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The recent Code of Conduct change and, more specifically, the associated FAQ (now deleted; Wayback Machine copy here) have not gone down well. (For the avoidance of doubt, linking to those does not constitute endorsement.)

So of course I wonder whether any policies on this contentious issue would be more broadly acceptable to the community while still addressing the issues the revised CoC and the FAQ were intended to address. (If not, then perhaps SE management have done the best they can and the problem is just that people like to yell at one another about contentious things.)

My guess is that this is possible, and this is an attempt to test that guess by making a very concrete proposal and seeing what the reaction is. Perhaps it will get downvoted to oblivion and I will have learned a valuable lesson.

I would be glad to receive any constructive feedback, especially from some particular groups of people:

  • Trans people, especially non-binary people: if this were the policy, and if it were consistently and correctly applied, would you feel safe here?
  • People concerned by the "compelled speech" aspects of the CoC and its associated FAQ: is this sufficiently non-constraining?
  • Moderators: does this seem like something you could apply in good conscience?

And, if it turns out that this meets with general approval:

  • Representatives of Stack Exchange: does this (or perhaps some version of it modified to tone down the informality of its language a bit) do what you needed the CoC and FAQ to do, and, if not, how does it fail?

The central principle I have tried to apply is that all of this is a practical outworking of the already-existing, fully general requirement to Be Nice. More broadly, I have tried to find principles that apply universally and apply them here.

What are we trying to achieve?

I take it that Stack Exchange Inc. wants (at least) the following things:

  • To have a welcoming environment where no one feels as if they're fair game for rude and marginalizing language.
  • Not to do things that result in a large fraction of the community, or of particular parts of the community (e.g., moderators), feeling alienated.

I take it that trans people, and others who may use less-common pronouns, want (at least) the following things:

  • To be treated with the same respect as everyone else gets.
  • To have their often particularly difficult circumstances understood sympathetically.

I take it that most participants here want (at least) the following things:

  • To be allowed to say what they want to, so far as that's consistent with the overall goals of the place. (Which include making Stack Exchange sites friendly and welcoming places.)
  • To have Stack Exchange sites function effectively for their core function of Q&A.

I think the proposals here achieve all of those things.

Cynically minded people have attributed a number of other, less respectable-sounding, goals to various groups of participants here. I have largely ignored these.


Proposed CoC language

Actually, I think the CoC itself is fine as is; it's the elaboration in the FAQ to which some people object. The relevant bits of the CoC are these:

Be inclusive and respectful [...] Prefer gender-neutral language when uncertain.

and

No bigotry [...] Use stated pronouns (where known).

Some readers might object that there are reasons other than bigotry for objecting to someone's pronouns, and that this looks too much like a requirement not to avoid the pronoun issue entirely by wording things so as not to need pronouns; both of these concerns are addressed in the FAQs below.

Proposed FAQs

Q1. What's this business about "stated pronouns"?
A. It's rude to refer to a man as "she" or a woman as "he". Some people don't consider themselves either male or female and might, for instance, ask to be referred to as "they". We're asking that when someone indicates what pronouns should be used to refer to them, you do as they ask.

Q2. Is this about transgender people?
A. It's about anyone who expresses a preference about what pronouns you use for them. Sometimes they will do this because they're trans, but it might also be because they're called Sam and people keep guessing wrong, or because they don't think their gender is any business of anyone here.

Q3. So if someone I think is female asks to be called "he" rather than "she" then I have to comply?
A. Yes.

Q4. What was that about being neither male nor female?
A. Some people consider themselves not to be either male or female. The usual term for such people is "non-binary". Just as you wouldn't want to be referred to by a pronoun that doesn't fit you, neither do they.

Q5. This seems like a very marginal thing to make a fuss over.
A. While it may seem marginal to you, it can be a big deal for people who have spent much of their lives being thought of, and treated, as something that feels completely wrong to them.

Q6. I sincerely and without malice disagree that transgender people are who and what they say they are. Am I still welcome on Stack Exchange sites?
A. You are, but some of the things you might want to say aren't (You might sincerely think that someone is an idiot, but you still aren't allowed to tell them so here, or refer to them as "that idiot", because it's rude and makes constructive communication harder. This is just the same).

Q7. Are you saying that it's bigotry not to use the pronouns someone asks for?
A. No. Sometimes that's a thing bigots do, which is why it's mentioned in the "No bigotry" section of the Code of Conduct, but not everyone who is uncomfortable about some people's pronouns is a bigot (Note, though, that the effect of using language in a particular way doesn't depend on whether you're a bigot or not; something you say with the purest of intentions may be just as hurtful as if a bigot says it. Our Code of Conduct is intended to avoid hurting people, not to keep bigots out).

Q8. But free choice of language is important to me. This rule impairs my freedom of speech.
A. By participating here you're agreeing to treat others with politeness. That includes not complaining that they're idiots (even if you sincerely think they are, and even if you're right). It also includes not misgendering them, however sincerely.

Q9. My religion tells me that people can't change their gender. Aren't you treating me with disrespect in the name of treating others with respect?
A. You are welcome to believe anything you like about people's gender, just as they are welcome to believe anything they like about your religion. But if you go out of your way to point out your disagreement about their gender, you aren't behaving in a way we want here — just as people who make a fuss about how wrong they think your religion is aren't behaving in a way we want here.

Q10. Am I forbidden to express my opinion about this?
A. In most contexts your opinions about gender, whatever they are, are off topic. In contexts where those opinions are actually relevant — as they might be in, say, a discussion on Philosophy.SE — you are welcome to express those opinions so long as you do so respectfully and politely. But please be aware that many things you might want to say may be extremely distressing to some readers, and try to minimize that distress.

Q11. I find it really distressing to use pronouns in a way I think is wrong. Is there really no alternative?
A. You can often avoid using pronouns altogether. It's actually pretty rare to need third-person pronouns at all on most Stack Exchange sites. But if you conspicuously avoid using pronouns for one group of people while using them normally for others, you will likely make them feel rejected and excluded. Don't do that.

Q12. So do I have to use pronouns where I normally wouldn't, just to make it clear that I'm using the ones someone has asked me to?
A. If you're writing something that naturally doesn't need pronouns, it's unlikely that anyone will be bothered by their absence. Problems only arise when a person or group feels singled out by having pronouns used for other people but not for them. If you're writing normally and naturally and it comes out pronoun-less, then that's fine.

Q13. I'm not a native speaker. Am I going to get in trouble just because my English isn't great?
A. No. Honest mistakes are fine, and everyone should understand that non-native speakers make a lot of honest mistakes.

Q14. I'm a moderator. I often have to refer to other users, I can't really choose which ones I have to refer to, and often it isn't feasible to avoid pronouns. So do I really have to use pronouns I find uncomfortable?
A. Yes, sorry. As a moderator you're a representative of Stack Exchange as well as of the community, and we at Stack Exchange have decided that using inappropriate pronouns for someone, or conspicuously avoiding using pronouns for them at all, is disrespectful. If you find that difficult, we hope you can grit your teeth and be nice to them just the same — as you would do if dealing with a user you find annoying in other ways. If you honestly can't do that, then being a moderator here isn't for you.

Q15. Does this mean that I will be in trouble if I ever get someone's pronouns wrong?
A. No. It's fine not to know what they want. It's fine to make an honest mistake. But once you know what someone wants, please act accordingly.

Q16. What if someone wants some nonstandard pronoun that I don't even know how to use?
A. Then everyone will be especially understanding if you get it wrong. Just do your best.

Q17. What if someone wants to be referred to as "the Great and Mighty One" or by an obscenity or something?
A. If something is obviously unreasonable — e.g., if they are demanding to be worshiped or asking you to use obscenities when referring to them — then you are welcome to act accordingly. Note that "it sounds silly to me" is not sufficient grounds to think something is obviously unreasonable. If you and they can't agree, seek an independent opinion from a moderator (or, if a moderator is one of the parties to the dispute, the Community Team) as you would in other cases of dispute.

Q18. If someone is non-binary, does it really matter whether I call them "ey" or "they" or "xe" or some other gender-neutral pronoun? Do I really have to handle dozens of different pronouns?
A. Many non-binary people will be OK with whatever non-binary pronoun you prefer for them — if in doubt, ask.

Q19. I'm a moderator. What should I do if I see these rules being broken?
A. If someone makes an honest mistake, you should probably point it out gently. (Or let the person in question do it, if it seems likely that they would prefer that.) But if someone knows and is refusing to comply, treat this as you would any other case where someone is being deliberately disagreeable.

Q20. I'm not a moderator. What should I do if I see these rules being broken?
A. Again, if you see an honest mistake, then you should probably point it out politely. If it looks as if there's something more than that going on, please flag what you see. A moderator or community manager will take a look.

Q21. I'm worried that I may get banned. Should I be?
A. Not if you're acting in good faith. If you go out of your way to talk to, or refer to, people in ways you know they will find upsetting, then you are likely to get the same sort of escalating warnings and suspensions as you would for willfully upsetting people in other ways.

Q22. What should I do if I don't know someone's pronouns?
A. Use gender-neutral language — use their name instead of a pronoun, use "they", or find some other way of organizing your sentence. If their username makes it seem obvious what their pronouns are, it's probably OK to go with those, but be aware that you might guess wrong and be ready to apologize and adjust if it turns out you did.

Q23. "Gender-neutral"? Does that mean like "he/she"?
A. Many people do this and it's better than just calling everyone "he", but it doesn't work for non-binary people and therefore isn't really gender-neutral. Other ways are better.

Q24. Do I have to say what my pronouns are?
A. No.

Q25. I want to let people know what my pronouns are. What should I do?
A. Put them in the "About me" section of your profile.

Q26. Isn't all this causing lots of inconvenience to everyone for the sake of a tiny minority?
A. No. Two things are required of you. First, that when someone requests particular pronouns you take notice. If only a tiny minority cares then this will hardly ever happen. If it happens a lot, then it turns out that a lot of people care. Second, that you don't make gratuitous assumptions about people's gender. That's something you should have been avoiding in any case, even if there were no trans people in the world at all.

Q27. Seriously, though, I haven't seen any hostility or disrespect towards transgender people; why do we need any of this?
A. It's very easy not to see things that don't affect you personally! Many trans people have told us that they feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, or even unsafe here. That isn't what we want, and it shouldn't be what anyone wants. We hope that these small modifications to the Code of Conduct will make it less likely that anyone accidentally says things to make those people feel unwelcome, and make it easier to take appropriate action if anyone does so deliberately.

Q28. If someone puts a pronoun request into a question they're asking, should we leave that in or edit it out as noise?
A. Add a comment noting what they said and suggesting that they add it to their profile. Edit it out of the question as you would with "Hi" and "Thanks". Because you've made their request less visible, keep an eye out for mistakes in answers and comments and consider making polite corrections.

Q29. There are still edge-cases that aren't clear to me.
A. There always will be. Use your common sense, be nice, assume good faith but be prepared to revise that assumption in the face of the evidence, and you are unlikely to go too far wrong.

Q30. I heard that someone was removed as a moderator for pronoun-related behaviour that seems, according to the above, as if they did nothing to violate the Code of Conduct. What's up with that?
A. Someone was removed as a moderator for pronoun-related matters. There's an ongoing dispute as to whether that was justified, and this isn't the right place to discuss it. Our policy going forward is what's described here.


What's different

My FAQs:

  • back off a bit on the "compulsion": you have to refrain from conspicuous pronoun-avoidance, because that's what actually has the potential to cause hurt; this means (1) that if you're writing naturally and don't outright misgender people then you're fine, and (2) that you're unlikely to get in trouble for anything you could do while honestly trying to treat people nicely.
  • try to clarify some of the issues by analogy with less contentious parallels which I hope will be understood even by people with divergent opinions on gender: calling someone by a pronoun they've asked you not to use is rather like calling them an idiot; even if in some sense you're right it's rude and you shouldn't do it here.
  • explicitly address some specific pain points: religious convictions, insincere pronoun requests, having to use specific neopronouns.
  • change the policy of leaving pronoun-declarations in questions, which in practice I think will hardly ever be an issue (aside from trolls doing it because they don't like the policy) but which I think SE staff got very wrong.

These changes are all, so to speak, in the same direction. So am I in effect saying that we should give in to the bigots? No. (The bigots want to call you "he" if you were assigned male at birth and now identity as female; I am proposing to say a firm no to that. The bigots want to insist that everyone is either "he" or "she"; I am proposing to say a firm no to that.) I am saying, though, that in practice LGBTQ+ people on Stack Exchange sites are better served by a set of rules that is a little less ambitious but that more of the users and moderators can sincerely endorse.

My own positions

In case anyone cares: I call people what they ask to be called. I consider your gender to be whatever you tell me you consider it is. I think people saying things like "oh, I identify as an attack helicopter" are stupid trolls and can be treated the same way as other stupid trolls. I am generally opposed to requiring people to say specific things. I think it is possible to have misgivings about the whole idea of transgenderness without being a bigot, but have no such misgivings myself. I would like Stack Exchange sites to be places where everyone, including people whose views I find horrifying, can coexist peacefully when discussing things that don't pertain to their mutually-horrifying views.

