I don't think one can give a "neutral summing up of the issues"
because the one core issue here is so non-neutral and divisive,
despite being hidden to some degree (and hidden purposefully by those
arguing one side of it).
The elephant in the room, as I now see it, is that a substantial
number of people on SE dismiss the concerns of certain non-mainstream
people and how they're made to feel unwelcome in ways not obvious to
those dismissing these concerns.¹
SE has not dealt with this in the best possible way, and has even made
some serious mistakes, but that doesn't change that they were doing
something to address a problem for these non-mainstream people.
Unfortunately, those who want to dismiss the concern SE was trying to
address have leapt on these mistakes as an excuse to promote their
agenda of, "we mustn't address or even think about the problems of and
non-welcoming attitude toward those non-mainstream people."
Below I will discuss one reply that exemplifies this core problem, a
problem that I've seen recently in a large number interactions in SE
on this topic. After the example I'll give my personal views on what I
see as the main issue.
In one of my recent comments² I said:
This protects Christians just as much as anybody else. If I say my
religion requires that I call you "she"/"her" etc. you might quite
rightly be annoyed if you prefer "him" and I refuse to use that. If
you take your argument to its logical conclusion, you can do nothing
about that because insisting on being called "him" would be "forcing
me to tolerate" that. I instead say that you get to pick whether you
want to be "him" or "her"; and I just extend this to everybody,
rather than limiting it to the people who pick what lines up with
The reply contained a number of points, all of which are bad or
irrelevant arguments being used as excuses for denying the validity of
I've never seen one get mad about that kind of thing online, in
regards to some random poster on a forum.
In other words, "I don't see it as a problem, so we need not address
it." The idea that certain minority problems are not problems that
need to be addressed is the basic problem here.
I have, on the other hand, had a transwoman attack me with a bunch
of angry PM's on the Kerbal Space Program forums when I referred to
them as "he", because I didn't read their profile.
That things happen on other forums that would not be condoned on SE
under the old or new CoCs is so staggeringly irrelevant to rules for
politeness on SE that I can see it only as an attempt to mislead,
particularly when it identifies a member of a minority group (and
makes that their primary identifying characteristic) and then goes on
to say, "they attacked me."
If this is not a deliberate attempt to put a minority group in a bad
light, that's all the worse. Not being conscious that you have a
"those annoying minorities are causing me problems" attitude makes the
problem even harder to address.
Online, especially on sites like SE, your gender isn't relevant to
Again, complete dismissal.
When someone starts calling you by the wrong pronoun it may not be
relevant to the topic, but it certainly is relevant to the
communication. Nobody would argue that there's not a problem if I
start or continue referring to a mainstream male "George" as "she"
after I've been asked by him not to do that. Yet if it's a person
where a substantial number of people, for whatever reason, don't agree
with the pronoun or gender that person has chosen for
him/her/whateverself, people start finding excuses to try to erase the
problem, as above.
I am male. I wouldn't get mad if you called me "she", in the course
of a larger discussion, because which gender pronoun you use almost
certainly has no bearing on whatever we're talking about.
Again, "it's not a problem for me and maybe not even other people I
personally know, so I've decided that your feelings don't count and
you must accept my decision that it's not a problem for you, either."
Replying "I don't have this problem" when someone else states a
problem they have is nothing but dismissive.
We're not talking about consistent harassment in PM's, which is
certainly against the old CoC...
So, the poster introduces exactly this topic in a way that puts a
minority group in a bad light and then says, "don't discuss what I
just did there."
...we're talking about someone using whatever pronoun they happen to
pick for a random user they know nothing about.
Except we're not. We're talking about people who, after they've been
informed of someone's preferred pronoun, insist they have a right to
refuse to use it. The "I didn't know the correct pronoun" argument
has been addressed time and time again in the last week or more, and
we should all be able to agree that if you didn't know, you get gently
corrected and everybody moves on. But no, people have to keep bringing
up this straw man, which only inflames the argument. This is not
arguing in good faith; this is an attempt to derail the real argument
and preserve the status quo.
Why should that person be forced to pay attention to something as
meaningless as getting the right pronoun? At best, it's just an
unnecessary nuisance, worse it could impact the readability of their
And what a great summary: "I refuse to see your problem, I've just
erased it, and you'll have to accept that. My concerns are far more
This whole brouhaha has been pretty enlightening for me. Lack of
acceptance of non-traditional genders turns out to be very
widespread in SE, or at the very least there's a not insubstantial and
very vocal part of the community willing to defend lack of acceptance.
It seems that over my past decade here I too have suffered from a
classic case of, "it wasn't my problem so I didn't see it." (And I
probably suffer from that to some degree still.) I probably also am to
some degree part of that problem; I imagine there will be times when
someone's preferred pronoun feels weird to me to use.
But these are all reasons why I must step up and say, "Yes, when
someone asks me to use their preferred pronoun, I will do so, and I
will not question it." I, without even thinking consciously about it,
expect that myself, and pretty much automatically I get that myself
(which is why I don't think about it). I need to consider others who
don't happen to be in that situation.
This is not to say that there aren't other issues that need to be
dealt with, other ways in which SE management has gone wrong, or even
that this particular issue could not have been dealt with better. But
it's incumbent on the people bringing up those side issues to make it
clear that they agree that everybody has the right on SE to be
addressed by their preferred pronoun before they start diving into
(or, less charitably, bikeshedding about) the details of how that's
done because there are clearly people here who do not agree with that
at all and who are using the details as cover for their disagreement
with that core issue.
As for those who really don't agree, it's unfortunate for both them
and those of us who remain that we lose their valuable (I do not use
that term sarcastically) input on other topics. But sad as it is, I
think it's better to take a hit on this than to throw some
non-mainstream people under a bus yet once again.
¹In some cases this denial is based on outright denial of facts,
through either ignorance or malice, and via explicit or implicit
claims. As we can see from a comment below, some people claim that
gender is no more than sex. While the gender vs. sex terminology
distinction did not exist in western societies until 1955,
it existed even back to ancient times earlier in other societies, such
as with the Hijra in India. Further, even where there was
no language for the distinction, the distinction still existed: a
skirt or dress has long been considered feminine clothing in later
western society (except when it isn't) despite the
standard men's wear in ancient western society being a
garment that we would now call a dress; these are clear examples of a
societal, not biological, standard. Beyond that, biological sex itself
is clearly non-binary, both overtly where the
individual shows both male and female external genitalia and more
subtly where chromosome 46 does not match the common external
genitalia associated with it.
²I am avoiding giving references here where that would lead to
easy identification of certain individuals. They can probably be
tracked down anyway, but the point here is that I'm giving an example
to demonstrate a general problem, not trying to point out individual