An easy step you can take to help make your convention, conference or other event more inclusive of all genders.
Pronoun ribbons are adhesive ribbons of the stackable sort that can be stuck to name tags, popular at many fandom conventions. Instead of indicating someone's role at the convention, acting as a prize, or just being funny, the pronoun ribbons are designed to make it easy to tell what pronouns someone wants used to refer to them.
When you're the only person who needs to communicate your pronouns, it can be uncomfortable. You don't want to be misgendered, but the fact that you're saying something about pronouns while other people aren't marks you as different from them. By encouraging broad adoption of pronoun ribbons (or any other method of communicating personal identity) you help create an environment where that kind of conversation is normal.
As a transgender person, nonbinary person or person who's misgendered for other reasons, communicating about gender helps avoid being misgendered. As a cisgendered person or someone else who is reliably correctly gendered by others, communicating even though it may be redundant contributes to a community standard that communicating about gender is something that is normal here. It makes it unremarkable for everyone, including the people who need it.
In our experience, we get the best results by gently encouraging everyone to use pronoun ribbons. When pronoun ribbons are common, they become part of the standard language of the event and are effective at helping people be comfortable talking about gender.
We do know that creating pronoun ribbons isn't free! While we try to make a wide variety of ribbons available, you may not have the resources to have all of them available at your event. We have some advice on how to select the right proportions, and of what.
If pronoun ribbons are available at your event, take one and put it on! Then, pay attention to the pronouns other people want used and respect their choices when you talk to or about them.
If they aren't available, you can bring your own. Bring one for yourself and wear it - or, if you are in a position to make them available to others, bring as many as you feel comfortable getting and distribute them yourself.
There's a nice symbolic value to making equal numbers of each variety available, but we don't actually think it's a good idea in practice. In the conventions we organize, there are many more people using the "she/her" and "he/him" sets than there are using the "ey/em" set, for example. Ribbons that are available but never used fulfil a symbolic value, but ribbons that are taken and used are being much more valuable.
If you can, make some educated guesses about the expected gender makeup of your event before you order. For example, if you expect that 3/4 of people there use female pronouns, get three times as many "she / her" ribbons as others.
We recommend getting a relatively large proportion of the fill-in-the-blank ribbons, and keeping medium-point black markers (Sharpies work great!) to fill them out. They let people create ribbons for pronoun sets that you don't have pre-printed, and they can also be used if you run out of one of your pre-printed designs. Fill-in-the-blank ribbons become whatever you need, so you can experiment and learn the right proportions for your community.
If you know what the most common non-gendered / non-binary pronouns are in your community, we recommend having a few more than you think you need. Many people who are often assumed to be cisgendered actually prefer a non-gendering pronoun set when given the option. In our community, that's the "they/them" pronoun set, but you should make the right decision for your local community.
If you have the resources, it's great to have a variety of non-gendered / non-binary pronouns. It's always a great feeling when you see your own pronouns available as an option that others recognize. Even if no one uses those pronouns, having them available helps remind people that gender is a broad space, not a binary or even three-way decision.
It can be expensive to have a large variety of pre-printed ribbons available. If you can't pre-print less common pronoun-sets in your community, you can achieve nearly as good results by neatly hand-writing some additional pronoun sets onto the fill-in-the-blank ribbons. That's also helpful for demonstrating how to use the fillable ribbons, and providing an example that they're okay to write on.
If you'd like a small number of pronoun ribbons, it's not very cost-effective to order less than 100.
We're looking for ways to make this easier for people who want to carry pronoun ribbons with them to events that aren't using them yet, or people who want to use them at a small event.
If you want to distribute pronoun ribbons at an event, we recommend buying them directly from the printer.
We've used Ribbons Galore to print ours, because they've given us good results and their prices are reasonable. If you want to use a different printer, our source files are available on the site so you can set up the ribbon designs with them.
This is still a new project! We haven't typeset all the pronouns we're aware of, and we're sure there are pronouns in use that we haven't heard yet. We also have ideas for experiments with other shapes / content to help convey information. We're just getting started!
Help us make these better! If you have an idea for a ribbon we haven't made, get in touch! No promises we'll decide to make it - we're just two volunteers! - but we love to hear ideas, and we love to put new, useful designs together to help people.
You can email us at email@example.com to talk about ribbon designs.
Have you used these or other pronoun ribbons at a convention? Planning to use them at an upcoming event? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know!
We're both organizers of Foolscap, which has been a supportive ground for creating a new communication tool.
You can contact us by emailing email@example.com
A lot of design decisions go into creating something like the pronoun ribbons. Here's an explanation of why they look the way they do:
The type is set in Encode Sans. We chose this typeface because:
We chose the shade of green for two reasons. First, green isn't commonly associated with any particular gender in the parts of the US where we're from, so it's not implicitly gendering. Second, the slightly fluorescent shade is a little less common in the sets of ribbons we've seen at cons recently, so it catches the eye and makes it easy for people who've seen one pronoun ribbon to pick them out at a distance.
We made them all the same color instead of color-coding them in some way, because any sort of color-code is building up a relationship between gender and color, and because it would end up creating a false sense of equivalence between all the fill-in-the-blank options. It also means that people learn to recognize "the pronoun ribbon color," and can quickly scan for it when looking at the name tag of someone new.
The text is black rather than one of the colored foils available so that people who make changes or write in with a marker still match with the printed text.
We only list two forms of the pronoun rather than the more expressive three because we expect that most people are familiar with most of the sets of pronouns we're pre-printing, and it allowed us to make the text itself bigger and easier to read from a distance. We intend to reconsider this decision on sets where the conjugation of the three forms is hard to guess.
This isn't some unique idea that only we've had! There are other sets of pronoun ribbons around, and it's great that there are lots of people looking at ways to support people being identified correctly. If the ribbons we designed aren't right for you, we hope one of these will help!
This project is just getting started, and we're planning to create more ribbons and find ways to make them available to events as easily as possible. If you want to get updates when things change, sign up for our mailing list:
Since our goal is to respect everyone's preferences, we'll only use your email to notify you about pronoun-ribbon related things, and you can unsubscribe easily.
Ask us! Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions, and maybe we can help!