In July 2021 Yarn Unique became a fundraising partner of Mermaids UK!
A truly wonderful charity, there is a bit of a story about why they were chosen as the first charity I wanted to begin a relationship with, and although it starts out pretty negative (the story not the action!) I believe it has become something more important than the original motivation. A tale of some personal introspection, and a long hard look at certain sections of society and a really positive conversation it now allows!
But, I'll start at the beginning and lead you through the same journey I went on...
They say you should never meet your hero's and although I not 'met' mine, nor would I use the term 'hero' so much as an inspirational figure, I spent some time reeling with disappointment, and confusion early in 2021 when I learned that someone I had held on a pedestal for so many reasons holds, and frequently shares, views that indicate they are not the person I thought they were.
The writer of a wonderous collection of stories, an 'inspirational female role model', an all round bloody clever woman who did good with her life... I am referring to J.K. Rowling but those things are now tainted for me by comments and inferences she has made in recent years on gender identity and transgender communities rights to equal treatment.
I have to say, I am late to be adding anything to this discussion, and in doing so I don't want to reignite hurt experienced by the transgender community. This post has been written and re-written many times as I debated personally whether I had the right to comment, whether my opinion was valid and even whether the long-taught rule of keep your personality out of business was the right way to go? I also missed the first hints that anything was wrong!
Back in 2020 / 2021 I have to say I spent much time burying my head deeply in the sand, avoiding ALL news and negative stories as I, like you all, navigated a busy life during a global pandemic. I habitually find that a coping mechanism of mine is to create my own tiny bubble and not engage with anything outside of that! Although it has some positives for me managing my mental health this is one example which has led me to question the wisdom of this as I find myself out of the loop.
As I was in this situation, Because I missed the first questionable posts, and the reactions on social media, and the second and all future ones. So I have to say it was quite a shock when in summer of 2021 I looked backwards through the social media posts and news coverage. It also gave me pause for thought - I typically choose not to be outspoken and bring personal politics into my business and professional environments, something which was drilled into me during Business Studies lessons, but seems less important today in more informal times. And to be honest, whether the cause is disillusionment or greater maturity, I am slightly less noisy about my opinions in my personal circles than I used to be in my outspoken youth (though
it has to be said, I still struggle to quell my 'fixer' and 'organiser' tendencies). But, what damage am I accidentally contributing by passively ignoring and overlooking things - effectively not being loud about my own opinions because I assume that the majority of people believe as I do. Right or wrong, is it forgivable in 2021, and going forwards, to not take action or at least lend a voice?
As a white CIS straight woman, I know I am afforded a privilege around many areas of my life. I consider myself an Ally across the board, because quite simply we are all people and we deserve the same rights and opportunities to be 100% ourselves in a world where all are equal. The murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement prompted so many of us look inwardly and interrogate how white privilege and unconscious bias affects our behaviours. For many it was an uncomfortable realisation that we have not made as much progress as assumed towards equality and we just have to do better and be an active part of solutions! For me personally I found myself going through the same thought processes on the JK issue; was I failing to notice discrimination against other communities and in particular LGBTQ+ groups.
When you are not affected by discrimination its sometimes hard to even see it and therefore a bit more effort needs to be taken to be an actual Ally. Sometimes you need the issue pushing in your face. In this case I have taken a long hard look at how I, and Yarn Unique, should respond given that a large section of our yarn designs are inspired by the Wizarding World JK created! We made some choices and set things up, yet it has still taken me many months to complete this blog post, because how do you lend a voice, reject transphobic figures and state you're an Ally without making it a little about yourself? And therein lays my personal discomfort in vocalising my own opinions; being an Ally without virtue signalling. I think if you've read this far you will gather that I am an over-thinker! My biggest take-away from my time reading around the issues and reflecting was the phrase Action > Intent and it stuck with me. What can I/Yarn Unique do which contributes to a better world?
And contact with Mermaids UK was made, a fundraising agreement set-up and each and every purchase of yarn from the Hogsmeade Yarn Shop collection generated a donation of at least £1. This began in July 2021, and allowed us to donate over £250 in it's first 6 months. Now, this isn't a huge sum of money - we're a really small independent business - but, I know that every penny counts and so am choosing to feel good about it! For as long as we sell the collection we will donate to Mermaids UK, whether a purchase is online via our website, Etsy, through our LYS stockists or direct at a Yarn Show.
So why Mermaids UK? In past lives I've worked for, and with, many youth charities and organisations and, steering away from all cliches about the youth being our future, strongly believe that young people do not always get the support they need. Children and Young People who are navigating growing up whilst being gender-diverse are certainly less likely to easily find support and so the work that Mermaids does instantly felt like a great fit! Taken from their website, Mermaids says:
Transgender, nonbinary and gender-diverse children and teens need support and understanding, as well as the freedom to explore their gender identity. Whatever the outcome, Mermaids is committed to helping families navigate the challenges they may face.
Reduces isolation and loneliness for transgender, nonbinary and gender-diverse children, young people and their families.
Provides families and young people with the tools they need to negotiate education and health services.
Helps young people to cope better with mental and emotional distress, and equips their parents with what they need to offer individual support.
Improves the self-esteem and social skills of children and young people.
Improves awareness, understanding and practices of teachers, GP’s, CAMHS, Social Services and other professionals.
So, this is how Yarn Unique came to support Mermaids! And aside from the cash donated twice a year one of the outcomes which has cemented this as a good thing (so far - I am not ruling out withdrawing the collection from sale should we get to a point where the 'art' cannot be separated from the 'artist' in good conscience) is the conversations it has prompted...
Largely at Yarn Shows, I have had the pleasure of meeting so many yarn lovers, many of whom have a lasting fondness for the Wizarding World. Some have known about Mermaids and their work, but a number haven't and have asked for more detail. This has become such a great conversation starter, and yes it begins from a negative starter in the transphobic essays and comments made by JK, but it becomes an opportunity to say out loud that her opinions are not mine and that I and Yarn Unique simply believe transgender women ARE women, and so far I've not met one person disagrees! (Well, we've had one aggressive e-mail, but it was neither well researched and laden with bias so it was ignored and put in the delete folder!)
I am realistic enough to know that a cash donation is not the answer, and is actually the 'get-out-of-jail-free card' used by so many big businesses in trying to make right something wrong. But I do hope it's a start! A small (because Yarn Unique is small) cash donation which in turn starts conversations and puts the issue of trans equality out there.
So there it is, the origins story about why Mermaids was chosen as a charity we support, a long-winded essay in its own right so if you have read to the end - well done!