7

At this point it is pretty well known that the recent issues are related to changes in the CoC regarding the use of pronouns. While the new Code of Conduct won't be available until the 10th of October, the current Code of Conduct says

No bigotry. We don’t tolerate any language likely to offend or alienate people based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion — and those are just a few examples. When in doubt, just don’t.

What I am curious about is which, if any, of the following scenarios would be likely to offend or alienate people based on gender (and why)

  1. A long time user states in her profile that her pronoun is "she". A new user leaves a comment using "he".

  2. A long time user states in her profile that her pronoun is "she". Another long time user repeatedly refers to this user as "he" even after being repeatedly corrected.

  3. A long time user states in her profile that her pronoun is "she". Another long time user (userB) refers to this user as "he" and upon being corrected, this user apologizes and says that as a non-native speaker, pronouns cause him difficulty.

  4. A long time user states in zir profile that zir pronoun is "ze". Another long time user repeatedly refers to this user as "he" even after being repeatedly corrected.

  5. A long time user states in zir profile that zir pronoun is "ze". Another long time user (userB) refers to this user as "he" and upon being corrected, userB claims "ze" is incorrect according to his religious beliefs and that he (userB) will not use it, but to avoid misgendering users he will only use user names from now on for all users regardless of pronouns.

  6. A long time user states in zir profile that zir pronoun is "ze". Another long time user (userB) refers to this user as "he" and upon being corrected, userB claims "ze" is incorrect according to his religious beliefs and that he (userB) will not use it, but to avoid misgendering users with a pronoun of "ze", he will only use user names for users with a pronoun of "ze".

  7. A long time user states in zir profile that zir pronoun is "ze". Another long time user (userB) refers to this user as "he" and upon being corrected userB claims "ze" is incorrect according to his religious beliefs and that he (userB) will not use it, but to avoid misgendering users with a pronoun of "ze", he will disengage and not respond to comments or provide answers to users with a pronoun of "ze".

  8. A long time user states in their profile that their pronoun is "they". Another long time user repeatedly refers to this user as "he" even after being repeatedly corrected.

  9. A long time user states in their profile that their pronoun is "they". Another long time user (userB) refers to this user as "he" and upon being corrected userB claims the singular they is not grammatically correct and that he (userB) will not use it, but to avoid misgendering users with a pronoun of "they", he will only use user names for users with a pronoun of "they".

  10. A long time user states in their profile that their pronoun is "they". Another long time user (userB) refers to this user as "he" and upon being corrected userB claims the singular they is not grammatically correct and that he (userB) will not use it, but to avoid misgendering users with a pronoun of "they", he will disengage and not respond to comments or provide answers to users with a pronoun of "they".

closed as too broad by Robert Longson, Robert Columbia, Sonic the Anonymous Hedgehog, Pierre.Vriens, curiousdannii Oct 8 at 2:31

