Adventure Queers: Meet Bonnie Hammond of Bits & Keys

Bonnie Hammond (she/her) is the queer, disabled, neurodivergent feminist your parents warned you about. Not quite nerdy and not quite popular growing up, Battlestar Galactica was the series that saw her transition from sleeping with geeks to actually being one. She went to school for math and tourism, spent a while as a labour activist, and then accidentally started making jewellery for a living. She started with keys and now collects flatware, keychains, old watch bits, tiny teacups, broken jewellery, and dice (drilling holes through the 1 out of spite). She’s a Whovian, a Browncoat, a Supernatural fangirl, and the most extroverted nerd you will find. Bonnie thinks consent is sexy (when it’s clearly and freely communicated), has been twice hired to sit in the back at comedy shows due to the volume and infectious nature of her laugh, and is probably allergic to whatever you’re eating right now.

Bits & Keys makes jewellery from bits and pieces of upcycled and recycled other stuff. Old keys, single earrings, gaming dice, pocket watches, and flatware (for example) are brought back to life in new and creative ways. We carry a variety of unique, interesting, often nerdy, wearable art which we can customize to match the pieces to the person.

Bonnie, you are the owner of Bits & Keys where you sell upcycled bits and pieces of things that you’ve transformed into beautiful and unique jewellery. What was your inspiration to start this business?

In 2012 I visited San Francisco for Pride, and while I was there I happened upon a little farmers market/craft fair. I fell in love with a necklace that featured some chain maille and an antique key. When I got back, I was working with a group of people who were fundraising to send a bunch of us to a socialist convention in Ecuador. We decided to hold a craft fair of our own, and I realised I could perhaps do something inspired by my new favourite piece. So I ran off to a flea market, spent WAY too much money, and stayed awake for many days. I sold out of pieces at the event, and six months later it was my full-time job.

You work alongside a community of diverse creatives. What is the benefit of being connected to other crafters?  

Honestly, the benefits are so enormous it’s actually a little hard to accurately qualify. My community supports me, inspires me, and drives me by sharing their struggles. They pull me through when times are tough, they give me space to unapologetically be me, and they teach me new things. Practical making techniques are shared, and also what it’s like to be a crafter with different life circumstances, in different bodies, with different identities. Crafting (for a living) is often a solo activity, especially during these unprecedented times, so it’s really important to me to stay connected and rooted in a non-homogeneous community. If I only talk to people who look like and live life like me, I’m not going to be able to align my business and my life with my moral choices. Forming a community and support systems underpins a lot of my values and motivations, as it does for many struggling millennials. For me, it’s less about building business contacts and networking, and more about establishing vulnerable, trusting, symbiotic relationships.

You identify as both queer and disabled. Have these identities affected the way you create? The way you do business?

Absolutely! Creating a physical space that is as safe and as accessible to as broad a base of people as possible is really important to me. A few other creators and I have a soft-running competition to see who can make their booth and their products the most visibly queer. There is nothing I love better than attending an event that is NOT particularly or intentionally inclusive and by the end having all the lgbtq+ people feel welcome in my space. I want my booth and products to be a way for people to challenge gender norms, or explore personal identity. 

As for accessibility, I actively work to accommodate a variety of needs. For instance, having the booth be wheelchair accessible sounds basic, but it’s unfortunately uncommon. I’m mindful when accommodating for allergies, sensitivities, and tactile sensory issues. Especially at events that are large or multiple days (like music festivals), I try to incorporate a space away from most of the people, that has a variety of seating options if people need to rest, or need less stimulation to make choices. I am personally really loud and have what’s politely referred to as A LOT of personality, so if I notice people are having trouble with eye contact or are struggling to communicate, my goal is to hold space for those needs and meet people where they’re at. Much of my jewellery is designed with different physical needs in mind. I can offer counter-weighted necklace attachments to move the weight of things off the back of the neck to the shoulders. Many pieces are actually compartments for water or pills for people who struggle with purses or whose clothes don’t have pockets. I also try really hard to accommodate different body shapes, I alter necklace lengths for no charge (within some reason) so everyone can have it sit where their body finds it the most comfortable. Designing jewellery for people with larger necks, longer torsos, or larger busts is something I’m happy to work around in a judgement-free environment.

