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27. Sewing and Gender Nonconformity – The Asian Sewist Collective Podcast
Patterns & Designers mentioned
Multi-Sport Skort (Jalie Sewing Pattern 2796) by Jalie
Soline Shorts and Culottes Sewing Pattern for Wovens by Staystitch Pattern Co
Melanie Wrap Skirt PDF Sewing Pattern by Basic Stitch Patterns
Lena Horne Sewing Pattern by Tabitha Sewer
Belmore Jacket Sewing Pattern PDF by Muna and Broad
Rose Cafe Bustier Dress by Darla Patternmaking
Boleyn Top by Stitch Witch Patterns
Alek Rib Top PDF Sewing Pattern by Just Patterns
Other Stores mentioned
Rebirth Garments, based in Chicago, IL, sells handmade gender nonconforming wearables and accessories for people on the full spectrum of gender, size and ability (@rebirthgarments on Instagram)
Learning about gender nonconformity
Fact Sheet: Transgender & Gender Nonconforming Youth in School, Sylvia Rivera Law Project
Sex and Gender Identity, Planned Parenthood
The rise of anti-trans “radical” feminists, explained, Vox
Column: Majorie Taylor Green wants us to “trust the science” on transgender rights. Here’s the science., Chicago Tribune
We DO “trust the science”, Twitter [Direct link to a tweet by @KarenTangMD refuting Marjorie Taylor Green’s statement on there only being two genders]
Karen Tang, MD, YouTube
Understanding Non-Binary People: How to be Respectful and Supportive, National Center for Transgender Equality
What’s the deal with sex, gender, presentation and orientation, an Instagram post by @emilia_to_nuno (they/them)
Being Not Straight, a YouTube video by Jaiden Animations [A video on being aromantic and asexual]
Asexuality, Attraction, and Romantic Orientation, LGBT Center UNC-Chapel Hill
Breaking into sewing as a gender nonconforming individual
Gender-Bent Sewing, The Sewcialists
Trans Tailoring & the “Boi”friend Jacket, The Confident Stitch
The Importance of Fit, The Trans Sewing Project
Asians and gender nonconformity
New Analysis Shows Startling Levels of Discrimination against Asian American, South Asian, Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander Transgender People, National LGBTQ Task Force
Making Queer and Trans Asian American Identities Visible, KQED
Up to Us: A Community-Led Needs Assessment of Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Asians and Pacific Islanders in the Bay Area, LGBTQ Policy Journal
“Being Trans Intersects with My Cultural Identity”: Social Determinants of Mental Health among Asian Transgender People, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. Publishers
Transgender and Gender Diverse (TGD) Asian Americans in the United States: Experiences of Violence, Discrimination, and Family Support, Sage Journals
The Creativity and Influence of Nonbinary and Gender-Nonconforming Digital Influencers, Mochi Magazine
The semi-sacred “third gender” of South Asia, BBC Culture
A Map of Gender-Diverse Cultures, PBS
Genders of the World, Adventures in Time & Gender
A Dream Come True – Chinese Calculators for Family Relationships, Steemit
Gender neutrality in genderless languages, Wikipedia
Five countries where men wear “skirts”, The Standard
More on sewing and gender nonconformity
Who We Are: Queer in the Sewing Community, The Sewcialists
Degendering Fashion: Does Clothing Have to be Gendered?, Seamwork
Common misconceptions about designing for size & gender diversity, Spokes & Stitches
Episode 188: Tailoring for Them with Emilia Bergoglio, Love to Sew
Degendering Fashion (Part 1), Seamwork
Gender nonconforming educators
ALOK (they/them), full name Alok Vaid-Menon: Website, @alokvmenon on Instagram
Schuyler Bailar (he/him): Website, @pinkmantaray on Instagram
Meg Lee (they/them): Website, @megemikoart on Instagram
Guest interview resources
@teukmade, Teukie Martin’s (they/them) Instagram account
@rare.device, Shannon’s (she/her) Instagram account
Animal Crossing: Official Website, Nintendo
@rebirthgarments, Sky Cubacub’s (they/them) Instagram account
@soundslikeuyu, Uyu’s (she/they) Instagram account
@withorwithoutice, Koss’s (they/them) Instagram account
Let’s Make Stitches, Koss’s sewing blog
@emilia_to_nuno, Emilia’s (they/them) Instagram account
Nicole: I’ve never done one where it’s like, two in a row. Like, I’ve ran a few half marathons, I’ve ran 10Ks. Am I gonna make a costume? Yes, the answer is yes.
Ada: Two costumes, because you’ll get, you’re gonna sweat.
Nicole: Aw, shit, yeah, two costumes.
Ada: So if you wear it on the first day, you’re gonna wear, and wear it on the second day?
Ada: Welcome to the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. The Asian Sewist Collective is a group of Asian people from around the world brought together by our shared appreciation for fiber and textile arts, and our desire to see more Asian representation in the sewing community.
Nicole: In this podcast, we explore the intersection of our identities and our shared sewing practice as we create a space for Asian sewists and our allies.
Ada: I’m your co-host, Ada Chen, and I’m recording from Denver, Colorado. Denver is the traditional territory of the Ute, Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples. I’m a Taiwanese-American marketer turned entrepreneur and these days you’ll find me running my own natural skincare business called Chuan’s Promise. That’s C-H-U-A-N-apostrophe-S promise – and sharing my marketing tips on my blog. Most importantly, for this podcast, you can find my sewing at @i.hope.sew on Instagram.
Nicole: And I’m your co-host, Nicole. I’m based outside of Chicago, the original homelands of the Council of the Three Fires, the Ojibwe, the Potawatomi, and the Odawa people. I’m a Philippine-American woman, a lawyer by day and a sewing enthusiast the rest of the time. You can find me on Instagram at @nicoleangelinesews.
Ada: Before we dive into this week’s episode, Nicole, can you tell us about your current sewing project?
Nicole: Yes, I can. And, depending on when this episode airs, maybe it airs in May, maybe it doesn’t, but in the United States, May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and I wanted to do something for May, for people of, with designs from people of Asian descent designers. So I picked the Staystitch Soline culottes. So, Staystitch is a pattern company. One of the co-founders, Candice, appears to be of Asian descent? She doesn’t really discuss her background, but I see some of the stuff that she like, supports and comments on, and she is a Pacific Northwest, a sewist from the Pacific Northwest. And so I went with their culottes, I do love Staystitch patterns, I find them to be very beginner friendly, simple, clean designs. Another contender for like, the bottom half of the two piece that I wanted to make was Angelica Creates Basic Stitch Patterns. So she was a, our first ever guest, actually, on the podcast back in season one. She has this really great wrap skirt that she just released, re-released for extended sizing but I want to do the pants because I have some travel coming up in May and June. And culottes just seemed like a good thing for Spain? Maybe, maybe. But for the two piece I wanted to have a, for the top, I actually did the top half of the Lena Horne dress from Tabitha Sewer. Tabitha Sewer is a, is a sewist and designer of Black and Filipino descent, and she has her own patterns, her own button line, she does home improvement projects and upcycling and all that. So the the full dress is a fitted bodice with ruffled straps, and then a gathered mini or midi skirt. So I just did the bodice on its own, so it’s like a crop top. I had a hard time figuring out which is like, the zipper, I think it was just me and my brain wasn’t working, but it, it actually looks really cute. Like, the top and the culottes together. I was gonna do like, a T-shirt, like a simple tee, like, it’s really nice yarn dyed linen from Fabric Mart. But I was like, nah, we’ll just do something fun and fancy for the top. So that’s, that’s what I am working on. Anything special happening with you?
Ada: I wish I thought of that idea, but maybe I will, at the time of this recording still have time to make something for the month of May. But I am currently working on more practical sews, I guess, because May and June are kind of like, the start of the upswing of golf season and I’ve started to get really into it, I guess.
Nicole: Is that pun intended?
Ada: No, actually, it wasn’t.
Nicole: Let me bring that conversation to a screeching halt and ask, if you, that pun was intended.