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 18
    Call people what they want to be called. Do we need to write that 10 times? – Robert Longson Oct 7 at 20:56
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    11. A user, in response to the current mess, quietly stops using all third-person singular pronouns. – Mark Oct 7 at 20:56
  • 4
    @Mark that is actually #5 – StrongBad Oct 7 at 20:57
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    Some of your scenarios seem to contain multiple sub-scenarios, it's hard to answer all the scenarios given that there are multiple steps in many of them (e.g. after repeated correction but before UserB takes a different course of action and then again after that course of action). Also, it's impossible to answer how any particular person might react, so there's no one "correct" set of answers. Perhaps you could consider a simplification of this question? – CB Bailey Oct 7 at 21:19
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    @CBBailey but in order to understand our current CoC don't we need to understand these scenarios? How can we determine if a user has violated the CoC? – StrongBad Oct 7 at 21:22
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    It is really best to avoid calling pronouns "preferred". People just have pronouns, either they are correct for their identity, or they are not. Using “preferred” can accidentally insinuate that using the correct pronouns for someone is optional or that they are somehow less true than other pronouns. – Rubiksmoose Oct 7 at 21:35
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    @011358smell It might be common in some communities, but it doesn't seem to be very widespread. I actually read it at first as meaning the name at birth for the masculine grammatical gender. That occasionally appears in legal documents along with née (feminine) in the United States. – rjzii Oct 7 at 21:40
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    In my experience, they is the third most popular pronoun that people actively choose for themselves (after he and she); neo-prounouns are comparatively rare and I don't known anyone who uses ne. They also seems to be the most commonly accepted gender neutral prounoun for general use when someones correct pronouns are not known, personally I hadn't heard of ne being used for this before now. – CB Bailey Oct 7 at 21:44
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    A long time user, tired of needing to investigate or guess everybody else pronoun just because English sucks, do not refer to anybody anymore using a third person pronoun and now always uses the username for everybody. – Victor Stafusa Oct 7 at 21:45
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    @RobertLongson "Call people what they want to be called." - that's not very constructive. In fact, it invalidates this question, which seems to be exactly about the fact that this is not feasible in practice. And all the corner cases that someone could be (or claim to be) offended about cannot be dictated by the CoC or enforced by the mods. (I have further opinions about this whole issue, but will leave it at that for now). – Marco13 Oct 7 at 22:04
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    @Marco13 the SE team could tell us that any user that uses the wrong pronoun even once is in violation of the CoC. I think that would result in even more uproar. They seem to be drawing a line someplace and unless the CoC is hyper-specific I doubt it will really define the line. – StrongBad Oct 7 at 22:09
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    @StrongBad If SE were to say that even a single wrong use is a violation then I think everyone would be justified at laughing them and telling them to go back and try again given that this is an international community with people that write English as a second or third language at times. – rjzii Oct 7 at 22:14
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    Or, you could just not use gendered language at all. My personal opinion is that inventing more gendered pronouns is a bad solution to gender identity. English needs to evolve to be entirely gender neutral. Ideally we would have two sets of pronouns. One set for people and another for everything else. That way when someone uses the wrong pronoun, you know they're trying to offend you and things wouldn't be so complicated. – ColleenV Oct 7 at 22:16
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    I think closing this question risks shutting down a critical conversation about why anyone even cares about pronouns. On the other hand, I can see that the conversation... isn't going well, here, and it's pretty clear trans people aren't a part of it. The underlying problem is that the frame challenge has been ignored: this isn't about using the right words, it's about the information that's betrayed when people open their mouths, which is a different question. – Aza Oct 7 at 22:45
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    @Aza - I don't understand what you're trying to say. // "trans people aren't a part of the conversation" -- are trans people being shut out of the current discussions? Out of the discussion on this particular page? Could you help an obtuse person like me understand what's preventing trans people from being part of the conversation? // I don't understand the phrase "the frame challenge has been ignored. // How is information betrayed? I don't get it. – aparente001 Oct 8 at 2:00
26

To directly answer the question, it's complicated and there is a growing body of active research related to this question. A 2019 article, found with a very quick Google Scholar search, concluded:

Those who advocate greater use of gender-neutral and non-binary language should note that resistance to personal pronouns other than ‘he/him’ and ‘she/her’ appear to be driven not simply by grammatical prescriptivism, but also by more conservative and binary gender role attitudes. Given the divergence between generic and specific use of singular ‘they’, greater acceptance of such language is not driven just by a greater willingness to ignore grammatical conventions. Future research in this area should focus on clarifying the relationship between presciptivist attitudes, personality, and gender ideology, as well as the degree to which speakers attribute their grammatical judgements to these factors. Greater awareness of these factors may inform the strategies adopted by those wishing to influence linguistic style in public and scholarly venues.

Bradley, E. D. (2019). Personality, prescriptivism, and pronouns. English Today. doi:10.1017/S0266078419000063 (PDF)

In short, simply enumerating a list of options is unlikely to give any insight into the problem.


To comment on the structure of the question itself: the list of options is structured a bit more like a push poll than a research instrument. Furthermore, the way it is written is going to lead to respondent fatigue and invalid conclusions since the respondent may end up annoyed at you for asking questions this way (i.e., wall of text, phrasing assumes familiarity with subject, etc.), which will bias their responses. However, this is a really interesting research question; but a survey instrument to examine it will take a lot of work to get right.

