As a transgender person who attends and organizes tech meetups and conferences, I spend a lot of time answering questions about how to be more inclusive of trans and nonbinary folks. In this... not-so-short guide I've answered almost all of the questions I get about how to use pronoun buttons or stickers at tech events. Hopefully this will be helpful to you, whether you're a trans person looking for a resource to point others to, or a cis person looking to be a better ally!
A pronoun button is a small pinback button (or sticker) worn by a person to indicate what their personal pronoun is. These are worn by attendees along with their name tag at events, such as conferences and meetups. Many trans and nonbinary (enby) folks also wear pronoun buttons as part of our day-to-day life.
Simple, it helps us trans and non binary people to be safe. If everyone wears them, it helps remind attendees that pronouns shouldn’t be assumed, and that we should respect the pronouns other people use. It’s not right or good to assume someone’s pronouns, as getting them wrong can cause physical and social dysphoria. In addition, when trans and enby folks are pressured to disclose our status (as can happen when we are misgendered), it opens us up to potential emotional, mental, and physical harm.
When everyone at an event has a pronoun button, no one needs to assume anyone else’s pronouns, and that’s a good thing.
Also, supplying pronoun buttons makes it very clear that trans inclusion is important to your conference and that people will be supported when we need to be gendered correctly. It also makes it very clear to attendees that anti-transgender bigotry won’t be tolerated.
Definitely not. You’re going to have to do some educational work with your attendees and other folks running the event. Luckily, I’m here to help you out!
My pronouns aren’t a preference, they’re my pronouns. They’re mandatory. Don’t refer to pronouns as “preferred” at any point during your event, otherwise people are likely to get the idea that it’s optional to respect the pronouns of other people
It’s totally appropriate to ask attendees for pronouns when they register, but don’t print them on their name tags or badges ahead of time. Instead, provide stickers or pinback buttons or something that they can apply themselves the day of the event. This helps a bunch of different people, including:
- Genderfluid folks, who might use different pronouns at different times. They can’t necessarily know which pronouns they’ll use at the day of the event, and they might change the ones they use throughout the day.
- People whose pronouns change between registration and the event. For example, someone who publicly comes out as trans after registering might now have a different name and use different pronouns. (Be sure to let people change the name on their badge the day-of!)
- Folks who aren’t sure if they’ll feel safe, and closeted folks. I’ve definitely gone to events where I wasn’t sure if it was safe to be openly nonbinary, and then later elected to grab a “they/them” button after I felt more comfortable.
There are lots of sites online where you can get custom buttons made, and I especially recommend you check out companies run by trans people for this! You can also order sets of pronoun buttons online, instead of having a design custom-made for your event.
Other options include buying a button maker (they’re about $130 online) and making a bunch of buttons yourself. I’ve done this before for an event, and it saved money and was lots of fun! Plus, now we own a button maker!
Stickers are a cheaper option than buttons, although they can’t be reused. They’re a lot easier to transport, though!
The least expensive option of all is just having a marker available for attendees to write their pronouns on their nametags. For low-budget events, this is a perfectly fine solution, although you’ll have to spend a little more time explaining things to your attendees at check-in.
If you ask people for their pronouns on their event registration forms, just get buttons with every pronoun that was provided, plus some other common ones. Don’t forget, only ask for pronouns ahead of time if you actually need them for anything, and be sure to explain what you’re using them for.
If you don’t have any data on the pronouns your attendees use, you can estimate which buttons to get based on your expected audience and the common pronouns they use.
For example, for an event aimed at programmers (a field with way more men than other genders), I might get about 45% he/him, 40% she/her, 10% they/them, and 5% with blanks. For an event aimed at women and non binary people in tech, I might get 70% she/her, 20% they/them, and 10% blanks.
An event specifically aimed at transgender and nonbinary people will have very different needs, though! Then I’d suggest getting a good mix of she/her, he/him, they/them, several neopronouns, and blanks.
Neopronouns are pronouns that aren’t they/them, she/her, or he/him. Lots of folks use them! Some neopronouns are:
And there are lots more! Just as we can’t assume the pronouns someone uses, we also can’t assume that they use more common pronouns, so we need to either have neopronoun buttons available or have plenty of blank buttons for people to fill in. In fact, always have blank buttons in case of cool neopronouns you didn’t think of, or if you run out of other buttons you need.
My recommendation is to just have the buttons out on a table at check-in, with both a sign explaining what they’re for, as well as having staff nearby to explain them.
Make sure the person staffing this area is well-informed about pronouns and the use of the buttons at your event (heck, show them this guide!). They should be patient and able to explain pronoun buttons again and again. They should be able to politely and firmly address unkind or accidentally rude questions, keeping your code of conduct in mind.
Your sign by the buttons should be simple, and instructing people to take a pronoun button for themselves. Use encouraging, inclusive language and invite attendees to ask an organizer for more information.
Please grab a pronoun button for your name badge!
These let us all know how to address one another,
and help everyone feel more comfortable.
