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According to the new CoC:

Q9: Do I have to use pronouns I’m unfamiliar or uncomfortable with (e.g., neopronouns like xe, zir, ne... )?

Yes, if those are stated by the individual.

Q10: What if I believe it is grammatically incorrect to use some pronouns (e.g. they/them to refer to a single person)?

If they are the pronouns stated by the individual, you must respect that and use them. Grammar concerns do not override a person’s right to self identify.

Q11: If I’m uncomfortable with a particular pronoun, can I just avoid using it?

We are asking everyone to use all stated pronouns as you would naturally write. Explicitly avoiding using someone’s pronouns because you are uncomfortable is a way of refusing to recognise their identity and is a violation of the Code of Conduct.

Q12: Does this mean I’m required to use pronouns when I normally wouldn’t?

We are asking everyone to use all stated pronouns as you would naturally write. You are not required to insert pronouns where you otherwise would not.

I've kept this in mind since I joined the site (or at the very least, I have made every attempt to), and I have been referring to users in the second (you) and third person (they/them) to avoid having to remember pronouns, change how I speak to members of the community and most importantly in order to include all members in my answers.

I would like to know how to refer to members of the SE network in neutral terms, because right now it seems like I'll be forced to only include the pronouns of the original poster of a question in my answer, rather than try to embrace the entire community in my answers and comments (by using neutral terms for everyone)

Essentially:

Could my attempt to include the community see me get reported for violating the CoC?

I believe this is the very same question that got a moderator fired, and caused a backlash that the community is still reeling from.

By the terms used in the CoC, it seems like you are compelling us to divide the community into categories rather than use this Q&A site with the mindset that any single person could be reading our answers, so we should adjust our language to suit a more generalised audience.

Also when looking at violations (and violators), how are we going to differentiate between people who have autism, non-native English speakers, those with a religious reason1 (who are trying to follow the same methodology that I am) and those who are being malicious in their intentions?

1. I know people are going to state "religious reasons aren't reasons to discriminate", but (if interpreted as written) this part of the CoC could be likened to force feeding bacon to a devout Muslim


Edit

This is a question that has been repeatedly asked by the community, with no visible answer, which is why I've posted this away from the main CoC thread, and why I believe it should be answered separately. A member of the community asking this exact question can now search for this question, and find the answers below. As such I do not believe it warrants being marked as a duplicate


Further edit

This answer pertains to the CoC when it was being constructed by the SE staff in (supposed) collaboration with the moderator community, whereby asking similar questions to mine resulted in the firing of that moderator.

This is a controversial subject, and I request that we be mindful in the comments when discussing this, because it does have very real consequences for both the lavender community and the wider SE community

This question is about how to include the whole SE network without "othering" any part of the community as a whole.

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    Well, I believe it's time to address the core problems and not focussing about minority concerns. – πάντα ῥεῖ Oct 11 at 11:25
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    @πάνταῥεῖ 1) that's unrelated to this question 2) why not both? – Ave Oct 11 at 11:26
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    @Ave That's why I posted this statement as a comment, and not as an answer. And it's definitely related. – πάντα ῥεῖ Oct 11 at 11:28
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    @πάνταῥεῖ I've seen you a few times saying directly that things which don't matter to you don't matter at all, and that minority groups are unimportant. Please stop saying that. You're wrong. – TRiG Oct 11 at 12:03
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    @TRiG I never said that minority groups are unimportant, you must have been mistaken me. What I am saying is, that minority group concerns are irrelevant regarding quality of content posted here (especially regarding technical problems). – πάντα ῥεῖ Oct 11 at 12:06
  • @πάνταῥεῖ By that I understand you to mean that people's personal pronouns are by and large, unimportant in relation to the rest of the content of that answer, which is what "quality of the content posted here" pertains to? Rather than minority group concerns being "irrelevant" – Kyle Fairns Oct 11 at 12:09
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    @KyleFairns Mostly yes. There might be exceptions at sites like Interpersonal Skills or The Workspace. – πάντα ῥεῖ Oct 11 at 12:13
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    Also, how is this not a duplicate of meta.stackexchange.com/questions/334203/… – Kate Gregory Oct 11 at 12:13
  • Regarding the grammatical concerns, I'm pretty sure singular they still follows the rules if we're dealing with the English Language. If you are unaware of one's gender don't you still refer to who they ARE, what they HAVE done etc. If a man or woman came to me with that concern, in particular, I'd just tell THEM, that THEY are confused. I would default to their preferred they had a problem with the neutral pronouns however. – dalevross Oct 18 at 0:07
12

It should always be OK to refer to a user by username.

It is “stated by the individual”, after all. No bad faith should be assumed in “avoiding using someone’s pronouns”.