  • Thank you, the voice of reason. +1.I've no doubt other's danders may be raised about this (even with good reason) but cool heads are called for as to how best to approach the issue to everyone's satisfaction. – 011358 smell Oct 7 at 21:21
  • I'm ambivalent about whether the question as posed is a useful starting point for any discussion on this topic, but treating a meta question as a formal "research instrument" feels to me like a framing choice that you have imposed, perhaps because it allows you to paint the question in a particularly negative light. – joran Oct 7 at 21:27
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    @joran The way the question is written, I'm going to assume that the intent is a serious inquiry into the question. If that's the case then it's a bit easier to fall back on the language of peer review to explain why the phrasing of the question is problematic. – rjzii Oct 7 at 21:34
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    I hope there isn't an underlying implication that being driven by "more conservative and binary gender role attitudes" (and thus resistant to alternative pronouns) is negative and inherently a violation of the upcoming SE code of conduct. Ideally, a solution for the site should be acceptable to people of differing ideologies and cultures, not only those in Silicon Valley, but also coders in developing nations such as in Africa and the Middle East that are more likely to hold traditional gender values. – Thunderforge Oct 7 at 21:57
  • Easier for you maybe, but I sort of doubt that it is an effective way to engage with the question. – joran Oct 7 at 21:58
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    @joran If you think this is bad, you should see how Reviewer 3 treats colleagues. ;) – rjzii Oct 7 at 22:09
  • If this were a serious academic proposal then you’d totally be succeeding at being Reviewer #1. My point was that this is not a serious academic proposal. ;) – joran Oct 7 at 22:26
  • The paper you have cited seems to address the question of whether certain utterances involving pronouns are acceptable as English utterances devoid of social context and irrespective of social implications, just like ‘you're a CoC-sucking queer and you should die’ is acceptable as an English utterance but not very nice to say to me. The question StrongBad asked seemed to be of whether certain social scenarios involving pronouns are acceptable as interactions in the social context. – Squeamish Ossifrage Oct 8 at 5:01
  • @SqueamishOssifrage That was the research question they addressed, but review the introduction again. They contextualized their work against the background of the social context and cite work that serves as a good jumping off point for people wanting to engage with the literature. – rjzii Oct 8 at 13:53
11

Here's a simple take (which, if I gather correctly, was what Monica got fired but hey I can't be fired): this is a Q&A site which doesn't need pronouns. The only time I feel I need to refer to a person is when I want to specify which answer (or comment) I am reacting to and then I can say "while the answer by @chx(link) is correct, it missed a few points..." and there we go. This entire issue can be sidestepped this easily.

To ratchet it up, not much would be lost if we were to remove the username and profile pic from the answers (which "community wiki" actually does) but keep the karma and badges as a sort of "quality stamp" and perhaps link to the user profile page so that an interesting answer can be followed to other answers.

  • 1
    This attitude works for the most technical sites such as Stack Overflow and Super User, but generates friction on the less technical sites (IPS comes to mind). – Renan Oct 8 at 1:43
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    I dunno, my experience is with travel. – chx Oct 8 at 2:00
  • Re "not much would be lost if we were to remove the username and profile pic from the answers": Indeed. It could be conditional, e.g. depending on the age of the post (e.g. authorship would be deemphasised after one month) and/or a user preference. – Peter Mortensen Oct 8 at 2:09
8

I go by the pronoun ‘they’. Here's the gist of how it works:

HE-MAN: “Hey I'm actually going by They-Man these days”  SKELETOR: “oh cool thanks for letting me know”

Pronouns serve a function similar to names and titles; they are personal like names, and they carry social associations with them like titles. Let's see how these can all be used disrespectfully:

  • If I tell you my name is ‘Iñigo Montoya’ and you make a habit of calling me ‘that brat I taught a lesson to all those years ago’, that's not cool.

