DIVERSKNITTY

5th of June 2019

#DIVERSKNITTY
It has become increasingly apparent over the past couple of months that I need to make a public statement regarding my views surrounding the issue of diversity—or the lack thereof—in the knitting community.

Some of the people reading this page will already know this about me, and to others I’m sure it will be new information, but I am the man who coined the word “Diversknitty”, at least, as far as Instagram is concerned, and I was the very first person to use it as a hashtag.

There were two facets to my diversknitty initiative. The very first post, dated July 9th, 2018 can be accessed by clicking here, but reads as follows:

Knitters are individual beasts. We come in all shapes, sizes, colours, genders, abilities, sexualities, and with different likes, dislikes, views, tenets, beliefs and ideas.

Let’s celebrate what makes us different.

Post a knitting selfie, tag it #diversknitty and list as many of the things that make you who you are that you #DareToShare.

Let’s rejoice in our uniqueness as people!

I’ll start:

I’m gay.
I have green eyes.
I hate sprouts.
I’m obsessed with double-knitting
I sing ALL THE TIME.
I have HIV.
I’m thinner than I’d like to be.
I can’t bear inequality.
I have size 9 feet.
I feel I’m the luckiest man on Earth.
I don’t ever have enough time.
I got married on television.
I’m passionate about HIV awareness.
I knit in public all the time.
I’m a cis man.
I suspect I might be slightly neuro-atypical.
I know some people find me annoying.
I don’t care.
I am happy most of the time.
I am unhappy rarely, but boy!
I love my husband.
I have a sister.
I love to teach.
I’m a total Knit Nerd.
I’m pleased to meet you.
I LOVE #DIVERSKNITTY

Over the following few weeks, many posts were sent out, with people sharing similar lists of facts about themselves, and boy! Did some people cut deeply! I spent many hours reading them all, and weeping quite a lot of the time at the sheer, overwhelming beauty of the mundanity of the detail, but the sweeping magnificence of the lives that those posts represented.

One thing struck me very hard.

Obviously, no two lists were the same, but there were many things across the whole set that seemed common to many. It was suddenly there for me, in list form, the evidence of what I had known for a long time, but had never fully been able to express in words.

The things I share with everyone else in that group, and probably everyone else in the world, are the things that are deep within us. Our hopes, dreams, and ambitions, our fears, and our insecurities. The same things are found in all of us.

The things that make me different from other people, the most obviously visible of which being skin colour, but also wealth, location, and status, those are all only on the surface.

The other side of my Diversknitty initiative evolved from this, and was summed up in a post that I sent out two weeks later, 26th of July 2018.

It reads:

[IMAGE TEXT]
#Diversknitty
Diversity comes in many forms.
It’s only just struck me how few non-white faces I see, scrolling through my feed.
If you are a knitter of colour, and you follow me, and I don’t follow you back, please say hello, and I’ll make that change. [END OF IMAGE TEXT]

#Diversknitty
Let’s represent different groups and communities on our feeds, let’s not be part of the echo-chamber problem, let’s learn from wider resources than our own circles, and let’s embrace #Diversknitty and welcome change in ourselves, and the opportunity to grow. #DifferentIsBeautiful

The full conversations on this post can be read here.

This was the post that sent the term viral. People initially began by sending messages to me, but those messages, in turn, were seen by other members of the same, under-represented social groups as the first message, who then contacted each other to say, Hey! Look, I’m here too, and we have a lot in common. We aren’t alone after all.

And more and more people, from more and more diverse backgrounds and locations across the globe, were now part of my life, giving me so much more to think about, than just the inspiration of my own back yard. And I loved it. And I still do.

Now, from a purely selfish point of view, every time I scroll through my Instagram feed, I see posts from a broad variety of different types of people, and I genuinely mean it when I say this: I KNOW my life is enriched by seeing them. And by interacting with people I wouldn’t have otherwise have known existed, I’ve got to know many of the people behind the posts, and been given the permission to peek through a little window into lives that are, on the surface, nothing like mine at all, and yet deep down so similar, and it has been endlessly fascinating, and endlessly beautiful.

At the time of writing, in a little less than one year, Instagram now tells me that there are 15.3K posts that are using the Diversknitty hashtag. I follow it, and click on it often, and reach out to people who I can see are doing wonderful things in the field of fibre crafting.