Ada: I… Yeah, I haven’t, I haven’t really realized how many golf puns there are. But I am trying to enter into my first amateur tournament. I’m not very, I’m not amazing, but I do think I’m like, competent enough and confident enough in my skills now where I would be able to hold up. So I’m trying to enter into that and so I need some more outfits because I’m going out more. And by the dress codes of many of these places which are rooted in the patriarchy, you can’t wear leggings, which I just think is patently dumb. And if you want to wear pants or shorts, they kind of have to be the, like, athletic, but still looks country club vibe, which just, I don’t like it and I don’t want to wear it or make it. So instead I’m making skorts, because I like athletic shorts, and a skirt is basically that with some fake, or real skirt edge over it. So I made this pattern last year, in… Twice. The Jalie skort, multisport running skort, it’s the numbers 2796, I think I talked about it before. I’ve just found that it like, it’s held up really well, it’s worn really well. So I cut it out of some remnant fabric that I picked up at one of the creative reuse centers here, and they were doing sporty knits, like, rolls of sporty knits that were under a yard for a dollar. And so, why not mix and match some of those to make some like, different colored skorts that will be completely unique to me and have pockets for all the balls and tees and things that you need to have when you’re walking around. Because, again, those… The pants and shorts options like, are not great pockets either. Like…
Ada: Just their women’s ready-to-wear pockets. You know, they’re tiny.
Nicole: Yeah. So two qu– Two things. So, I hate to put you on the spot, but are the, is this the pattern where you sewed the shorts in sideways?
Ada: Yes. And then I had to seam rip them out and do it again. I actually…
Nicole: I remember this!
Ada: I… So I made two skort patterns, if you recall, last year. One was this one, and one was a Big Four one, and the Big Four one, as we can all imagine, the sizing was just off. And so I needed to recut that one and do all the stuff. And so I was like, why would I spend more time trying to make this pattern fit when I already have made one that I do know fits? And that I like a little bit better. But plus the Big Four one doesn’t have pockets, which is a pain in the butt.
Nicole: Makes no sense. But yes, I’m sorry that that’s how I remember the skirt, that you said you sewed it in sideways.
Don’t worry, I know how to find the sides on the front now.
So, when you become a touring, a golfer, can I come and watch you and clap very politely when you do amazing things? Isn’t that what happens? I know nothing about golf. All I know is that like, I’m not going to clap into the microphone, but for people on YouTube can see me clapping… Or do you want me to like go wild because I’m going to support you and these things.
Ada: What I do want to say and point out is that golf is one of the only sports I see internationally where Asian women dominate.
Ada: Like, eight out of the top ten are Asian women. Predominantly right now East Asian, and there’s a heavy Southeast Asian group, though, that’s like, coming up, that’s like, younger. I’m talking like, teenagers to early twenties. So women on the tour, like, every time I get to watch those videos, I’m like, women on the tour look like me and it like, does give me a little bit of a boost because I think the closest that, you know, a lot of us would have had growing up with, you know, anybody in our family who golfed. For me, it was my dad, it was, it was Tiger Woods, who… His mom is Thai, I believe? But like, in a very famous Oprah interview he said he was, he didn’t see himself as Black or Asian, or I think he’s like, also a mix of white. He’s called himself like, Cablasian? Or… It was weird. Go, listeners, go back and listen to that. It’s all sorts of like, he doesn’t know what his own identity is, and all sorts of stuff. But, I think the sport has definitely, it’s definitely still exclusionary and inaccessible for many people. But for me, it’s like, really motivating to see that there is a sport I could reasonably be good at at this point in my life and physical health. And there are people that look like me, who are just like, dominating it.
Nicole: Love that, love that. Welcome back to another episode of the Asian Sewist collective podcast. Today we’re looking at the intersectionality of gender nonconformity and sewing. But before we dive in, we want to start off with a disclaimer. We are not experts when it comes to gender nonconformity. We, your hosts, Ada and I, the researcher and the producer for this episode are all cisgender. That is, our assigned sex is aligned with our gender identity. We’ll explain more about what that means in detail, in a second. And we recognize that the majority of the collective is cisgender and want to emphasize that we are welcoming of all genders and those who are agender. There will be two guests in this episode who identify as gender nonconforming, and we’ll be sharing their experiences with us, but I also want to highlight that quote, gender nonconforming is a very vast term, and our guests are not fully representative of all folks who fall under this umbrella.
Ada: We have tried our best in our research for this episode to give you as much accurate information as we can. So, we’ll also highlight some key educators worth following if you’d like to learn more. And gender nonconforming folks are not a monolith, just like how Asian people are not a monolith, and one gender nonconforming person can’t speak on behalf of all, so we definitely invite you to do your own research and study outside of listening to today’s episode, especially since we just don’t have enough time today to define and explain all of the relevant topics and keywords. With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s jump right into it. When we’re talking about gender nonconforming folks, we are referring to people who do not follow other people’s ideas or stereotypes about how they should look or act based on their sex. It’s an umbrella term that encompasses folks who are transgender, genderqueer, nonbinary, Two Spirit and more.
Nicole: The word “sex” in this context is sometimes referred to as “biological sex” or “assigned sex”. It is a label that you are given at birth based on many medical factors including but not limited to your hormones, chromosomes and genitalia. Most people are assigned AFAB [a-fab] or AMAB [a-mab]. These are commonly used abbreviations for “assigned female at birth”, and “assigned male at birth” respectively. Some resources we found claimed that biological sex is a contentious term because someone else, usually a doctor, is making a decision on what your sex is for you at the time of your birth. Boxing one’s biological or assigned sex as strictly male or female isn’t that simple. And there’s a great video by Dr. Karen Tang, a doctor who promotes reproductive health and education. In that video, she talks about a genetic condition called 5-alpha reductase deficiency that can result in an individual being born genetically male with female sexual characteristics, but then goes on to develop male sexual characteristics in puberty. So per science journals and other reputable medical resources online, genetically male means that the individual has XY chromosomes and male gonads or testes.
Ada: Dr. Tang has come across my TikTok For You Page a bunch and I love her videos. She’s doing a lot of good work to educate folks across her platforms on TikTok and YouTube, which I highly recommend you check out, there will be links in the show notes. And especially if you’ve seen some of the headlines in the last few years from politicians and public figures who quite honestly don’t know what they’re talking about and conflate a lot of topics. Dr. Tang does a good job of untangling it all and explaining it in a way that non-scientists and doctors like me and likely you can understand and relate to. So, back to today’s topic. Sex does not determine one’s gender identity. Gender identity is how people see and identify themselves. For many of us, thanks to colonialism dictating what we consider to be a societal norm and what we grow up with, we consider our gender identity to be aligned with our assigned sex. So we are therefore cisgender, a man or a woman. I could go on a whole rant here about how for some people that concept is really so ingrained that they feel compelled to push it onto others, a la TERFs and conservative politicians here in the US, but we will try to keep this brief.
Nicole: We do need to clarify what the term “TERF” means. So, T-E-R-F is an acronym and it stands for trans-exclusionary radical feminists. Historically, they’ve promoted violence against trans women who dare to exists in women’s and lesbian spaces. They believe that anyone born with a vagina is in its own oppressed class and anyone born with a penis is automatically an oppressor. Now, TERF ideology has become the de facto face of feminism in the United Kingdom with the help of the media, which if you followed the UK media scene any time in the last 30 years, you know that it can be a pretty toxic place. It’s a toxic mix of historical imperialism and a broader movement in the UK in the 2000s was hyperfocused on debunking so-called junk science. This led to the prevalence of TERF ideology today. Supporters think they have science on their side when they shit on trans and gender nonconforming folks. And in an insidious way, more diluted forms of TERF ideology are perpetuated when, quote, women focused spaces, and programs exclude trans and gender nonconforming folks, which we have seen not only in the UK, but of course, in the United States and Canada as well. There’s a Vox article that’s linked in our show notes that dives deeper into this phenomenon and we highly recommend you take a look at it after listening to this episode. It’s definitely a good read.
Ada: Thanks, Nicole. I will also note that the most well known example of TERFism or a TERF is JK Rowling. In fact, if you Google the word “TERF”, her Twitter is one of the very first results that come up.
Nicole: I’ve literally never heard the term until I heard it being associated with JK Rowling.
Ada: Yeah, I mean that that happened for a lot of people, right? And it’s been discussed quite a lot in the past few years within the Harry Potter fandom, but also outside of it, given the contrast between the author’s views and the seemingly open and welcoming environment created in the Harry Potter world, like, the whole theme of Harry Potter is that being different is something to be celebrated and it’s okay. And yet, the author herself spouts a lot of hatred on Twitter, which just sucks and I know for a lot of people, it was like, really disappointing. And then you have politicians in the US like Marjorie Taylor Greene, who stupidly put up signs that say there are two genders, male and female, trust the science or, quote, women are the weaker sex. Not only do these signs and her, just, dispersals of stuff, set feminism back, but they just erase anybody who is gender nonconforming, she just refuses to acknowledge they exist.