  • If you tell me your pronoun is ‘he’ and I make a habit of calling you ‘she’, that's not cool. By doing that I may be verbally emasculating you and treating you as an effeminate ‘sissy boy’ or implying some other negative connotations about feminine gender roles—which by your pronoun you are clearly not subscribing to.

    Conversely, if you're a ‘she’ and I call you ‘he’, I may be verbally suggesting you're too ‘bossy’ or gruff or emotionally incompetent or any of various other negative connotations about masculine gender roles.

    Why negative connotations and not positive connotations? If I'm deliberately using the pronoun you asked people not to use, it's not because I'm demonstrating respect for you.

  • If I'm an attorney in a U.S. court of law, and I keep addressing Judge Amy Berman Jackson by saying ‘But Amy, dude, my client is innocent!’ instead of ‘Your Honor, my client is innocent!’, she's not going to be impressed. She'll be even less impressed if she pokes her head into another courtroom and sees you addressing the judges who present as male with ‘Your Honor’.

    In fact, while not technically wrong in a broader sense, it is even disrespectful to address her as ‘Judge’ instead of ‘Your Honor’ in U.S. federal court, and this can be exploited to send judges into fits of apoplexy.

  • If you go out of your way to categorically object to using pronouns for a certain class of people because you think the way they present themselves in society doesn't match what you think their chromosomes or genitalia are, then:

    1. That's really weird, dude. We're on a forum of pseudonymous strangers on the internet and you're worried about my DNA makeup or thinking about my genitals every time you talk about me?

      (FOR THE RECORD: As a vulture, I have a cloaca.)

    2. That's not cool.

  • If you go out of your way to invent a grammatical rule prohibiting singular ‘they’ (but invariably still allowing singular ‘you’) despite seven centuries of consistent use of the word for singular and plural antecedents since it was introduced into the language—and if you do that just so you can refuse to use my pronoun when referring to me, I have to wonder: wat?

    • I'm also really tired of that debate no matter how many times you've shared a good smirk among your cis friends over a cocktail about your superior command of English prescriptivism to shut down those social justice warriors trying to regulate your use of language…which you're going do by inventing grammatical rules to regulate our use of language.

I get that English may not be your first language and you may make mistakes with English pronouns. That's cool; I'm happy to help you learn, because I'm here on a Q&A site to exchange ideas and communicate—I'm not here to trip you up. I understand it's different in every language;* it's no big deal if you slip up with English—I might make gaffes in other languages too.

I get that you may not know my pronoun when all you see is my name Squeamish Ossifrage. That's cool; I'm happy to let you know, and it's no big deal if you slip up without knowing.

That said, I don't think it's helpful to litigate in advance what the answer to every abstracted scenario is going to be, and I don't think it would be helpful to enshrine that pre-litigation in a code of conduct. You're giving the impression to everyone I may have to deal with now that there's a complicated system of arbitrary rules they will have to memorize and follow (which, in a certain sense, is true anyway, because that's the nature of human interaction, but this isn't making it easier for anyone). I don't know what the updated code of conduct will say, but I hope it doesn't look like your list of abstracted scenarios together with rulings by the court of meta.se opinion.


* Some languages like Old English have grammatical gender that carries very little in the way of social implications, with a neuter word wif for woman, a feminine word wiht for any creature including a person, and a masculine word mann for person of any sex or social role. Some languages like Thai have what are to English speakers—and even to European languages like French and Spanish—very complicated systems of formality and familiarity that make pronoun avoidance obligatory in certain scenarios for tactful conversation. Some languages distinguish pronouns by spatial position instead of social role.

