1. Why people might avoid pronouns?
The fact is that most people avoid using pronouns on users who are not clearly male nor clearly female not because they are queerphobic, transphobic or anything like that. It is simply because they don't know which pronoun they should pick up. So the easier way out of the situation is just to rephrase it and avoid the pronoun at all.
However, it seems that the new CoC would forbid that too, leading to a dead end. I don't know which pronoun to use but I'm obliged to use it anyway and if I use it wrongly, I might be suspended for that.
2. Why using "they" as a catch-all pronoun won't work
Some people insists that I should use "they" to refer to them. I'm ok with that. But also, I think I also have the right to not be called as "they". I feel that "they" is not suitable for me and particularly dislike being referred to as "they". I prefer to be called as "he" when referred in 3rd person and I'm sure that everyone would be ok to call me as "he".
Also, I doubt that I'm the only single person in the universe that dislikes being called as "they" and would prefer to be called as "he". The same could be argued for some people preferring being called by "she".
Non-native English speakers might never learn that "they" can be used in singular, because that is not what English schools teach out there. Heck, I just discovered that with this controversy and never heard about that before. I also guess that even many native English speakers are not aware of that because using "they" in singular seems to be at least very unusual.
Now, I and a few of the regulars that are tuned in the controversy are now aware of the use of "they" for people who rejects both "he" and "she". But the millions of non-regular users and newbies from everywhere else in SE will be clueless, and it is not realistic to expect that they would ever be aware of the issue and start to use "they". That is simply not going to happen. The millions of clueless newbies would still continue to use "he" and "she" regardless of what is in the CoC that most of them don't even know that exist and much less have ever read.
I think uncomfortable to be called with "they". Misgendering "he" or "she" is a no-no. Most people will think that "xe", "zie", "fe", etc. are either typos or gibberish. This ends in a situation where there is simply no neutral-gender one-size-fits-all 3rd person pronoun in English and pretending that Stack Exchange will be able to change the entire world about that is not a very realistic expectation.
Now, to make things still worse, let’s say that HJ57 is a user that states that all the pronouns "he", "she" and "they" severely misrepresent HJ57's gender or sexual orientation. Most chances is that this user is simply a troll, but who knows? Supposing that such person is acting in good faith, how can we ever refer to that user with any 3rd person pronoun that doesn't sound offensive for that person?
3. Why finding out the correct pronoun is ineffective
Ok, now let's suppose that I would be posting a chat comment to User X answer like:
@UserX I like your approach to deal with the infinite recursion, but you got the foobar algorithm wrong. Take a look at Zaptro's approach on his answer.
See the problem? It is written "his", but I have no clue that Zaptro is a "he". If I'm unlucky and Zaptro happens to be a "she", people would flag my comment as offensive, and I would be warned that I'm not being nice, that I should not do that again and perhaps I could be suspended, banned or even having my diamonds revoked if I'm a moderator due to use of such blatantly disrespectful and offensive language.
I could just rephrase it as:
@UserX I like your approach to deal with the infinite recursion, but you got the foobar algorithm wrong. Take a look at Zaptro's approach.
But now, the new CoC forbids me of doing that because I'm avoiding the pronoun, which proves that I'm one of the most intolerant persons in the world. So again, this would be flaggable as offensive, but this time I do not even could hope for having luck in guessing the pronoun, because there is no pronoun at all to be guessed. So, I would be warned that I'm not being nice, that I should not do that again and perhaps I could be suspended, banned, impaled, hang, drawn and quartered.
To post that comment, I'm required to find out what is the best pronoun to use to refer to Zaptro even if this is completely irrelevant for the conversation and even if this is a task that drains me time and focus that could be used in something more productive and would be otherwise completely unneeded. But, to complicate things further, Zaptro's answer was posted two years ago, Zaptro is not around for months, so I can't simply ask that, and Zaptro's profile either is silent about gender or sexual orientation or features disorganized and contradicting information about that. So, I have zero information about which pronoun should I use. I could simply guess and take the risk, but what if I guess wrong and a week later Zaptro's come back and flags my comment due to misgendering? Even "they" might be unsuitable, because since I think that "they" is unsuitable for me, it could be for Zaptro too. Also, Zaptro's case is not an odd exception that possibly never ever happens, it is in fact a very common case.
Maybe trying this?
@UserX I like your approach to deal with the infinite recursion, but you got the foobar algorithm wrong. Take a look at this answer.