Nicole: Right. And I know Harry Potter and the story around it resonated really deeply with a lot of folks who felt like misfits, including so many children who knew deep down that they didn’t fit into society’s iden, like, idea of gender. So I can’t even imagine or begin to express how JK Rowling’s rejection of gender nonconforming folks must feel for them, like, disappointing is the least of what, what the, they might have, they should, they are going through, rather. And I’m going to throw out a few more keywords before we move on. Folks whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth are considered transgender, often shortened to trans. And it’s important to note that all trans folks are gender nonconforming, but not all gender nonconforming folks consider themselves trans. Note that gender is not set in stone and one’s gender identity may change over time under a concept called gender fluidity. Because of this, some folks identify as gender fluid, meaning the gender or lack thereof they identify with is not fixed. Their gender can change over time, or even how they feel when they get up in the morning.
Ada: And nonbinary is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity does not fit neatly into what is considered male or female. The concept of male or female, so two options there, are sometimes referred to as the gender binary, but we want to make it clear that there’s obviously more than two genders. Some folks have a gender that blends elements from both male and female and others don’t identify with being the, being either. You’ll also hear the following terms thrown around for many folks whose gender is neither male or female, such as genderqueer, agender, bigender, and so on. These terms are not interchangeable, but they all speak to a gender identity that doesn’t just fit into the binary norm, basically a gender that’s not simply male or female.
Nicole: And lastly, I know I’ve said this already, but I’m gonna go ahead and say it again for emphasis. Sex does not determine one’s gender identity. And I also want to add that sex and gender are quote, distinct from your presentation and does not determine your orientation, end quote. And that quote is from an Instagram post from the ever resourceful Emilia of @emilia_to_nuno, which is Emilia, underscore, T-O, underscore, N-U-N-O. A link to their post is in our show notes. Gender presentation or expression refers to the appearance, body language and general behavior by which a person expresses their gender. Due to most of society’s modern colonialist conditioning, this manifests itself in ways like, oh, that person is wearing a dress so they are a woman, or so-and-so is gruff and has a deep voice, so that means that person is a man. And this isn’t, isn’t right, isn’t quite right. And we should remind ourselves that one’s sex and gender identity may have nothing to do with the way one chooses to present themselves.
Ada: Right. And that’s an important point that you make there, Nicole, because many of us grow up in colonialist environments, and these things are basically taught to us and ingrained in us from the time we’re born. And it’s, it takes work to untangle and unlearn these associations. So, sexual orientation refers to who you are attracted to physically and or romantically. And again, orientation has nothing to do with assigned sex, gender identity or one’s presentation. A person who wears makeup isn’t necessarily a woman and isn’t necessarily straight. A trans man can be gay and prefer to date other men or a cisgender person can be asexual. When an individual is asexual they do not experience sexual attraction towards individuals of any gender. It’s different from celibacy, since the latter term is the choice to refrain from engaging in sexual behaviors, and doesn’t comment on one’s actual sexual attractions.
Nicole: Interesting, I really distinctly remember learning about the difference between gender and sex and sexual orientation at some point in my public school upbringing. And it’s always been a no-brainer to me that these are different concepts and they exist separately but with, separately as concepts, but you know, within the same person, they can all be different. It’s kind of surprising. I’m surprised, myself, sometimes, that I that I knew about this because I grew up in like, a suburban, predominantly white and not a particularly socially progressive area. So, the nuances that were, some of the nuances we’re talking about today, like sex and presentation are newer to me. But it’s somewhat remarkable that I remember learning about it in school, given, like, my public school health class failings, like, other, other failings, like abstinence and abortions. But whenever I think about that, I think why, when people have difficulty parsing out the separate concepts, I think, but I swear I learned this when I was a kid, like, I’m pretty sure I did. But it may be failings of other educational institutions.
Ada: I mean, I don’t know, I went to public school too. Like, I’m a product of the New Jersey public school system, I didn’t learn this in school. Despite the other failings in our health classes, like, let’s just admit that public school health classes right now are pretty bad and pretty lacking. But I went to high school in a predominantly white suburban university town and super liberal town, and we never talked about this, like, our high school even had a GSA club, which is the Gay Straight Alliance club. Which I don’t know if it’s still called that, it seems like a little bit of a dated term. But I remember that being a club, but this never coming up in any discussions in any class.
Nicole: Yeah, that makes sense. I think, I think, however, the circumstance, I learned it in our must have been anomalous. But because I know that people don’t talk about this, I think that’s important for us to talk about gender nonconforming folks because it’s important to understand our fellow people as best as we can. But now that we’ve gotten those definitions out of the way, some of you may be wondering, you know, why we’re talking about gender nonconformity on a sewing podcast. Well, there’s quite a bit to unpack with regard to this intersection. But I want to say that, you know, a reminder, each gender nonconforming individual is a unique individual. So their breakpoint into sewing, you know, could be really different than what I’m about to say. But many gender nonconforming folks reclaim their pride through sewing, so others use sewing as a vehicle to take back ownership and power of their identity. Traditionally gendered ready-to-wear garments may not fit their body. For instance, a shirt without darts might not fit well on someone who was assigned female at birth. So instead, they may choose to tailor an existing pattern to make a one-of-a-kind garment that empowers and affirms their gender identity. And the problem with ready-to-wear is that most designers construct their clothing around the gendered idea of a body. That is, quote, womenswear is designed for women who are expected to be hourglass-shaped where their waist is smaller than their chest and their hips or quote, menswear is designed for men who are expected to be shaped like a martini glass, wider up top and narrower at the waist and bottom. Now, most of the time, these garments fail to accommodate the vast spectrum of body types that exist, least of all gender nonconforming folks. So even ready-to-wear garments that can accommodate a vast range of sizes are usually designed using pattern blocks for cisgender bodies, leaving everyone else behind.
Ada: Then there’s often a gap in the clothing market that only sewing can close. So, for the longest time period panties were always in very, quote, unquote, feminine shapes. But not all people who menstruate are women. Boxer cut period panties took a while to make it to the ready-to-wear market. And some folks also choose to challenge the binary norm through their sewing. An example of what might look like, is adding “feminine” – again, in quotes – touches to a traditionally masculine collared shirt, or truly precise tailoring to achieve fantastic fitting trousers, reminiscent of vintage menswear, a la Emilia of @emilia_to_nuno. And this is a bit of a segue, but I wanted to also speak to pattern designers supposedly challenging the binary norm. So, so far, I guess, over the past handful of years, we’ve seen a growing number of pattern designers releasing gender neutral or gender expansive sewing patterns out there, which is definitely a step in the right direction, but there is still a lot of work to be done. For starters, these patterns are often listed as, quote, unisex, which is problematic as many folks identify as agender, as in they identify with having no gender and it’s a subtle but definite difference. Then these patterns often only consider straight garment shapes as benefiting to all bodies. And lastly, we’re not really seeing enough gender nonconforming models in clothes to fight against the binary norm. And sure, we’ll see people who present traditionally as quote, masculine or feminine, modeling gender expansive garments on pattern websites, but like, why not someone who is AMAB, in a dress, for example?
Nicole: Right. And I do feel like, patterns, is many patterns that are considered themselves gender expansive, they generally cater to straight silhouettes. But why does degendering a pattern mean removing all semblance of curves? Like, gender doesn’t have a correlation with the curves that exists on one’s body. So as you say, Ada wouldn’t being truly gender expansive mean creating a space for a person who has AMAB, so assigned male at birth, to be comfortable with or to celebrate wearing a dress as much as someone who has AFAB, assigned female at birth, you know, without changing the shape of the garment itself. So, moving on to the topic of, you know, gender nonconformity, being a sewist and also being of Asian descent. We wanted to do a deep dive on this intersection in this episode, but we found very few resources on gender nonconforming Asians. Asian people in Western countries who are gender nonconforming are vastly underrepresented. In fact, any info out there is usually porn or just contains racist stereotypes, claims Mia Nakano. Mia Nakano is a fourth generation Japanese-American queer woman who was the key driving force behind a photo documentation series called the Visibility Project. The Visibility Project documents the personal experiences of AAPI queer and transgender folks through visual art and personal narratives.
Ada: Some sources claim that the model minority myth and colonialism have pretty much erased trans or gender nonconforming Asian folks from history which may be why we found so little information of this topic online. As a recap, the model minority myth claims that Asians are economically stable, upwardly mobile and have easy access to resources, supposedly. And no, we’re not here to argue against the myth again. But here are some slightly outdated but still relevant statistics that make this myth total bullshit. AAPI transgender people had an unemployment rate of 12% in 2012, while the general population’s rate was about 7% at that point, and AAPI transgender people often live in extreme poverty. 18% report a household income of less than $10,000 a year, and this is higher than the rate for transgender people across all races, which is 15%, and it’s six times the rate for the general AAPI population, or four times the rate of the general US population. And AAPI transgender and gender nonconforming folks are a significant and too often marginalized part of both the AAPI and LGBTQ+ communities.