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    I think this is a fair and honest post that deserves an equally fair and honest critique. I will write one, thank you. – Aza Oct 12 at 2:07
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    It's long & wordy, but maybe that's necessary. The tone is certainly a huge improvement. I'll give it a +1. – gung - Reinstate Monica Oct 12 at 2:16
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    It may be long partly because "I lacked the time to make it shorter" but yes, in the present circumstances I think a lot of words may be needed because there are a lot of concerns to address. – Gareth McCaughan Oct 12 at 2:17
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    Just like George's apology was much better than Sara's, your FAQ is much better than the original. There might be a lesson here: Maybe the CMs should rely more on their talented community and work to improve by consensus rather than by dictum. – J.R. means 'Just Reinstate' Oct 12 at 9:44
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    Without looking at the content, I can say it's too long. The original FAQ has 14 questions, which were already far too many. In this FAQ that you are proposing there are 30 questions. Thirty questions connected to the use of pronouns, I have to comb through them to be absolutely sure, who is going to read all of that? Disgruntled users on Meta, maybe, but an SO user (who probably received a warning) looking for clarifications will just be turned off. – Mari-Lou A Oct 12 at 11:29
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    This is excellent! Thank you very much for posting it. Can we now vote to close the SE version of a FAQ as a duplicate of this one? Joking apart, I would really love to see this replace SE's version. This is a clarification of the CoC I am happy to enforce as a mod and even happier to live by as a user. – terdon - stop harming Monica Oct 12 at 11:38
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    @Mari-LouA I think it may be like features in (say) Microsoft Word: no one uses more than 20%, but it's a different 20% for everyone. Everything that's in there is in there for a specific reason. I do agree that it's long and I would be happier if it could be shorter; perhaps with more work some of the answers could be condensed or combined without loss, but I'm not sure there's anything that could simply be deleted without harm. I could be wrong, though; do you have specific examples in mind? – Gareth McCaughan Oct 12 at 11:40
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    @Mari-LouA these are FAQs, they don't need to be read in their entirety, you just find the answer to the one you're wondering about. And every single one of these gives a useful clarification. The CoC is short and sweet and intended to be read in full. This is something different. – terdon - stop harming Monica Oct 12 at 11:42
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    @Mari-LouA which is a subject completely unrelated to how we should comport ourselves on the site in general. There are more than enough discussions about Monica going on and I am and have been involved in many of them. There is no need to focus on that subject, important though it is, on this post as well. Here, let's just focus on providing a useful clarification of the CoC that users can live with and mods can enforce. – terdon - stop harming Monica Oct 12 at 11:49
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    1. This is the kind of dialogue we SHOULD be having. 2. Like the OP, I value the thoughts of those IN the LGBTQ+ community more than my own, but... 3. There's a LOT to like in here. 4. I think most of Aza's improvements below make sense and offer a helpful perspective. 5. It IS incredibly long, but I'm not sure it can be made shorter without losing important pieces, and it's an FAQ, not a policy, so I think it's okay. – Jaydles Oct 12 at 15:28
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    Might I suggest using this as a basis for a community FAQ? Considering one of the key issues is community feedback, we could roll in the necessary bits from the answers and possibly make something that reflects the experiences of the community better. Might also be a nice gesture to work together on this – Journeyman Geek Oct 12 at 15:56
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    Well done. I endorse this post, and would use it as the basis for my moderation efforts going forward (if I were still a moderator, that is). – user102937 Oct 12 at 23:47
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    This is the [faq-proposed] post that Stack Exchange should have brought to the community: for questions, discussion, and refinement. – rgettman Oct 14 at 16:59
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    This, this, a thousand time this. This should be featured. This should be a model of what SO should be doing with us. I might not agree with all of it and I have some nuances I might voice later, but holy cow is this lightyears ahead of what SO did. I also greatly appreciate how the default stance here is not 'my way or the highway; you're not welcome here'. – David says Reinstate Monica Oct 15 at 17:07
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    ... Wait, you just unilaterally changed them back again? I thought we weren't meant to do Wikipedia-style edit wars here. – Gareth McCaughan Oct 15 at 20:42

26 Answers 26

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+50

My thoughts on this post are highly positive and I sincerely commend the work you put into this. I have some critiques towards subtlety that I think could be helpful in narrowing down the issue further. But I appreciate what you've done with the FAQ, here, for a lot of reasons.

The reasons I appreciate this mostly boil down to:

  • Clearer assertions about what behavior is requested and required;
  • Clearer explanations of why that behavior is requested/required;
  • The same for the negative case;
  • It gets the whole issue... pretty much spot-on correct.

So my comments more so aim at subtleties, things that I wouldn't want to see swept under the rug, but aren't necessarily bad for the most part.

I wonder whether any policies on this contentious issue would be more broadly acceptable to the community while still addressing the issues the revised CoC and the FAQ were intended to address.

I wonder this, too. The form of contention we are seeing leaves me wondering whether people sincerely just don't believe they should have to use trans people's pronouns at all, and are seeking a framework that will allow them to deny that onus. If that's the case, then efforts to reword the CoC with them in mind are doomed to fail. We would be better rewording the CoC to be effective for those who are more liable to hear.

I hope your positive guess is correct. I suspect at minimum some people will need to be empathetically exited no matter the outcome.

[Trans people] want to have their often particularly difficult circumstances understood sympathetically.

This is... complicated. This would be nice, but it's not required. Truthfully, it's unlikely your typical cis person is really going to understand what it's like to be trans, and that's not a reasonable thing to ask of most people. Really, I think most of us just want to be believed. I want to be able to say "I am a woman" without receiving challenge for it. I want people to just... trust me, when I pass them my pronouns. Above all else, I would like to be trusted.

That way, whether someone treats me with respect isn't gatekept on whether they have sufficiently understood what it means to be trans; whether I have explained sufficiently what it means to be trans.

Cynically minded people have attributed a number of other, less respectable-sounding, goals to various groups of participants here. I have largely ignored these.

It's appreciated.

Actually, I think the CoC itself is fine as is; it's the elaboration in the FAQ to which some people object.

I worry that may miss the point of the objections. A number of the objections, questions, "concerns," "both sides"-es... are essential misreadings of the provided FAQ, or rules-lawyering expansions on them. That tells me people aren't actually reading it with an accepting mind to begin with. Yes, it's not perfectly clear, and better copy to make it clearer is probably warranted (and welcome!), but the fundamental problem may not be as much one of wording as you might think.

Some people don't consider themselves either male or female

Should be: "Some people are neither male nor female..." Positively assert the existence of many genders; don't leave it open for interpretation. Leaving it as a matter of opinion is a factual inaccuracy. It will anger some people who do not believe there are many genders to word it this way, but I'd rather not introduce inaccuracies for their sake.

Q. This seems like a very marginal thing to make a fuss over.
A. That isn't a question. Regardless, while it may seem marginal to you, it can be a big deal for people who have spent much of their lives being thought of, and treated, as something that feels completely wrong to them.

This may elide the point a bit. In reality, whether or not someone chooses to use another person's pronouns communicates a lot more than a linguistic decision. It communicates attitude, tone, etc. about who I am and what someone makes of my humanity. The real answer here is, "While it is on its surface a marginal thing, for the people for whom this is significant, it communicates more than you may expect."

I'm not sure how to word this to fit an FAQ format, though. It's kind of a subtle point.

(You might sincerely think that someone is an idiot...

I worry about this one a bit, because it scans like the hat tip to "mentally ill t[slur]" stereotype. A different example would probably be better suited here.

Q. Are you saying that it's bigotry not to use the pronouns someone asks for?

There is a subtle issue with the framing of this question. Bigotry is not a thing one either Has or Does Not Have; it is not either Present or Not Present in speech. It is always there, we all have it within us. It is managed.

So when your answer replies, "that's a thing bigots do," that gives someone the freedom to go, "well, I'm not a bigot, so this is okay." In reality, no comment will ever be free of bigotry, in the same way that no social structure built atop an indigenous people will ever be free of imperialism. It's something we live with and manage.

That being said, this is a pretty subtle concept to include or summarize in an FAQ.

Q. But free choice of language is important to me. This rule impairs my freedom of speech.
A. That isn't a question. Regardless, by participating here you're agreeing to treat others with politeness. That includes not complaining that they're idiots (even if you sincerely think they are, and even if you're right). It also includes not misgendering them, however sincerely.

Suffers the above problems. The phrasing here implicitly cedes the point that it is acceptable to think of trans people as analogous "idiots." That's not a good middle ground to seek. Instead, an FAQ should positively assert that the stance is incorrect, but if you're able to can it and keep it to yourself, that's all right, or at minimum non-justiciable.

Not sure what "sincerely" misgendering someone is, outside of one-off mistakes.

I would reword this answer: "By participating here, you are agreeing to treat others with kindness. That includes not complaining about what respect for them involves, even if you disagree. It also includes not misgendering other users."

You are welcome to believe anything you like about people's gender, just as they are welcome to believe anything they like about your religion. But if you go out of your way to point out your disagreement about your gender, you aren't behaving in a way we want here -- just as people who make a fuss about how wrong they think your religion is aren't behaving in a way we want here.

Critical and good. Thanks for writing this.

Q. Am I forbidden to express my opinion about this?

This question is... complicated. It's more complicated than you might think, and if you look only at edge cases it may confuse people further. The real answer here is: "If your post essentially denies the truth in trans people, then you can't express that here, except under some extremely select circumstances. Even under those circumstances, care needs to be taken not to harm people."

But if you conspicuously avoid using pronouns for one group of people while using them normally for others, you will likely make them feel rejected and excluded. Don't do that.

Good.

Q. I'm a moderator. I often have to refer to other users, I can't really choose which ones I have to refer to, and often it isn't feasible to avoid pronouns. So do I really have to use pronouns I find uncomfortable?
A. Yes, sorry. As a moderator you're a representative of Stack Exchange as well as of the community, and we at Stack Exchange have decided that using inappropriate pronouns for someone, or conspicuously avoiding using pronouns for them at all, is disrespectful. If you find that difficult, we hope you can grit your teeth and be nice to them just the same -- as you would do if dealing with a user you find annoying in other ways. If you honestly can't do that, then being a moderator here isn't for you.

  • No "sorry" here. Just yes. Don't apologize for asking people to be kind.
  • "We... have decided that using inappropriate pronouns... is disrespectful." I would quibble and say it is disrespectful (Stack didn't just up an decide this on a whim), it's just never been explicitly addressed to date. But this is a minor point.
  • Sincerely appreciate the closing line. This ultimately becomes a compliance/HR issue.

The rest of your FAQ is good and appreciated, by me. I might spot something later and come back to edit, but it passes at first test.

Onto the "what's different" section.

back off a bit on the "compulsion"

For the most part, this is not actually encoded anywhere in the FAQ -- at least no more than it is in your post. People are going to scream "compelled speech" until the pigs fly home (or something), or at least until they're asked to leave. It's probably a good word to avoid, though.

The bigots want to call you "he" if you were assigned male at birth and now identity as female[...]

Small tip: "The bigots want to call you 'he' if you are a woman who was assigned male at birth" does more to positively assert that trans people are the gender we say we are.

It may not be useful to phrase it as "the bigots," though, for the above reason on bigotry.

I would like Stack Exchange sites to be places where everyone, including people whose views I find horrifying, can coexist peacefully when discussing things that don't pertain to their mutually-horrifying views.

This is always worth thinking carefully about. I'm not going to tell you you're wrong to do this, but rather, that it can be hard to see all of the effects of keeping people like this around. We struggle hard to be heard whenever a new form of it pops up. Unless you're trans, it's highly plausible people like this are doing harm without you even realizing.

That makes this position... trickier than it would seem, just based on what you've written here. Not wrong, per se. But this won't help people stay safe on its own.


I like these changes. I don't think they substantively alter any of the implementation or function of the CoC/FAQ, but there are some good suggestions in here worth keeping.

I hope this answer is useful to you.

