It’s a ginormous understatement to say that a lot has happened in the last 4-5 months and continues to happen throughout the world, as we come to terms with the changing context of our new realities and what it all means for us personally, professionally, and collectively, including the planet.
Before the World Health Organization officially announced that COVID-19 was a pandemic, I had the wonderful opportunity of speaking with Kai Scott (see photo below) by telephone. Kai’s pronouns are he/him and is the President + Gender Strategist at TransFocus Consulting, Inc., which is a consulting firm based in Vancouver, BC, on unceded Coast Salish territories. TransFocus applies systems-thinking to resolve gender issues in the workplace and the marketplace. To learn more about TransFocus, click here.
I first learned about TransFocus and Kai when I attended a Venture Out conference in Toronto and again later when I participated in one of TransFocus’ webinars: “Are You Ready to Support Transgender Employees?” Both times our paths intersected, I was very impressed with the professionalism, compassion, and knowledge that was shared to help attendees better understand how to support people who identify as trans, which ultimately supports everyone to safely and freely be who they are.
"We believe in a world that celebrates and includes all genders—and we know from experience that workplaces and marketplaces designed for inclusion also perform more collaboratively and efficiently."
We believe in the world that TransFocus believes in too: “a world that celebrates and includes all genders.” Aligned with Superstar X’s purpose, mission, and values, I contacted TransFocus to learn more about gender diversity and better integrate gender inclusion within Superstar X’s policies, practices, projects, websites, and multimedia products, particularly in support of trans people. Also, although I am a member of the LGBTQ2S+ community, identifying as a lesbian cisgender woman, I know I have much to learn about the Trans community, and I want to be a better ally.
For those who are new to the origins of Superstar X, based in Toronto, Ontario, which is the traditional territory of many nations (click here for the complete Land Acknowledgement), I was inspired by my brother Edward’s life and pop-graffiti artwork, including his challenges with schizophrenia, substance use disorder, homelessness, identity, and HIV, to co-create Superstar X in 2017
Superstar X is a multimedia collective for the superstar in all of us and especially for everyday superstars. Its purpose is to celebrate being human and destigmatize being different, with a mission to empower humanity and cultivate connection by co-creating for multidimensional wellness, art, film, music, fashion, and fun! To learn more about the story behind Superstar X, click here.
In 2019, to further its platform, Superstar X launched The X Shop, a shoppable art gallery for the superstar in all of us. Superstar X gifts 10% from each purchase to initiatives, programs, and/or organizations that positively impact multidimensional wellness, particularly to benefit children and youth and/or those who are (or have been) racialized, stigmatized, ostracized, marginalized, bullied, and/or excluded for being “different.” To view the current collection of X Products, click here.
All of this brings us back to my conversation with Kai. Admittedly, given my novice understanding of the Trans community, I was a bit nervous about unintentionally saying the “wrong” thing during my conversation with Kai. However, from the very start of our conversation, Kai’s openness and empathy instantly put me at ease, which undoubtedly are two of the many qualities that make Kai so effective at what he does. Kai understands the complexities of people and systems… there is no judgement; there is only a genuine desire to innovatively resolve gender issues, together.
Given the world is in the midst of becoming more aware of the centuries-old racism, discrimination, and violence against Black people, in addition to increased awareness of the injustices against Indigenous Peoples, People of Colour, and Trans people, it’s especially timely and critical that we collectively transform unhealthy systems into healthy ones. Regardless of good intentions, words and systems can hurt and especially words that power policies to fuel the systems that perpetuate racism and other injustices.
Like most systemic problems that prevent diversity and inclusion, essentially eroding humanity, there is an entanglement of barriers that are often invisible or unknown (or wilfully ignored) and especially from the perspective of those who benefit from these barriers. On behalf of Superstar X, I am dedicated to learning how we can better navigate the fashion industry’s traditional labels, such as “women’s,” “men’s,” and “unisex,” so that The X Shop supports gender-diversity and gender-inclusion.
So, delving into the fashion world to explore answers to this problem, I listened and learned as Kai revealed 3 key methods of transforming archaic systems into ones that better fit all-genders:
1. Take another look at the system…
Kai shared that the way society currently sets up gender is ineffective. In addition to protecting human rights, there are many time-saving and cost-saving benefits to setting up a system that supports gender-diversity and gender-inclusion.
Within a given system, Kai suggests that we unpack why gender is used to describe and/or differentiate. Once this is understood, the next step is to re-map the system for gender-diversity that is truly gender-inclusive, which is also often innovative and results in many other benefits.
In general, to help unpack any system, Kai suggests we ask, “How can we remove gender from the “equation” and what can replace it?”
And, specifically to help The X Shop unpack the fashion industry’s traditional labels, Kai suggests we ask, “What are the differentiating characteristics between The X Shop’s product labels, such as “women’s,” “men’s,” and “unisex”?”
These are good questions, and I was thoroughly enjoying our discussion, already starting to think of possible answers.
“As soon as you take gender out of the equation, that’s when trans people are freed up. That’s when other people of other genders are freed up too.”
