April 24, 2021
I don’t think it’s controversial to say that we (the gift and stationery industry) could use more LGBTQ+ representation. Full stop. But what kind of representation are we talking about? Does your lineup include products for queer people, not just queer allies?
Here’s the thing - your customers definitely notice if all of the queer focused products in a collection rely on cliches rather than an actual understanding of queer lives. Mrs & Mrs cards are lovely, but queer culture is more than just swapping genders and putting a rainbow gloss on the cards you’re already selling. If you’re queer yourself, you probably know exactly what I mean; but even then, it can be a little bit harder to switch mindsets and know how to serve your customers even better.
My favorite products to make are those that speak directly and explicitly to a queer person. I am particularly enamored with the category I call “queer milestones.” This includes trans anniversaries, gender affirming surgeries, coming out congratulations, and other relationships and events that aren’t often considered in the heteronormative mainstream.
This isn’t to say if you have a plethora of “Love is Love” paraphernalia that’s a bad thing - absolutely not! I just mean that if you also carry products that are more personal - directed specifically to queer experiences rather than political allyship - your LGBTQ+ customers will feel that much more seen. And let me tell you - when we queer people feel seen? We get excited and we go hard.
Especially as we head into a semi-vaccinated Pride month (June in most, but not all, places in the U.S.) queer people are going to be chomping at the bit to declare our identities and support the independent stores that celebrate with us.
From tweaking your merchandising to overhauling your inventory, here are a few ideas to help your queer clients know that you see them year-round (or perhaps are even part of the crowd yourself!).
If you have products that sport specific flags or symbols, it’s fun to provide a small chart that explains what they represent. That way, the burden doesn’t lie on your queer customers. I made the following signs for my own market setup, and I’ve found them extremely helpful.
Sign up to get receive the free downloads. Print them for in-store mechandising, or use as inspiration to make your own.
Bonus: some customers newly exploring their identity might even find a new category they hadn’t thought about!
Are your clothing or accessories starkly divided between “male” and “female”? Can you rearrange things so they aren’t? Think about how much more eye catching and inviting it would be to instead organize them by function, color, or vibe.
If you have dressing rooms or bathrooms, are they explicitly open to everyone? Do they need to be gendered at all? There is usually no reason single stalls need to be designated for a particular gender, and it makes things way less stressful for so many people to just do away with the designation entirely.
If you’re a very occasion-heavy store (e.g. greeting cards), try to have at least a few things that celebrate queer milestones. New name or pronouns? Coming out? Coming out a second time (it never stops...)? New or non-traditional family types? As I mentioned above, this is a really good way to make sure you’re celebrating your LGBTQ customers personally and in their own right, rather than seeing queerness only in contrast to heteronormativity.
Regarding traditional occasions, are there any gender neutral options in your Marriage, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and baby categories? Make sure there are!
While not exactly part of the LGBTQ umbrella, there is certainly some overlap between queerness and non-monogamy. Regardless of their sexuality, people in polyamorous relationships are also creating relationships while swimming against the cultural norm. Products that speak to these kinds of structures are hard to find, and sure to be appreciated!
Go through your inventory and ask yourself, “is this product equating a body part with gender?” If so, I suggest reconsidering the item or at least putting up a caveat. “Uteruses before duderuses,” encouraging someone to “grow a pair,” gendered baby announcements, penis jokes, even classifying things like periods, hysterectomies, or breast cancer as “women’s issues” can be alienating. That’s not to say you necessarily have to cut out every single “ovaries before brovaries,” just...be aware.
If you were a trans person walking into your space, how would you feel? Would you know that you belonged, or would you feel overwhelmed by well-meaning but careless bio-essentialism?
Similarly, do your products assume straightness? Places this is likely to pop up include bachelorette items, wedding decorations, and valentines day cards. But really, the assumption of straightness can sneak into a lot of strange places, so keep an eye out!
Queer communities have problems of their own. I suggest going through these kinds of audits for all sorts of things, especially if you’re part of a group that traditionally has oppressed others (hi there, fellow white women). Remember bi/pansexuality! Femme lesbians! People with disabilities! QUEER PEOPLE OF COLOR!
This is clearly not an exhaustive list, but I think having a good understanding of where your own biases lie and searching out other people’s experiences is a good place to start.
Finally, I suggest playfully finding the line between campy and sincere. Let it be silly, but with heart! You get to decide on the mix of tones that is right for your customer. I know a lot about very specific queer experiences (my own and those of the people I’m close to), but not all queer communities are the same and no community is a monolith. As long as you listen to your customers with a curious and open heart, you’re going to shine.