Just in time for Pride Weekend, the W Hotel Union Square held an open-format discussion on gender identity and sexuality as part of the chain’s”What She Said” global speaker series Thursday.
Focused on empowering women and bringing queer, non-binary and femme voices to the forefront of today’s conversations, “What She Said” featured models, activists, and entrepreneurs who talked about their personal experience with gender fluidity and identity.
Moderated by journalist Jane Mulkerrins, the panelists included model, actress and LGBTQIA activist Eliott Sailors, founder of Phluid Project, the world’s first gender-free retail space, Rob Smith, queer activist and model Jess Miller and Owner and creative director of queer fashion magazine dapperQ, Anita Dolce Vita.
The panel opened with an introduction of all the panelists and their preferred pronouns–and why asking what people’s preferred pronouns are is so important.
“It’s an acknowledgment of the person as a being, in a world where so many people are often erased,” said Anita Dolce Vita. “It’s taking an interest rather than projecting what we feel someone should be based on what we see on the outside.”
“Just by saying my pronoun is he/him, you know just makes people start to open up their minds a little bit” said Rob Smith, who supports this action by giving out pronoun pins at The Phluid Project to every shopper.
The panelists went on to discuss what queerness means to them and how the reclaiming of the word is a way to unify the community.
“Queerness transcends sexual orientation,” said Dolce Vita. “Queerness is about breaking down binaries, and the heteronormative expectations about how we present as gender, and who we should be allowed to sleep with and have relationships with.”
In addition to their own journeys with gender identity, the panelists also talked about labels within the LGBTQIA community and the pros and cons of having so many identifiers.
Eliott Sailors explained that while having the identifiers can restrict people and figuratively put them in a box, these words also create a community and a place for everyone to fit in somewhere, and just because one identity fits someone doesn’t mean that they can’t claim other labels. Sailors explained that a person is much more than their chosen identifiers.
As a whole, the “What She Said” panel created a safe and open space for questions and discourse about what it means to be queer, how presentation and identity don’t always intersect, and the importance of being responsible when discussing other’s singularity.