughts into the sky. When SB spoke with Saturday about her work, she explained the project in this manner:
“I take photographs around Los Angeles because I think the city is really beautiful. I take handwritten lettering and put it up in the sky with these very negative self-talk messages. They're sort of like anti-inspirational posters, but they're meant to be funny. I take these negative things that I say to myself in my head […] and I blast it up into the sky in these photos, and that helps me feel better about that thing. It helps me combat that negative self-talk, if I put it out there, make it larger than life. And other people have actually started relating to this work. They'll say to me, ‘Oh, I've thought that exact same thing about myself, that exact same shitty thing. So I'm going to buy this print because it's going to remind me that I'm not alone.’”
This head-on approach to addressing her own discomfort had initially surfaced when SB and Saturday sat down to discuss her recent involvement in an entirely different kind of art project. Saturday had recently participated in her dear friend Rae Threat’s docu-photography project The Untitled Body Project, in which Saturday, once again, confronted her own discomfort. As she recalled, “Rae told me they were doing this [photography project] and asked me if I would be a model for it. They were like, ‘You'll be naked and in 3D’ and I was like, ‘That sounds kickass, so let's do it.’”
When asked why she thought she had been invited to participate in the project, Saturday immediately responded with the refreshing candor that was a through line in both the interview and her work. “It's ‘cause I'm trans, I'm willing to talk about my body, I'm willing to be uncomfortable, I'm pretty, and I'm willing to get naked.” As the interview progressed, SB discovered just how true this statement really was.
A central goal of Threat’s project was to investigate “how society and culture have shaped and influenced our bodies and how we view them.” When Saturday was asked how she thought society and culture had shaped her views of her own body, she explained:
“Society tells me that my body is totally wrong. Our culture tells me that I should not have this body, that my body is some kind of abomination and shouldn't be looked at. That's what I get from society. But at the same time, now I have boobs and people really like looking at my boobs. So I know that's a thing that they want. So I just let my boobs hang out like all the time. Society tells me my body is wrong, but at least I know I have something they want.”
Of course, no matter how confident a person might be, it is difficult to escape the effects of these social attitudes completely. As Saturday acknowledged, “I love my body and I'm happy with how it's different now than it was a few years ago, just from hormone therapy, my body has changed in ways that I really, really, really like. But I don't really look the way that I would like to, ideally. And the only way I'm going to be able to look the way I would like, is to get a bunch of surgeries all over my body. I'm working on some of them dealing with insurance, and you know, it'll be nice to get some things changed around, but it's still…I'm never going to be the way I wish I really was unless they somehow in the future create synthetic bodies and can just put my brain in a completely different body that is my ideal.”
And yet, Saturday decided to participate in Threat’s project anyway. “It's going to be my first time being fully nude in an art show. I've been in other shows but never fully nude, so that's going to be kind of a big thing for me, especially since my body right now is not where I wish it was and I'm going to be showing it off anyway.”
This feeling of dissatisfaction with our bodies as they currently are is something that most people can related to; however, the willingness to be nude in a very public way in spite of it is far less common. This openness is but one example of Saturday’s embrace of discomfort. When asked what she saw as the benefit from being uncomfortable, Saturday explained:
“Oh, to me that's strength. For most of my life, I was uncomfortable everywhere. I used to be so shy. Once I started figuring out what the issue was, I got braver about talking to people and that became a strength for me. I just had to become more fearless and I had to start standing up to people who I disagreed with about things that either affected me or people that I care about. And I realized that I like it. I like challenging people's views. I like challenging their opinions. Especially when I think they're wrong or I would like to try changing their mind or at least just teach them some sort of lesson. And if that doesn't happen, at least I can put them in a situation where they're not always right, and someone challenges them like that. So I'm willing to be in those scary situations because I believe in something bigger.”
Saturday described one such situation in detail to illustrate her point:
“I'll give you an example. When I first started transitioning I used to wear a wig. I wore a wig for the first nine months of my transition, and people wouldn't take me seriously. I was wearing a wig and they could tell it was a wig—they assumed I was a guy who was dressing up and trying to trick them or something. But I would still go out in it because it made me feel good about myself to have that hair, and it was something I felt like I needed to do for myself.
“I used to go to this karaoke bar a lot because I love karaoke. It's this dive bar in Burbank. And a biker gang came in. And I don't mean fun bikers. I mean Sons of Anarchy, grizzled old men, bikers with their big grey beards and their leather vests and their old ladies on the back of their bikes. This one guy, this one old man who was part of the gang just got right up in my face and wanted me to tell him that I was not a girl. That I was really a man just playing dress up. And I wouldn't. And I didn't back down. He was right in my face threatening to break my—he had his fist in my face and I wouldn't back down and it was incredibly scary. But I still won, I still won that situation. I was able to go through that and survive and not be injured physically.
“That makes me feel stronger, the fact that I can stand up to someone who is so scary and so threatening. I feel like I need to do that for myself and for people who are like me, who frankly are too afraid to stand up for themselves or too afraid to get into the situations and tell people how they really feel and what they really believe because it's scary. It's incredibly scary being out and being trans and owning it. So I don't hold it against any trans person who doesn't want to get into a scary situation. Like, that's smart. What I'm doing is not the smart thing. But I think it's necessary for the good of all of us. So I do it.”
Saturday’s confidence and her ability to so fully embrace uncomfortable situations such as this one is inspiring. However, as she points out, her approach may not be for everyone. Of course, embracing one’s discomfort doesn’t have to look the same way for everyone, nor do we all have to embrace it in the same way or to the same degree. Ultimately, the goal is that we all feel free to be our true selves, and to live our lives free from the pressures of social conformity.