  • 2
    I think this may be the way to go, in my opinion, it's probably the option that would cause the least friction. The point is, we don't know any users gender, if a user has had continuous issues with misgendering in real life, we don't want that environment extended into a Q&A site. The polite thing to do here is to use the username to address a member of the community until we know more about their identity. – Kyle Fairns Oct 18 at 0:12
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    Repeatedly and conspicuously using someone's username when using a pronoun would be more natural can be, and has been, used to show a trans or non-binary user "Hey, I won't use the pronoun you told me, because I don't think you really are your gender". This is a problem. – Leopold says Reinstate Monica Oct 18 at 5:35
  • @JJJ Yes, it has happened in chat. I don't know if it has happened on the main sites. You may or may not be right that it wouldn't happen by chance, but it does happen deliberately. Many people really do go out of their way to show trans users "You want me to see you as a woman? Well, I ain't gonna!". – Leopold says Reinstate Monica Oct 18 at 19:27
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I'd go even further than Jesse Steele and suggest making it 100% safe to use they, regardles what other pronouns someone requests.

There should be a way to always be in line with the CoC without giving your post special attention to use all the pronouns correctly. So Q9 should be:

Q9: Do I have to use pronouns I’m unfamiliar or uncomfortable with (e.g., neopronouns like xe, zir, ne... )?

Yes, if those are stated by the individual.

Using they is always safe, even if requested otherwise.

In my opinion, it is counterintuitive that it's even possible to ban neutral pronouns. If they is not allowed to be used in all situations then it is obviously not neutral.

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    I disagree with "using they is always safe. Even if requested otherwise.". If user asks otherwise, then don't use it. Simple enough. – Ave Oct 11 at 12:40
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    @Ave this means you agree with me that they is not neutral after all? It if was, it couldn't offend anyone, no matter what. – Christine H. Richards Oct 11 at 12:42
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    Not my point, you're putting words into my mouth. "They/them" is neutral, however if you use they/them for me after I tell you in context that I prefer she/her then you're intentionally ignoring my identity, likely with malice. – Ave Oct 11 at 12:54
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    And before you say "that will never happen!", do know that I've been (and similarly many others have been) misgendered intentionally with they/them or he/him, to make it clear to us that our identity is not respected. – Ave Oct 11 at 12:55
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    @Ave This is my concern. What substitute can we use to include all potential members of the SE community, if we're not allowing the use of the (widely accepted) neutral third person pronoun of "they"? The questions and answers here are for the wider community, and while a question may be asked by a user, the answers are resources for the entire community to use, so I want to attempt to avoid alienating as many people as possible in my answers – Kyle Fairns Oct 11 at 12:55
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    @KyleFairns Read the CoC, they/them is what you should default to unless someone tells you to use a different pronoun. – Ave Oct 11 at 12:56
  • @Ave My point is that I would still like to answer a question in terms of the community rather than in terms of the individual who asked a question, as there will be more people (of different genders) reading my answer, and I want to include them too. My use of "they/them" is simply to refer to the wider community, and not (as it may be perceived) to minimise a persons identity – Kyle Fairns Oct 11 at 12:58
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    @Ave let me give you another example. I come from a country where there is a difference whether you speak to someone directly by you or something similar to mr x. When I first met my boyfriends parents, they told me to use the you but I couldn't. It's such a strong habit for me that out of respect I am not able to say you to them so I always say mr/mrs X - and guess what - they don't mind it at all. They don't flag or exclude me. They know it works that way in the other language that is my native one so they respect my strong habit that I might in their eyes be over-polite. – Christine H. Richards Oct 11 at 12:58
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    @ChristineH.Richards this policy, as far as I understand, only really concerns malice. If you talk with someone and they say that they're okay with you referring to them in a specific way, you can use it. – Ave Oct 11 at 13:01
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    @KyleFairns I don't really think that I've seen many answers that required using third person pronouns in questions that weren't referring to others' answers ("As Ashley said on her answer [...]" etc). Similarly, comments are less about community and more about individuals (in most cases, at laest), and they have a lot more uses of third party pronouns, and in that case I think you'd agree that using they/them with everyone would be rude. – Ave Oct 11 at 13:04
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    @Ave, which is where I start using second person pronouns instead, to avoid misgendering at all. Similarly to what Christine said in their comment, people don't usually notice or mind me taking the effort to refer to everyone this way. While I understand your point that comments sections are less about community and more about individuals, I also don't see how attempts to refer to everyone equally, in the third person (they/them) or second person (you) could be perceived to be rude or discriminatory – Kyle Fairns Oct 11 at 13:16
  • I don't like the idea of enforcing singular they. It harms plural they. There is often something going on between an individual and a group (peers, a company, some others) and it is handy to have the plural they referring to the group and some other singular pronoun for the individual. – jknappen - Reinstate Monica Oct 17 at 23:22
  • People who know me know that I sometimes use Spivak pronouns (E, Em, Eir, Eirs, Eirself) for generic persons. – jknappen - Reinstate Monica Oct 17 at 23:23
3

"They" solves a security issue and should be the standard.