Over the past eleven months, well, almost immediately, it took on a life of its own. These things do. I may have started the hashtag, but I am only one of many thousands of people who are now using it, and so it—and by extension, how it evolves and grows—is no longer mine. At least, not mine alone. The Diversknitty hashtag is now collectively owned and shaped, by each and every one of those thousands of people, and logically enough, it has become more important and bigger than anything I ever imagined for it when I thought how cool those two words sounded when I squished them together in Helsinki airport waiting to fly home to London.

Diversknitty has become a symbol of the quest to raise awareness of the problems that are all around us, whether you experience them personally or not, to do with racism. We talk about racism in the knitting community, but as anyone who has ever encountered it will tell you, it is not confined to the knitting community alone.

There are many different levels upon which racism can operate. it can be the out and out physical violence that is all too often aimed at someone who is different from its perpetrators (and let’s not be under any illusion, there is plenty of information out there to prove that this sort of violence happens between two examples of a wide variety of skin colours, and not always in one direction!), but it is also there on a very casual, everyday level. I don’t think I would be able to say with a clear heart that I think one of those examples is any worse than the other.

I am a cis-gendered, soon-to-be-middle-aged, white man. Living in the UK. How many forms of privilege should one person be able to enjoy?

I am also gay, and I am living, very publicly, with HIV. I know from first-hand experience what damage casual, every-day homophobic slurs can do. Most of the time the people who have inflicted them upon me would be horrified to think of the pain that they have contributed to, and inadvertently caused me. They aren’t homophobes. They are just family members, and friends, teachers, and people in the street, who fed me the lies, every day of my childhood, that “normal” people do this, and “normal” people do that. “Come on you little poofter, man up!” Every day, phrases like that would be said. You hear it in the playground today: “Urgh! I don’t like cabbage, it’s gay!” Simply meant to imply that cabbage is bad, or horrid, or disgusting, and that by extension, disseminating the opinion that to be gay is also to be bad, or horrid, or disgusting. Imagine growing up with that every single day—every slur, reinforcing in my newly evolving sense of self that I must, therefore, be NOT normal, and that I must be bad, or horrid, or disgusting. Or probably all three.

And let’s not even unwrap the sticks of dynamite that are the stigma surrounding people living with HIV.

I know this isn’t an essay about homophobia, but in so many ways it is. Bigotry is bigotry. It doesn’t matter who or what it is directed at, it is damaging, and dangerous. It is unkind and it hurts.

There must be no sense of competition here either. Homophobic bigotry is no worse than racist bigotry is no worse than transphobic bigotry is no worse than sexist bigotry and on and on and on.

It is all bigotry, and it blights the lives and mental well being of all of its victims. It is not for any one of us to say that this person is more badly affected than that person, because none of us is experiencing first-hand what either of those two people is feeling, so we can’t possibly know.

I have for a very long time been an activist. My own personal crusade has always been, and will always be, LGBT rights, but more latterly, since my diagnosis in June 2017, I have also been an outspoken advocate for better understanding of HIV today, in an effort to reduce the stigma that still surrounds it in 2019.

When I look at that last paragraph, I don’t see it as two separate crusades at all. And I don’t see that as any different from the crusade to fight racism either. These things are all part of ONE crusade, as far as I am concerned, and that is the crusade for equality.

I am an equalist.

I believe in equality so passionately: Equality is written right through me like a stick of Brighton rock.

THAT’S why my husband and I put our wedding on national television: the gay community may have had civil partnerships, which may have given us all the same rights, but the fact is that “equal but different”, is not the same as “equal”.

THAT’S why I bang on about the fact that I have HIV all the time: I do it to usualise the condition, to get people used to the idea of hearing about it, so that it is no longer something unknown and therefore frightening.

And what is the motivation that lies beneath both of those statements?

REPRESENTATION.

If you are lucky enough that you have never experienced what it is like to be an outsider, then you cannot be blamed for not innately knowing what that feels like.

You CAN, however, be blamed for closing your eyes to it once more, after someone has pointed out to you that under-representation is a problem, and it is one that affects an awful lot of people.

I have felt it myself. I used to bemoan the fact all the time that there were never any gay characters on television, unless their only reason to be there was to be the GAY character, with GAY issues, and GAY this, that, or the other. Why can’t there be any characters on television, whose main feature is NOT the fact that they are gay, and are just going about their daily lives, and who just happen to be gay? Why can’t I see people on the television who represent me?!!!

If you don’t see people around you who are like you, it can make you feel under-valued and over-looked, under-appreciated and over-judged. and it hurts.

