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Janet Dawson laughs talking about the different patterns she and her friends tried when figuring out the best way to knit a packer.
A packer is often used by trans men and non-binary people to create a bulge in their pants, similar to what a biological (cis) male would have.
"My friend made one we found on the internet and she said, "This is a zucchini in a fedora," said Dawson who owns the Bobbin Tree in Sydney and is co-owner of My Fair Lady.
Continuing to work on patterns and research online ("There's a whole Wikipedia page about men's penis sizes," she said), Dawson even asked for advice from her husband and friends until she created a packer that seems to be "the appropriate size for everyday wear."
"The idea that these total strangers are out there, caring about these youth and their mental health, it's amazing. That's classic Cape Breton."
The Westmount resident isn't looking at making packers as a new business venture. It's part of her Dongalong campaign which aims to provide packers and knockers (breast forms) for trans people (who want or need them) at no charge.
Packers and knockers are gender affirming items and Dawson learned about these products after reading the story of a trans man who attempted suicide in a Facebook group she is a member of.
"When he was admitted, they took away his personal belongings including his packer. And his friend who was the one posting, said she was making him a new one and she posted a picture of it," Dawson said, stressing this incident didn't happen in Cape Breton.
"I talked to a friend of mine who works in mental health (to educate myself about the need for these and if it is common to take them away when admitted to hospital) and I was made aware of a real need for packers and knockers in this community. They're very hard to come by and there's dozens of people wanting them."
- Goal: Knit 65 packers, 20 knockers by mid-December
- For: Trans, non-binary, gender fluid people
- Can help by: Picking up kit, knitting at home
- Or: Attending work party to help knit, stuff, assemble
- Where: Bobbin Tree, 48 Prince Street
- Next work parties: Nov. 21, Nov. 28
- Time: 5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.
- More info: 902-270-3247
- Crochet pattern
Dongalong started shortly after that. Dawson recruited some friends to help her find patterns and sew special pockets in underwear for the packers so they don't slide out.
Dawson's goal is to complete 65 packers and 20 pairs of breast forms by mid-December, to be given to trans and non-binary people for free. Organizations working with trans people will distribute the gender affirming items, like the Cape Breton Youth Project.
"I think there are a lot of trans kids out there who will appreciate the chance to try a packer or knocker, to see if they like it," said Youth Project co-ordinator Madonna Doucette who noted not everyone in the community uses them.
"Janet is creating a network of people who are helping meet a need in the community ... The idea that these total strangers are out there, caring about these youth and their mental health, it's amazing. That's classic Cape Breton."
People can help the Dongalong project by stopping by one of the work together nights (Nov. 21 and Nov. 28) which run from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Knitters and sewers are needed but Dawson said if you can't do either, it doesn't matter. People can help stuff the items and weigh balls of yarn for packer/knocker kits.
These kits are available at Dawson's store, located at 48 Prince St., and they are for people who want to do their knitting at home. When done, they bring the packers and knockers back to the Bobbin Tree to be stuffed later.
Dawson said Dongalong is a take on popular knit-a-long and crochet-a-long events, where everyone is using the same pattern.
However, she felt adding a little humour to the name was inevitable.
"There's no way to take crocheted dongs seriously," she said. "We have a lot of fun (at the work parties), they are very entertaining but no disrespect to the trans community will be tolerated."
Although the Dongalong campaign finishes in December, Dawson hopes she'll find a way to continue it in the new year.
Knit Packer - The Bobbin Tree on Scribd
- Pattern for crocheted packers
- Knitted knockers needed in Cape Breton - with link to pattern
- Busy hands knit comfy breast prostheses - with link to pattern
- Transitioning help for transgender people in Cape Breton
- Dominion teen first transgender person named high school valedictorian in CBRM
- Transgender surgical reassignments now available in Newfoundland and Labrador