Crochet Away: A Trans* Activist Considers Gender, Needle Crafts, and Family Relationships

A friend of mine is putting together a zine on “heartfelt passion.” She and I were having a conversation about self-care when she told me about this zine project, so this is the direction I went in:

If I take the question of passion outside of the social as much I can, and allow myself to not think of activism, but to think inside myself instead (or as well), I come to this. I’m passionate about needle crafts (which is a term I much prefer over “domestic crafts”). The reasons behind this passion are multiple and diverse. My relationship with crochet has been as complicated as my relationship with my mother over the past few years, and these relationships have been tied up with one another (is that a yarn pun?). My mom took up knitting in my first year of college, right when I was finally coming out to myself as some kind of queer. I tried knitting, too, and found it mostly frustrating. Mom stuck with it longer than I did, but she eventually gave up as well. So I was surprised when, later in that year, she took up crochet. I thought they’d be the same, and it wasn’t until a few years later that I allowed myself to notice the differences. Meanwhile, as my relationship with my gender became more complicated, I was resisting this traditionally feminine gendered craft, resisting this pathway to a relationship with my mother.

In the midst of my coming out, mom and I had settled on academics as our scapegoat of choice. I was “hiding out” (a phrase we use in GMU’s SafeZone program) in my academic perfectionism, and this was our only topic of conversation. This became more and more exhausting as school became more exhausting. And as my gender morphed toward a masculine expression of a genderqueer identity in my daily life, and as I forced it back toward the feminine and the closet for time with my family of origin, I found myself both uncomfortably outside and uncomfortably inside the role of “only daughter.”

I finally hit a place where I wanted to fit in my family. I stopped resisting the pathway, and I succumbed to the craft. And boi, am I glad I did. I quickly learned that crochet is nothing like knitting, aside from the yarn and the stick. But this stick has a hook on the end, and you use it with your hand. In knitting, your hands manipulate the tools. In crochet, your hands are the tools.

I quickly realized that crocheting with mom would not be the same as knitting with mom. I would not be going through the gendered motions only for her benefit. I liked to crochet. A lot. (And look! Street art applications!)

When I’m working on a project for someone, I keep that person in my mind. The crafted object becomes a representation of my feelings for that person. This works for things I’m making for myself, too, or for things that I’ll donate, or for things I’m making just for the benefit of making something with my hands, of feeling the stress or love or hurt become part of the fabric I’m creating, in a pathway of mind through body to created object. An object that is finished, polished, given away, or worn. A product. A finished thing. A thing with neat, woven-in ends. A physical manifestation of time and thought spent.

Now, I find myself liking having a traditionally feminine hobby as a genderqueer masculine character. The apparent contradiction seems right in line with my beliefs.

So, mom and I have a shared hobby. We have something else to talk about on the phone. Crochet  provides us with a bridge not only to conversation but also to activity. Something to do and concentrate on when I’m home that doesn’t involve my body or my relationships. We get to equalize things a little. We can shop for supplies, exchange patterns, teach each other stitches. Crochet, while still a scapegoat, has opened a large number of possibilities. This scapegoat doesn’t feel forced or entirely negative. It’s the kind of goat I wouldn’t mind having as a pet. I could make yarn from its wool.

Update: The Heartfelt Passion zine can be viewed here.






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