I had the idea to start wearing conversation starters as staff uniforms in order to engage our community a few years ago, and they quickly became some of our most popular designs (Future is Female, The Future is Non-Binary Disruptor collection, Everyone is Welcome Here). Similar to wearing your heart on your sleeve, we showcase our values across our chests.
The goal behind these new designs is to help our community members express themselves and feel seen/supported by our company. This latest design solidified itself after reading a number of tweets about pronouns from Friend of VC and amazing community member, Kellan Gibboney.
Stating one's pronouns as part of an introduction has become quite commonplace over the past few years. I think it is positive and inclusive, and I also know that there are likely a number of folks in each setting that aren't familiar with the practice or the reasoning behind it.
So, I began brainstorming ways to start a conversation about this and came up with a rudimentary draft of the design. I then remembered that all I know is that I don't know everything and reached out to someone who knew more, had experienced more and surely had engaged in careful deep thought on this subject.
I respect that Kellan is extremely thoughtful and intelligent, so I asked them if they would like to collaborate on this project.
I’ve worked with VC on behalf of a number of teams and organizations over the past few years. I keep coming back because they operate on a plane of being values driven that is so rare. A lot of companies say that they’re driven by their values. VC is one of a few that is constantly reassessing what their values are and making sure to live up to the standards that the community sets. They don’t come up with values, stick to them, and rest. They innovate on their values and find new ways to deliver on them. Constantly.
So when I got an email a couple of weeks ago from Adriana with the subject line “I maybe have a new shirt for you :) “, I knew I was in to help out immediately. VC has done so much for me, it’s an honor to hop into this collaboration. The rest of the email outlined a concept focused on pronouns - a topic I rant about fairly regularly because some people still haven’t adjusted even though it’s been almost a year since I changed mine. And one of these rants (or possibly the sum total of them), provided the small push needed to bring an idea to life.
A bit of personal context... I am addressed by incorrect pronouns regularly. It’s awkward, but it doesn’t bother me… that much. I am tall, often have my hair cut short and wear mostly casual non-gendered clothing.
OK, if I’m being honest, it bothers me a bit.
So, if I’m bothered “a bit”, what breaks my heart is knowing that incorrect pronoun use is crushing for many folks to whom being addressed using their correct pronouns means so much.
A first step in making progress here is to normalize the use of pronouns for all people and that means starting conversations and educating people as to why this matters.
Just because you are cisgender, or you’re only bothered “a bit” by being addressed by incorrect pronouns , doesn’t mean this isn’t your issue to participate in. Pronouns are for everyone - we all use them every day. So, let’s all do our part by not “othering” folks to whom this is a really important matter.
Yes! We all use pronouns every day, for people, for pets, maybe even inanimate objects. In the US (and maybe elsewhere?), people have no problem using she/her/hers for BOATS but can really struggle to use pronouns that an ACTUAL HUMAN BEING has told them to use.
When I came out as trans and non-binary at work and asked my colleagues to use they/them pronouns for me, I got so many responses along the lines of “I’ll do my best, but be patient with me if I get them wrong.” I knew that there would be an adjustment period for people, especially since I’m the first trans person a lot of them know. But being asked to have patience while they misgender me was a really painful experience because cisgender people managed to make my experience and my life focused on their comfort. It is not my job to make people comfortable. My job is to invent new packaging concepts (or a lot of things in ultimate). If I have to spend energy on making sure someone is comfortable, then it’s automatically energy I can’t spend on my job. It’s easier to use the word comfort here. It’s less painful. But this is actually bigotry, and it should not be the job of trans people to allow that to continue. It is exhausting and prevents us from achieving so many things.
A lot of resistance I face is from people who don’t spend their day thinking about gender or who have never used they/them pronouns for a known individual before. The thing that helps most with both of those? Practice. Practice using someone’s name and pronouns outside of your interactions with them. Practice with items you have around your house (my bike’s name is Calvin and uses he/they pronouns). There’s a lot of merch out there with actual pronouns on it, but I love that this line from VC is inviting people to talk about it which is important in a different way than declaring pronouns.
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