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What It’s Like to be “Othered” and More at SXSW 2018

by Angela Yang

When SXSW panel participants prepare for their 60-minutes of thought leadership fame, few expect to also take a deep dive into a passion project meant to challenge gender identity and the very industry they work in every day.

That was the case for Andy Bossley, Chelsea Hostetter and Shane Whalley who joined as featured participants in the panel “How Gender Fluidity Recasts Brand Engagement.” Not only did they bring their A game to the panel but they also contributed to T3’s The Pronoun Project, a call to action for fellow marketers to join in taking a pledge to explore how we can create ads, designs and experiences that better represent gender identity and personal expression.

Andy Bossley is Senior Manager for Global Marketing Campaigns at IBM, Chelsea Hostetter is Senior User Experience Designer at Goodpatch, and Shane Whalley is the owner of Daring Dialogues Consulting and an adjunct faculty member at the University of Texas, Austin Steve Hicks School of Social Work. Each contributed an essay to the project, which you can read on the site. Together the panelists represent view points in advertising, marketing, consulting, academia and design as it relates to the transgender and gender non binary communities

Once we got to the panel, everyone brought their own brand of invaluable insight, personal experience and gut-wrenching yet refreshing honesty to the stage.

“I want to see happy genderqueer individuals. I want to see a transgender grandma. It’s not just about seeing people like you. It’s about seeing people across the spectrum.” Chelsea Hostetter said as she discussed the importance of uplifting the conversation and media/advertising portrayals of transgender individuals. “The reason you don’t care about brands marketing beyond the binary is that brands are marketing to you. If they stopped that one day, you’d feel the same way we do.”

Ironically, actually signing up for SXSW provided grist for the panel. The organization’s app asks for a gender and the options are “male”, “female,” and “other.” If you don’t fit neatly into the standard gender binary then selecting other is alienating and offensive long before you even experience the SXSW app or its events. Giving people agency and choice over their identity is empowering.

Let’s give people the flexibility to say who they are,” says Shane Whalley, whose pronouns are ze, hir, hirs. “Give them a box and let them fill it in, rather than putting them inside that box. In an ideal world, we would be able to introduce our names AND pronouns upfront.”

This kind of change may be small, but it’s an important one on the way to bigger things. But of course, change in large organizations is never easy. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. We just have to be aware of what we’re getting into. Andy Bossley, Head of Performance marketing at IBM, talked about corporate action and progress in a world run by the bottom line.

“Consumers are demanding gender identity, so if corporations show respect for those choices, then that shows who they are, and that will lead to profitability,” he says.

Bossley also talked about ways you can sell in these types of changes.

”Test, test, test,” he says. “You can prove anyone wrong with data, and it’s easier to sell in small tests than an overnight shift.”

Overall, there were several takeaways for attendees looking to get involved.

  1. Engage in goals and ambitions rather than labels
  2. Encourage equivalent exchange
  3. Respect your users’ names, genders and pronouns
  4. Give your users agency
  5. Resonate with a lifestyle and test, test, test

When asked for last thoughts, Mx. Whalley, chimed in with a simple yet the most impactful statement of the panel.

“I exist,” ze said. “I’m not trying to abolish gender. I want to expand it.”

Angela Yang

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