Nicole: Within some Asian cultures, gender that exists beyond the binary has been long recognized. There are spaces within cultural communities for people who do not identify as male or female to exist. For instance, there are hijra communities in Bangladesh and India who consider themselves a third gender. They are usually assigned male at birth, but have a feminine gender identity and adopt feminine gender roles. They’re often mislabeled as transgender or by terms that carry a negative connotation, which we’re not going to go into today. But in 2014, the Supreme Court of India ruled that hijras are recognized on official documents under a separate third gender category.
Ada: So hijras seem to share similarities with the Metis, M-E-T-I-S, I’m not sure if I’m pronouncing that right, we couldn’t find a pronunciation guide online. But they’re from Nepal, and it’s an indigenous term for a third gender and a Meti is usually assigned male at birth, so AMAB, but present in what we would conventionally consider feminine. They consider themselves as having a third gender and are interested in straight men. They’ve also been part of Nepalese culture throughout history, and a Supreme Court ruling in 2007 enabled Metis to be recorded officially as having a third gender, marked as the letter “O” for other. There are also many more examples of third genders in Asian cultures. It’s obvious that the concept of a binary gender is new to many Asian heritages and forced on us by colonizers. There is also a PBS link in our show notes if you want to read more about cultures that have always recognized, referred and integrated more than two genders. Spoiler alert, there are these cultures on almost every continent, so definitely, definitely check out that link.
Nicole: So there’s also a recognition of gender nonconformity and genders outside of the gender binary, I think, you know, prevalent in some Asian languages. So, this got me thinking, you know, producer Mariko was asking about, like, Tagalog, and Tagalog is a language in the Philippines, one of over 100 different types of languages. But Tagalog itself does have gender neutral elements to it, maybe more than, compared to other languages. So for example, the third person pronoun “siya”, which is spelled S-I-Y-A, is used for “he”, “she”, or even “it”, and some nouns are also genderless, but they tend to be the nouns that don’t appear to have been adopted from Spanish. So there was this very long colonization period, the Spanish came and colonized the Philippines. And one of the words that is not of Spanish root is asawa, so A-S-A-W-A, and it just means “spouse”. There isn’t a word for “husband” or “wife”, it’s just “spouse”. But you know, also Tagalog speakers will then tack on the words “lalaki” or “babae”, which means “male” or “female”, to a particular noun. So some examples of that are “anak na lalaki”. So, “anak” means child, so there’s no word for son, but, so if you want to talk about your male child, you would “anak na lalaki”. Or the example here is “babaeng kabing”, which is, you know, a female goat, “kabing” is goat. So, there’s some nuances there. But when you start to think about the words that have a lot more Spanish influence from that colonization period, there tends to be a lot more gendering of the languages. So, using the suffixes A and O to signify you know, a feminine and a masculine respectively. So most of these words refer to ethnicities, occupations, families, so like, you have your Filipino and your Filipina, you have your tindero or tindera, which is you know, male shopkeeper, you know, female shopkeeper, and I was racking my brain, and all the gendered words I could think of, keeping in mind that I’m not like, a fluent speaker at all, they were all used to describe people, all the gendered words or describe words to describe people, which I think is really interesting when you think about language.
Ada: In the Asian languages that I speak, or I know a bit of and studied, there are definitely some cultural norms embedded that make gender neutrality difficult, right. Like, in Chinese and Korean, for example, when you call someone, auntie or uncle, or basically you refer to them in a familial term, the word you use depends on their gender and their age, in relation to other folks in the family, even and even like, you have to consider if they’re married into the family, or like, you biologically, I guess, in the family. And so, I know, at least for Chinese, this gets so complex that someone created a calculator online., thank you to producer Mariko for finding this. This calculator is called 三姑六婆 [san gu liu po], which literally translates to “three aunts and six mothers-in-laws” or “grandmas”, but it’s also an idiom that refers to quote, women of disreputable professions. And I found that out in the dictionary, I did not know that idiom.
Ada: And basically, you can enter details about a family member, to compute the word to call them by and refer that, to them with. Which, you know, in my experience, and in my opinion, would have been real handy when I was studying all of these words and honorifics because I have a very large, extended family. And you’ll notice that the words on the calculator buttons on this tool are all gendered. And even how you refer to your cousin, for example, depends on which side of the family you’re on versus them, and their gender and age in relation to yours. So there’s like, eight different combinations that all mean cousin, and they can all get confusing if you, like I said, have a large extended family and have all these different cousins. And so then, according to Mariko, who is half Japanese, Japanese is also a language that is also heavily steeped in the gender binary. There are certain words or ways of speaking that are strictly used by men or women. And there are instances of women, you know, supposedly speaking like men and vice versa. But it isn’t a societal norm. And the vocabulary itself is still gendered even if it’s switched.
Nicole: So I think it’s interesting to take a look at the way that different Asian societies view gender binary and gender nonconformity through the language that they use, and it’s a bit of a tangent there, but it’s a useful way to understand how it’s viewed within those cultures. But let’s go ahead and direct it back to gender nonconformity and sewing, because it’s a sewing podcast. But before our guests come on today, I want to touch upon how sewists, pattern makers and the sewing community can better include gender nonconforming sewists. You may have heard of some of these tips before, while others may be new to you, or you may have noticed some of these changes but haven’t really understood why they’re happening. So a common theme we saw across the board is mindfulness around the language that we use in the sewing community. So it’s evident that a lot of assumptions are made about the sewing community when it comes to how we communicate with each other. Greeting each other by a, “hello ladies”, for instance, can be extremely exclusionary and could be triggering for certain folks. So when pattern designers describe menswear as some, as you know, quote, something women can sew for the men in their lives.
Nicole: I mean, it’s not only exclusionary, it’s like, super misogynist to say that, you know, this assumes the only people making the patterns are cisgender women who are straight. And another example of exclusionary language is when the binary norm is used to describe garments and parts of garments, like, boyfriend cut jeans and princess seams. And sewists and pattern designers can make a huge difference by taking care to use inclusive language with other sewists. And actually, you can make a really big difference by doing this absolutely everywhere, not just in the sewing world. Gender nonconforming friends and strangers will thank you.
Ada: I’m hearing a lot of parallels to some of the terms we pointed out that were problematic in the cultural appropriation episodes. So some alternatives to “hello ladies” or “hey guys” that I learned from a friend are, “hey y’all” or “hi folks”. And I am not from the American South where these phrases are more prevalent, and it took a lot of getting used to, but now that I’m a few years into learning these phrases, and consciously changing my vocabulary, they come up pretty naturally to me. And there are times where I slip up too, but I genuinely do believe that anyone can make this small change in their vocab to help people feel more included in their spaces. And this small change similar to asking for someone’s pronouns, I think it’s, it’s a sign of respect, and it makes space for those who are gender nonconforming. It’s not for people like me or Nicole who are gender conforming, right, it’s just to show that little bit of respect that you care enough to recognize that person with the words you are choosing to use. On a similar note about language, pattern designers should consider removing the concept of gender from their patterns. Again, Emilia of @emilia_to_nuno has a Seamwork article series where they go into this in more detail than what we can do in this podcast, so check out the link to the articles in our show notes. And when I say remove the concept of gender from patterns, I mean pattern designers should consider just bucketing patterns with labels other than men’s patterns and women’s patterns, like, women are not the only ones who can wear a dress, for instance. In fact, dresses and skirts and similar garments have been gender neutral throughout history and all over the world. Hello, kilts? In Asia, what about the longyi worn by men in Burma to, up to today. And for those who are not in the know, the longyi is a long piece of uncut fabric not unlike a sarong that can be twisted and tucked in many ways to form an ankle-length skirt that wraps around someone’s lower body. So there’s also just many Asian traditional garments worn by men that would be considered a dress or skirt by modern standards. And the idea that only women can wear dresses or skirts is a very recent phenomenon, like, within the last 150 years or so. Frankly, it’s also just a very Westernized point of view. And a suggestion that we read in Emilia’s Seamwork articles is to consider using labels that just describe the blocks that the garment was built upon, such as basic flat for what we may call menswear right now, rather than using gender labels.
