Monday, July 2, 2012

30 Days of PRIDE Year Two: Knit, Pearl, and Pride

Last year’s response to my decision to wear out and gay t-shirts for all thirty days of June was loud and clear – the project made an impact, not just on me, but on others, and I wanted to do it again.

The parameters this year were the same, and while I had a few more t-shirts, the idea wasn’t to have a different gay pride t-shirt for each day.  It wasn’t a fashion challenge, it was more of a not-in-the-closet challenge.  An experiment.

See, in my life, it is not always assumed I am gay.  In fact, if I’m not holding my husband’s hand, and if I’m with our daughter, the assumption strangers tend to make is that I’m straight.

I “present” as a cis-gendered white guy (a guy who feels like a guy inside and that matches how I look on the outside), and I “present” as straight.  This gives me a lot of ‘passing privilege’ in our culture.  How much? 

Last year, I decided it was worth an experiment to see.  If I was outwardly NOT the majority (by wearing a VERY gay t-shirt each day), would my experience be closer to that of a person of color, who doesn’t get to pass as anything else?  Would I be given a hard time as I made my way through my 30 days?  Or would I find unexpected allies?  (You can read about last year’s results here.)

This year’s experiment surprised me.  Perhaps because I just didn’t get out and about among strangers that much, there were only three days when the t-shirts got a lot of comments/response.

The first was the day I was at Disneyland, wearing this shirt:

Six different people commented on how much they LOVED the shirt, and many more looked at it, trying to read it.  Some looked concerned, but many more smiled.  It made me (and my daughter) really happy.

The second was while wearing the “Smile If You’re Gay” t-shirt.

I had one woman (in a store we’d never been in before, where I’d taken my daughter to learn to knit) read the shirt and then frown, as if to make sure I didn’t think she was… well, you know… queer.  Oddly enough, the other eight women in the store were REALLY kind and friendly, and the shirt was just as gay to them.

It’s interesting how some people find this shirt confrontational, and my daughter and I spoke that afternoon about how maybe we needed to add in pen underneath the “Smile if you’re gay” the line, “You can also smile if you’re straight.”  But I was very aware of people’s reactions.

The third day when a t-shirt elicited a lot of response was a travel day, wearing my It Gets Better shirt.

Standing in the airport in the security line, a pilot (in the fast line next to us) patted me on the shoulder and said “it’s so great to see a father wearing an It Gets Better shirt!”  That was really cool.  The man across from us in the boarding gate stared at my shirt and then smiled, saying, “It really does get better.  It got better for me!”  and practically beamed at me, my husband and daughter as we passed him on the plane.  The shirt was read a lot, and noticed, and was very empowering.

The fourth day a t-shirt got a lot of response was gay pride in Los Angeles, which since I was marching in the parade flipped the ‘assumption,’ and everyone present correctly assumed I was gay.

For those three days of the month when I was in a non-gay context around a lot of people who didn’t know me – the knitting store, Disneyland, at the airport – I think the experiment was a big success.

But what surprised me was something else this month that brought up not only a TON of response from others, but a lot of emotions within myself as well.

I learned how to knit.

I carried my first project around with me as I did things, and in those odd down-time moments of waiting (for a plane to take off, for my daughter to finish an activity, in the doctor’s office) I pulled out my yarn and needles and started to knit.

Oh, the stares.  The – there’s no other word for it – gawking by other dads, especially at kid events.  I became really self-conscious that

I was doing an activity that wasn’t seen as ‘masculine.’ 

And then I got annoyed.  Annoyed with others giving me the evil eye for doing something pretty harmless (and pretty cool, to take a string and make something 3-dimensional out of it!) 

Annoyed with myself for feeling so constrained by the boundaries of what’s SUPPOSED to be okay for men (boys) versus what’s okay for women (girls.) 

Annoyed with myself for not being willing to fully embrace this ‘feminine’ thing I liked doing – and embrace it with PRIDE.

So I challenged myself to knit more.  In public.  To be prouder of being a guy who knits. 

Was I feeding into the stereotype of gay men doing girly things (something I fought so hard against as a teen?)  Was I becoming a stereotype in other people’s eyes, wearing my gay pride t-shirts and knitting something pink and orange?  Well, I know I’m no stereotype.  And that’s good enough.