Oh, I'm still missing the pronoun! My bad for being a such offensive person! What a shame!
So, let's see the facts in this particular case:
- (a) There is no one-size-fits-all pronoun that could be used every time.
- (b) There is no way to find out what the correct pronoun is.
- (c) Not using a pronoun has severe consequences (including losing your diamond if you have one with no chance for an appeal).
- (d) Guessing the pronoun is a risk too big to be worth it (people who misgenders others should be burnt on a stake).
The solution? Simply not posting anything at all. That is the way to build a great community here and really help people!
4. If the user is around, why not just ask for the pronoun?
Asking for the pronoun is not very different than asking for gender and/or sexual orientation. Many people might take that question as offensive. Many things might go wrong.
For example, on some occasions, people that wants to irritate, insult, bully and annoy me, asks if I'm really a man or if I'm a little girl or perhaps asks me if I'm gay or do some other questioning casting doubts about my gender or sexual orientation even if they already surely know the obvious answer for years. Thankfully, this never happened to me in any SE community, but it is something that happens in real life with many people, not only me, because there are always lots of people that just want to be jerks in the worst way possible.
Now, get some random unknown person in the Internet asking something about your gender or your sexual orientation, and you will see that many people will interpret that as disrespectful.
Misgendering people is offensive for many people. However, asking for gender or sexual orientation data can be equally offensive.
5. We need to make the community more friendly, not less
Creating a rule that states that people (including newbies with poor English skills that joins Stack Exchange every day) should look somewhere in user profiles to find the correct pronoun to refer to them and be enforced to use that pronoun is not friendly.
Stack Exchange's Q&A already has a lot of complicated rules that many users takes years to understand (if ever). I'd seen even some moderators in many occasions having trouble recalling details of Stack Exchange rules and policies correctly.
6. "But user XYZ is really lgbtphobic, we have to do something about that!"
Surely, those people exists and sometimes posts comments featuring lgbtphoby. But we already have for many years the flag tool for cases of people presenting opinions that are lgbtphobic, sexist, racist, etc. Even the old CoC already covers that and the still older "be nice" policy too. So, there is no need to change the rules in that way. Posting that sort of stuff is not allowed in this site and has never been. There is no need for a change here.
7. Is avoiding the pronoun really offensive?
At least half of the profiles encountered in any Stack Exchange community features no easy way to tell the user gender or sexual orientation, and I think that this is very good and very rarely a problem. The reason is simply that in most cases, I shouldn't need to care about knowing whatever the gender or sexual orientation is of any user because this is not (or at least should not be) something of my business.
I have no problem with anyone here being a queer, trans, straight, man, woman, dog, alien, robot or whatever else for one simple reason: I don't care and I really think that I shouldn't care or even know that. Seriously, I don't want to know what your gender or sexual orientation is except if I have a very strong reason for that, and I almost never have.
Frankly, I really fail to see how on Earth those sentences could ever be offensive or misrepresent Zaptro's gender just because they lack a pronoun:
@UserX Take a look at Zaptro's answer, but I don't know if the argumentation is right.
@UserX Take a look at this answer, but I don't know if the argumentation is right.
There is nothing wrong in rephrasing stuff to avoid the pronoun! There is no reason to flag a comment like that. Also, it is much more clear and simple than writing this:
@UserX Take a look at Zaptro's answer, but I don't know if their argumentation is right.
The issue is not that people avoids using a pronoun to LGBTQI+ people due to intolerance. This is just a misrepresentation of the problem, a misrepresentation so severe that was used to unfairly fire an excellent moderator. The real issue is that people avoids using a pronoun on any person for which they are unable to determine the gender and so unable to choose a pronoun. This is not a form of lgbtphobia, it is just the form that people naturally and unconsciously chooses to be safe for not having an information that they shouldn't need at all, and there shouldn't be any reason to try to guess.
And as far as I can tell, the simplest solution is to avoid pronouns if you don't have to use them, exactly what Monica Cellio was trying to say, but Stack Exchange responded by shooting at the messenger. Instead, Stack Exchange seems to want to mandate that people uses pronouns just because that is the way it must to be even if that would need some English language contortionism to just add a pronoun where none should be needed.
There is no offense in avoiding a pronoun. Instead, the reason to avoiding the pronoun is exactly to avoid offending someone. We shouldn't promote a witch-hunt and burn at stake people that writes sentences avoiding pronouns.