Nicole: And another thing pattern designers can strive for is providing extensive guidance when it comes to fitting their patterns on a wide range of bodies. So we’re not pattern, pattern drafting experts here, but I wouldn’t think it’s unreasonable to say that it’s difficult to create patterns that will fit every body out there. So this is a great stopgap that we saw show up a few times in our research. There are already many sewalongs and other blog post created by pattern designers that will teach you how to adjust pants for knock knees or adjust tops using a full bust adjustment. And these are typically centered around cisgender bodies, so it’s simply a matter of increasing your scope, when you provide fitting guidance. It’s undoubtedly more work and an investment on the pattern designer’s part, but just think about those markets that you’re not tapping into right now. Once you remove the gender labels from sewing patterns, and also teach everyone, including gender nonconforming folks, how to fit your patterns to their bodies, wouldn’t that be something exciting to see? And I do want to talk about size inclusive patterns briefly before we move on. And in our research for this episode, many guides suggested that gender nonconforming folks should start off using womenswear, quote, unquote, womenswear patterns, and grade the pattern from there, especially since there are more sizes to encompass a larger range of bodies. However, these patterns tend to be centered around cisgender female bodies and tend to lean heavily on the, quote, unquote, feminine side. So hopefully, listeners, you understand, you can understand why the current status quo just isn’t quite good enough.
Ada: Right. And as we said before, I think we’ve seen a lot of improvement over the last two, three years in the sewing community, but there’s still a long way to go. Most gender expansive patterns that I’ve seen out there are for T-shirts, pullovers, and jackets, you know, basics, and they’re almost always drafted using menswear straight blocks. And, basics are necessary, of course, that’s why they’re called basics, we all have to wear something. But, limiting gender expansiveness to menswear blocks and large, kind of, shapeless garments just doesn’t really make any sense. Gender nonconforming sewists deserve fun stylish garments that fit. As Koss will point out in their interview later in this episode, nonbinary does not equal androgyny, right. Give me more men wearing gathered maxi dresses and frills and women wearing boxers regardless of sex, gender, and orientation. Like, I’m thinking of JVN and their outfits. JVN, Jonathan Van Ness of the Queer Eye series, like, if you don’t know of them, has great, great outfits and dresses. Like, some of these dresses, like, I want to make a dupe. And in the future, like, I hope that pattern designers take this to heart and truly try to create more of these inclusive designs and represent more of these people who want to wear their designs on their actual photography and patterns. At the same time, I am still disappointed and pretty sad that the exclusivity of ready-to-wear is what has driven this need. Like, don’t get me wrong, I love seeing the diversity of gender expression in the sewing community. But I wish a lot of it wasn’t rooted in the experience of, you know, having, not been able to find something from ready-to-wear that is inclusive and so then having to turn to making your own clothes and turn to the sewing community only to find that the home sewing industry and community is also somewhat lacking in inclusivity too.
Nicole: Yeah, ditto to everything you said, Ada, and the sewing community often ends up being the place where folks go when they’re ready to where world excludes them. And it is nice to be able to have the sewing community. But you know, it does need to be more inclusive, and I agree, gender expansiveness should should be mainstream, shouldn’t just be the sewing community. You know, ready-to-wear should get it together as well. But before we wrap up with the educational portion of today’s episode, I’d like to leave you with a couple people of Asian descent who are gender nonconforming that you should follow. Don’t forget to support these educators and activists in any way you can, if you benefit from their work. ALOK goes by they/them pronouns and is Indian-American. They are a writer, performer and public speaker and the creator behind the movement to degender fashion and beauty industries. They are the author of the book “Beyond the Gender Binary” which you can grab a copy directly off their website, alokvmenon.com. That is, A-L-O-K-V-M-E-N-O-N-dot-com. Additionally, ALOK posts a lot of educational content on their Instagram, that’s @alokvmenon, A-L-O-K-V-M-E-N-O-N. Then, there’s Schuyler Bailar. Schuyler uses he/him pronouns, is of Korean descent, and is the first ever transgender athlete on an NCAA – that’s National Collegiate Athletic Association – swim team. He’s also an inspirational speaker and an inclusion advocate. While Schuyler predominantly focuses on coaching trans men, his work is very intersectional and he posts a lot of educational content on being transgender and gender nonconforming on his Instagram, that’s @pinkmantaray, P-I-N-K-M-A-N-T-A-R-A-Y. There’s also a ton of useful information up on his website, pinkmantaray.com. Lastly, I also want to highlight Meg Lee, who is an artist and activist. Meg goes by they/them pronouns and you may have already seen their art on apparel worn by many trans rights advocates and allies, most notably the “Protect trans kids” tees and crewnecks. Through their artwork, Meg educates others, challenges societal norms and shares their journey to becoming their more authentic self. Check out their content on Instagram @megemikoart, that’s M-E-G-E-M-I-K-O-A-R-T, or on their website, megemikoart.com.
Ada: So, Nicole and I are cisgender, and so the collective decided that instead of us talking about things we don’t personally live through, we would instead feature a few guests in the episode who could speak to the topic far better than we could. So first up, we have Teukie Martin, a fellow sewist of Asian descent who is nonbinary and goes by @teukmade on Instagram. That’s T-E-U-K-M-A-D-E. Hi, Teukie!
Ada: Could you tell us a bit about yourself including what your pronouns are?
Teukie: Sure. So as you mentioned, my name is Teukie. My pronouns are they/them. I am a Korean adoptee. I am a, currently a doctoral student at Syracuse University in Special Education and Disability Studies. I identify as disabled, neurodivergent, Mad, fat, queer, nonbinary. And I think that’s, that’s a good start. [producer note: “Mad” with a capital M is a political identity for people with psych labels or who otherwise experience “Madness”]
Ada: That was a lot of descriptors. So, I’m curious, what would you want the sewing community to know about who you are and your identity as you shared it?
Teukie: So, I think, number one is just that I’m like, I’m one person, right? Like, I’m one nonbinary person, and there is no one way to be nonbinary, there’s no wrong way to be nonbinary. And nonbinary can look like anything. I think there’s a lot of pressure on folks who are nonbinary to look like, nonbinary enough, whatever that means.
Ada: That, like, androgynous look?
Teukie: Right! And, and particularly, as someone who is fat, like, you know, I, it’s harder for me to, to find, first of all, to find clothes that would even allow me to do that. And it’s also not how I want to exist in my body. Like, that’s not how I feel comfortable. So I definitely, you know, I think there are folks who fall into that category, and I’m not one of them. And so, um, just remembering that like, you know, all nonbin… All nonbinary folks are valid.
Ada: I love that. And you mentioned that walking into a store, it would be difficult to find clothing that you would want to wear or that accurately represents who you are. So I’m curious, is that how you got started into sewing? Like, how, how did you even come to sewing? How did @teukmade start.
Teukie: So my mom, my adoptive mother actually taught me how to use her sewing machine when I was about nine years old, because I just was always really curious about making things and, and art and stuff like that. You know, for they did my, like, 100 day birthday, first birthday party as a Korean kid where I had to, you know, find like, bought, touch different things. And I picked up like a spool of thread and a paintbrush. So I’ve always sort of had this like, creative, artsy part of my life. And so yeah, so I learned how to sew when I was nine on the sewing machine. Was not very good. I definitely, I didn’t learn like a lot of the technical stuff. So like, I could follow a pattern, but I didn’t really understand what I was doing, and I didn’t really understand a lot of like, the nuances around like, different kinds of fabric and like, stretch, and nap and all that stuff. And so all of that I didn’t really learn until, I don’t know, like fastfForward maybe like, five years ago, or so when I got introduced to the world of like, PDF patterns and like sewing because for a long time, I couldn’t sew from patterns, because they, you know, a lot of the big companies don’t make stuff that goes into like, the larger size ranges. And I also didn’t understand enough about making adjustments and grading for my own, for myself, because I am super short. And I have really, really short legs. And very, shall we say, like mountain dwelling, kimchi squatting, kind of calves and thighs. So it’s, it’s just not like, you know, pants are a nightmare. So…
Ada: I mean, pants are a nightmare to sew anyway.
Teukie: Yeah. Oh my gosh, they really are. But yeah, so I came to PDF sewing, I guess, about PDF patterns about like five years ago. And that’s when I started to really learn a lot more about sewing. But before then I just did a lot of like, garment reconstruction. I was doing burlesque in Seattle for a while. And so I would do a lot of like thrifting and going to like, Ross and finding components and then taking them apart and putting it back together and adding like, sequences and trims and things. So I did a lot more of the reconstruction for a time period. And then now I’m a little bit more towards like, following patterns, I guess.
