Mike is an 18 year female to male transman. He is currently studying psychology at The Evergreen State College between making quilts. He someday aspires to be a social worker, and in the mean time, he wants to fix the fact that not everyone is born with an inherent right to be themselves.
Twice in two days I have been told you are who you come form. I have been told priceless stories, handed down through generations and worn soft at the edges through many retellings. My inheritance of stories is small and meager, one side of my family with lots of records and official dealings and one side a complete blank. On my mother’s side, I have ancestors that came long before the American Revolution. Francis Hubbard came to America in 1736 and she or her descendants helped with the revolution in some manner or another. I am a descendant of Union soldiers who helped fight in the civil war. I do not take pride in any of these stories or my ancestors, country stealers, slave owners, and colonizers. On my father’s side, I do not even know who my grandfather is. He left when my father was very little and I know nothing of him, not even his name. Here I have no stores, no tales, simply the escapades of my father and a tale of survival.
For my own sanity, I cannot believe that we are who we come from absolutely and unchangeable. I need to believe that I can change from who my ancestors were, because of who they were not just in history but to the people around them. On my mother’s side, my grandfather and great grandfather were alcoholics, and abusive ones at that. My great grandmother raised my mother, and she was emotionally abusive. On my father’s side, my grandfather was an abusive alcoholic who abandoned his family and his children. My father himself is a rapist and a narcissist, someone who I do not want to become with every fiber of my being. These are the people who inhabit my genes and provide the groundwork for who I am and who I might become. My heritage comes from these people, good or bad though it maybe.
There is one link to those who came before me that I choose to keep. I quilt to honor my mother and I quilt because I love it. I quilt in the tradition of the ladies who made abolitionist quilts, even as the cotton that made the fabric for their quilts came from slave labor. Quilt ladies have not changed too much over the years, still making quilts for charities that they don’t understand, a way to be generous while doing something they love and to feel good about themselves. I quilt to honor the feminists who raised money for their cause with their needle and thread, making the world a better place through their stitches. Quilt ladies today do the same, raising money for Alzheimer’s and dementia, art programs, cancer treatment, and other noble causes. They channel their creativity and claim power, using something that is considered by many to be feminine in order to do something wonderful and powerful for their world.
I cannot choose my ancestors, the alcoholics, the abusers, and the people who took the land from the natives here. I can pick and choose which parts of the legacy left to me that I want to continue and pass on to my children. I can pick and choose what I want to claim. I claim quilting to honor my mother and to respect the legacy of my great grandmother. I choose strength, to honor the struggle my great grandmother went through. She riveted ships back in the 40s and even as she was calling feminists crazy, unnecessary, and man haters, she proclaimed how unfair it was that she earned less and was less likely to get promoted than her male counter parts. She raised two of her grandchildren predominantly as a single parent on a postal worker’s salary. In raising my mother and uncle, she had to take their alcoholic father to court in order to get custody and she did whatever she could to keep them out of his hands. I can choose to honor her strength and not perpetuate the abuse. I can honor the survivor that is my great grandmother while condemning some of her actions.
This is how I can enact multigenerational healing. I can do what my ancestors did right and change what they didn’t. I can become someone that I can take pride in, despite my tainted history. We start off as solely being formed by the people we come from, but it is both our right and our obligation to change ourselves for the better.