And that is why the current, and I hope, ongoing, discussion and debate around the representation of BIPOC crafters in this industry is such an important one to be having. It is one I am proud to support and stand alongside. I hope that I would be perceived as an understanding ally to anyone who felt they were from a marginalised community.

There is more that I would like to add.

As I’ve just said, the representation of BIPOC crafters in the crafting community is a vital issue that I support with all of my heart, and will fight to uphold. What I am about to say is in no way intended to diminish or diffuse what I have just said, but in fact to add to it, and make it more complete.

I think we have got it all a bit wrong. There are too many people today who are trying to pretend, or to make the rest of us believe that we are all the same.

We are not.

Equal, yes. But not the same.

We are all completely different. We have all come from different places, and experienced different things, with different sets of genes that make us look different from each other.

True diversity is about so much more than the colour of someone’s skin, or their cultural heritage. It is about everything that I put into that very first Diversknitty post a year ago.

It is NOT about pretending we that we don’t see those differences, or telling ourselves and those around us that those things don’t matter. They DO matter, and they SHOULD.

The things that I put on my Diversknitty list may not much matter to anyone else, but they sure do matter to me! They are the things that make me the person I am.

To turn a blind eye to something would be to suggest that you would rather it weren’t there, but you won’t make a fuss about it. It can stay there, just along as it doesn’t draw any attention to itself.

Do we really want to be suggesting that about people whose skin is a different colour from our own, by turning a blind eye to that part of them? No. Of course we don’t.

So we should accept each other’s differences, then?

I hate the word “accept”. It’s almost as bad, and as destructive as the word “tolerate”. I’ve had those words used against me all my life in relation to my sexuality.

Just: no.

We should be embracing and celebrating each other’s differences: rejoicing in the fact that here is something that I don’t know about, and an opportunity to learn and grow as a result of new influences. That is true for colour, differing abilities, sexual identity, gender profile, race, religion, age, height, size, academic intelligence, smell, eye-colour, dress sense, and oh-go-on-then, even people whose politics are different from my own! All of these things can teach us something we didn’t know, and our responses to that new information can in turn, reveal to us a lot about ourselves that we might not have thought about before.

I could never turn a blind eye to an opportunity like that.

Sometimes, I have been accused of not doing enough. It isn’t enough to say you support a cause. What are you actually DOING about it, to make things better?

My answer is simply this: I don’t shout about the things that I do in this regard. I have my own ways of building people up, and they are more effective out of the glare of public scrutiny. Crowing about my methods would cheapen them, and could make someone feel that I wasn’t genuine: that I was only helping them because I want to be seen to be “doing the right thing.” That would undermine everything.

And to be quite frank, I already have my personal crusades. This doesn’t mean I don’t care about other issues, but activism is exhausting, and takes its toll. A person has to know where to draw the line between selflessness and self-care, otherwise, they end up with nothing left to give, and can be no use to anyone.

There’s something else that I think is really important:

Have you seen those slogans and bumper stickers, and Instagram posts that say, “Whoever you are, you are enough”?

They are everywhere, and it is a ubiquitous tenet in these low-self-esteem, anti-social-social-media-laden times. We use that message as a way to empower ourselves, and to stop ourselves feeling somehow lacking.

The lyrics to the song, "This Is Me," from The Greatest Showman sum it up rather well:

"I am brave, I am bruised, I am who I'm meant to be, this is me.

How dare anyone, then, try to tell another person that they are “not enough”?

************************************

So now to address the more specific questions that first prompted me to write this thesis.

I have been asked if I, as a “prominent member of the knitting community”, feel comfortable about appearing at a yarn festival where the line-up of tutors is all white.

To which I can only respond, if I felt, even for one second that I was appearing in an all-white line-up of tutors by design, I would feel very uncomfortable indeed. In fact, if I thought that was the case, I wouldn’t be able to appear in it at all, contract issues be damned!

I have no such fears in this case.

I would also like to point out that—as has already been said—diversity comes in many forms, and that, by being part of that line up, I am representing no fewer than three minority groups who are all under-represented in the knitting world.