Ada: Interesting. I love, I love that you learned and then you had like a hiatus, let’s call it. Like, a break. And then PDF patterns, voila, here we are, five years later. Is there anything that you’re currently working on that you would like to share with us?
Teukie: Yeah, actually, this is a really interesting time for me as a sewist. As you know, may or may not have noticed, we’ve been in this pandemic for a couple of years. And so, you know, I started my doc program while I was, during the pandemic. And so I feel like, now that we’re kind of moving towards stuff is in person, I’m getting ready to go to my first big conference where I’m presenting, I’m working on like, my professional wardrobe right now. And that’s really different for me than what I typically have been sewing which is like, you know, tank tops and like, fun prints and stuff like that, like, so kind of figuring out even what my professional, like, wardrobe identity, like, is and then figuring out how to make that. So right now I have, working on like, a blazer pattern in this fun… It’s from Joann’s, whatever, I love it. It looks kind of like, acid, washy denim, cool, you know, so that’s really fun, it’s like a rayon. I’m also working on a vest, working on like, some other sorts of layers, you know, in like, linens and things. I’m just playing with materials and really figuring out what I like and it’s a lot more wovens than I’ve like, than I normally work with. I’m much more of a knit person. So…
Ada: So, if I’m getting it right, you personally, pre… Having to go out on the world with this, you know, you’re gonna be a doctor, all this is the best way I can put it, trying to present like, a professional, professional version of Teukie. Gravitated towards knits, tank tops. It’s sounding like soft fabrics and prints and fun colors maybe?
Teukie: Yeah, I mean, I was teaching like, at an inclusive pre K. So, you know…
Ada: Yeah, you don’t want to wear a nice white linen shirt to that.
Teukie: No, no, it’s different vibes, for sure.
Ada: Yeah, different vibes. Sounds like a white linen shirt, that would be asking for something to happen. So now you’re figuring it out. What has that process of figuring out what does like, quote, unquote, professional wardrobe look like for you? Like, have you used any references anywhere? Are there certain pattern designers or patterns that you’ve been looking towards more than others?
Teukie: So I think I feel like I’m not alone in this, in terms of I’ve heard from like, other folks, particularly like, gender nonconforming, nonbinary folks. Animal Crossing is like, in dressing yourself up and like, putting together little outfits was sort of like, a really great way to get an idea of like, oh, I might like to try that some time or I wonder if I’ll find those pieces in real life. And I think that, that, that sort of started to be like, something I was playing with it, because we got it, you know, during the pandemic. And so that was something I was playing with, and getting just some ideas, I think, and even now, I think it’s still very much in that phase of like, we’re gonna see what happens when I do this. Definitely, folks on Instagram… So I started the, a couple of years ago, I started the hashtag #sewnonbinary. And so, kind of like, going through and seeing what other folks are doing. Big shoutout to @rare.device who has been posting little videos of what they wear to teach, and I’m always like, oh, okay, what are these pieces because like, I like how this layering is going. And, you know, we have different body types, and I wear things differently on myself, like, I don’t like a high waisted or anything. But I’m definitely looking at patterns, that I’m like, working on a Belmore jacket by Muna and Broad. And that definitely came from like, seeing others, people’s being like, okay, okay, I can make that, right, you know.
Ada: I love that jacket. The goal is to make it for somebody, I haven’t figured out who. But thank you for sharing all those patterns and Animal Crossing, honestly would not have been my first, like, thought. But, that makes a lot of sense, duh. So we will have links to Animal Crossing, for anyone who doesn’t know, it’s a video game, and all of the patterns that Teukie mentioned, in our show notes as usual. I’m curious, since you did mention you’re a Korean adoptee, and it sounds like your parents threw you your 100 day party, which is a traditional, it’s a Korean tradition. When the baby reaches 100 days, around three months, they put a bunch of symbolic things in front of the baby and see what it grabs for, and that’s supposed to be like, a predictor, I guess, of what you’re gonna be good at? And I guess I’m curious, if you’re open to sharing with us like, are there any ways and… Or what other ways does your heritage intersect with your sewing practice that maybe we haven’t covered already? If it does intersect with it at all?
Teukie: Yeah, no, actually, it does in really big ways. So I would say for a lot of my early figuring out my gender identity and sort of how I wanted to present myself, so my expression, I drew a lot from Kpop. And I was totally this, I still described myself, like, I still identify as a flower boy. And I, that was sort of my whole image, you know, really came from that. And when I was doing burlesque, it was, you know, it was a lot more kind of, out there, I think, in terms of my style. Definitely not presenting at an academic conference professional sort of thing. So, I’ve been trying to figure out how do I maintain that influence in the, sort of, my now, maybe elevated wardrobe that I’m working on. And at the same time, I’m also interested in integrating other aspects of Korean culture that I’m, you know, learning about, kind of, at a distance. Certainly, I want to try to do like, modern, modern hanbok, kind of, take, and I’m always sort of looking for like, a ways to make that happen and ways that’ll work for me and I, I still haven’t totally sorted it out, because I think it’s just, it’s a tricky thing. Kind of, do I look for a pattern that like, approximates what I’m looking for and maybe add some detailing, you know, versus, do I just self draft, things like that. And then also adding, you know, embroidery, even, like, norigae, like, things like that. So I’m definitely trying to do it and as I, as I build up this sort of ideal wardrobe, like, those are elements that are totally there. I think the reality of making that happen is certainly more complicated.
Ada: Yeah, I mean, it takes time to make anything.
Ada: And I for one, am very excited to see when you make any of those happen in reality on your Instagram. And so before we wrap up for today, are there any Asian sewists who are gender nonconforming that you would like to bring to our attention that our followers and listeners should also follow? Including you?
Teukie: Definitely. Sky Cubacub with Rebirth Garments, it’s this really amazing project that they’ve done. It’s a, it’s a clothing line that revolves around like, queer, trans and disabled bodies, and what that kind of fashion can look like as a form of like, really, like, radical visibility. And so I think that their work is amazing, and definitely check them out. And then someone who I have found through Instagram is @soundslikeuyu, U-Y-U, who is another Asian sewist, who I believe is also nonbinary, who posts some really great things, great content as well.
Ada: That is amazing. We will have links to both of those accounts on our show notes. And that’s all the questions I have for you today, Teukie. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us and sharing a little bit about you with all of our listeners. Once again, you can find Teukie on Instagram at @teukmade, that’s T-E-U-K-M-A-D-E. Teukie also sells stickers and pins on Etsy, so you can find their store at teukmade.etsy.com So T-E-U-K-M-A-D-E-dot-etsy-dot-com. Get on it.
Teukie: Thank you so much for having me.
Nicole: The next guest on today’s agenda is Koss, who is @withorwithoutice on Instagram. We actually mentioned Koss in a past episode, when they messaged us about the problematic nature of Merchant and Mills. And now, Koss is part of our collective. They wear many hats, and welcome.
Ada: Koss, could you tell us a bit about yourself and introduce yourself to our listeners, including what your pronouns are?
Koss: Sure, whoo! How do I introduce myself? So my name is Koss, my pronouns are they/them? I guess it depends. I prefer, I prefer they/them. Some people still call me she, which for some people is fine, but for most people, I prefer they/them. My parents are Cambodian, so I am of Khmer descent, and I was born and raised in France. I lived in the US, for a little bit, in Boston, where I met my partner and now we both live in Tamaki Makaurau, Aotearoa, which is Auckland, New Zealand.
Nicole: What do you want the sewing community to know about your identity?
Koss: So I am nonbinary, and I don’t need to broadcast this because I am non binary – because to me, my gender doesn’t matter if like, I don’t care to participate in the binary and I will talk about being nonbinary and I will be very transparent about it. It’s also very new to me. So like, we’re kind of like, all learning together. But I guess what I want the sewing community to know about that, not really about my identity, but about nonbinary people in general, is that we’re here so it really annoys me when pattern designers or like, organ, organizers from like, Frocktails event and stuff like that, start their email by saying, hi ladies, or for an event, showing an image with like, all thin people in dresses or stuff like this. What I wish the sewing community would do is be more mindful, obviously be more inclusive, but also be more mindful of this. Because just, not just nonbinary people like me, there’s also men who sew and they also, and we have to live with the bias that’s sewing is historically for women. But there’s all of us here. And yeah, I wish the sewing community would be more mindful of that.
Ada: Is there anything unique, you think about the intersection of being Asian and being nonbinary that you would want to share?
