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Hello Pronoun Stickers Make Introductions A Little Less Awkward

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January 15, 2014

I am a huge fan of “Hello Pronoun Stickers” ever since I saw them featured on the blog “fuckyeahfeminists.com” All I could think of was “finally!” and “I can’t believe these weren’t a thing already.” What are “Hello Pronoun Stickers”?  Creator Al describes them as:

“A handy sticker that tells the world your name and pronouns. Comes in five varieties: he/him/his, she/her/hers, they/them/theirs, xe/xem/xyrs, and ze/hir/hirs! Whether being used when meeting new people or as a gentle reminder to old friends, this sticker uses a familiar format to communicate the information quickly and easily.”

Amazing. I know.

Gender is a tricky subject to navigate. There are a lot of assumptions we all make upon first meeting someone.We look for signifiers that place them in either masculine or feminine box. Not because we want to place people in boxes (well, some people do) but because knowing someone’s gender allows you to address them with the appropriate gender pronouns. But not everyone wants to be addressed by gendered pronouns. And not everyone has signifiers that easily convey their masculinity or femininity. The growing acceptance of trans and queer people means that we are becoming aware of the fact that the pronouns “he/she” are not always enough or correct when addressing people. These stickers are important because it allows people to self identify and have agency over their bodies and identities. The recent news that preferred gender pronouns (PGPs) are gaining traction on college campuses means that there is a growing awareness of how limiting “s/he” can be. I’m glad to see individuals doing something to change that.

I emailed the Al to learn more about him and how Hello Pronoun Stickers came about.

 

Can you tell me a bit about yourself?

Well, I’m a bit bad at this sort of thing but I can give it a try! I’m a 23-year-old FtM just about to start on testosterone. I am, or at least I’m attempting to be, a freelance artist/illustrator – I do a lot of selling at anime and comic conventions in the Northern California area. I’m currently working on developing a couple of comic book series, one of which is about the life of a transgender superhero, and also produce hand-made bow ties from fabric I design. I live with my partner, who is agender and has been an awesome support throughout this whole thing, a bit north of the SF Bay Area.

What was the reason behind the stickers?

When interacting in transgender-friendly social environments the question of pronouns can get really tricky. Each person you meet can be at any point in the gender spectrum, and at any point in their transition so it’s pretty much impossible to be sure of someone’s pronouns on sight. (Of course, this is the case in every day life too! But it is likely to come up as a concern more often when non-cisgender people congregate.) The polite thing to do is generally considered to just ask when you meet someone but I can say for certain from experience that actually doing so can be awkward and a bit intimidating. Not only that, but if you’re meeting a lot of people at once keeping pronouns straight can be really tough. These stickers just sort of cut through all of that and make things a little easier on both sides of the interaction. I thought they could also provide a helpful reminder when someone comes out as transgender – pronoun and name habits can be really hard to break when you’ve known someone for a long time and I think a small visual reminder could ease that process significantly.

What was the design process like?

There was a whole lot of sitting and thinking and a surprisingly small amount of actually tweaking around the design. I knew I had a lot of really strict requirements for how I personally, would want to approach this sort of thing. The first thing I knew right off of the bat was that I did not want to use the word ‘name’ at any point on the sticker. For a lot of non-trans*-friendly people “name” somehow magically becomes synonymous with “the entire thing printed on your birth certificate” whenever someone’s appearance doesn’t match the traditional gender of their name; Both I and good friends of mine hear “so what’s your REAL name?” on a regular enough basis that I didn’t want to provide any extra opportunities. That left a lot of potential ways to word things, though: “Call me”, “I am called”, “I go by”, “I answer to”, and “refer to me as” were all ideas that I considered at some point. I ultimately settled on “address me as” because it struck me as polite, but firm, which was definitely the sort of tone I wanted to use. I think I probably spent way too much time thinking about this because most people will probably just assume it says “my name is” without ever actually reading that part. I think I’m okay with that, though, and I’m personally happy with the end result.

Colours were picked more or less at random, aside from selecting for legibility from a distance and avoiding pink and baby-blue. I wanted to avoid gendered colours, but taking out 2/7ths of the colour spectrum limited things too much so I eventually decided that red and teal were acceptable alternatives.

How did you choose the pronouns?

Well, he/she/they were obvious. For third-gender pronouns, I faced a lot of difficulty. I really want the stickers to be as inclusive as possible but data about the usage rates of third gender pronouns is difficult to find. And as someone who doesn’t use third-gender pronouns to refer to myself, I was a bit worried about misrepresenting other people! After researching for a while, I felt as though I may as well be throwing darts at a board. So I ultimately decided to go with the two that I’ve seen being used the most and hope for the best, with the philosophy that more stickers can always be added later. I’m specifically keeping track of every pronoun request that I get, and seeing the requests has been very interesting. Spivak pronouns are the most requested at the moment – I’d heard about them before but never actually encountered them in use until now but apparently it is pretty common. I’ve gotten a few requests for pronoun sets I’ve never heard of before, which is pretty interesting! I’m adding a sticker with a blank space in the pronoun area in the next run to try to shore up the gaps, but I’m still definitely going to be looking towards offering more variation in the future.

[Interview edited for clarity and length.]

These stickers are practical and affordable! ($2 for a set of five) I know a few student organizations on my campus who would benefit from this. Get them for your next meeting, party, conference or gathering. Here’s the link to purchase them.

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