With the many malicious Internet users and bots constantly mining our information, using any kind of personal third person pronoun other than "they" exposes more information about the user that can be collected and aggregated.

So, on any site, StackExchange or otherwise, it would be wisest to formalize the vernacular habit of using "they". While this would make it less likely to offend people for a wide array of reasons, that is not the main point. The main point here is that the "security" question should be the greater question, which would then make the rest of this non sequitur.

StackExchange has the potential to be a leader in this by setting "they" as the main and preferred standard for third person pronouns in discussion on the Internet.

  • 4
    How is this any different then what is already in the CoC, albeit with a different reasoning. And if someone deliberately asks you to use a certain pronoun, they implicitly forfeit a certain level of privacy. That should be everyone's personal call to make. – Luuklag Oct 11 at 12:04
  • The difference is in allowed word count. One is singular, the other is potentially infinite. There are many personal calls to make with many choices banned on many sites; that wouldn't be a first. – Jesse Steele Oct 11 at 12:06
  • So are you suggesting to ban other pronouns such as he and she? – Yuval Filmus Oct 11 at 12:08
  • Yes, it is a personal privacy issue. Frankly, I'd be in favor of an AI designed to replace all words to "they" just so I don't make some accident. – Jesse Steele Oct 11 at 12:09
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    @JesseSteele that’ll lead to incoherent sentences without a “smart” enough AI to be able to tell when it’s using too many “they”’s. A person could be referring to a member of a team and the team itself in the same sentence, and both being switched to “they” could lead to subtle confusion in terms of which is the subject of the sentence: i.e. “They won and they scored a goal in the last minute” – Kyle Fairns Oct 11 at 12:35
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    @KyleFairns Welcome to SE. Yes, that is one caveat, but note that the same problem with pronouns occurs elsewhere, such as "John saw Jim heard Jerry", not grammatically incorrect for "He saw him and heard him". Confusing, but this is an existing problem. And, that is a question for the ELU. Thanks for this question, I upvoted. – Jesse Steele Oct 11 at 12:55
  • Wouldn't that kind of defeat the purpose of the whole move? If we use they for everything we might as well use he for everything (shorter). In the end it's just combination of letters, the meaning is what we interpret from them. – Trilarion Oct 12 at 9:37
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    I'm not understanding how this is a "security issue." After all, you appear to be contributing under your own name, which is also information that is available to bots. If an individual user does not want to make this information public, that's absolutely fine; everyone here has the option of choosing a non-gendered username and to avoid otherwise stating it, which is enough to encourage people to use the singular "they" to refer to them. Many users do that; others do not. Don't assume everyone wants to be called "they" or claim that security is a reason to not respect people's wishes. – Zach Lipton Oct 13 at 5:09
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    @ZachLipton You have many good points, though separate. The biggest point I'll address is that the security issue supposedly has precedent over what you or I "want". Also, the goal is merely one small step for social media security, one less thing to be a problem. No method needs to solve everything, but from many great responses like yours, (which, like all others, ends with giving priority to our preferences rather than security) I wondered that this security question might not even be a real problem: meta.stackexchange.com/a/335253/405046 Thanks, upvoting your comment. – Jesse Steele Oct 13 at 7:18
2

As far as I can tell, nobody is objecting to the use of plural "they". If you're really addressing the members of the community collectively, write in the plural, use "they", and you won't have problems.

  • By that I was meaning the singular use of they. It's of my opinion that anyone could be reading through the questions, answers and comments on this site, and I do my best to ensure that I also take into consideration those who are thinking "I agree with that" when I respond to a comment. I'll usually refer to other users as "they/them", or use "you" in regard to the user that I am directly responding to, in a 4th wall break style inclusion of the person that eventually will read it, if that makes any sense? – Kyle Fairns Oct 17 at 21:13
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    It sounds weird, and I'm sorry. I should probably note that I've been diagnosed with asperger's syndrome, and I overthink things like this on a daily basis – Kyle Fairns Oct 17 at 21:27
1

Be a bit more specific, without causing offense. A lot has been said about the use of they, as it's somewhat of a neutral word to refer to people.

Luckily, being human isn't the only thing we have in common. We are all community members, most of us are users and some are moderators. For that reason, it seems sensible to use users or even (community) members as neutral words.


This of course comes straight from the playbook of many Dutch (semi)public services. In the trains people are no longer referred to as dames en heren (ladies and gentlemen) but as reizigers (travelers). Local municipalities and others sending unaddressed mail use bewoner (residents / occupants). All in all, this seems to work fairly well, nobody is offended and you don't have to think about which pronoun to use.

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    users is not a pronoun – user148287 Oct 17 at 17:48

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