Koss: There’s not really and also, the fact is that I only know me who’s Asian and nonbinary. I don’t, I don’t have, like, the other nonbinary friends I have through Instagram are not Asian. So I have trouble to find the intersection of it. I would say as a person of color, with very traditional parents, it’s really hard to explain what that is, like, when I came out to my parents, I said, hey, I’m nonbinary and I’m also bi. I’m, I think I’m, I’m pansexual, not bi, but like, it’s easier for my parents to understand what bi is. And I think they kind of like, mix the two, like, for them, it just means the same thing. And it’s hard enough for them to wrap around their head over the fact that like, my sexuality is different than what they thought it was. And they’ve been kind of quiet about it, so I guess it means it’s okay? But yeah, like, telling them about, about gender, it’s, it’s really, it’s really difficult. I consider that I’m trans because I’m not cis. But I am not a person who transitioned, like, I was born AFAB and I don’t feel like I’m a man, or whatever. I’m just nonbinary. So to me, my gender and my presentation don’t matter. Like, that’s why I’m nonbinary, I think, it’s because I don’t want to participate in like, the traditional gender role, I think it’s ridiculous, and I never felt really, like I fit in any boxes, which is really different for people who transitioned. For them, their gender and their presentation is really important, because I think for them, it’s who they are on the inside and they can show it on the outside, and that’s amazing, I think, but it’s not something I relate with because for me gender and presentation is not that important. I really like seeing garments that are both worn by men and women. So obviously, in Western culture, both men and women wear pants now – I put emphasis on “now”. But for example, when I see my parents’ traditional garment, which they don’t wear in France, because in France, they arrived and they just assimilated and they made us assimilate. So like, they don’t wear this outside or even at home. But when we have weddings or stuff like this, I can see them wear traditional garments, and I really, I get a lot of pleasure to see that some garments are worn by both genders, because Khmer culture is also very, very gendered. Like, I don’t know, another language that does that, but for example, if you’re female or male, you don’t answer yes the same way. In French, everything is gendered. Like, if I’m saying, “I’m pretty”, or “I’m happy”, you can hear my gender in like, the adjective. I feel very safe in English because I don’t do that. I just say “I” and then it’s just me, it’s not gendered, it’s just me. But in French, I don’t even know how to speak in French being myself because I have to choose. And like, in my culture it’s even, it’s even more than that, it’s even just the fact of saying “yes”, you have to choose, kind of. So I have not lived there, and if you do, please tell me. But I know that I have some friends who are Khmer and who are gay, and when they are spoken to, they use the female way of saying “yes”. And for my mom, it’s kind of like a way of seeing if someone is gay, like, just seeing if someone is not conforming, is just their use of the other language. But I’m really happy when I see garments that are, that are worn by both genders because for a culture that is like, really into the binary, it makes me really happy that I’m like, oh, I was right this whole time, clothes are not gendered. Like, it’s been done by a lot of people, actually.
Ada: Yeah, I remember seeing in the news a few months ago that there was like, this big debate, I guess, it’s probably the best way to put it, on gender neutral pronouns in French. And the, the new development of “iel”, or I-E-L, of being gender neutral and kind of, like, giving it some sort of option. Because literally, like you said, everything you conjugate would give an indication, or is gendered. And, I don’t recall there being any resolution to that? I think it’s still like, relatively new in the dialogue, at least. But yeah, I think it’s, it’s interesting, even generationally looking like, your parents, seeing that your parents moved and immigrated, and then wanted to assimilate as fast as possible, and now that’s like, kind of, how your mom tells is, is interesting to kind of wrap your head around, I think, culturally and generationally.
Koss: Yeah. So in French, and I think it’s even more, I mean, I don’t, I haven’t been living in France for years now, so also, if you live in France, please tell me. I think it’s even more developed in Canada, because Northern America is more open to these kinds of questions than good old Europe, but there is inclusive language that exists, and you will use dots before putting in an “e”, that’s the mark of femininity, or you will use both, kind of like a mishmash of the masculine and the feminine, in the same word. So the words are way longer, but it’s inclusive. But I think it’s really, it’s like, I don’t mind doing that when I’m writing, and I try to do that when I’m doing it in French, but I think it’s really tedious when you speak. But I have a friend who’s… It’s funny because she’s Kiwi, she is from New Zealand, but she lives in France. And I’m French, and I’m here so like, we talk about that all the time. And she also, she’s also Maori, so we also talk about being people of color in white countries. But, she was telling me that she had a seminar through her work that was kind of like, teach, teach, teaching them like, some adjectives or stuff are neutral, that’s have no… So like, technically, they are either masculine either feminine, but they sound the same. So I think it’s a good way to do it, like, I mean, all the ways are a good way to do it but this is an easy way to do it. Like, a few days ago, I talked, it was Trans Visibility Day, and I came out on Instagram a while ago, but like, obviously, not everybody is like, on my profile page every day so like, some some of my friends haven’t even noticed. And so for that day, I was like, okay, just ask me a question – it’s kind of like, as a trans person on Reddit, or whatever. And one of my friend from like, uni from when we were eighteen, wrote me and he was like, “Oh my god, like, I support you in everything you’re doing, you’re so pretty, blah blah blah,” and I was like, in French. And I was like, “Well, like, I don’t really like the word ‘pretty’, it’s, it’s not really, like, it kind of like, makes my skin crawl.” And, and then he just replied, and he said, “I think you’re a wonderful person.” And it was very cute because he was trying so hard. But yeah, I think it’s a way to do it. Like, you can just use the word “person” more. Or you can just use words that sound the same in both genders or stuff like that.
Nicole: I know that for my part, I’m trying to be more mindful about using more inclusive language. This might sound silly, but I’ve adopted “y’all”.
Koss: I do that too!
Nicole: Anywhere, or anyone says “y’all”, but that’s just kind of an easy way for like, uh, one way for me, for me to feel like I am using language that honors everyone. And I want to back up to something that you said that really resonated with me, a little bit earlier about clothing not having gender. It’s so apparent to me now, like, I mean, only people have genders, but you know, it’s so ingrained that things have genders, and I felt like when that was put forth in front of me, like, clothing doesn’t have a gender, it was like a light bulb, like, of course it doesn’t. And you know, clothing is about expression and you know, we are the sewist collective, and I know that you sew, so I’d love to turn a little bit toward your sewing practice and if and how your gender identity informs that. But let’s start with, like, just how did you start sewing? Who did you learn from? How did you learn?
Koss: So my mom sewed when I was really young, like, when I was maybe between zero and three years old, she sewed and I have memories of like, going to like, the market and touching fabrics and stuff like this. She made us dresses, she made us gym pants, like… So I used to see her at the sewing machine or like, or like, you know, the, my mom didn’t have like a sewing tin, but she had like, a, a little sewing box. And I loved, and it was, for some reason, it was under the coffee table at all time. It’s not like my mom was sewing all the time, but it was there. And so as a kid, I would always go in it because sometimes she would be, when she would hem pants, she would put like, the scrap in there, so you would have like, just like, kind of like, rings of pants in there. And I would always like, kind of like, go and look at them and like, touch them and stuff. Like, especially I loved velvets when I was a kid, I still do but like, whenever like, I don’t know, my mom was hemming corduroy pants, it would make me really happy to like, just touch that. And so I think I probably asked her when I was a kid to be like, mom, like, show me how you, how you sew and stuff. And she taught me hand stitching. But like, she taught me probably just to like, entertain me. So like, she taught me hand stitching and I like, I don’t know, maybe a cushion for like, my doll or whatever. But I remember really liking it, and I remember really liking just like, putting the thread through the needle and stuff like this. And I have memories of me years later, just like, being with friends at home and being kind of bored, and then being like, what do we do? You know how, when you’re kids, you always need to be doing something, you always need an activity. And I would teach them how to sew, like, or teach them how to like, put buttons on scraps and like, just like, put the thread through the needle and double the, the threads, knot it and stuff like that, like, I have memories of that. And, but I never used the sewing machine, like, I saw my mom do it, but I never used a sewing machine. And, and my grandma was making a lot of crochet when I was a kid, so she taught me as well, kind of like, for me to leave her alone. But I forgot since then. So… So yeah, always kind of like, knew how to do it without really doing it. And then when I was 18, I was DIYing a lot. Like, I don’t know, buying secondhand skirts, making them shorter, or adding ruffles, or like, appliqueing le… Lace, or whatever. And when I was in architecture school, so when I was 19, I kept sending, like, DIY tutorials to a friend who I knew sewed dresses. And one time she was like, okay, you have to stop, like, we’re going to buy fabric, I’m going to teach you how to sew, you can’t be just cutting into skirts and stuff all the time. Like, you need to start from the beginning. And she taught me. So I went to her place, and she, she taught me again how to like, thread the sewing machine because I didn’t remember from what my mom had taught me a while ago. And she taught me how to use a pattern. And that was mind blowing to me because my mom never did that, like, she just like, worked off clothes. Like, she would just like put some pair of my pants on the floor and just cut fabric around it and stuff like this. So like, that was mind blowing to me how to use a pattern, and it was like a Burda pattern, so it was like, so hard, but she taught me through it. And yeah, and since then I have, I have sewed a little bit, but it’s really when I arrived in New Zealand three years ago, that I started sewing a lot because I didn’t have a job, and I kind of, was bored. Like, I didn’t know anyone and didn’t have a job. So I just sewed every day, all day. And now I’m really confident in my sewing because for like almost two years, I sewed every day.