  • 7
    This might be the first time I've ever downvoted a post with a good The Princess Bride reference; yet I have done so because it conflates the issuess. Grammar, forms of address, and meaning are not all the same thing. For example your scenario with a judge is off because calling a presiding lawful judge "your honor is one thing", calling any random dude in the room who wishes to be address that way is different and something that cannot be mandated the same way. – Caleb Oct 8 at 10:04
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    For another example, I will not refer to unordained lay pastors as "Reverend", I reserve that usage for ordained office-bearers even if they may self identify with that title. I'll be respectful in my address and find some other way to refer to them that acknowledges the honor deserved by their service, lay or otherwise, but I will not validate their use of "Reverend" without ordination. I'll call them "Pastor X" or Sir or whatever else they like and fit the situation. – Caleb Oct 8 at 10:05
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    This is such a good summary of how this works I'll probably refer to it in other contexts XD @Caleb I agree that the case of honorific titles works a little differently from pronouns but it was clearly given as an example to draw comparison between how they work, hence "Pronouns serve a function similar to names and titles". "Similar", not "same". That you would downvote the rest of this post supposedly on that basis alone shows your hand. – Iguananaut Oct 8 at 13:12
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    @Caleb It is certainly true that titles and pronouns are not the same thing; can you quote the part of my post where I claim otherwise? I'm explaining how different things serve similar social functions by analogies that relate the similarities. There are differences: there's no office that assigns pronouns, so you and I don't have to worry about any corresponding aspect of Reverend vs. Pastor for pronouns—I will happily use the pronoun you tell me is yours, and you can happily use the pronoun I tell you is mine, without anyone having to check ordination certificates! – Squeamish Ossifrage Oct 8 at 13:37
  • @Rad80 That's not for me to decide; that's for them to decide. Since they said ‘They-Man’, who am I to second-guess the name and pronoun? But I bet They-Man is really, really tired of hearing that question. You'll note that even their GREATEST ENEMY IN THE UNIVERSE, the EVIL VILLAIN SKELETOR, who has lots of reason to hate them, was willing to accept this without argument, because really, does it serve anyone's purpose to be a jerk about it when the universe is on the line? – Squeamish Ossifrage Oct 8 at 14:14
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    @Caleb hundreds of years ago, English was vastly different. The language is constantly evolving, and adapting to that is, while hard, necessary. Changing meaning of "they" is one of the newer changes, but go back a few <insert time unit here>, you will find someone somewhere against some new change. You might not like it, but it still changed, even in dictionaries. If it "doesn't sound right", use it and get used to it, because you're gonna see it a lot whether you personally use it or not. – Zoe the transgirl Oct 8 at 14:41
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    All that's really new in recent decades is the widespread use of ‘they’ for a specific singular antecedent of known nonbinary gender. The word itself has been consistently attested for nonspecific singular antecedents since the 14th century (when English was barely recognizable to us as such!), and if you're telling a story today about a specific someone whose gender you don't want to reveal, ‘they’ is the pronoun for that. – Squeamish Ossifrage Oct 8 at 14:47
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    @Zoethetransgirl This isn't about language changing (as for example KJV era 'kill' meant specifically 'murder', not any 'manslaughter'). I personally have no objection to using 'they' in the singular or when I don't know or wish not to highlight gender (it is after all a grammatical common-neuter). What I won't do is call a pear 'apple' — the language hasn't changed so that apple means pear. Any attempt to force me to would be to deliberately conflate the meaning as if a pear was an apple, which it is not. I cannot "happily" use words that mean something different than they currently mean. – Caleb Oct 8 at 15:16
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    @Caleb Can you spell out for me what you think I am that you think ‘they’ doesn't mean? – Squeamish Ossifrage Oct 8 at 15:19
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    @Caleb It's still widely regarded as a singular even for individuals and by choice. It has adapted that meaning, so yes, it is about the language changing. We're not talking about calling pears apples here, we're talking about basic respect towards other people. – Zoe the transgirl Oct 8 at 15:21
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    SqueamishOssifrage and @Zoethetransgirl I'm not the one with an objection to using 'they'! That was Monica's particular concern, not mine. Mine is with coerced speech. You're (plural) missing my point that words are used to convey meaning and no matter what the hearer wants to hear the speaker should not be coerced into saying something they think means something else. In some contexts not letting them speak their mind is okay, but in no context is it okay to demand they utter words whose meaning they disagree with. – Caleb Oct 8 at 15:37
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    @Caleb I don't know what the story with Monica is. There are about eighteen volumes of shadows cast on Plato's cave from the saga of Monica now, and I don't have the time to read them all. You started here by disagreeing with something in this post, which doesn't propose a CoC rule and doesn't address anything in the still-secret CoC update and doesn't involve Monica; it is only about how abuse of pronouns—or constant reminders of quibbling over rules invented to confine people to social roles—can be disrespectful. If Monica has a thought, she can raise it. What's your disagreement? – Squeamish Ossifrage Oct 8 at 15:48
  • @Caleb alright, let's play; if you claim people disagree, what about people who disagree with names? Do you not want to "force people to use it"? What if aside a username you disagree with, there's a pronoun you disagree with, there's no way to use second person pronouns, and there's no alternative way to talk to mention that person - what do you do then? To a certain degree, some disagreements just need to be put down for the sake of having working communication. Also, you can disagree all you want, but that doesn't prevent you from accepting. You can accept that someone is different without – Zoe the transgirl Oct 8 at 16:04
  • agreeing with them, or wanting to be just like them. To draw a parallel that directly touches your believes, I strongly disagree with Christianity for more reasons than I can list, but that doesn't mean I'm incapable of accepting that people believe in it. Disagreeing doesn't have to excude acceptance and respect. – Zoe the transgirl Oct 8 at 16:10
  • (FYI, I am not happy about what I do know of how SE.inc handled pretty much everything involved in the CoC update and Monica and community response, and I have issues with ham-fisted CoC enforcement, and I'm happy to share solidarity over all that; see, e.g., meta.stackexchange.com/a/334573. But I didn't write this post or these comments to litigate SE.inc's actions—I wrote them to answer the question StrongBad asked about offensive use of pronouns.) – Squeamish Ossifrage Oct 8 at 16:13
5

