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Blowing in the wind: NatWest's double-sided transgender lanyards

Updated: Mar 4

NatWest has decided to give its transgender employees double-sided lanyard badges. The idea is that you can flip the badge around depending on your gender at different times.

I’m not here to criticise inclusive identity politics. I don’t dispute the efforts of companies to make everyone feel more welcome. This is all fine.

But I do question their methods. Quite why it is necessary to advertise your gender on something as trivial as a lanyard is beyond me. At this point, we may as well wear lanyards 24/7, like dogs wear collars, indicating our mood, age, and what we had for breakfast this morning.

Labelling is the central tenet of identity politics. I am all for people standing up for their labels. But I simply don’t see why it is necessary to project this onto the world like a Disney movie in a cinema. There is just no need. Provided people respect your identity, there is no reason to take this any further.

And this is why proposals and policies like NatWest’s lanyard experiment are disliked by many people. There is no need for the intricate details of every person to be shoved down their throat. They don’t care. Not in a harsh way, I hastily add. Just because all people want to do is go in, make a deposit or secure a mortgage, and leave again. They aren’t bothered if this process is done by Harry Potter, Paddington Bear or Gollum. People just want a smooth, efficient and friendly service.

With this in mind, NatWest’s double-sided lanyard idea is actually antagonistic. It simply makes things worse because it’s an additional obstacle that gets in the way of people sorting out their money.

Don’t for one second think this is an assault against LGTBQ+ rights, either.

It would be exactly the same story – and I’d be writing exactly the same article – if NatWest introduced a new rule that each customer had to meditate for 20 minutes before entering the branch. Or if they had to read the Magna Carta before being served. It’s just an extra hurdle which, in our time-short, 10-second attention span TikTok world, is simply too time-consuming to fit in.

As I have hopefully made clear, I disagree with the very foundations of any suggestion of this nature. This is not just because it involves a minority community. In fact, that has nothing to do with it.

Having said that, I do think that the person who devised this policy didn’t think it through very well. In Britain, the weather is often very windy. This means that a transgender NatWest employee may find their gender has unintentionally changed if they get caught in a gust.

Anyone who’s ever worn a lanyard will know that they never stay the right bloody way around. Usually, this doesn’t matter because the other side is blank. But if the other side suggests your name is Lesley when, actually, today you are Les, you might find yourself being taken away by a policeman for identity theft.

So advertising your gender on a lanyard does – quite literally – mean that your gender depends on the way the wind is blowing.

This is, therefore, not only a needlessly time-consuming idea, but is also rather destructive to one’s identity if your lanyard happens to misbehave. As I said previously, this is not an effective way of supporting something that is actually very important. It’s a pie in the sky way of jumping on the inclusivity bandwagon. Contrary to NatWest’s hopes of good publicity, surely this will only make them a laughing stock.

And that’s it for today, really. It’s shorter and simpler than usual. But then, perhaps my lanyard says I’m currently Mark Twain. Perhaps the wind will flip it around tomorrow and I’ll be back writing essays like Roy Jenkins’s endless biography on Winston Churchill.

Image: John Birdsall/Alamy Stock Photo

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