Coming out can often be met by people stumbling over their words, a failed attempt at saying the full LGBTQIA+ acronym, and a solid amount of awkwardness. Social worker Maria Chan knows the weirdness all too well.
“When we come out to friends and family, often they don’t know the jargon, or the right words to say. Having something as simple as a card to say congratulations on your coming out, would mean the world,” she tells STUN’s Hannah Head.
When Maria Chan went to pick up a card for a close friend’s birthday she was struck by a sea of pink and blue. Amongst the plethora of cards adorning the shelves of her local shop, she saw ‘Birthday boy’ written on a card with a monster truck and ‘Pretty princess’ paired with a unicorn wearing mascara on another.
“The cards seemed ultra-gendered,” said Maria. “My friend is non-binary and uses the pronouns they and them. It seemed like every single card played into these conservative views of gender. Pink is girl, blue is boy and all that hetero-normative stuff.”
Left feeling frustrated that queer hallmark moments seemed invisible to card manufacturers, Maria set out to make her own.
“Drawing has been a hobby since I was young. I really thought nothing of it until lockdown boredom had me converting my drawings to digital artwork.”
As COVID lockdowns became a reality, queer well-being took a hit.
“It was around this time that we were all stuck online. I was seeing a lot of the conversations around JK Rowling’s transphobia and getting so angry. These were all arguments from the very beginning of the feminist movement. It was so frustrating to see them have a platform again.”
2020 was quite the year for transphobia in the media. From JK Rowling coming out as a TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist), prominent conversations about gendered toilets and transphobic sporting coverage by the media, cultivating safe trans-friendly spaces was Maria’s priority.
“Things really spiraled into a full year of uninformed transphobic myths. The news cycle was saturated with stories that actively harmed the trans community. That’s actually why I started with making the ‘There is enough room for everyone’ card.”
Maria sees her art as a response to the world. With traditional cards reinforcing gender constructs and only acknowledging nuclear families, she is working to ensure everyone is visible.
“I think this was where the social worker in me came out. I have worked with people that are so rarely highlighted in art and media. I wanted to show the importance of chosen family, queer families, and challenge what we see as worth celebrating.”
With all this in mind, Maria built her business Mary Spaghetti Stories. It’s an card and print shop that aims to spark a greater conversation about an art form frozen in time.
“There are so many gaps in greeting cards. There is no celebration of sobriety, overcoming anxiety, or getting through the day. These are often the hardest achievements for a lot of people in our community. I think something as simple as a card that says ‘I see that you are struggling and I am here for you’ could really help someone.”
With the greeting card industry having such a saturated market, Maria reflected on the feelings of awkwardness in her life that she wanted to address.
“I wanted to make a streamlined way for allies and people outside of the LGBTQIA+ community to celebrate important events in the lives of queer people. Things like starting testosterone are huge but so rarely celebrated.”
For many people that come out, it can be extremely uncomfortable when friends and family don’t know what to say.
“I want my cards to build a bridge. The aim is that they can act as a link between queerness and those outside the LGBTQ+ community. They are to ensure everyone can celebrate momentous occasions.”
Maria appreciates the role of cards as a universal communicator.
“They really are a vehicle for visibility. Greeting cards are understood by everyone. Receiving a card on a special occasion is something routinely experienced in Australia. Everyone has given a card and received one. Making sure they represent every Australian was extremely important to me.”
Another differentiating factor for Mary Spaghetti Stories is the creation of sex-positive and kink-friendly cards.
“Positive conversations about sex are extremely important. Cheekiness is such a valuable part of queer culture and making cards that aren’t coy about masturbation, sex or kinks helps prompt open conversations about safe sex in our community.”
For Maria Chan, her brand, Mary Spaghetti Stories is a lot of things. It’s a chance to respond to challenging topics, create safe spaces, and build positive conversations.
Maria looks forward to having her stall at World Pride on the 19th of February. You can find her shop here: http://www.maryspaghettistories.com/
– Photos courtesy of Two Brides Presents