It seems straightforward to use the singular they as the preliminary choice for every user here.

If using the singular they as the preliminary choice, then I think it is important that it is not used as the preliminary choice for only some people (thereby treating them differently to others).

Since Stack Exchange is focused on content rather than authors I think making a non-binary preliminary choice is the least likely way to cause offence. In the event that preliminary choice does offend someone, then I am happy to try and adjust my writing for that person once they let me know that they would like me to do so.

  • 3
    Please, don't call me as "they". – Victor Stafusa Oct 8 at 19:47
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    @VictorStafusa OK, you've asked that pronoun not be used for you (although it would be interesting to know why you find an English term that has such a long history distasteful) and in the event I interact with you again I will attempt to remember -- and know you will forgive/remind me if I forget. I prefer the pronoun they and have done so for 40 years -- longer I suspect than some (many?) of the people participating here been alive. -- and look forward to you respecting my preference. – ColeValleyGirl Oct 9 at 12:28
  • PolyGeo, (as you're currently a moderator on one of the sites I frequent) my preference is very long-standing, but in the context of my interactions on that site largely irrelevant so has never had to be explained. – ColeValleyGirl Oct 9 at 12:33
  • PolyGeo, I disagree that the singular they can be applied to everyone with equal validity. Yes, it's a sensible preliminary choice if you're talking about an abstract person (if somebody does y, they may find z) or when somebody's gender identity is not relevant (see Miller, Casey, and Kate Swift. The Handbook of Nonsexist Writing: For writers, editors and speakers (2nd ed.). New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 1980); or when interacting with somebody whose chosen pronouns you don't know and who has not yet had the opportunity to inform you. 1/... – ColeValleyGirl Oct 9 at 12:43
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    I'll note that it isn't safe to assume somebody's chosen pronouns from their username -- my username includes the word 'Girl' but I chose 'they/their' not 'she/her', as an unreconstructed 80s feminist. The shape of my bits is only relevant to my doctors and my intimate partners; and my gender identity and how I present it to the world outside my head is my choice entirely -- anyone who takes issue with that can go whistle. For those who have a religious worldview that only encompasses a male/female binary, I'll ask you : how do you know where on that spectrum I was assigned at birth? 2/... – ColeValleyGirl Oct 9 at 12:50
  • Pronouns are not used without cost (unless you're in the safe majority who have never had to deal with the fallout). Denying somebody their chosen pronoun can cause real pain. In my own family, my sibling's partner transitioned; his birth family have refused to refer to him other than using his (gender-neutral) name, or as 'they' -- refusing to recognize him as a man. Using 'they' when somebody has told you their choice is 'he'; or using 'she' when somebody has told you their choice is 'they' are both hurtful, as they prioritise your preferences about somebody else's feelings. – ColeValleyGirl Oct 9 at 12:57
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    @ColeValleyGirl I agree with all your comments here. It was a few days after I became a Genealogy mod that I learned the usefulness of the singular they from another mod there. I may not have expressed myself well enough but if asked to use other than singular they for a particular person by that person I would certainly do my best to try and remember to do so. That situation has not previously cropped up for me in 5 or so years moderating two sites and about 8 years using multiple sites but I acknowledge now that VictorStafusa does not wish to be referred to as they. – PolyGeo Oct 9 at 23:14
0

