Guest columnist Mariel E. Addis: Just a garden variety tool girl


Published: 09-10-2023 1:37 PM

‘I’m Mariel and I love my tools.” Clapping can be heard from other members of the tool owners’ support group.

When I announced my transition in January 2016, I think some people thought I might trade in my tools for a makeup kit. Nothing is further from the truth, because now I have both! Tools of all kinds, whether on the job site, in the kitchen, the garden, the garage, the sewing room, or frankly anywhere, are certainly not the unique province of men. We all use tools; we just don’t think of most “job aids” that way, and despite the way we look at them, they are gender-less.

I first started buying and using tools in a big way out of necessity as a new homeowner. I liked the feeling of power and control they gave me but I also liked what they helped me create. Later on, following numerous years of marriage and the birth of two sons, my gender dysphoria flared up and made me think more about my gender issues. I’d bury myself in my tools and projects to help me try to distract myself.

It worked a little, but the gender dysphoria kept coming back. Still, my love of tools never went away.

The other day, I had the pleasure of helping a woman buy a cordless drill at Home Depot. Now, mind you, I don’t work there, but I could tell the woman needed the assistance — after being blown off by a male associate. She appreciated my help and knowledge, telling me I was more helpful than the tool section employee. My trans status came up and I told her that I love empowering other women to build things, fix things, to feel that they can “do it” even if the male-controlled society frequently tells them otherwise.

For the last five or six years, I have enjoyed working at Grow Food Northampton’s Community Garden in Florence. My wonderful friend and adopted big sister, Pat James, the garden manager, initially roped me in. (I feel it necessary to give a plug to GFN, an incredible community asset, staffed by some of the most caring, dedicated, and fun people I’ve ever met.)

On a very part-time basis, I maintain the garden’s fleet of second-hand lawnmowers, garden carts and wheelbarrows, earning the title “Mariel the Mower Maven.” I’ve met some great people while working at the garden, had some insightful conversations with them, and of course, there is another powerful upside: I get to use tools to fix things!

I wrote before about how, as a transgender woman, I am rather self-conscious about how the world views me. I don’t care if people know I’m trans, I just want them to see me as female. Sometimes, I worry my love of tools makes me stand out in a way that I don’t want, as in: “Of course she loves tools — she used to be a guy.” Still, most of my female friends embrace this part of me and ask my advice if they are working on a home improvement project or buying a tool for themselves.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Being on estrogen for the last seven years, I have lost a good portion of the upper body strength I used to have before my transition. I knew this would happen and it was part of what I signed up for. As my lifting ability has been greatly curtailed both by hormones and age, I am more selective in my tool buying. I do own a few rather burly tools, but I mostly look for tools with an eye for light weight and comfort. A few years ago, I decided to part with some heavier tools I don’t use as often.

It seems that manufacturers of power and hand tools have wised up and realized that women do buy power tools and they appear to be taking this account in their designs. The manufacturers have also realized that men, too, appreciate lighter tools, especially workers who have to wield them all day in the trades.

So, perhaps I do have a tool addiction problem, but I know I am in good company — hopefully soon with more tool-loving women.

Mariel Addis is a native of Florence. She left the area for 16 years but returned in 2013.