It’s a difficult thing to try to do anything public in the knitting community at the moment. Much as I try to believe it isn’t so, I am seeing, time and time again, that there is poison out there, hiding under the guise of “fighting the cause”, and while the vast majority of the activism that is happening to address the balance of BIPOC representation comes from the right place, there are enough instances of people who are having their reputations and livelihoods irrevocably damaged because someone has decided that their stance on this issue wasn’t quite worded correctly, or that they are not seen to be doing enough, to make me think that in certain cases, the intention has not been to help a marginalised group in our society at all, but instead to cause mischief and harm, possibly as some sort of personal vendetta, or for any number of other reasons that I can’t come up with, because my brain just doesn’t work that way.

“Seek to do no harm” seems an aposite thing to say here...

(I just want to point out here that I am not linking the existence of certain toxic elements in our community IN ANY WAY to the person who asked me this question. Far from it. The question was asked in a very respectful and polite way, and is the reason for this essay, so I am grateful to the asker for prompting me to write it.)

I think it is important to remember that yarn shows, knitting books, and other large-scale activities with many moving parts don’t happen overnight. They can often be a year or more in the planning. To be targeting people and interrogating their processes just now, when the crest of this discussion hasn’t been as visible, or as widely known about as it now is, for more than eight months or so, seems rather like when someone kicks off at reading a deliberately emotive, click-bait headline, but they haven’t read the full article, and don’t realise how foolish they might have made themselves just look.

I would say, if any of the yarn shows in the UK or anywhere else get as far as their next show, and still nothing has changed, then yes, I would say there is an argument there for challenging them, and asking them for transparency over their selection processes. But while we are still in this transitional period: while people’s awareness is really only just beginning to open its eyes, there has to be allowed a period of grace, so that people can gather their wits, and be given the chance to acknowledge that some things need to be different going forward, and then figure out ways in which they can help, and how they plan to address the issue in the future.

Yes, I agree with you, it is a disgrace that it has taken this long to come to everyone's attention, and it shouldn’t ever have been the case in the first place. Of course that's true, but let's stick to trying to alter the future here. Because that’s something we can do something about, whereas trying to change the past is a lost cause, and a waste of everyone’s energy.

I also think it's worth keeping in mind that the vast majority of shows do not ask applicants for information about their heritage, race, skin colour, gender, etc. Personally, I don't want to live in a world where a person's suitability for a certain event is being judged on those criteria. I would much rather it be a meritocracy, and let the work speak for itself. Besides, that sort of intensely private, personal information is often, quite frankly, none of anyone else's business!

Box ticking of that sort can often be counterproductive. It leads to quota-filling ideals of the most patronising kind. I would HATE to think that I had been booked for a workshop purely and simply because I am living with HIV. The trick, of course, is finding where to draw the line between tokenism and inclusivity.

I believe in protest, I believe in making your voice heard, I believe in standing up for your own rights, and—if you are asked to do so—for the rights of those who cannot stand up for themselves, and I believe in being visible, and I believe in fighting to make the changes that need to be made.

I do not believe in division, in separation, in “us against them”, in drawing the battle lines so firmly between two opposing camps, that it gets entirely forgotten that both camps are made up of human beings, and human beings, as I have so often said, are all different. Not all gay people are funny. Not all white people are racist. Not all little old ladies are sweet. Not all knitters are women. Not all women want children. Not all black people sing with soul.

I don’t pretend to speak for all humans. I don’t pretend I speak for all men. I don’t pretend I speak for all white men. Or all European men, or all British men, or all Englishmen, or all gay men, or all men called Nathan, or all men who have HIV, or all Londoners, or even, ALL MEN WHO LIVE IN MY APARTMENT...

No.

I may be all of those things, but I can only speak for myself, and I would never presume to do anything other than that.

There will be people reading this who disagree with a lot of the points that I have raised. I am ok with that, and I hope that they will be as well. I hope too, that simply because a person disagrees me on one aspect of this issue, it doesn’t mean that that person and I wouldn’t be able to find common ground on any number of other issues.

There is always common ground, if you keep your heart and eyes open to the idea of seeing it. The Venn diagram that ties us all together has an infinite number of circles that interlink in infinite ways.

I happen to think that that is where the true beauty in humanity lies.

My biggest concern is that in our single-minded struggle to make the world more inclusive, we have forgotten to treat each other with respect.

Without respect, there can be no discussion, only rhetoric, and without discussion, there can be no resolution, only more conflict.

It all comes down to respect.

I just hope that in whatever you do, you remember to show respect for your fellow human.

Plato said, be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

Kate Bush said, he said it was her fault, she said it wasn’t at all, and the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Wise words from both.

And they were very different.




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