When you meet someone, look for their pronoun button!
Any questions? We’re happy to help, see an organizer!
It’s super important to not make a transgender or non binary person be the one staffing this table! It shouldn’t be our job to do this educational work, especially at an event when a staffer will be explaining things over and over. Find a cis ally who can do this work, who trans and enby people trust. (Of course, if a trans of enby person wants to be the one staffing the pronoun button table, let them!)
That’s okay! As I mentioned before, some folks might not be sure if they feel safe taking their pronoun yet. There are also people who prefer not to have pronouns used for them, and instead prefer their name just be used instead.
Encourage people to take a button, but don’t pressure them or make it mandatory.
Always let people take more than one button! This accommodates genderfluid folks, whose pronouns can change, and people who don’t want to be out 100% of the time. As long as no one is taking armfuls of buttons, it’s fine! (And if someone is taking armfuls, chat with them about how you can help them get pronoun buttons for their event!)
There’s some educational work you’ll need to do, and you need to do it in a way that’s safe and not harmful to your trans and non binary attendees.
Before you event even begins, share information about potential attendees about the pronoun buttons you’ll have, similarly to how you’d share other inclusion or accessibility information. For example, a simple line on your website like, “Pronoun buttons for all attendees” will do the trick. In your code of conduct, make sure to include that you expect attendees to do their best to respect everyone, including by being attentive to pronoun buttons and using pronouns correctly.
At the beginning of your event, during other announcement you’d make to attendees, talk about the pronoun buttons. You should remind people that you code of conduct prohibits harassment or discrimination on the basis of gender identity and presentation.
Then, actually enforce your code of conduct!
Here’s an example:
As you might have noticed at registration, we have pronoun buttons available for everyone! If you haven’t grabbed one yet, we encourage you to do so after our opening talk.
Look at pronoun buttons when meeting someone new, and ask for their pronouns if they aren’t wearing a button. Then, use those pronouns when talking about them! Understand that not everyone is comfortable sharing, and you should default to just using their name or a neutral pronoun (like they/them) in place of a pronoun if you don’t know their pronouns.
We also encourage you to introduce yourself using your pronouns, like, “Hi, my name is Fen, my pronouns are they/them!”
If you find that someone is having a hard time understanding how to use pronouns correctly, take them aside and answer their questions. Understand that using different pronouns and asking for them is difficult for someone people to do at first, including neurodivergent folks. Help people learn to just simply apologize, use the correct pronoun, and move on if they mess up someone’s pronouns.
Making accidental mistakes with pronouns is okay, just don’t let people do it repeatedly. Think of it like accidentally stepping on someone’s toes. If you do it once, it’s no problem, you just apologize and move on. However, if an attendee is stepping on the toes of everyone they meet, you need to step in.
Conversely, remember that many trans and nonbinary people have our metaphorical toes stepped on everyday. Sure, someone misgendering us once isn't a big deal, but when are toes are stepped on constantly, it hurts even more.
What if an attendee isn’t using pronouns correctly, and not just because they’re having a hard time?
If they’re intentionally disregarding pronouns or being disrespectful, consult your code of conduct and take action to make your event safer. I’d personally consider it similar to harassment.
Take them aside and deal with it privately, no matter what. Don’t address the entire group, assuming that everyone is having a hard time using pronouns correctly.
Don’t make a post-break announcement about how you’re seeing lots of people disregard buttons. And absolutely don’t have the entire room practice misgendering someone, and then practice apologizing for it as a way to deal with it.
Yes, this happened at a conference I was at once. Yes, I walked out. This makes your trans and nonbinary attendees feel incredibly othered and unsafe. It makes it seem like you assume your audience is all cisgender, privileged folks, which isn’t true. This makes trans and enby people feel like we don’t exist, or we’re some weird “other” tiny group that doesn’t matter.
If you absolutely have to make some sort of public statement about it, keep it similar to your opening announcement about looking at pronoun buttons. Remember that you likely have trans attendees, whether you know it or not.
Who should be doing this work of correcting people and helping attendees who are having a hard time understanding pronouns?
Don’t require trans and non binary people to be a part of this educational work about pronouns and pronoun buttons at your event. Don’t pressure us to do this work; we have to do it all the time. Cis organizers should handle the bulk of the work, if possible.
If you want to know how you’re doing, ask a trans or enby organizer or attendee if they’re comfortable talking with you about their experience. If they say yes, then ask for feedback.
Heck, you ideally should be paying someone (a trans or nonbinary person) to check over your plans for the event to ensure it’s actually inclusive of trans and enby people.
- Have pronoun buttons or stickers available
- Educate your attendees about using pronouns
- Enforce your code of conduct
- Pay a trans or nonbinary person to help you make sure you’re doing this right!
Contact me at fenslattery.com! This guide is also available as a print-ready zine, and it's pay-what-you-want. (Cisgender folks, if you learned something, please buy a copy or throw me some $$$ on ko.fi!) Looking for more basic info about pronouns? Check out my pronouns 101 zine!