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    Thanks! Much useful food for thought here. There's a repeated theme that I might summarize as "this needs to assert more positively that trans people are Right and those who are uncomfortable about using their pronouns are Wrong", to which my immediate reaction (which I reserve the right to reconsider) is: yes, I do in fact agree that trans people are Right, but it is sometimes better not to be maximally in-your-face at people who are Wrong, and I think this is one of those times. – Gareth McCaughan Oct 12 at 2:46
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    So, e.g., if I change "now identify as female" to "a woman who ..." then yes, it will more positively assert that trans people are who and what they say they are, but in doing so I fear that it will make itself less likely to be heard by people who are not as yet completely convinced of that, but who might be persuaded to be much less dickish about it. – Gareth McCaughan Oct 12 at 2:48
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    @GarethMcCaughan This is a pretty complex catch-22. If you word things in such a way as to bring people along, you may end up writing in a way that denies queer justice. If you write in a way that promotes queer justice, you may end up turning those marginal people away. The things to remember: the people "on the edge" are actually a tiny minority, as most people have made up their minds; and the act of education is better done 1:1 when personal circumstances make it possible. An FAQ is likely not the place you'll convince someone trans people are who we say we are. – Aza Oct 12 at 2:52
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    I think the goal of a Code of Conduct should be primarily to regulate people's conduct, not their opinions and values, not least because most people are more willing to change their conduct than their opinions and values. And, if I'm right -- which I might not be! -- in thinking that some people with intermediate views are more likely to be persuaded to good behaviour by a document that doesn't go out of its way to presume that their opinions are wrong -- then the less-asserting document will do more to get people to behave in ways that don't hurt trans people. – Gareth McCaughan Oct 12 at 2:53
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    @ExcludedandOffended This is not a political opinion, and I won't be arguing that point with anyone here. – Aza Oct 12 at 2:53
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    And in this particular case I don't think people "on the edge" are a tiny minority. Trans issues are still pretty new to a lot of people, and there are a lot of unformed or partly-formed opinions out there. – Gareth McCaughan Oct 12 at 2:53
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    @GarethMcCaughan That's possible, but I'd then want to seek a way of communicating a behavioral expectation that doesn't simultaneously imply an open question about the existence of non-binary people. I think that's possible to do, but I'm not immediately sure how to do it. – Aza Oct 12 at 2:54
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    I appreciate your taking the time to add nuance & perspective to this. So far, this thread feels like the conversation we should have had in the first place. I do want to say, that although there's no question a few of the people with "concerns" are trying to cover for actual transphobia, I think that's really a very small minority. We can (& it's really essential here to) assume good faith on the part of the people who are pushing back on the coercive aspects of the new FAQ. – gung - Reinstate Monica Oct 12 at 2:54
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    I'd like to point out that the idea behind the compulsion of speech metastasises when you're on the autistic spectrum. It's an anxiety to make people feel as welcome as possible, especially as there'd be a punishment waiting if someone does report you for it. The CoC changes may not have allowed for the breathing room to assume good faith, but this question addresses it completely, and settles that anxiety – Kyle Fairns Oct 12 at 2:55
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    @GarethMcCaughan I'm not sure where you've read into my post that I'm trying to regulate opinions and values, and would like to change that, because that was not intended. I sincerely respect the behavioral outlook of your post. What I'm worried about is the implied acceptability of the negation of trans people. It's possible to make the post behavioral without implying that you view that as an acceptable stance. Declaring openness to all ideas in this case is a position. – Aza Oct 12 at 2:57
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    @KyleFairns I'd be happy to chat with autistic folks 1:1/1:n to better understand their needs and how a CoC can better meet them. I know it's an imposition, though, so I wouldn't ask that of anyone on the spot. – Aza Oct 12 at 3:01
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    In a situation where I hold position X and a bunch of other (otherwise-)reasonable people hold incompatible position Y, if I write in a way that presupposes X then it will put Y-believers off. Writing in a way that presupposes as little as possible doesn't imply finding Y plausible, it just means wanting to be able to communicate with Y-believers. Whether that means finding Y "an acceptable stance" is a matter of definitions. It does imply thinking that believing Y doesn't put a person so far beyond the pale that it's no use talking to them, but that's all. – Gareth McCaughan Oct 12 at 3:02
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    (I do appreciate that being constantly faced with people who say Y! Y! Y! Y! makes anything less than uncompromising rejection of Y unpleasant or worse, but unless the only people who think Y are people there's literally no point trying to reach -- which in this case I think isn't true for many of the relevant Ys -- I think it may be worth putting up with that for the sake of hopefully getting better behaviour from people overall.) – Gareth McCaughan Oct 12 at 3:04
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    @GarethMcCaughan That's... kind of true, outside of some linguistic trickery, so I'll roll with it for the sake of discussion. If that's the case, the question becomes, who would you rather appeal to? And, who would you rather turn away? Ultimately this framework for understanding how it's written means you have to pick the perspective from which you write a CoC. The perspective chosen prioritizes cis people on the margin over trans people by default, and I'm not sure that's the correct decision. At minimum, it shouldn't go uninspected. – Aza Oct 12 at 3:04
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    @GarethMcCaughan Yeah, I hear you. This is an ongoing debate in the activism circles I run in, to be totally honest, so I'm empathetic to the way you've written it, for sure. The only other remark I'd have is, it's worth keeping in mind that most people aren't going to read the FAQ anyway. FAQ documents are more like, control/reference documents for power-users who are the actual agents responsible for promulgating culture. So it's okay if they're a little stronger in their wording -- they're really the people we want on board with this. "Why FAQ matters" is probably for chat, though. – Aza Oct 12 at 3:23
62

It's long & wordy, but maybe that's necessary. The tone is certainly a huge improvement. I'd like to highlight this part:

Q. I find it really distressing to use pronouns in a way I think is wrong. Is there really no alternative?
A. You can often avoid using pronouns altogether. It's actually pretty rare to need third-person pronouns at all on most Stack Exchange sites. But if you conspicuously avoid using pronouns for one group of people while using them normally for others, you will likely make them feel rejected and excluded. Don't do that.

Q. So do I have to use pronouns where I normally wouldn't, just to make it clear that I'm using the ones someone has asked me to?
A. If you're writing something that naturally doesn't need pronouns, it's unlikely that anyone will be bothered by their absence. Problems only arise when a person or group feels singled out by having pronouns used for other people but not for them. If you're writing normally and naturally and it comes out pronoun-less, then that's fine.

I think the implied flexibility—as long as both parties are interacting in good faith—is crucial. This should allow people to find solutions that work for them so that we don't always have the north-going Zax and the south-going Zax butting heads obstinately and making the site blow up. Many people disagree about many things, and yet we make it work. That happens in life, and it has happened on SE sites. It can happen in this case. Trans people are not unreasonable, they want basic respect, not special treatment. People who are unfamiliar with these issues, or uncomfortable with one or another option, aren't unreasonable either; they often just want to find a way that works for them and won't leave someone else feeling insulted. Allowing the two parties to find a solution is the right way forward here. (I would have thought that's common sense.)

I do want to note that draft versions of the new code of conduct were circulated amongst moderators for comment. I, and other mods, made suggestions along these lines and the phrasing was softened. I actually don't think the wording of the new CoC is problematic. However, I was then blindsided by the coercive and authoritarian FAQ that came with it. This corrects that and brings it back to the spirit that I thought many mods had been going for.

  • Love the Dr. Seuss reference! Glad you brought up the mods being blindsided by SO's FAQs; I think many of us non-mods weren't aware that the FAQ section had been pushed past the community. – user45266 Oct 15 at 4:51
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    For those who aren't familiar, these are the Zax. – gung - Reinstate Monica Oct 16 at 2:48
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    @gung: I was wondering about that myself, and wasn't sure whether it was just a reference I didn't get, so thanks :) – V2Blast Oct 16 at 20:39
36

People concerned by the "compelled speech" aspects of the CoC and its associated FAQ: is this sufficiently non-constraining?

To me, the "compelled speech" angle comes from a previously unknown (to most), brand new way in which we're all suddenly expected to use language. This way of using language, frankly, does not make a lot of sense to some.

Consider this hypothetical:

What if people simply did not have names. What if the concept of a name was simply unknown? If you wanted to refer to someone you would use their physical description, perhaps where they worked, where they lived, etc. You might be "The 5'9, pregnant, stenographer who drives a Honda Civic", and everyone would know you by that description

And then, suddenly, The Government declared that you must call people by these things called "names" if they want you to. These names are, as far as you can tell, completely arbitrary and meaningless.

You've been used to the old way, and now you have to come to terms with this new concept and learn how to use them. Even worse, you're told that doing it the old way can be disrespectful, even offensive. If you resist, you will suffer consequences.

You might understand this hypothetical person's feelings. This person might end up feeling like the disrespected one.

That's how it might feel to suddenly be compelled to refer to someone as "ze".

Now, how does this proposed FAQ lessen the blow:

We're asking that when someone indicates what pronouns should be used to refer to them, you do as they say.

"Do as they say" has a "compelled speech" smell to it. We're still being compelled to use language in a way the vast majority of us are not used to doing. If someone wants to be called "ze", we must comply. That's compelled.

There are some situations in which you can make certain demands of other people, however. To asked to be called "she" instead of "he" is one of those acceptable demands. This is also "compelled speech", but people are okay with it, because it's part of the invisible social contract.

The difference is that "ze" is not widely accepted yet. The concept of arbitrary pronouns is new and strange to most.

It's a tautology: something must first be widely acceptable before it becomes an acceptable demand. Otherwise people might think you are the one acting in bad faith when you demand to be called 'faeself'

The good news is that social contracts change over time, and maybe 50 years from now, this will just be "the new normal". Heck, maybe I'm the dinosaur already.

Anyway, forcing people to integrate neopronouns into their speech, which may be new and unfamiliar, will cause them to feel "compelled" and disrespected.

I don't think any sort of re-wording will help this. This is a fundamental, unchangeable part of the new CoC, unless SE decides to roll it back.

This is not an argument that we shouldn't use one's stated pronouns. I'm just explaining the "compelled speech" argument.

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    This is a very good explanation that does a great job of capturing many people’s feelings about the new expectations. Very insightful. Ironically, this is the kind of respect and inclusiveness that we should be fostering and praising here: understanding and sympathizing with others’ feelings. Now, it might still be the case that these old-timers you refer to need to “get over it” and get used to the new way, but it’s still critically important to understand how they feel and why adapting may be difficult for them. And, most importantly, why immediate failure to adapt isn’t evidence of bigotry. – Cody Gray Oct 15 at 19:59
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    You write: 'These names are, as far as you can tell, completely arbitrary and meaningless.' You clearly consider this a valid ingredient for feeling compelled. But in my eyes it is up to the hypothetical person to update their knowledge and understanding of the issues involved. Compelled speech can be very undesirable and discriminating, but you kind of seem to forget how undesirable and widespread the discrimination of LHBTQ+ people is, right now in the real world. – Frank'a Waaldijk Oct 16 at 20:57
  • This is a good explanation. You might also expand it to include the fact that we already had "compelled speech" in some circumstances. Say before all this brouhaha I had started calling John Q. Public "she," and he, identifying both as male and a gender-traditionalist, objected to this and asked to be called "he." Had I continued to call him "she," even if I claimed religious reasons for this I would almost certainly have been sanctioned (and rightly so, IMHO). I could correctly claim "compelled speech," but I don't think anybody would have cared. – Curt J. Sampson Oct 18 at 3:21
  • @CurtJ.Sampson I tried to include that we already do have 'compelled speech' in the paragraph starting with: "There are some situations in which you can make certain demands of other people..." – House- 'Reinstate Monica' -man Oct 18 at 3:40
  • @Frank'aWaaldijk I keep hearing this thing that LGBT+ people are are facing widespread discrimination. I would like to believe it but haven't seen much data yet. As you're a mathematician, could you please provide some relative statistics, as compared to, say cis people? – S.D. Oct 26 at 18:34
  • @Frank'aWaaldijk Thanks. The marriage legality statistic certainly is a good point. I do have access to internet resources though it's not always clear what to search for; there was no need for the snark. – S.D. Oct 28 at 13:19
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    @S.D. Sorry about the perceived snark, and yes you caught me at a grumpy moment. But the discrimination is really widespread and in my (perhaps not so humble) opinion hard to miss. There are countries where certain internet resources are censored or hard to access, and I did not want to presume that you had unrestricted access. Anyway, I should have replied more graciously, sorry again, nothing personal. – Frank'a Waaldijk Oct 28 at 14:49
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Q. Does this mean that I will be in trouble if I ever get someone's pronouns wrong?

A. No. It's fine not to know what they want. It's fine to make an honest mistake. But once you know what someone wants, please act accordingly.

Q. What if someone wants some nonstandard pronoun that I don't even know how to use?

A. Then everyone will be especially understanding if you get it wrong. Just do your best.

...

Q. There are still edge-cases that aren't clear to me.

A. There always will be. Use your common sense, be nice, assume good faith but be prepared to revise that assumption in the face of the evidence, and you are unlikely to go too far wrong.

I think you fixed it

27

First, I commend you on the attempt, and for the obvious work that went into this. You've done a good job of making the CoC seem more reasonable, and you better explained the reasoning. It generally does a much better job of framing things. A suggestion and a concern:

  1. My first reading gave me the impression that your proposal characterizes people who have a different perspective as "bigots". That seemed to dismiss any basis for a differing view. Rereading the proposal, I see what you describe in the comments, that you're just describing bigotry.

    It's a very fine and delicate line to navigate. People can easily misinterpret it, as I did without the context of the comment. Misinterpretation will lead to a much less positive perception. Suggestion: include context to orient the reader, and don't dwell on it more than necessary. Keep the focus on the goal of encouraging positive behavior.

  2. There is a fundamental issue that was introduced several weeks ago (note, your draft is the first document which frames things in a different way): that all users must use the stated pronoun or be subject to penalty.

    With your proposal, there's the potential that this problem might go away, but the issue is a major impediment to acceptance. It's worth at least getting people on the same page so there can be discussion of whether the issue has been addressed.

    The policy has been framed as a simple act of respect to make people feel better about themselves. For many users that's all there is to it, and it's hard for them to fathom how there could be a real issue for anyone. If that were the actual extent of the policy, there would be no issue. But the policy creates an issue by unnecessarily taking things a step further, adding no incremental benefit for trans users and causing harm and offense to other users.

    There are real and serious concerns for many users, and they seem to keep being misunderstood or dismissed in cavalier fashion by some. "Compelled speech" is only part of it; the concerns aren't that simple. Let me try to describe some (but not all) of the concerns. Since the only standing document is the official one, my use of CoC will refer to the official FAQ, which is what is driving the concerns.

