Pronoun stickers at MCN 2016

Guest post by Nikhil Trivedi

Nikhil Trivedi delivers his MCN 2015 Ignite talk

At MCN this year we had pronoun stickers (along with lots of other fun stickers!) that attendees could optionally add to their name badges. I’d like to share some background of this sort of thing at conferences, what sort of thinking went around our stickers, and how I had them printed.

Some background

In recent years there’s been a growing number of conferences that have allowed attendees to identify their pronouns with each other is some formalized way. What’s being challenged here is the notion that the ways we may perceive each other’s genders doesn’t always match our gender identities and the pronouns we use.

I’ve seen some conferences ask for people’s pronouns during registration and print them on attendees’ name badges. Others have had pins that say “Ask me for my pronouns!” to encourage attendees to have conversations about their pronouns.

Some people appreciate the opportunity to identify their pronouns in spaces that don’t often encourage that. Some folks don’t want to feel like they’re being forced to out themselves to a room full strangers. And other folks feel all sorts of ways that I haven’t yet learned about. All these feelings and criticisms are totally valid.

The stickers at MCN

So as conference organizers, how do we do navigate all these concerns and implement a system for our group of attendees, specifically?

I’m connected when a network of radical tech workers via a conference called AlterConf. I went to them for some guidance on how to make gender identification easier for folks who wish to share it, but it’s really complicated. As I mentioned above, for some, pronouns can be a really personal thing to share with a room full of 618 other people they don’t really know. For others, they want the opportunity to put it out there. In hindsight, I see that ultimately the best way to do this would have been to ask attendees who don’t conform to the gender binary what they want for their conference experience, and to have done that. With a little more foresight, we could have done that. If the stickers didn’t sit right with any of the attendees, I’d love to hear your feedback and criticisms. So please do reach out to me!

As a cisgendered man, I recognize that I may not have been the best person to have made the final decisions about how to implement a mechanism like this. I do know that we have had trans people in our community in the past, and we have lost some of those folk due to awful, tragic circumstances. I think about that when I’m planning my sessions and participating in the program committee. What would they have wanted? What can we do to support trans first-timers and old-timers to feel welcome at MCN, and how can we support cis attendees in being thoughtful about our trans attendees?

Here are some of the things I thought about when deciding if and how to make the stickers. All this stuff came out of my conversations with folks through AlterConf:

  • They shouldn’t be mandatory. If folks want to share their pronouns with other attendees, great! If they prefer not to specify their pronouns, that’s great, too! I thought it was important to make it clear to all attendees that the stickers were totally optional for all people.
  • People should be able to choose multiple pronouns. Some folks use multiple pronouns and appreciate when people mix it up.
  • The options shouldn’t be limited. Gender is a spectrum, and there are many, many ways people identify, and people use any number of pronouns to represent that.
  • They should be easy to read at a quick glance or for someone who is visually impaired.
  • They should be fun and colorful. And I didn’t want them to conform to traditionally gendered colors (blue and pink). Because people who all use a same pronoun can think, act, and be totally different from each other.

In the end, clearly optional, easy to read stickers were the best option.

How I made them

While I was chatting with AlterConf friends, someone went ahead and designed the stickers that we ended up using at MCN! Amazing!

Pronoun stickers in use at MCN 2016

I used the Sticker Book on moo.com and chose the option where I could upload my own artwork. Here are the final images I used to print. And here are the source files, in case you want to make any changes. Moo.com let you lay out the stickers in a way where you can order more of some stickers than others, so adjust the quantities as you see fit. It’s super cheap, it comes out to about $10 for every 90 stickers you order.

At the conference we placed the stickers down at the registration desk with a sign stating clearly that all stickers were totally optional for all people. And we laid them out with other fun stickers, too–like cats in chef’s hats! Unicorns! Pigs making snowpeople!

Here’s what Justine Arreche (@saltinejustine), the designer, had to say about the stickers:

“When I saw the discussion regarding pronoun stickers I was excited. I thought it was such a great idea and was I surprised I hadn’t seen anything like that before. After a quick Google search with limited results I decided to create my own set of pronoun stickers for people to use. I wanted the design to be respectful yet still fun enough for attendees to want to put the stickers on their badges or shirts. The colors were carefully chosen to avoid gendered colors while also preserving readability for those with any visual impairments. After sharing a screen shot of the designs on Twitter my mentions were inundated with people requesting how they could print them for their events. I quickly created a public Dropbox folder with a variety of file types allowing people to have them printed locally or online. Additionally I included the live files so there was the ability to change the designs as their needs required.”

I was excited to provide the stickers at MCN 2016. I’d love to hear what you thought about them, how they may have changed your conference experience, and any feedback or criticism you might have. Please reach out to me on Twitter and let me know!

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