2. Update the system...
Kai further explains that once the differentiators are determined, it’s important to update the language so that it clearly distinguishes for people to easily self-select what’s suitable for them instead of using gender.
Staying true to Kai’s inclusive nature, he acknowledges that there are times when it makes sense to use gender as a way to categorize or differentiate, but that it’s currently over-utilized throughout society. Hence, why it’s so critical for us to take another look at existing systems to ensure they are truly gender-diverse and gender-inclusive or moving toward that direction.
Exploring possible answers for how we can remove gender from the fashion-label equation, Kai suggests using the “style” and/or “cut” of a garment as differentiators instead of gender. Following Kai’s guidance, we’re in the process of updating the language in our policies, practices, projects, websites, and multimedia products.
Based on Kai's recommendations, we're in the process of removing gender from the fashion-label equation, wherever possible. However, some changes are simpler to make than others. For example, in the products shown below, it was a simple change to remove "women's" from all tote bags and "men's" from all messenger bags, replacing these words with nothing.
This example shows how removing gender as a differentiator doesn't take away from the products and instead helps to update an archaic system by removing stereotype and stigma. This update also adds value for customers to self-select products based on their experiences and perspectives instead of gender "norms." Labels can be limiting or freeing, depending on the words used, and collectively we can each do our part to co-create change for greater gender-diversity and gender-inclusion within systems.
Another example of a simpler change is to remove “sex” from the fashion-label equation by replacing “Unisex” with “All-Genders” throughout The X Shop, including the following definition:
All-Genders X Products by Superstar X are for humans, independent of gender identity and/or expression, who prefer the fit and/or look of all-genders clothing, shoes, and/or accessories. Oh... and, they inherently celebrate being human and destigmatize being different!
Kai explains that “Unisex” is traditional language and it’s helpful to use new language to help transform old paradigms. Although other language (aka labels) changes will take more time to update, primarily dependent on existing supply-chains and manufacturers, Superstar X and The X Shop are committed to journeying toward a more gender-diverse and gender-inclusive world.
The above simpler changes are juxtaposed by the more complex changes, such as updating labels for The X Shop's sneakers, which are currently differentiated using gender. However, we are in the process of exploring how we can resolve this for greater gender-diversity and gender-inclusion.
3. It’s a journey…
Given this journey, I asked Kai for his thoughts on having a mix of the “old” language with the “new,” especially considering the traditional structures, manufacturers, supply chains, etc., that need to evolve and catch-up. Kai suggests that we think of it as an ongoing practice. He says that a hybrid of the “old” with the “new” is a practical reality, as it’s currently a journey to co-create toward a world that is truly gender-diverse and gender-inclusive, regardless of the type of workplace or marketplace.
Keeping this in mind, along this journey we're using terms "Womxn" instead of "Women" and "Mxn" instead of "Men" within The X Shop, including the following definitions:
Womxn's X Products by Superstar X are for humans who identify as women or, independent of gender identity and/or expression, prefer the fit and/or look of women's clothing, shoes, and/or accessories. Oh... and, they inherently celebrate being human and destigmatize being different!
Mxn's X Products by Superstar X are for humans who identify as men or, independent of gender identity and/or expression, prefer the fit and/or look of men's clothing, shoes, and/or accessories. Oh... and, they inherently celebrate being human and destigmatize being different!
In addition, to help us progress along this journey, Kai emphasizes the importance of asking manufacturers about the language (aka labels) currently used. For example, ask them about printing “Relaxed” or “Fitted” instead of “Men’s” or “Women’s” and printing “All-Genders” instead of “Unisex.” Kai says asking questions, like these, help to bring greater awareness to gender-diversity and gender-inclusion issues and it gets people thinking and more accepting of possible solutions.
“When people ask questions, this is how change happens.”
Relative to this journey, Kai stresses the importance of transparency along the way. That is, it’s important to provide customers with explanations of where we’re at and why. For example, what are the barriers or limitations that we’re trying to change so that Superstar X's products and language (aka labels) are more gender-diverse and gender-inclusive?
Kai sees this transparency as a powerful trust-building opportunity and reminds us that it’s human not to know everything and to be in-progress instead of in-perfection. The most important part is that we’re on the journey toward gender-diversity and gender-inclusion, together.
Although my conversation with Kai was only ~30 minutes, I learned a lot. Our conversation changed me and Superstar X, including The X Shop, for the better. It helped me become more aware of the language, practices, and systems that I use, so that I can be a better ally for trans people, throughout my personal life and Superstar X. I am very grateful for this.
It’s obvious that Kai loves the work that he does, as he says, “This stuff is so much fun.” I must say it was a lot of fun listening to how Kai expertly and compassionately approaches archaic systems, predominately built for non-trans people, to co-create innovative ways of how to transform these systems into ones that support trans people, which are ultimately better for everyone and all of the multidimensional qualities that make us human.
Whether you need to increase gender-diversity and gender-inclusion awareness in your workplace and/or need to propel your organization to the next level of goodness by leveraging gender-diversity and gender-inclusion to innovate existing practices and policies, TransFocus is for YOU.