The personal is political, and I would add that business is political as well. Tell me about your motivation to sell crafted items made by marginalized people.

The truth is that I and many of my closest friends live in abject poverty simply because we are disabled or intersectionality marginalized. The only real power I have is to continue to try to help my community to sell their wares. I worked for a long time attempting to influence policy change politically, and while I still participate in many of those circles, the truth is I no longer have the physical ability to BE there. So this is a small way I can help. It’s mutually beneficial to have different products in the booth. When possible, I hire people at a fair and livable wage; this way I can give back a little bit and it creates a space where my friends and I can survive late-stage capitalism without letting it eat our morals. There are a lot of organizations and businesses out there who frame their whole objective through a lens of top-down charity. What I personally want to foster with my business comes from a place of mutual support and equality.

Your support extends beyond artists to your customers. What sort of experience do you hope people have when they work with you?

It sort of rolls back into the same philosophy. I have a business, I sell things, and I participate in capitalism (because I have too). Because of the nature of my products, I am often selling to people who have lower than ‘average’ privilege, so it’s important to make that experience as least exploitative as possible. I want people to fall in love with the pieces they buy from me. I offer discounts or trade situations when I can with a variety of payment options, and I work with people virtually if that’s easier. Consent isn’t just about intimate or personal situations for me, I want to communicate fully with my customers to make sure that people feel valued. Some of my closest friendships started as customers. I never want my business to feel purely transactional. There is also a dollop of self-interest worked into this: nothing beats down my self-doubt or imposter syndrome down like people being genuinely excited to interact about my pieces. Having them send photos, remember me at later events, or share the happy moments of their loved ones receiving the perfect gift that I made is the best feeling I’ve ever had. I couldn’t give it up for anything and building a strong community with my customers makes that possible.

I’ve heard that you try to have the “gayest, nerdiest booth at every event.” That’s catnip for us at Roar Cat Reads (pun intended). What does that look like?

Many many rainbows. Like absurd amounts of rainbows. It means when I make things with representation in mind, I’m mindful to include as many different flags as possible and that I will work on requests for new flags as I can. It means having visible pronouns on my business cards and making name tags with pronouns on them, especially in spaces where that’s not considered. Music festivals, Christmas markets, nerd events; I want people to know that my space is a safer space. It also means being the biggest nerd I can be, embracing lots of different fandoms, listening to people get excited about stuff they’re excited about. Researching new cosplay requests and pieces, and exploring fandoms that usually don’t peak my personal interest, but that others are excited about. It also means making sure our nerdy fandoms don’t make space for racist, sexist, ableist, and anti-lgbtq+ themes. Acknowledging that we sometimes have to let books, shows, and fandoms go because the actors, directors, writers, or creators’ behaviour no longer aligns with our morals and they’ve refused to change. It always breaks my heart, but you have to be intolerant of intolerance or the space is no longer a safer space.

Business aside, what queer and nerdy content would you like to recommend to readers?

Well, if I’m putting My business aside, one of my favourite crafters is Miss Stitched (Facebook or Instagram). She has an amazing line of sassy and nerdy cross-stitch wall art and catnip pillows and transforms an ancient feminine art medium into a modern feminist nerd platform.  

In non-businessy recommendations, I always highly recommend any and all books by Terry Pratchett, who of course is a super popular writer, but is unparalleled in mixing fantasy with social justice themes (don’t start with the first Discworld novel, start somewhere in the middle and work your way out).

I also unabashedly love Wil Wheaton, The Good Place, The She-ra reboot, @dez.thelez (tiktok), @mercurystardust (tiktok), and @thatb1tchkarma (tiktok)

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