    • Some users have sincere religious beliefs with which this requirement is in conflict. The concept of not being required to violate one's religious beliefs is generally considered a fundamental freedom. The CoC requires these users to choose between violating their faith and participating here, with the justification that the goal of the CoC is to insure that no one else is offended. Respectful use of a pronoun other than the preferred one, in an otherwise respectful interaction, may not be optimal, but I don't think a reasonable person will be harmed by that, or should take offense. Thus, the requirement appears to be without foundation, and appears to reflect a callous disregard for the needs of such users.
    • Closely related, there's a concept in law of fairness, that when you balance the interests of two parties, you impose no more burden than necessary. The CoC contains no sense of compromise, to provide adequate protection for the trans community while not being excessively burdensome on others. By any reasonable standard, trans members can be treated with respect without imposing an absolute requirement that others violate their religious beliefs.
    • Some users are uncomfortable using certain pronouns. Houseman's answer may be a good explanation that's applicable to many or most of these people.
    • Everyone agrees that trans members should be treated with respect, and that using a preferred pronoun is respectful. When people do this, that's great and supportive. What is concerning is when the failure to use the preferred pronoun is framed as being disrespectful. There are many reasons why someone might not use the preferred pronoun, none of which is a matter of disrespect. This demonizes some users, and creates a situation where failure to use the right pronoun is a thing, with the starting assumption that the person who did it is in the wrong.

After careful rereading of this proposal, it looks like it is a good finessing of the issue. Wording along these lines may actually solve the problem. If this had been the original wording, there would likely have been easy acceptance. However...

Given SE's position and official pronouncements to date, people are looking for explicit assurance that preferred pronouns are not compulsory. That is the context in which you are proposing this change. By gracefully dancing around the issue, this proposal doesn't address that. The concern remains, that if SE were to adopt essentially this proposed wording, the current official version may reflect Stack Overflow Inc.'s true intent, and this wording would be used to put a pretty face on it and mask the issue. If there's a way for SE to provide explicit reassurance, perhaps in some separate document or discussion, that would put the issue to bed.

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    There are also people with various health issues that can have great hardship following current CoC. See: How should I deal with the new CoC as non-native English speaker? – Resistance Is Futile Oct 12 at 11:29
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    My intention is precisely not to characterize everyone who disagrees as "bigots". There are bigots, but plenty of people who disagree with me about this stuff are not bigots. However, I'm not under any illusion that it's possible to write something that literally everyone agrees with. What I'm hoping for (but I don't know that I've achieved so far) is something that very few people disagree angrily with. – Gareth McCaughan Oct 12 at 11:29
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    I specifically tried to write in such a way as not to say that you have to positively use the pronouns a person asks for or face sanction. Non-specific language and disengagement are always options (except for moderators, who face a different situation; I think anything that permits a moderator to refuse to engage with, say, non-binary people is a non-starter in terms of acceptability to SE management, and rightly so). – Gareth McCaughan Oct 12 at 11:32
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    My suggestion is to just leave out those kinds of words. If you need to characterize behavior, stick to a description of the behavior without attaching labels. You did an impressive job with what you had to work with. – fixer1234 Oct 12 at 11:33
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    I understand the suggestion, but I think that if a document like this doesn't go out of its way to admit that there is such a thing as bigotry and it is a problem, and to explicitly distance itself from it, then some people will (for the avoidance of doubt: sincerely) view it as itself an expression of bigotry. Again, the aim is to minimize the number of people who are angry about this. It's possible that I got the balance wrong, or that there's no good balance to be had, but there are specific reasons for including the language about bigotry that I did. – Gareth McCaughan Oct 12 at 11:36
  • For the avoidance of doubt, though, I don't mean to dismiss your concerns. – Gareth McCaughan Oct 12 at 11:38
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    @GarethMcCaughan, I just reread your document. My original read was through the lens of SE's FAQ. What I picked up on were actually ambiguous statements, and the lack of explicitly addressing the previously defined "compulsion" issue. This version finesses that. If what you describe here is an accurate and full description, this may cover it. SE defined their intent with their FAQ so there will be a concern that SE's FAQ is the real intent (i.e., compulsory), and this version just sugar coats that. Hopefully, that will get cleared up. (cont'd) – fixer1234 Oct 12 at 12:25
  • BTW, one other suggestion, you might want to drop the gimmick of phrasing as a statement and then starting the answer with "that isn't a question". It's a little contrived. :-) – fixer1234 Oct 12 at 12:25
  • I only did it twice! :-) – Gareth McCaughan Oct 12 at 12:29
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    (The contrivance was for a specific reason: those were things that seemed like they needed addressing but that weren't naturally written as questions, so I thought I'd lampshade it. It probably wouldn't be the best tone for an actual corporate-authored FAQ, for sure.) – Gareth McCaughan Oct 12 at 12:30
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    This -- especially your last bullet! "X is respectful" does not mean "not X is disrespectful". – Monica Cellio Oct 13 at 3:28
  • I've proposed a bunch of copyedits so that your ideas come through as clearly as possible. If they don't feel right, I'll understand if reject some or all of the proposed edits. – aparente001 Oct 13 at 18:15
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    @CurtJ.Sampson, in relation to the discussion here, in what way is the practice of people's religious beliefs infringing on the rights of others? – fixer1234 Oct 18 at 3:42
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    @CurtJ.Sampson, I didn't want to get into a treatise on the fine points of religious freedom. Yes, the government reserves the right to limit freedoms when the health and safety of others are at stake, and the like. And what people consider for themselves is not always what is provided by law. re: pronouns--people certainly have a right to choose their own pronouns, and it is respectful for others to use those. The question is whether one person has the right to compel another person say something that violates their faith. – fixer1234 Oct 18 at 4:32
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    @CurtJ.Sampson, by "moot", I meant that the CoC FAQ might no longer directly specify it. How they solve that issue remains to be seen. But there are other options than pronoun Y, like not phrase in 3rd person, refer to username, gracefully disengaging if it's an issue, etc. People who intend to treat each other with respect will find mutually satisfactory ways to do it. Trolls can be dealt with. – fixer1234 Oct 18 at 6:34
22

A. By participating here you're agreeing to treat others with politeness. That includes not complaining that they're idiots (even if you sincerely think they are, and even if you're right). It also includes not misgendering them, however sincerely.

In the interests of intelligibility, I would consider it a great improvement to reword this so as to avoid the neologism misgendering. Two weeks ago I had never encountered this word. I've had to try to figure out what it means from context, and I'm not convinced that it's been used consistently by everyone in the recent meta discussions. The code of conduct and its FAQ should be clearly understood by everyone with a working grasp of English (say, Cambridge First Certificate), not just a subset of native speakers.

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    I think it might be a good idea to include a definition (possibly in a tool-tip or popup) since this may be the first time some people encounter these words. – divibisan Oct 12 at 21:02
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    The word "misgendering" is an important one, but it may actually be a pretty reasonable accessibility feature to define it in-place. Both for ESL speakers and people who are new. (Edit: yeah, concur with divibisan. On-hover might help.) – Aza Oct 12 at 21:02
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    @JourneymanGeek maybe "not mis-stating their gender"? – Monica Cellio Oct 13 at 3:24
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    @divibisan, don't forget that mobile UI doesn't have hovering. – Peter Taylor Oct 13 at 4:49
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    @JourneymanGeek, I'd prefer to leave that to people who have a crystal clear idea of what the word means. – Peter Taylor Oct 13 at 4:51
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    @MonicaCellio Doesn't this have the problem that for people who are deliberately "misgendering", say, out of some religious belief, that they won't accept that they are misgendering at all? After all, "I'm just saying it the way it is." It's like asking someone not to say racist things - it doesn't work because no one believes themselves to be racist. – Mario Carneiro Oct 13 at 9:17
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    @MarioCarneiro I don't follow. If somebody says "I'm a man", using "she" is misgendering. If someone says "I'm non-binary", using "he" or "she" is misgendering. Knowingly doing that is rude. But avoiding using gendered language at all isn't misgendering because you didn't gender at all. And if you use the same approach with everybody, you're not singling anyone out for special treatment and it's not discriminatory. I don't care why you do it; I know that some people avoid saying anything about Jews because they're antisemitic, but I have neither the power nor responsibility to fix that. – Monica Cellio Oct 13 at 17:43
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    SE should be policing actions, not (assumed) intent. – Monica Cellio Oct 13 at 17:44
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    @MarioCarniero, I'm not aware of any religious belief that requires adherents to treat others with disrespect. I say this as a devout Christian. You don't need to have respect, in the sense that you don't need to actually feel respect, but it is essential to treat people with respect. It's neither Christian nor ethical to treat people with disrespect. – Max A. Oct 14 at 3:40
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    @MarioCarneiro You can believe that gender is defined innately at birth and still use the pronouns people request for themselves. I genuinely don't understand the problem. My religion compels me to object to Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and every other world religion save Christianity. But if someone calls himself a Muslim, a Jew, or a Hindu, I call them that as well. Likewise, if someone claims she is a woman, I'll call her that. She's not asking me to sleep with her, so I don't care what she was born as. – Max A. Oct 17 at 1:48
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    @CurtJ.Sampson no, that's not what I'm saying. If Bob asks for "he" and Alice asks for "she" and Lee asks for "they", then it's appropriate to either use all of those or use none of them. Don't call people what they don't want to be called (of course!), but you might not even need to use a pronoun at all, depending on your writing style. That's my point. – Monica Cellio Oct 18 at 4:20
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    When using pronouns. But the original draft, and now the FAQ, said you must use pronouns. My point is that my natural writing style doesn't do that. They fired me because I want to keep doing that. I'm not discriminating in doing so. – Monica Cellio Oct 18 at 4:31
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    @MaxA. I don't think your analogy is quite on point. It doesn't make sense to object to a Hindu calling themselves a Hindu regardless of whether or not you object to the religion itself. But if they call themselves a Christian and then go on to talk about how they worship Vishnu, you might have objections to their self-characterization. – D M Oct 18 at 23:40
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    @user259412 Don't use conservatism as an excuse to treat people with disrespect. I'm as anti liberal as it gets, but I'm not a bigot. – Max A. Oct 20 at 0:25
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    @user259412, this discussion has got way off topic. If you or others want to continue it, please create a chat room and just leave a link. – Peter Taylor Oct 20 at 19:16
22

I really appreciate the effort. This seems to be going in the right direction — and the process of discussion itself goes in the right direction.

Unfortunately, this FAQ is extremely long — even longer than the official one. To be usable, we'd have to come up with something that's short enough to be actually readable.

I think it would help to separate gender and language as concerns. Collapsing the two under “pronouns” muddies waters. Yes, I know that in English gender is mostly expressed through pronouns. But not using someone's preferred pronouns is not the same thing as misgendering someone. Not using someone's preferred pronoun includes not using pronouns at all, or using a gender-neutral pronoun, either of which can be either good or bad depending on whether this is the way you always write (good for you) or you're targeting someone in particular because you refuse to acknowledge their gender (which is bad).

There is one important question that you've punted:

Q. I was taught that English has three third-person singular pronouns: he, she, it. All the books that I've read and all the movies that I've watched used these three pronouns consistently with what I was taught. What the hell are all these other words in this picture?

declension of 9 pronouns from UWM

and even more?

