My friend Ewald gave me a knitted tongue and vagina for my birthday last year. What a sweet guy. He found them at a craft fair in Montreal. Toronto artist Shannon Gerard sewed up this super sweet finger fun set that I am holding in my hands, along with other notable genitals Ewald saw on the table that day.
Gerard has been a big part of the Toronto arts scene over the last many years, illustrating occasionally for Eye Weekly, publishing her own comic, Hung, and currently working with Jim Monroe of No Media Kings on an online comic book called Sword of My Mouth.
Last year she got some negative attention from prudish University of York students and teachers for her series called Boobs and Dink Early Detection Kits. They’re knitted breasts and penises with a hidden lump in them so women and men can practice self-examinations for cancerous lumps in their nether regions. Her cut-out models, wearing knitted strap-ons, irked some people’s overly acute sense of shame. I met up with Shannon to check out her goods.
Vice: Tell me about your boobs and dinks.
Shannon: This is what started it, the boobs and dinks. I was exclusively working as a comic book illustrator, and I was writing my own series of comic books called Hung, and one of them was about a lump my partner found in his testicle. I guess that was maybe three years ago now, so I started making these because I wanted to start working in three dimensions. It was a response to that fear that we felt and also, I wanted to expand my practice to include three-dimensional objects.
How do you make a pattern for knitting dinks?
I made it up. I tried to learn knitting a bunch of times because I really like the material qualities of yarn, but I don’t know why my brain can’t draft patterns. There’s a grammar and a syntax to that pattern making that I just don’t understand so I thought okay I’ll try crochet and see if I can work with it, and it’s so incredibly intuitive. As soon as I started learning it, I thought it was perfect. You work one stitch at a time and just imagine the shape of it. The idea is that the booklets have illustrated directions, then you follow the directions on [the knitted dink] and can then practice giving yourself an exam.
What do doctors think of these?
I met someone at Word on the Street from [Planned Parenthood] and they were looking for something less clinical to do workshops with for teenagers about sexual health. Most of the stuff they were able to find was waxy. So now they use these for demos. I made the girl who works there a knitted strap-on and she wears it at the beginning of seminars and it opens the participants right up.
She disarms the audience with a giant knitted strap on?
Yeah, they don’t really know what to do, then they laugh. But that took the project in another direction to do with how people identify themselves. I tried to make the boobs and dinks project multi-racial, but then I realized it was super gendered.
Because women are more likely to talk about boobs and breast cancer, as opposed to men talking about lumps in their balls?
Yeah, there’s so much information about breast cancer, but there’s very little humorous and approachable stuff about testicular cancer. But the cool thing is that since I’ve been making these I’ve realized there are other crafters who are really interested in cancer, but also a lot of gender roles. So I’ve met a lot of people who take similar approaches to gender performance.
Cancer is the jumping off point, but it’s bigger than that, right?
Yeah, it has an enormous performance potential, and then I started thinking about gender as a performance, so I became more interested in the finger puppets.
Can I see the other puppets?
Here is a set called Four Play. It comes with two innies, so you get an anus and a vagina, then you get a little penis and a tongue. It has these illustrations with how to suggest how to use them.
I think my friend gave me the vagina and tongue set because I had some boyfriends who weren’t into the whole oral sex thing, so he thought I could use them as instructional tools.
Yeah, you can make them perform, they can be silly or educational. You can do a demo.
The anus is really funny looking.
Yeah, that’s why I made these illustrations because I don’t think you would look at it and instantly recognize it as an anus, and the tongue is this pink triangle.
The instant you put your mind there though, it totally looks like it. Tell me about your paper dolls.
These are just, because I’m a printmaker, I wanted to have paper product associated with the project, so these are just paper cut-outs, and you can cut them out and then make them stand and then gender bend them. (There’s a penis pin and two boob pins with the set.)
Where’s the vagina pin?
I should make those. I have big life size cut-outs of these paper dolls too, and they sometimes wear giant crocheted strap-ons.
Do you sell those giant strap-ons?
I don’t make them en masse, because they take a long time to make, but I’ve had a couple custom orders because people just wanted to wear them. I think one person actually used it to stuff.
Would the knitting on the outside make some sort of weird penis pattern?
I don’t know, someone just wanted one and said they were going to use it to stuff. So I said, OK I’ll totally make it for you. Maybe it was a joke or something?
How do men react to the dink with the lump, do they buy it and use it?
The dinks are way more popular than the boobs. People have responded way more to that one.
Is it because women are more familiar with examining their own breasts?
Yeah, this [knitted boob] isn’t really novel, there are all sorts of breast models that people use in clinical situations. But the models for men are these plastic, like stress balls, but they don’t have any penises, they’re really weird.
Is that penis flaccid?
Yeah, they’re supposed to be.