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The Only Boy

One of the skills that have served me well in my lengthy knitting career has been a knack for being 'the only boy'. Although more men are trying their hand(s) at knitting, it's still all too often that I'm the sole male knitter in the yarn store, at my workplace stitch'n'bitch, or at the weekend knitting class.

This, I suppose, dates back to my childhood. Boys, as a rule, travel in packs and shun the company of girls and women except when social obligations or romantic intentions demand it. I, on the other hand, loved it when my aunts visited so I could sit among them and listen to them bicker. I longed to go to baby showers, with their dainties and their heart-shaped deviled ham sandwiches and the countless handmade gifts in the same colours as the petit fours' marzipan frosting. I enjoyed the visits from the Avon lady more than my mother did. I wanted us to host a Tupperware party, so I could join my mother and her housewife friends in marveling at its ability to 'seal in freshness'.

I was the only boy in our family, and in our neighbourhood, who was fascinated with jewellery and perfume and spices. I was the only boy who wanted to stay inside and read, even on a bright sunny Saturday morning which practically begged for youthful shouting and laughing and running around, windows slamming shut up and down the block against it all.

I was the only boy who worked ahead in the textbook, who spent his evenings at the library. Who watched Bewitched for Endora, Serena and Uncle Arthur. Who wanted to teach alongside Karen Valentine in Room 222. Who wanted to be That Girl. And who, at the first opportunity, became the only boy to take Home Ec instead of Shop -- cooking and sewing instead of carpentry and auto mechanics.

Consequently, I never learned how to properly drive a nail, saw in a straight line, check the oil or change the car battery. I was, however, the only boy who learned how to plan a menu, how to shop in a supermarket and in what order to wash the dishes. (That said, the terry-cloth robe I made in Grade 11 was an unqualified disaster. I don't think that we could properly call that 'learning'.)

I was also the only boy who tried to learn to listen to girls, to ask what they thought and wanted, and to not rush in with my opinions, my questions, my pronouncements. (You'll note I say 'tried' -- I can't claim that I've always succeeded.) The result, years later, is that I'm sometimes more at ease as the one guy in the room than the women in the room are with me, and that I sometimes my job is to help put everyone else at ease as well.

It has to be acknowledged: sometimes when you're 'the only boy', you're an interloper. An uninvited guest. There have not been many women-dominated public spaces in our world, and even fewer where women have been able to gather together freely and constructively, as opposed to being cloistered or shunned or shut away. Any number of women relish the opportunity to get away from the men and the boys in their lives -- and you can see the surprise and dismay when the door opens and there you are.

When you're the only boy, you can't take this personally, but you should take it seriously. You'll be in someone else's domain, a place that is not naturally your own, and for a boy that's an uncommon experience. As boys we're raised to believe that the whole world belongs to us, that there's nothing we can't do and nowhere we can't go. Yet here's a place where you're outnumbered, where you're looked at with confusion or annoyance or amusement or suspicion. "This is just what I came here to get away from," some faces will indicate as you pull up a chair. "He's going to make this all about him." Or "How much help is he going to need?" Of course, it's not always this way -- I'm consistently surprised and pleased at the number of people who treat me as 'just another knitter' -- but sometimes it is what it is. You'll be faced with other people's prejudices and assumptions, and all you can be is yourself. Just like life.

I remember stepping into a pleasant suburban yarn store with my boyfriend to browse around; he had never been in one before and, as we left a few bags heavier, I asked him what he thought. He said "Well, they were all very nice, considering they thought we were going to rob the place."

I say all this not to discourage men, who are already likely to face their share of discouragement as they pursue a 'feminine' activity, nor to criticize women, who should be able to create spaces and share experiences that are uniquely their own. My hope is that more and more men will pursue knitting as a creative act and as a subversive one -- as a way to step outside of their traditional perspective and see things from a different point of view -- and that more and more women will welcome them, teach them and travel alongside them on what I've found to be a challenging and rewarding journey.



David Demchuk lives in Toronto, and is buying far too much yarn. People are beginning to talk. If he comes into your yarn store, you must show him the door immediately.

David's obligatory knitblog can be found here.