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    This is very helpful, but I would still need a bit more guidance regarding the grammar. First of all, is it correct that all these pronouns refer to a single person? I found the example sentences at uwm.edu. Can I rewrite the second sentence to (1) tries to convince (2) that ...? – wimh Oct 12 at 9:35
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    I disagree that this newly-proposed FAQ is too long and needs to be shortened in order to be "readable." When people have a lot of questions, I would expect a long FAQ. FAQs don't need to be memorized, they just need to adequately address questions that a user base may have. Users can scan through questions and pay attention to the ones that address their particular uncertainties. Moreover, as this new FAQ illustrates, it should be done such that the community does not feel like they are being chastised, but instead feels like their questions are legitimate and are being addressed accordingly. – J.R. means 'Just Reinstate' Oct 12 at 9:54
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    @wimh Each row of that table is for a different pronoun. One person may ask to be called "ve" and another "fae". Gilles, I haven't altogether punted the question; one of my FAQs is about "nonstandard pronouns that I don't even know how to use". But maybe there should be something along the lines you describe. – Gareth McCaughan Oct 12 at 11:43
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    On the more general point: I do agree that misgendering someone is a more specific, and more severe, thing than using a pronoun that isn't the one they use but doesn't specify gender. (And unless I've messed up, my FAQ never uses the former term to refer to the latter.) But some people do feel strongly about the pronouns used for them, even within the gender-neutral pronouns, and I think "use the pronouns people ask for" is a simpler rule that in practice is scarcely ever more trouble to keep than "use pronouns matching the gender of the ones people ask for". – Gareth McCaughan Oct 12 at 11:50
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    @J.R. the ability to scan something quickly and find the necessary information you are searching is something I teach to Italian students, it's an important skill to master, but when you're faced with a wall of text, and English is not your first nor your second language but your third or fourth, the proposed version, although well-written and very clear, is still an insurmountable hurdle for a non-native speaker and for anyone who is not used to reading long detailed texts... – Mari-Lou A Oct 12 at 12:04
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    @Mari-LouA - That's why so many FAQ pages only list questions, and then you can click on one of those questions to read the answer. Nothing prevents this "wall of text" from being reformatted and eventually put into a page similar to, say, this one. – J.R. means 'Just Reinstate' Oct 12 at 12:29
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    @J.R. I can think of only one page that contains links to Q&A and that is the FAQ for Stack Exchange Take a butcher's at any of the linked posts, none, none have anywhere close to thirty bullet points or paragraphs. Despite the proposed FAQ being very well-written as it flows and has a friendly welcoming tone – it also explains complex ideas in a simple manner – it is too long. SE won't adopt your solution to the wall of a text, and they won't adopt McCaughan's FAQ either. – Mari-Lou A Oct 12 at 12:45
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    @Mari-LouA - I don't really care if this gets reformatted or not – that was just a thought. However, I care deeply about if SE will adopt this improved FAQ (or some semblance of it). Are we dealing with people who are flexible, reasonable, and open to positive changes and improvements? Or are they dictatorial and close-minded, convincing themselves that they are on the right course despite the unprecedented backlash from the community? That's the real issue I see, and it's much more important than the length of this proposal. – J.R. means 'Just Reinstate' Oct 12 at 12:57
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    Are we dealing with people who are flexible, reasonable, and open to positive changes and improvements? No. Maybe once upon a time they were but not "today". – Mari-Lou A Oct 12 at 13:14
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    @Mari-LouA if done properly, what you will be faced with is a list of questions and you'll need to click to expand and read the answer. So much less text. Should be something like this: i.imgur.com/c9QQzon.png – terdon - stop harming Monica Oct 12 at 13:42
  • To be honest, speaking as someone who might literally think (though likely not type) the question you cite as "punted"— I don't think this FAQ is too long. Also I read this entire FAQ and I think it's a fantastic improvement over the "official" FAQ, and I have no objections to this one. – Wildcard Oct 15 at 20:11
  • A: Other pronouns. – Veedrac Oct 15 at 23:49
  • Yes, the FAQ is long. Because people have many questions. The relevant part of the CoC is however admirably concise: only one sentence. – Raedwald Oct 18 at 6:32
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    @Raedwald The problem is that the FAQ sets rules that are not at all implied by the code of conduct. Someone who wants to apply the rules has to read and understand the whole FAQ. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Oct 18 at 6:49
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    Respectfully, I think that image is inadvertently fear-mongering. Several of those pronouns are virtually never used even in the most radical nonbinary communities. I've lived in all-trans houses where most of the people who came around were gender variant and I've never heard of someone who went by "per" or "ve". It makes it seem like there's this whole crazy list of things to remember when it's really not that complicated. – Ejaz Oct 23 at 22:03
22

This is a considerable improvement.

But it still raises a barrier for people who deny that genders beyond the binary ones actually exist.

This is a barrier which won't hinder me since I am favourable to neopronouns. But I have to oppose raising it. Not just because it opens the way to other barriers which may eventually bar my way. But because I try to respect everyone when possible, even those with ideas I oppose. Respect only has merit when aimed at those you disagree with. If a middle ground can be found, like gender-neutral speech which neither affirms not denies identity, then I'd rather meet them there than not at all. More so when what we are discussing is how to split std::string.

Consider the following exchange between Odeen (who states xe as preferred pronoun in xyr profile), and Tritt (who denies genders beyond the binary ones but has never stated so in SE). Both have read each others' profiles and are aware of preferences.

Odeen: How can I split a std::string?
Tritt: Use this algorithm which uses strstr
Odeen: Your answer would work for a C-String but I am asking about std::string
Tritt: You may still apply it by using c_str

"You" and "Your" have been used, which means that neither person has acknowledged, accepted or rejected the gender identity of the other person. Preferred pronouns have not been used, such issue was just not relevant to the discussion.

As far as I understand them, the previous exchange is fine both in the official and the improved FAQs and nobody is going to be suspended. People are allowed in Stack Exchange to talk with each other without acknowledging gender identity as long as they use the 2nd person. But such possibility does not exist for 3rd person singular.

Consider this exchange where Dua also participates.

Odeen: How can I split a std::string?
Tritt: Use this algorithm which uses strstr
Dua: @Tritt Your answer would work for a C-String but Odden is using a std::string so strstr would not work for xem.
Tritt: @Dua They may still apply it by using c_str

Tritt here is running afoul of A1 and A18 of this improved FAQ. Which means suspension when he clarifies that it is intentional and not a mistake after being contacted by a moderator acting on a flag.

Using xe would imply acknowledging xyr gender identity, which he does not and thus would be a lie. Using he, she or he/she would be impolite, which he also does not want. Using other phrasing would mean wording things in ways he would not usually do in order to avoid acknowledging xyr gender identity, which the FAQ disallows. Despite his own opinions Tritt does not want to go out of his way to deny xyr gender identity. Neither does he want to go out of his way to affirm xyr gender identity.

He wishes to always speak gender-neutral in SE, just as he does in 2nd person. He will also use they when referring to people like himself who prefer he as a pronoun.

But neither the official FAQ nor this improved FAQ allow remaining gender-neutral in the presence of stated pronoun preferences when using the 3rd person singular.

  • 2
    meeting in the middle isn't good enough for some – dfhwze Oct 18 at 20:35
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    "Despite his own opinions Tritt does not ... go out of his way to deny xyr gender identity" yes, he does. – Alex M Oct 18 at 20:51
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    This is definitely a situation SE should consider, but I’m not sure how to solve it without giving people a religious exception to the rules. Is your suggestion to always allow the gender-neutral “they”? – divibisan Oct 18 at 20:54
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    Aside from all the gender considerations, use of neopronouns will introduce lack of clarity, especially on technical sites. The large majority of people are completely unfamiliar with these words. In your example: "Your answer would work for a C-String ... strstr would not work for xem."; most people's reaction will be "what is a xem?; is it a programming construct I'm not familiar with?" This is an aspect that hasn't been addressed, that may be an unintended consequence. – fixer1234 Oct 18 at 21:00
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    @ScottHannen Well, the reason it’s so long is that everyone complained that the original FAQ was unclear, had too many loopholes, and didn’t address some people’s key concerns. It would be nice if the 1 sentence that’s actually in the CoC was enough, but I think the past week here makes it clear that it isn’t. – divibisan Oct 18 at 21:01
  • @fixer1234 Changing society so that such unfamiliar words become familiar is something I view as worthy the inconvenience. They are still not 2nd nature to me so I have to check the table when writing that. Much as I had to first write in spanish and then translate to english years ago. I was not able to think directly in english much as I am still not able to think directly in neopronouns. So I favour SE promoting these neopronouns but also want to avoid alienating people not willing to make the effort as long as we all can remain polite despite our differences. – Jose Antonio Reinstate Monica Oct 18 at 21:07
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    @divibisan Yes, having a 3rd person singular pronoun which is always allowed in SE just as "you" is always allowed for 2nd person is what I would suggest. "They" is a good candidate, but I am fine with any pronoun which can be assigned the same meaning to 3rd person singular as "you" has for 2nd person singular. – Jose Antonio Reinstate Monica Oct 18 at 21:09
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    @divibisan - I don't think that's why everybody complained. I don't think anyone said, "I don't like this, but if you write me a Declaration of Independence-sized dissertation that will make it better." When people hear that we came up with thirty more rules (I'm sorry, FAQs} on this one subject, they will mock us epically. It's comical, like something out of the movie Brazil. If I was making this up as a joke I would have said 20. – Scott Hannen Oct 18 at 21:13
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    What’s wrong with “Dua: @Tritt Your answer would work for a C-String but it won’t work for a std::string.”? – ColleenV parted ways Oct 18 at 21:21
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    @ColleenV The phrase which runs afoul of A1 and A18 is by Tritt, not by Dua. It is “Tritt: @Dua They may still apply it by using c_str”. Tritt is using the pronoun "They" in reference to Odeen despite xem stating a preference for "Xe". – Jose Antonio Reinstate Monica Oct 18 at 21:42
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    @JoseAntonioDuraOlmos Sorry, I didn’t finish my comment and didn’t realize I hit enter. That conversation can be had without needing personal pronouns at all. The first part of the sentence refers to “CString” why does the second part refer to Odeen? “std::string can be converted into a CString using c_str(), so that’s not an issue.” – ColleenV parted ways Oct 18 at 23:12
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    When a large group of people are suddenly exposed to something of which they did not previously have much knowledge (or even an awareness of the existence), of course there are going to be a lot of questions. It's like somebody had suddenly discovered a fundamentally new area in a science, or completely rewritten a core structure in a programming language or sports ruleset or constitutional law. Acting like it's a problem to have a big new thing is not helpful to understanding it, and frankly, being mocked by someone who doesn't bother to try understanding doesn't mean much. @ScottHannen – Nij Oct 20 at 0:47
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    @Nij - I'm not sure if you're reading what I'm saying or just scanning for certain words. Anyway, if this is like a new programming language or constitution (your comparisons, not mine) then it obviously doesn't belong in a FAQ. We use tags and entire sites for those sorts of things. Being nice is great, but no one is going to study how to use words for a specific group the way they learn a programming language. It's almost as if you're agreeing with me about how impractical that is. I'm disengaging from this. I've said my part. There's just too many other things in the world to follow. – Scott Hannen Oct 20 at 1:43
  • This whole business about whether multiple genders exist is pretty irritating since I don't think anyone's actually disputing the material circumstances at all. Surely we could all agree on the set of ways people are born, and the set of way people can become after birth through various means, physically. (And if someone didn't, we could be called upon to manifest, and conclusively manifest, an example thereof.) And the same should be able to be carried out in terms of what describing other people's pronoun desires-- no one is arguing whether anybody WANTS to be called "they" or not. (cont) – Ejaz Nov 21 at 4:08
  • (cont) So it seems that the real argument is not about what "exists" or not, but the manner in which various words should be used. Ie should they correspond in some manner to one's secondary sex characteristics, and if so how will such information be obtained, and when will the inquiry be consider sufficient to have made a reasonable attempt at appropriate determination? (And what of the abnormal cases of secondary sex characteristics? Because that's what medical transition results in, so that is partially what this is about. You wind up post-natally intersex, essentially.) – Ejaz Nov 21 at 4:12
21

I typically prefer not to disclose my IRL gender/sex, but, since the post specifically calls for trans and nonbinary persons to chime in: I am a nonbinary-ID'd person taking cross-sex hormones, making me both trans and nonbinary.

(Btw, if anyone's curious, I am actually not a fan of the concept of gender as a free-floating essence separate from either physical characteristics or "how society treats you", i.e. gender role, however, taking cross-sex hormones gives someone mixed physical sex characteristics, and this is what leads me, someone who does not give a flip about queer theory and so on, to ID this way.)

That said...

I find both the original code of conduct's FAQ and the proposed change overly lengthy, and not getting to the real heart of the matter. We should ask ourselves what the true thing we want to avoid is. I would say it's people going off-topic by harassing others about their gender or sex (I've never seen such a thing, but I'm on the math and programming side of things where such topics would not arise in the course of a normal Q&A). And ~why~ do we want to avoid it? Because it's extremely annoying for someone to derail a thread with rude and irrelevant content. I hope we can all agree that, for our own respective definitions of harassment, harassing behavior is undesirable.

All of the proposed FAQs that I have seen so far have taken a position on what constitutes harassment then tried to address all the predictable cases of its manifestation. I am inclined to think that harassment is like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's description of "obscenity" in Jacobellis v. Ohio: "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description, and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it[.]"

My personal primary objection to the official FAQ and proposed alternatives is the threat of an increased noise to signal ratio for content. Frankly, I don't want to see people asking others' pronouns, volunteering their pronouns, squabbling over the use of pronouns, etc. Any addition to the site that attempts to automatedly inform answerers of questioners' pronouns will be just that to me: noise. Any in-line inquiry or disclosure will certainly be noise as well. And the elaborate dances that I anticipate as users overcompensate or stumble while trying to avoid specific prohibited behaviors or engage in specific proscribed behaviors may be the worst of all.

Thus, I think the most effective method of addressing harassment is to simply prohibit harassment itself and allow moderators to identify it as it arises on the basis of it being off-topic rather than on the basis of any particular ideology or specification. If someone finds out that OP uses "they" pronouns, and writes "OP asks what a dog is. My answer to HIM would be that HE can use HIS dictionary to see for HIMself what a dog is, or simply look at HIS dog." While this may not use any more characters than an appropriate answer, the capitalization and insertion of an implicit ideological comment about the answerer's opinions on gender identity is off-topic content, despite not being on a separate line from the answer. Anyone abnormally inserting excessive pronouns or giving a roundabout and unusual explanation to make a point should be quickly identifiable by native speakers as the answer will seem bizarre. In stackexchanges with questions that specifically involve or are contingent upon the poster's gender identity or sex, an answer that regards a different gender identity or sex would again be off-topic as it would address a question not asked.

In my opinion simply failing to affirmatively acknowledge someone's pronouns or identity in a thread unrelated to social or personal matters does not constitute harassment (unless it's a repeated pattern of conduct where the person runs around answering all questions by that asker just to make a point of botching their pronouns over and over, which would again fall under active rather than passive behavior).