Ada: That’s awesome. I think many of us wish we had that much time to sew. I’m curious, you know that we start every episode talking about what were sewing, so can you tell us about what you’re currently sewing?
Koss: Yeah, so I moved to Auckland last August. So like, I don’t know, nine months ago or something? And in like, two weeks after that, we went into lockdown because Omicron has arrived to New Zealand and since then I haven’t really been back to the office. Like, I’ve been back for like, a while. I went twice a week, and then I stopped again because there was another wave of Omicron, whatever. So I haven’t been back at the office too much. So I’ve been still sewing, not as much as before, but quite a bit, maybe every two or three days. And so I have a lot of clothes now because I’ve been home so long. But my sister, she doesn’t sew. I think, I’m kind of like, trying to lure her to the dark side. But she doesn’t sew yet, and she’s really into the 50s aesthetic, like, I would, I would say like, the 20s to 60s aesthetic. And so she goes to like, pinup contests and stuff like that. And one time, she was like, oh, can you, can you sew me a Tiki dress, which is like, the history is kind of… Not great. It’s like, about all of this ex… Exoticism of Hawaii for Americans. But she really liked the aesthetic. And she was like, but I don’t want to ask you because I know it’s a lot of work. And I was like, no, it’s fine, for you, I’ll sew anything, like I’m really happy to sew you anything, because she’s always so grateful when she wears it. And she will just tell everyone that’s… I made it for her and stuff like that. I won’t do… I won’t sew for anyone except my sister and my partner. And so I’m making that and she was like, oh, I saw that Gertie’s had a pattern, and I was like, no, no, no, I am not making anything by Gertie’s, like I have, I have a blacklist of pattern designers and Gertie’s and Merchant and Mills are on it. So I am heavily hacking Rose Cafe Bustier dress to look like the images she sent to me, and it’s really complicated, because we have roughly the same measurement except in the bust, she has like, way more cups than I have. But roughly everywhere else is the same and we’re also the same height so I assume that like, our busts and stuff are the same length, since we’re sisters and all. But um, I mean, maybe not. So what I’m trying to do is that Gowri, @bypaary, I think, talked about this, I don’t know if it was a Sew and Chat, or if it was the episode but, or if, or if we’re going to talk about this in the Zero Waste episode. But she has, in her sari blouses, she has really big seam allowances, so that you can modify if you gain weight, if you lose weight, if you lend your blouse to someone else. So I’m doing this for her so that she can work as long as she wants, like, I added an inch of seam allowance all around. So it’s like, so all around, it’s like, it’s what 10, 10 centimeter that I’m adding in the circumference if she needs to add stuff. So yeah, I’m trying to make it kind of like, flexible for her size. But that’s not how a pattern is made. So I’m just like, really quickly reading through instructions and just like, hacking the heck out of the, out of the pattern to make it flexible and also how she wants it to look like, which is really fun because now I have a lot of clothes and I have a lot of stuff I know how to do. Like, obviously I’m not like a seamstress or tailor or anything, but there’s a lot of stuff that I know how to do now but I’m always looking for new things to learn. So it’s really nice to be doing something for her because it’s not really something I would wear. So it’s not something I would do for myself. And also the fact that I need to be hacking it, is interesting to me and the fact that I need to make it flexible for weight, for weight fluctuation is also very interesting to me. So yeah, I’m doing this for now. It’s kind of kicking my butt.
Nicole: I saw your post, I… It was a post or story or something, I’ve been lurking on Instagram. But I saw the seam allowances and it reminded me of Gowri’s discussion. I would think it was, it was the sari episode last season. In your, it, you said it was a story, you said you, it kind of makes you interested in quilting. Do you think you’ll get into quilting though? Am I wrong? I think you said that.
Koss: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I did say that because, so like, the Rose Cafe Bustier, the, all of the bodice is lined, like, all of it, the cups and the bodice, like, everything is, is interfaced and then all of it is lined. So, in that seam allowance I have like, five rows of stitches in the seam allowance, and it’s, it’s so, layer, a layer of lining and then a layer of interface fabric and then the reverse, layer and different fabric and the lining, so it’s kind of thick and so the stitching is doing this beautiful, kind of like, digging into the fabric and then it’s kind of like bubbly and then it’s digging again. And I find it really beautiful. And I like, I like things that are tactile like this. So yeah, I’ve been thinking of getting into quilting for a while now. Like, I’ve been saving scraps and stuff. I don’t want to get into quilting and like, go in buying quilting fabric. Like I think, if I want to go into quilting, it’s to recycle my fabrics from garment sewing. But the problem I have is that, what I love sewing for is that I’m making an object with a purpose. And with quilting, what doesn’t appeal to me is that I don’t want to make just a bedspread or a hanging, like, it doesn’t really appeal to me. So maybe I’ll go into quilting by just like, quilting fabric, and then putting it into a garment.
Nicole: That’s, that’s how I started. I felt the same way about quilting, Ada and I, I know we’ve talked about this, it’s like, I can appreciate the craft for what it is. But I don’t see, I don’t know what I would do with all the, all the quilts. I say that, but then in the last month or so, I, all of a sudden decided I wanted to make a quilt. So I’ve just been cutting squares and they might not ever turn into a quilt. Maybe it’ll turn into a bag or a jacket or something. But I definitely, I definitely feel you on that.
Ada: Before we wrap up for today, are there any other sewists who are gender nonconforming that you would like to bring to our attention, and to our listeners’ attention?
Koss: So as I said earlier, if you’re Asian and trans, please add me on Instagram, I want to talk to you. I don’t know any, actually. So yeah, please, please be my friend. But for gender nonconforming, obviously, @emilia_to_nuno is my biggest inspiration. They really helped me in my journey, they really helped me realize who I was and, and they’re a dear friend, we talk, we talk on, on Instagram sometimes and it’s really nice. But yeah, except for that, just follow nonbinary people on Instagram that are fashion influencer or activists or anything, like, obviously it doesn’t just stop to sewing.
Nicole: I really love following Emilia, I love their content and, and appreciate their, their journey and their style. How cool!
Koss: Yeah, oh my god. Yes!
Nicole: So, definitely follow them. And I don’t know if it’s okay for me to share this, but Emilia actually recommended you, Koss, as a guest for us, so I hope that warms your heart and maybe I wasn’t supposed to say that. I don’t know. But it really shows the character of your relationship, so, thank you for recommending them to us as well. And listeners, if there are other gender nonconforming sewists that you want to share with us, let us know and we’ll be sure to follow them and add their profile to our show notes. And thank you so much, Koss, for answering all of our questions and also sharing your story with all of our listeners. Koss is on Instagram under @withorwithoutice. They also have a sewing blog, let’smakestitches.com. We’ll include their blog link in our show notes.
Ada: Thank you so much for joining us on this week’s episode of the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. If you like our show, please consider supporting us on Ko-fi. Your financial support helps us with overhead expenses and allows us to give back to our all-volunteer team. You can make a monthly or one time donation at ko-fi.com/asiansewistcollective. You can find this link in our show notes, on our website and on our Instagram account. Check us out on Instagram, at @asiansewistcollective. That’s one word, asiansewistcollective. You can also help us out by spreading the word and telling your friends. We would appreciate it if you could rate, review and subscribe to this podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts PocketCasts or wherever you get your podcasts.
Nicole: All of the links and resources mentioned in today’s episode will be in the show notes on our website. That’s asiansewistcollective.com. And we’d love to hear from you. Email us with your questions, comments or even voice messages, if you want to be featured on future episodes, at email@example.com. This episode is brought to you by your cohosts, Ada Chen and Nicole Angeline. This episode was researched by Mariko Abe, produced by Mariko Abe, and edited by Shilyn Joy and Henry Wong. Thank you so much to the other members of our Collective who made this week’s episode a reality. This is the Asian Sewist Collective podcast and we’ll see you next week.