Trying not to step too much inside controversy, I'll try to answer from my humble self-identifying gay male standpoint.

A thing to understand the communication as it happens in SE, is that is has nothing to do with verbal exchanges you could have in a day to day basis:

  1. Communication happens mostly with strangers
  2. Communication is written, hence calculated
  3. You usually don't have access to visual or social cues regarding gender and social circle.

Within this context, whenever you use a pronoun, you always deliberately do so, so making sure it is accepted by the person you designate by the pronoun should be your burden. If context is such that you are assumed to know what this user prefers, then any mistake can be considered a deliberate offense.

This may sound harsh and difficult to comply, and mistakes could happen, but the grounding for such consideration is that LGBTQ+ community (as many others) have a long, long story of language being weaponized against them, where deliberate offense with plausible deniability are much more the rule than the exception.

So the answer to

which, if any, of the following scenarios would be likely to offend or alienate people based on gender (and why)

Is that, all of these misusages can be offensive to different degrees. Which is why some people would favor avoiding pronouns.

(Note that proper moderation actions are a different story I'm incompetent with, and even a warning could be too harsh for a simple mistake, but enforcing it as a general rule would promote users to educate each other to avoid mistakes.)

  • 6
    This might be a fair assumption for native English writers, but for non-native writers it is a very considerable bar for them to overcome. It may or may not surprise you how many English as a Second Language courses use "he" as the gender neutral pronoun still. – rjzii Oct 7 at 23:27
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    @rjzii As a non-native writer I can relate to that, or at least I can relate to doing that mistake a lot in the past (in French, the default pronoun is male) but I certainly would keep doing that and would keep being offensive if I hadn't been repeatedly corrected and educated. I'm not sure this should be a CoC thing with warnings and bans which is why I stay silent on proper case management, but I'm affirmative about what moderation should give itself as a goal. – Arthur Havlicek Oct 7 at 23:52
-2

It was suggested in the comments that I should take a stab at answering my own question.

1) A long time user states in her profile that her preferred pronoun is "she". A new user leaves a comment using "he".

I think that this might be unlikely to offend since it is a one-off by someone who likely does not know where to look for a user's pronouns. Regardless of if it is likely to offend, it cannot be considered a violation of the CoC resulting in a warning/suspension because it seems like an honest mistake not intended to be not-nice.

2) A long time user states in her profile that her preferred pronoun is "she". Another long time user repeatedly refers to this user as "he" even after being repeatedly corrected.

4) A long time user states in zir profile that zir preferred pronoun is "ze". Another long time user repeatedly refers to this user as "he" even after being repeatedly corrected.

8) A long time user states in their profile that their preferred pronoun is "they". Another long time user repeatedly refers to this user as "he" even after being repeatedly corrected.

I think these are likely to offend as it happens repeatedly. I also think it should be considered a violation of the CoC because even if they are not intending to hurt the user, they are and they have been "warned".

3) A long time user states in her profile that her preferred pronoun is "she". Another long time user (userB) refers to this user as "he" and upon being corrected, this user apologizes and says that as a non-native speaker, pronouns cause him difficulty.