And to address the most likely case: suppose someone says "Well, I would advise OP to look under her bed and observe blah blah blah" and OP responds "I'm a guy :p" in a comment. Okay, technically a bit who-cares but this sort of thing is not over the line for chit-chat in comments. But once the answer responds back "Oh no you're not, I don't believe in guys!" that is taking it into another realm; it is starting a spin-off discussion. Either don't respond (if you don't care or don't believe in men), or some cursory acknowledgement if you feel personally compelled to reply.

Thoughts?

P.S.-- the vast majority of trans people, in my estimation, do not want to be made a spectacle of like this and have everybody hate us because a few people decided to plop "our" "needs" onto the dinner plate of the whole world like an unwanted serving of fish. We have no more vested interest in strangers in a Q&A forum knowing our gender than anyone else (nor do we need the most protection online or whatever the wording was in the CoC release... it's online for heaven's sake, the whole thing is that no one can "see" your arbitrary physical characteristics). Do you see cis people running around making sure everyone knows they're a man or a woman before anyone can answer? No! This whole thing is so embarrassing. I'm curious whether there was an actual trans person anywhere behind the original proposal.

  • I would like to footnote that upvotes will not be taken by me at least as an endorsement of my ontological views on gender itself (vs. the matter at hand). I don't want to derail too much with that. – Ejaz Oct 25 at 18:40
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    Even as someone who probably rather strongly disagrees with your views on sex and gender, I can wholeheartedly support this common sense answer. It amounts simply to, "Don't be an _______," something I'm on board with irrespective of our disagreements. This is what the Be Nice policy used to be about: respect and courtesy for everyone, irrespective of their opinions, not just particular groups of people. +1 – jpmc26 Nov 5 at 2:36
17

Overall, I think this is well written and a good summary of the spirit of the changes! The only issue I have with it is this section:

Q. If someone is non-binary, does it really matter whether I call them "ey" or "they" or "xe" or some other gender-neutral pronoun? Do I really have to handle dozens of different pronouns?
A. Many non-binary people will be OK with whatever non-binary pronoun you prefer for them -- if in doubt, ask.

This could be interpreted to say it's okay for User1 to say "Actually, I go by xe/xem pronouns", and User2 to respond "I don't like those, can I call you they/them instead?" (which I believe would be considered rude, as it's (an attempt to) reject User1's pronouns).

So I'd suggest rewording to make that more clear, maybe something like:

Q. If someone is non-binary, does it really matter whether I call them "ey" or "they" or "xe" or some other gender-neutral pronoun? Do I really have to handle dozens of different pronouns?
A. Many non-binary people will be OK with whatever non-binary or gender-neutral pronoun you prefer -- but if they request a specific pronoun, use that for them going forward. If in doubt, ask.

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    My experience with non-binary people is that the usual reaction to "Can I use 'they' instead?" would be "Sure, that works too", with a large minority saying "No, 'xe' only, please", and almost no one considering the question rude. Might be an issue with clutter/repeated requests, though. – Leopold says Reinstate Monica Oct 12 at 20:32
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    I don't doubt you, but I'm still uncomfortable with wording that could be taken as encouraging users to question someone's stated pronouns.. it can feel very unaccepting (you wouldn't ask someone who said "I'm a 'she'" if you can use "he" instead!), so I'd rather just trust people to give the options they're ok with up front. You make a good point about repeated requests too, especially since we talk to new users all the time online it can really add up and make someone feel "othered". – Em C Oct 12 at 22:24
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    I think you’re both right, but since our goal here is to reduce ambiguities, I feel like Em C makes a good point. – divibisan Oct 13 at 2:13
15

Thank you for your work. I'll reply as a member of the following group:

People concerned by the "compelled speech" aspects of the CoC and its associated FAQ: is this sufficiently non-constraining?

My answer to that is no.

You're further saying:

So of course I wonder whether any policies on this contentious issue would be more broadly acceptable to the community while still addressing the issues the revised CoC and the FAQ were intended to address.

My answer to that is "most likely no".

The issues I have with the CoC aren't that it's badly worded and needs a better tone (which you have managed to achieve for the FAQ). It's that the FAQ gives us a mandatory interpretation of the CoC that basically means that people who disagree with SE, Inc's opinion on "harming people" and their thoughts on how to be more welcoming and more inclusive are no longer welcome to participate without warping their identity.

I've thought a great deal about this (so much that I've considered asking a very extensive question about it). The only way you could salvage the current CoC would be to throw away the official FAQ and write a less authoritorian one that doesn't make blanket statements about what is harmful to any specific group of people while staying silent about everyone else. In fact, it shouldn't make blanket statements about what is hurtful at all.

Another option would be to ditch the FAQ and let people come to their own conclusions about how to interpret the CoC, which by itself I wouldn't consider to be a problem if people's actions were continually assumed to be in good faith. The community could then work out a modus vivendi over time. Of course, this would require a much better handling of CoC violations than how Monica's alleged violation was treated. With Monicas case still unresolved, the new CoC is frankly meaningless for me.

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    I am a bit surprised to read this. This proposal looks way less authoritarian to me and at least acknowledges that there can be legitimate concerns and even a conflict of values and gives some consideration to such issues. It is a significant improvement compared to the plain disregard we have in the official FAQ, IMO. – Stop harming Monica Oct 13 at 0:27
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    I agree it's an improvement, but not in the parts that I really care about. Maybe my answer here will make my issues clearer. – Pascal says Talk to Monica Oct 13 at 0:29
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    @Goyo Golden cage is still a cage. – Resistance Is Futile Oct 13 at 7:49
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    I think you should link to your other answer directly within this answer. I couldn't understand your point in this answer until I read that other answer. Now I fully get where you're coming from. – Wildcard Oct 15 at 20:24
  • "and let people come to their own conclusions about how to interpret the CoC" - does that include moderators, because if they interpret it how they like, its going to be a horrorshow. And if they mods do know how to interpret it, we should know that so we can do the same. – gbjbaanb Oct 18 at 23:21
14

This is a very good start, but Q14 categorically excludes Caleb, a moderator with religious beliefs, from moderating a site he founded about his religion, because of those very religious beliefs. That is the opposite of inclusive. SE shouldn't have second class citizens.

To be clear, he's not asking to be allowed to call people what they don't want to be called. He's just asking for being allowed to disengage or find middle ground if he needs to.

I've posted a proposal that attempts to address this concern and also addresses bigotry based on gender identity more broadly than the current CoC.

(Edited to add which question excludes Caleb and that's he's not asking to call people by pronouns they don't like.)

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    I don't think anything in my proposal excludes a moderator with religious beliefs from moderating. Not unless their beliefs specifically forbid them to (e.g.) call a trans woman "she"; I don't know of any religion that imposes such a requirement on its believers. In any case, I am fairly sure that no position that doesn't explicitly forbid "mispronouning" would be acceptable to SE management. – Gareth McCaughan Oct 19 at 23:18
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    @Gareth: according to Caleb, the recent changes are "enforcing conformity to ideologies openly antagonistic to [his] beliefs". Given that he was willing to resign the moderatorship of a site he helped found over it, I'll take his word for it.. – rockwalrus-stop harming Monica Oct 20 at 0:03
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    The trouble is that there's a lot of scope for equivocation there. Does "conformity" just mean "having to use one set of pronouns rather than another"? Are "his beliefs" specifically ones that are in some sense imposed on him by his religion, or does it just mean beliefs he happens to have that he thinks of as religious? Because if all it comes down to is "I think this person is a man and don't want to have to refer to them as 'she', and I think of that as a religious matter" then I don't think it's fair to say that it's SE "categorically excluding" Caleb rather than [...continues] – Gareth McCaughan Oct 20 at 0:19
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    ... Caleb choosing to walk away. I'd like to know whether people complaining that calling trans women "she" violates their religious principles feel the same way about calling ships "she", or about the German word for "girl" being neuter; I can't recall anyone ever saying they have a problem with either of those things, or any of the other everyday cases in which there's a mismatch between the words you're expected to use about someone or something and what you might actually think that person's or thing's gender truly is. – Gareth McCaughan Oct 20 at 0:22
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    Incidentally, there's an important point here: neither the CoC nor the official SE FAQ nor my proposal makes any demand that anyone believe or express any particular thing about anyone's gender! They say "use the pronouns people ask for", and that's all. If someone says "I'm a man; please refer to me as 'she'" then SE policy is that we're to refer to that person as "she"; as a result, using particular pronouns to refer to someone is not, as such, a statement about their gender. Of course, the most common reason why someone will ask for particular pronouns [...continues] – Gareth McCaughan Oct 20 at 0:43
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    ... is because they want to be referred to by pronouns that do match their (internal, felt) gender identity. But we don't need to care why they've asked for those pronouns. – Gareth McCaughan Oct 20 at 0:45
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    I should be a little more precise: if someone makes it clear that they identify as (say) male and you go out of your way to talk about (say) "women, such as X", then you're failing to be polite and respectful and you're likely to get into trouble. But that's just not a thing that anyone has to do on SE, and all you need to do to avoid trouble is to refrain from being gratuitously dickish. A person's religion might oblige them to believe that X is a woman, but I don't believe anyone's religion requires them to point it out obnoxiously. – Gareth McCaughan Oct 20 at 0:48
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    Consider a game where different players are all allowed to choose a colour as the name. It might be X's religious belief that only red and blue and yellow exist, but if Y chooses to be called green or pink or grey, X doesn't need to agree that these colours exist, or even that Y is actually in fact green (pink, grey, ...) to refer to Y by that name, and X definitely doesn't need to vociferously argue that Pink is really Red or that Green must pick either Yellow or Blue. And if X doesn't like using arbitrary words to describe people because of an irrelevant ... [1/2] – Nij Oct 20 at 0:59
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    [2/2] ... because of an irrelevant group of things that happen to share some of the words, well, X is truly free to not do that, and not be involved. But it's not the policy of allowing people to choose their own colour that has excluded X, it's X's refusal to let go of this small part of control over other people's choices. And if X's job requires them to let it go in order to effectively achieve the goals they are placed in that job for, they have only their own beliefs to consider, and make a decision for themselves based on it. @rockwalrus – Nij Oct 20 at 1:05
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    @Gareth: Caleb's resignation is linked in the answer and addresses many of your comments. I cannot paste all the relevant passages in this tiny space. Suffice it to say that he's willing to avoid expressing disagreement in several ways and to work out any actual issues that occur with the other person like two grown adults should do, but that's not enough to keep from being explicitly disqualified by your Q14. – rockwalrus-stop harming Monica Oct 20 at 1:49
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    I would be happy to do my best to explain why some people feel their religious beliefs preclude then from using certain pronouns in certain circumstances, but you'd probably benefit more from asking someone who believes that way directly. At any rate that is more suited to chat than the comments here. – rockwalrus-stop harming Monica Oct 20 at 1:58
  • I think, depending on how it was interpreted, Q14 could allow a uniform policy of avoiding pronouns altogether, which might satisfy some people. If that was clarified, do you think that could be an acceptable compromise? – divibisan Oct 21 at 0:36
  • @divibisan: You'd have to ask Caleb directly, but from his writings my guess is yes. – rockwalrus-stop harming Monica Oct 21 at 5:48
  • For this we'll have to broaden the scope away from pronouns and ask what sorts of things religious exemption can be claimed for, generally. US law goes through this same question all the time and there's a lot of interesting precedent there. // Subtopics I've heard so far: active vs passive, balance of burdens. – Ejaz Oct 25 at 18:46
13

I want to reiterate the sentiment from my comment: this post is great. Instead of feeling like I'm being attacked for not having the same groupthink as Stack Overflow, I feel like there is space for me to disagree and not be banned.

Here are my remaining issues with this proposal:

  1. We need to be clear if neutral third-party pronouns are available to use if someone explicitly mentions a pronoun. Previously several official comments made it seem like this was a violation that will get you banned.

    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 recognize their identity and is a violation of the Code of Conduct.

    Q16: May I use they/them by default?

    Yes, but be prepared to make adjustments if so requested.

    From @Catija (staff) If you use they/them by default, that's fine. If someone requests that you use other pronouns and you immediately continue to use they/them for that person, we may point it out to you. "Penalized" in most cases is generally going to be as minor as a comment being removed or adjusted to meet the request of the person being spoken about. Only in extreme cases of repeated requests to change, will it lead to a mod message or suspension.

    This one of the main places where my speech compulsion fears spread out of. We need to make sure the new FAQ is clear if this stance will be maintained.

  2. As others have mentioned, a lot of these ideas and terminologies are new and unfamiliar to many. It's important to have lots of links out to definitions.

  3. For Q17

    If something is obviously unreasonable -- e.g., if they are demanding to be worshipped or asking you to use obscenities when referring to them -- then you are welcome to act accordingly.

    We need to be more explicit here. What does act accordingly mean? Can I ignore it? My big fear here is that I don't know the boundary between real and unreasonable. This is the same thing I spelled out in my post on the original FAQ.

    Note that even though the chances of any individual user running across this scenario is low, we should still be explicit about what the rules are here. We're trying to define the CoC here - the foundations upon which we build the rest of our community. If we don't get things right here, it only goes downhill.