So this year, my revelation was more about being willing to cross the gender line and do something ‘girly’ with pride.  It didn’t make me any less of a man, but it sure did make me a better human being.

And the funny thing is, over the course of the days that I knit in public, while I didn’t see any other guys knitting out in the world, I DID have a bunch of guys come out to me… about being knitters, too!

I guess I’m learning (once again) that I really shouldn’t care AT ALL about what other people think of me.

They don’t expect a six-feet-four-inch tall white guy to knit?  Okay, that’s THEIR journey.

They don’t expect a father of a young girl to be gay?  That’s their journey, too!

I’m glad I took 30 days to wear my gay pride shirts this June.  And I’m even happier that this was the month that I took up knitting. 

And I hope you take this lesson to heart, too.


That there, is the secret to life.


ps - My computer laptop cover that I’m making – I know, so butch! – is coming along nicely, thanks!

This is me knitting on a plane... with PRIDE!


Beth Stilborn said...

This is a FANTASTIC post, Lee! I didn't know you this time last year, so I missed your first Gay T-Shirt Month, but what a wonderful idea. And kudos to you for learning to knit. (I have tried. Believe me, I've tried.) Your daughter is learning things of such lasting value through all this.

Mrs. Silverstein said...

This is a really great idea. I loved reading about people's reactions to your shirts. DEFINITELY keep knitting--and realize that, while this may not have been the case for the folks you encountered, I would probably stare just because I love knitting but only have the skills for a scarf (thin rectangle) or blanket (wide rectangle), so I tend to gawk anytime I see someone with actual knitting skills :)

Lisa Jenn said...

Yay for taking up knitting! (I'm a crocheter myself.) I have only one male friend who knits and crochets; he started so that he could make cute caps for his baby nephew. He happens to be straight and this is about the only non-gender-conforming activity he does, but I think it's awesome that he does it for his own enjoyment regardless of what society says.

Lisa Jenn said...

Yay for taking up knitting! (I'm a crocheter myself.) I have only one male friend who knits and crochets; he started so that he could make cute caps for his baby nephew. He happens to be straight and this is about the only non-gender-conforming activity he does, but I think it's awesome that he does it for his own enjoyment regardless of what society says.

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

I agree with Mrs. Silverstein that sometimes people stare at knitters or crocheters just because it's fascinating to watch someone create something right in front of you.

However, I do know there is prejudice not only against activities that are perceived as crossing gender lines, but that it can be especially strong for men doing tasks traditionally thought of as "women's work." Which I think reflects not only rigidity of gender roles but some misogyny, too--as if an activity is less worthwhile or admirable because it's "girly." In fact, "girly" or "you're such a girl" is often used as an insult all by itself.

And it's so silly. Men wear clothes and use blankets, so why shouldn't they knit them, too?

Good on ya!

maddox said...

Lee, as always this is a fabulous experiment. I think I've amassed enough queer shirts to give it a shot one day.

Your observations are spot-on: nowadays it's less of an issue to be "out and proud" -whether you are gay or an ally- than to cross gender/expression lines. That is somehow still taboo, which is why we need to work on breaking down the next phase of stereotypes.

HumanDuctTape said...

I'm a lesbian who is often perceived as butch, and I love to crochet.

Also, I haven't been able to find any evidence to corroborate this, but I heard once that knitting used be considered men's work - since they were often away at war with no women around, and had to make their own socks, or something like that.

Elissa J. Hoole said...

That's awesome that you got mostly positive reactions to your shirts and interesting about the knitting...maybe the starers just thought it really attractive to see a guy knitting?

The art teacher at the school where I teach did a knitting unit a few years back, and it was so awesome because the entire middle school population was constantly knitting...sneaking it under the tables in class, panicking when they ran out of sparkly yarn. I personally bought a set of needles for a boy in my homeroom because he so desperately wanted to knit outside of school. :)

KarolinaS said...

Great recap, Lee. I wish I could knot myself. Congrats on learning. ALso happy to have contributed to your pride shirt collection. Don't think I've told you this in a while, so here goes: You Are Awesome!