5) A long time user states in zir profile that zir preferred pronoun is "ze". Another long time user (userB) refers to this user as "he" and upon being corrected, userbB claims "ze" is incorrect according to his religious beliefs and that he (userB) will not use it, but to avoid misgendering users he will only use user names from now on for all users regardless of preferred pronouns.

6) A long time user states in zir profile that zir preferred pronoun is "ze". Another long time user (userB) refers to this user as "he" and upon being corrected, userB claims "ze" is incorrect according to his religious beliefs and that he (userB) will not use it, but to avoid misgendering users with a preferred pronoun of "ze", he will only use user names for users with a preferred pronoun of "ze".

7) A long time user states in zir profile that zir preferred pronoun is "ze". Another long time user (userB) refers to this user as "he" and upon being corrected userB claims "ze" is incorrect according to his religious beliefs and that he (userB) will not use it, but to avoid misgendering users with a preferred pronoun of "ze", he will disengage and not respond to comments or provide answers to users with a preferred pronoun of "ze".

9) A long time user states in their profile that their preferred pronoun is "they". Another long time user (userB) refers to this user as "he" and upon being corrected userB claims the singular they is not grammatically correct and that he (userB) will not use it, but to avoid misgendering users with a preferred pronoun of "they", he will only use user names for users with a preferred pronoun of "they".

10) A long time user states in their profile that their preferred pronoun is "they". Another long time user (userB) refers to this user as "he" and upon being corrected userB claims the singular they is not grammatically correct and that he (userB) will not use it, but to avoid misgendering users with a preferred pronoun of "they", he will disengage and not respond to comments or provide answers to users with a preferred pronoun of "they".

I think these are likely to offend since userB is trying to justify why they cannot treat/consider userA to be like everyone else. I have no idea if they should be considered a violation of the CoC. UserB is not trying to be not-nice and is working to find a compromise.

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    I'm curious, if you feel that they the last six "are likely to offend", and presumably this is on the basis of gender, wouldn't that imply that they are a CoC violation given that the CoC "No bigotry" section says "We don’t tolerate any language likely to offend or alienate people based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion"? – CB Bailey Oct 7 at 21:49
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    One question would be what "repeatedly corrected" means. A user doesn't always pay attention to the username of the person they are replying to (because they are focusing on the content), and with so many users across dozens of Stack Exchange sites, it's quite easy to simply lose track of who one has interacted with. – Thunderforge Oct 7 at 21:49
  • @Thunderforge I would say that if every time (N > 1) userB post a comment with the wrong pronoun for userA and a response is left (from userA, mods, and/or other users) that userB used the wrong pronoun, that would be repeatedly corrected. But point taken, maybe it is not a violation of the CoC. See I really have no idea what is and isn't allowed and I have been moderating for years. Maybe somebody else will be able to clarify it for me. – StrongBad Oct 7 at 21:54
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    Perhaps you could explain how simply disengaging from any thread or comment pings, regardless of the reason, would ever be considered a violation of a web platform code of conduct. – charlietfl Oct 7 at 22:13
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    @charlietfl well if I was a shop and I put up a sign that said "I don't serve Blacks/Gays/Immigrants/etc", I think that would qualify as not-nice. – StrongBad Oct 7 at 22:17
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    Sure but businesses are bound by different laws than people having web discussions. I am a prolific commenter on SO and although I've never encountered any of the scenarios mentioned find myself needing to disengage routinely for various reasons. Can't get my head wrapped around the concept that I can not disengage with anyone at will. Not saying that in a discriminatory vein....just stating what I feel is a right. – charlietfl Oct 7 at 22:21
  • @charlietfl StrongBad didn't make the rule about disengaging, so I don't think he's well-equipped to answer your question. – Houseman Oct 7 at 22:27
  • Regarding (8), for me it was a problem, even though it wasn't repeated. – TempGuest Oct 8 at 1:54
  • Does this mean posters are going to be responsible for clicking through to a profile? I suggest a better path forward would be for users to add a sig, because the former ain't gonna happen. – Scott Seidman Oct 8 at 2:48

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