  4. Q29. There are still edge-cases that aren't clear to me.

    A. There always will be. Use your common sense, be nice, assume good faith but be prepared to revise that assumption in the face of the evidence, and you are unlikely to go too far wrong.

    This one feels so nice, and I want to agree with it so much, but it unfortunately has problems that I think are indicative of community divide here. For starters, common sense is a loaded phrase nowadays. Your common sense and mine will have variations. Likely tiny, but across a large, international population it will be wider.

    Then there is assume good faith. There is a whole post here that delves into it much more, but it seems like Stack Exchange now has a problem with this phrase. We can't have it in the FAQ but not in the CoC, it's too confusing. I'd love to have it in both, and personally think it makes marked improvements in user interactions, but this "common sense" measure is now controversial.

Overall I want to again reiterate: this is amazing work, thank you

  • 1
    Your proposals seem to leave it wide open for someone to marginalize others by using preferred pronouns for all but them. E.g., "Alice" prefers "she" but always gets called "they" even though Bob, Charles and David, who all prefer "he" do get called "he." That seems to me clearly targeted insulting behaviour; how do you deal with that and the argument that it should be allowed because asking for "she" for Alice or "they" for Bob, Charles and David would be "compelling" speech? – Curt J. Sampson Oct 18 at 3:36
  • 2
    @CurtJ.Sampson Good questions. This type of behavior is inherently self-documenting. If someone uses they only for one particular person/class, but everywhere else regularly uses more specific pronouns, then a surface investigation will reveal this. This can be shown factually, quantitatively and empirically. Compared to 'is this pronoun real or a troll? I guess I just have to hope the CM is in a good mood today'. I think its an all-around improvement. – David says Reinstate Monica Oct 18 at 4:02
  • @DavidGrinberg but what sort of computational cost are we incurring with all this? Mods are going to be spending their time reading people's comment histories for their pronoun usage? It does not seem like an appropriate use of time to me at all. – Ejaz Oct 23 at 22:01
  • @Ejaz Agreed, it is an expensive form of investigation. That is one of the reasons I believe this entire policy is bad - it is impractical to devise intent from our interactions here. However if the SE overlords insist on having this policy, we can (hope) that the number of instances that this type of investigation will be low, so the expense of it will be manageable. – David says Reinstate Monica Oct 24 at 0:33
12

This is something I'd been wondering but it didn't feel important enough to post, and now it does with this effort to rewrite the FAQ:

We're asking that when someone indicates what pronouns should be used to refer to them, you do as they say.

What constitutes the italicized part seems ambiguous, both in the original FAQ and this proposal: whether it's when the other person's profile states pronouns or when there is a direct communication about pronouns.

Assuming it's the latter and you don't need to look up user profiles proactively, as stated by a CM elsewhere, I'd clarify some wording in the proposal as:

Q. I want to let people know what my pronouns are. What should I do?
A. Put them in the "About me" section of your profile for those who want to proactively look up your pronouns. Do not assume others to have done so, however. When someone uses a pronoun you're uncomfortable with, let them know about your pronouns directly.

(Italicized parts are my additions.)

And add a new question:

Q. Am I expected to check somebody's profile before I refer to them using a pronoun?
A. No.

or if this isn't exactly what's desirable, at least with the same level of unambiguity.

This clarification might sound like common sense that doesn't need to be stated, but having very unambiguous and clear descriptions of the expected behavior helps assuage anxiety when you don't have context on social expectations. Related: How should I deal with the new CoC as non-native English speaker?


This'll need to be rewritten again if SE adds pronouns to user cards or some such though.

  • 3
    Instead of tweaking those two questions (which I felt were adequately answered in the original post), I would recommend just adding an additional question instead – something like: Q: Am I expected to check somebody's profile before I refer to them using a pronoun? (I think that's the basic question you are trying to address with your edits.) – J.R. means 'Just Reinstate' Oct 12 at 10:03
  • 1
    @J.R. It makes sense to replace the second with that one, thanks (edited answer). For the first one, if the only way mentioned is the "About me" section, it implies that is sufficient to indicate pronouns, which in turn implies others are expected to check profiles. This will contradict with the admission that you don't need to check profiles. Do you think the additions to the first question's answer are not necessary? – ento Oct 12 at 11:21
  • 1
    I liked the way the original keeps things simple: Q. I want to let people know what my pronouns are. What should I do? A. Put them in the "About me" section of your profile. That's wonderfully succinct and elegant. – J.R. means 'Just Reinstate' Oct 12 at 11:50
  • @J.R. To make sure: is it that 'succinct and elegant' is preferred over 'contradictory and misleading [to some]' (which I'm using synonymously to "ambiguous"), or is the original not contradictory nor misleading in the first place? – ento Oct 12 at 17:36
9

You proposed:

Q. What if someone wants to be referred to as "the Great and Mighty One" or by an obscenity or something? A. If something is obviously unreasonable -- e.g., if they are demanding to be worshipped or asking you to use obscenities when referring to them -- then you are welcome to act accordingly....

I would propose that we be a little more clear as to when a request is "unreasonable" or in bad faith. We could express it somewhat like this:

Generally, all other things being equal, a person's stated pronouns are presumed unreasonable or in bad faith when such terms fall into any of the following categories:

  • Names, such as "Sue", "Bob", or "Godzilla"
  • Titles, such as "King", "President", "Airman Second Class", "Skipper", "High Priestess", "Bachelor of Arts", or "Professor"
  • Forms of address, such as "sir", "Your Grace", "Her Imperial Majesty", or "holy and exalted one"
  • Descriptors of personal, professional, ethnic, or social roles, such as "gamer", "Chinaman", "quarterback", "Irish taxi driver" or "1337 Appalachian warez haxor d00d"
  • Unpronounceable or random gibberish, such as "asdpofasm34534" or "5u034spgsdfg"
  • Mottos, slogans, taglines, advertisements, or similar messages, such as "Jesus saves", "Eat at Joe's", "Vote Cthulhu 2020", or "Bite me Skinner"
  • Common, known troll terminology, such as Apache attack helicopter designations or obscene words

We aren't trying to say that you can't have the pronoun you consider your own. We are saying that it needs to be a pronoun. If your pronoun already exists in the language in some other role, we need to understand the background behind it and why it is the correct pronoun for you.

If you have made up your own new pronoun, it is important to keep in mind why that is. Pronouns, in English as well as many other languages, are intended as generic substitutes for a name in cases where disclosing or repeating the name is not feasible or desirable. If your pronoun is intended to refer solely to you, then it is probably a name and not a pronoun. You are free to change your username to reflect this name, or post it in your profile as a nickname or an alternative or preferred name.

8

One question the FAQ ought to address directly:

Q. Can I disengage from an interaction to avoid using a stated pronoun?

Given my present understanding of the intent, a suitable answer might be:

A. You are always welcome to disengage to avoid conflict, but be sure not to do harm when you disengage. A user who conspicuously disengages from conversations simply to avoid using stated pronouns could be subject to correction or sanction.

Moderators might be held to a still higher standard here than regular users, but it would still be useful to have specific advice in the FAQ.


Background

This issue was addressed by a Community Manager in a comment (emphasis added):

I think there's some misunderstanding! You're always welcome to silently disengage if that's what feels correct for you. We actually often find disengaging is the best answer when you're in a situation that makes you uncomfortable. Just be certain you don't do harm when you disengage by making a statement that you can not or will not comply with their request. – Catija♦ Oct 10 at 16:21

and the Code of Conduct says:

If a situation makes it hard to be friendly, stop participating and move on.

I am not aware of official clarification on the subject of discriminatory disengagement.

  • 3
    I strongly disagree that any disengagement should be considered conspicuous and certain intent inferred. Forcing someone to continue engaging in a situation where they are not socially comfortable leads to disaster. As an autistic person, I promise you, once I've offended someone and the situation has escalated, the best and safest thing for everyone is for me to disengage rather than attempt to explain myself or continue on; it just makes it worse. Furthermore inferring intent from LACK of action is inappropriate (on a user level-- if someone's a mod not doing their job, that's different). – Ejaz Oct 23 at 21:54
8

The problem with the CoC change is not that the company "didn't explain it well enough". Therefore no amount of FAQ is going to fix the issue. They could post 20, or 40, or even 100 FAQ, the problem would remain the same: an attempt to force compelled speech on people (most of which aren't even native speakers) that

  • is completely contrary to the way SE sites have worked before (focus on the question/answer, not the person), and
  • will be weaponized in the future.

Besides, at the point where an FAQ for a single additional sentence in the CoC reached double digits, any reasonable person would have realized that there is something fundamentally wrong with the change.

  • 5
    I think that for some users no possible interpretation of the new CoC will be acceptable, and indeed for them no possible FAQ will help anything; but that for some other users the new CoC isn't a problem in itself but the FAQ suggested (rightly or wrongly) that SE's attitude to it was too strict or coercive for them. A kinder gentler FAQ might be evidence of a better attitude (either poorly expressed by the other FAQ, or changed since the other FAQ). – Gareth McCaughan Oct 22 at 15:12
  • IMO their FAQ clearly expresses the intent behind the CoC change, which is why I believe that this will be weaponized. Also, the point in my last paragraph still stands regardless of whether people disagree fundamentally or just slightly with their FAQ: whenever a supposedly inclusive sentence raises questions in the double digits there is something fundamentally wrong with that sentence. – Ansgar Wiechers Oct 22 at 16:16
  • 2
    I am not sure the point in your last paragraph is correct: it could simply be that the change in question raises issues with which many people are not familiar. – Gareth McCaughan Oct 22 at 16:18
8

My name is Squeamish Ossifrage, and I go by ‘they’. I tend to agree with everything in Aza's assessment: that my reaction is generally positive, and that there is room for improvement like Aza suggested. Some additional thoughts:

A number of people have asked: Why don't we just get rid of gendered pronouns altogether and use ‘they’ for everyone?

This is obviously tempting, but gender is a big part of human life. True, some of us don't like society's prescription of gender roles at all (hi!). But some of us don't like certain parts of society's gender roles, like treating programming as an un-feminine thing to be done only by masculine rock star ninjas.

While there are women who justifiably prefer to conceal their gender on the internet, there are also women who vocally object—with feminine names, pronouns, and voices—to this perspective of programming as masculine and solitary, and who make themselves role models for onlookers. (Obligatory xkcd: https://www.xkcd.com/322/) Both approaches to attacking gender barriers are legitimate!

It is also legitimate to just be yourself, here to talk about programming or cryptography or parenting or board games or gardening or psychology, without aiming to make a point about gender or to hide from it. And it can be instructive to observe the relative prevalence of masculine, feminine, conscientious-objector, and other personas on the site.

So while gender is fraught with social complications and multidimensional privilege differentials, and while I appreciate that anyone is welcome to choose their own name or conceal their own gender on the site—and encourage anyone who wants to, to do so!—simply erasing it by policy for everyone is no more a solution to gender issues than feigning colorblindness is a solution to racism no matter how many naive white moderates think it is.

  • 2
    "While there are women who justifiably prefer to conceal their gender on the internet, there are also women who vocally object—with feminine names, pronouns, and voices—to this perspective of programming as masculine and solitary [...] Both approaches to attacking gender barriers are legitimate!" I don't like this characterization. You have taken the only two possibilities (using an identifiably feminine name, and not doing so) and attached an activist intent to both. Many women merely wish to discuss programming without any consideration for "attacking". – Ejaz Oct 23 at 21:57
  • @Ejaz I didn't mean to suggest that the two stories of intent I described were exhaustive, but I agree with your assessment and I see that what I wrote wasn't clear about that. – Squeamish Ossifrage Oct 23 at 22:20
  • 1
    Some men prefer to conceal their gender too, because of inherent social biases. Some men identify as feminists, reject patriarchal structures and gender stereotypes, and want to avoid gendered assumptions by other users when participating on a Stack site. Much less of an issue in historically male-dominated fields like IT, but a very real concern in fields where a gender analysis is relevant. Even posting this comment makes me feel unsafe because some users may inappropriately infer my gender based solely on the point I'm making! I strongly support the pronoun policy & this redrafted FAQ. – Chappo Says Reinstate Monica Oct 24 at 1:09
  • @ReinstateMonica when you say "unsafe", what do you mean? What are you concerned might happen, especially since it looks like the account you're posting on was created just for this topic (which I also should probably have done, as I don't need my entire professional network knowing my personal history...)? Good faith question. – Ejaz Oct 25 at 18:42
  • @Ejaz Not a new a/c: if you go to my profile you'll see "Member for 3 years, 5 months". My fear is that some users might decide I must be male (because I talked about what some men prefer) and judge my posts here or elsewhere coloured by that assumption. I've seen that happen outside SE, where hostility and social exclusion were entirely based on the person's (male) gender. I want people on SE to respond to what I say, without being coloured by assumptions of who I am or what I look like. Especially when discussing the current topic! :-) – Chappo Says Reinstate Monica Oct 25 at 21:42
  • @ReinstateMonica Hmm, I had said that bc I thought I saw a single-digit reputation. I was simultaneously looking at a thread where people were discussing everyone changing their username to Reinstate Monica, and so perhaps looked at someone else's and mentally transferred that information to this thread or something-- in any case, clearly my mistake. – Ejaz Oct 27 at 4:30
  • 1
    Anyway, I know what you mean, as I've been in a similar circumstance. But I don't approve of that usage of "unsafe", personally. It contributes to a larger pattern of (some) people calling everything violence and so on... I wouldn't ever describe someone making erroneous assumptions about me on a forum a matter of personal safety unless it was going to affect me materially in real life (including cases of substantial mental health impact). Of course if someone's talking about a matter of their safety, any admin or leader should take that very seriously-- but this usage imho is crying wolf. – Ejaz Oct 27 at 4:35
7

I would suggest changes to this also.

Q10. Am I forbidden to express my opinion about this? A. In most contexts your opinions about gender, whatever they are, are off topic. In contexts where those opinions are actually relevant -- as they might be in, say, a discussion on Philosophy.SE -- you are welcome to express those opinions so long as you do so respectfully and politely. But please be aware that many things you might want to say may be extremely distressing to some readers, and you should try to minimize that distress.

Everything can be extremely distressing to some readers. I, nor you, can never hope to control or predict the distressedness of others. Furthermore, there can be no debate without dissent, and this dissent can be distressing in and by itself. The laws protecting free speech are not useful for protecting speech that everyone agrees to. They have to exist to protect the speech that is not agreed to, and that is held most usually, by the minority.

Now, SE is not obliged to follow free speech rules, that is not my claim, but I would say that it would be a worthy objective to have - to allow dissent and to protect minority opinions - if they otherwise are in accord with the Be Nice policy (as it were)

I would rather see a sentence providing for this.

Please be aware that dissent and disagreement has the propensity for causing distress - on this topic in particular - both when visiting such sites and voicing your views and opinions.

  • 3
    "I can never hope to control or predict the distressedness of others": That's why the sentence is there. It is to inform people that this is a topic likely to cause distress, so if you discuss it (in a place where such discussion is on-topic) you should use extra care. The discussion of "free speech" is a non sequiter because the sentence you highlighted doesn't limit or even discourage speech – it simply gives you a heads up that this topic can be hurtful. – divibisan Oct 15 at 20:58
  • 8
    It's true that anything can turn out to be distressing to someone. But some things are predictably particularly distressing and it's reasonable to point out particular topics that are likely to have that problem. – Gareth McCaughan Oct 15 at 21:00
  • @divibisan It is - as is - a plea for people to self censor based on the propensity to cause distress to anyone - which if followed to the letter - should mean no more posts at all anywhere. Thus I propose a change to a) make it a shared responsibility between those who post and those who read and b) Toning down the extremity of it and removing the reference to minimize stress (any disagreement maximizes stress - if I were to say something that is the minima of stress, I would have to go for... "I agree totally"...) – Reinstate Monica Oct 15 at 21:02
  • @GarethMcCaughan I agree, which is why I suggest to strengthen that part ("on this topic in particular") – Reinstate Monica Oct 15 at 21:03
  • 3
    “I would say that it would be a worthy objective to have - to allow dissent” — As much as recent events might make it seem otherwise, debating pronouns isn't the point of Stack Exchange. If people want to have bad opinions on this issue, they can do it somewhere where it's on-topic. – Veedrac Oct 15 at 23:46
  • @Veedrac ...for instance on SE.Philosophy as the point suggests, no? – Reinstate Monica Oct 16 at 14:47
  • 2
    @StianYttervik Not really. As much as Philosophy.SE is a dumpster fire right now, its goal as a site is about neutrally relaying academic philosophy. To the extent that a question like that might still be on-topic (though I haven't found a single instance of such a question), the point of the site is about giving a holistic understanding of the debate, not a podium for people to shout about their own positions. – Veedrac Oct 16 at 22:16
  • 1
    @StianYttervik If someone on Phil.SE wants to neutrally talk about positions that deny transgender people's transitioned-to pronouns, that's fine, but that doesn't also mean that it's OK to use Phil.SE to enact those opinions as a demonstration of dissent. – Veedrac Oct 16 at 22:18
  • @divibisan that's exactly my approach: gender is not relevant. Don't make it relevant. – tuskiomi Oct 22 at 15:51
7

For the sake of completeness and understanding, and this doesn't necessarily need to go into an FAQ, but Q6 and Q9 fail to cover a deeper objection.

If you sincerely and without malice believe in objective physical gender, or put another way you don't believe that gender does or should exist outside of congenital sex, there can be two further concerns:

  1. Affirming a trans/non-binary identity can harm the subject, and society in general.
  2. Being a known representative of e.g. a religious group that does (1) can mislead other members of the group as to the group's teachings.
  • 1
    How do you think we can address that, without making religious exceptions to all rules? It seems like there should be a way to use gender-inclusive or preferred pronouns without affirming any broader views on reality ... – divibisan Oct 18 at 17:18
  • 2
    @divibisan I don’t think it does need addressing. If disengagement is OK then that’s sufficient. I just wanted to point out there are positions where “it doesn’t hurt anyone to comply” doesn’t work. – Stop Harming Monica Oct 18 at 17:23
  • 1
    @divibisan Easy! Just declare from the outset that using any given pronoun doesn't imply any agreement with any of its owners opinions about gender/sex/politics/science/religion/whatever. We should include such a public disclaimer for everyone in the FAQ itself. Anyone who wants to could then link to it if anyone forgets. – user-2147482600 Oct 18 at 17:44
  • If your sincere, deeply held beliefs (religious or otherwise) prevent you from treating other people with respect in public discourse, then those beliefs are incompatible with participating on Stack Overflow / Stack Exchange. Whether or not they are malicious in nature is both unknowable and irrelevant. – Clement Cherlin Oct 30 at 12:58
6

After reading the earlier CoC, I wasn't understanding what was this fuss about. But this thread here is very useful and clear for a non-native English speaker like me. Also the tone and clarity of the wordings used is easily understandable like mentioned by others. This is good move in my opinion.

4

If I may be so bold to cite one of my answers from a few years back when RPG SE had an issue:

All pronouns are neutral and should be enforced as such.

I personally think that nobody should be harassed, or be in the red for guessing wrong on how someone wants to be called, and this should extend to RPG.SE. no pronoun should have a negative connotation, whether being misused or otherwise.

Unless otherwise stated, all questions are gender agnostic.

This means that 'he/him', 'they/their', and 'she/her' pronouns are correct, and none of them are incorrect. Good answers simply maintain continuity, and don't switch to refer to the same people. The answer may decide to change pronouns if the answerer wishes, but there is no correct gender. An answer should never be wrong because the gender is 'incorrect', because no gender option is incorrect. If the OP puts in the post that this is a gender-issue, then correct pronouns should be used.

In short, unless it's a gender issue, pronouns are not relevant

0

I think you're misunderstanding:

  1. who "we" are; and
  2. what "we" are trying to achieve.

You wrote:

I take it that Stack Exchange Inc. wants (at least) the following things:

  • To have a welcoming environment where no one feels as if they're fair game for rude and marginalizing language.
  • Not to do things that result in a large fraction of the community, or of particular parts of the community (e.g., moderators), feeling alienated.

It's actually the opposite. "We" are StackExchange Inc. And what "we" are doing is creating an unwelcome environment for moderators and users who keep an open mind and a critical attitude regarding the company's behavior and policies, and it seems (and is even hinted) that intent is making such people leave.

The whole gendered-pronoun business, itself, is being used as a Red Herring for that purpose. Statistically, it seems to barely ever come up (other than in the "don't assume my gender" variety). So really, don't sweat it, the matter is covered well enough by a general "be nice" principle. No need for a CoC for that.

  • 4
    Setting aside whether pronouns need to be mentioned specifically, it's not enough to have a general principle of "be nice". An earlier "be nice" S.E. page explicitly called out "bigotry of any kind", lists a few of the most important examples, and says "when in doubt, just don't." It's very useful to assure people that you're actually thinking about bigotry. Partly because there's a lot of bigotry that doesn't look like the absolute worst. There's a lot where someone thinks it's not even controversial. That framework helps push out bigotry, and hold users to account if they refuse to stop. – sourcejedi Oct 19 at 11:16
  • 4
    @sourcejedi: You're assuming that the change to the (previous) code of conduct was necessary and beneficial; I doubt that's the case - and given recent developments, my doubts have only deepened. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Oct 19 at 11:25
-4

I think this suggestion still makes the same main mistake that the original CoC change did. It doesn't take into account that pronouns are part of languages, not aspects of people. Gender is an aspect of a person. The association between pronouns and genders is a part of language too.

So it doesn't make sense for a person to state their supposed pronouns. A person can say what their gender is, and it's up to people to use the pronouns that, in their languages, would be correct when referring to someone of that stated gender.

  • 12
    Gender doesn't always imply pronouns. – Zoe Oct 12 at 12:46
  • 3
    But that's precisely what this post is saying: use the correct pronoun. The complication comes when the gender is neither male nor female since most languages haven't come to a shared agreement for what pronoun is correct in that situation. Therefore, the only polite thing to do is to use the one the person you are talking to suggests. – terdon - stop harming Monica Oct 12 at 12:48
  • 2
    @Zoethetransgirl if there's a case where gender doesn't imply pronouns, then it would be correct to write in a gender neutral way – Meeep Oct 12 at 16:00
  • 9
    @Meeep no, it would be correct to use the pronouns the person prefers. – Zoe Oct 12 at 16:01
  • @terdon I think any language has ways to talk in a gender neutral way, so if there's a situation where neither male or female pronouns would be correct, it would make sense to make a gender neutral statement. As for what such a statement would look like, it depends on the person, some people would use "they", others "he/she", etc. – Meeep Oct 12 at 16:02
  • 9
    @Meeep no, actually. Many languages have gender as an integral part of every single word. There are no genderless nouns at all. In such languages (and these are many: French, Spanish, Greek, Italian...) it is impossible to speak with no gender at all. If I want to refer to the door in Spanish, I need to use la puerta which is feminine. While there are indeed ways of making the language used to address humans more gender neutral, such languages make it very hard if not impossible to totally remove gender from your speech or writing. – terdon - stop harming Monica Oct 12 at 16:37
  • @terdon So there's no way in these languages to talk about someone of unknown/unclear gender? – Meeep Oct 13 at 0:49
  • 1
    @Meeep yes, as I said, there are ways when addressing a human, although as far as I know, nothing with the long history of singular they in English. It's just impossible to remove gender from the language entirely since all nouns are gendered. – terdon - stop harming Monica Oct 13 at 0:56
  • 1
    @terdon I'm Polish, and although here words have grammatical gender too, it can be treated separately from human gender. For example, the word "person" is gendered female, but you could use "that person" about a guy, and it would be totally correct, even though the statement would be grammatically female. Is it different in the languages you mentioned? Do they say nothing at all if they have to refer to someone and they don't know that person's gender? – Meeep Oct 13 at 1:04
  • 3
    @Zoethetransgirl When you say that gender doesn't always imply pronouns, please understand that you appear to be using both those words to mean very different things from what they normally mean, ones unlike how the vast majority of the world uses those two words. Hence widespread confusion. That's of course your right, so please don't think I believe otherwise. But universal understanding will not come in a day. – tchrist Oct 14 at 2:47
  • @Meeep no, I mean exactly like what you describe in Polish. I was just pointing out that the existence of grammatical gender adds a whole extra layer of complication to the issue of genderless speech. – terdon - stop harming Monica Oct 14 at 8:57
  • @terdon I don't think it really adds that much complication. Grammatical gender and human gender can be viewed separately, that's why in Poland you can say "that person" (which is grammatically female) about a male, and it's perfectly ok. Even in very gendered languages, people already have various ways to refer to someone with unknown/unclear gender, so it makes no sense to have CoC rules which interfere with that. – Meeep Oct 14 at 14:49
  • @Meeep It does add complication. It is widely understood that language forms your ability for thought. "Language & Cognition" is even the name of a journal. If you say "everyone should use a gender neutral pronoun" - that might be extremely unfamiliar to someone whose language is made up of only gendered nouns. – Reinstate Monica Oct 15 at 20:52
  • 1
    @StianYttervik I think you're actually agreeing with me, maybe I was unclear earlier. I didn't say that everyone should use a gender neutral pronoun, I said that everyone should talk in a way that would be correct in their language. If, in some language, people use gendered nouns even when referring to people of unknown gender, then that's what they should do. – Meeep Oct 15 at 21:27
-4

Freedom of speech has been mentioned a lot during the discussions of this issue, so I think it is important to add the following emphasis in bold:

Q8. But free choice of language is important to me. This rule impairs my freedom of speech.
A. Only the government is prohibited from restricting your freedom of speech. As a privately-owned website, Stack Exchange is allowed to set its own rules, including rules restricting certain language. By participating here you're agreeing to Stack Exchange's rules to treat others with politeness. That includes not complaining that they're idiots (even if you sincerely think they are, and even if you're right). It also includes not misgendering them, however sincerely.

Source

  • You could also mention users addressing "Freedom of Expression" which grants people the right to express themselves, not restricted by a language police. – dfhwze Oct 14 at 5:18
  • 11
    @Houseman it kinda does, actually. Such rules only refer to censorship by governments. If you come into my house and I tell you I don't like what you're saying, and kick you out if you insist on saying it, that isn't a free speech issue. Free speech, and freedom of expression, are simply not relevant in the context of an internet platform hosted by a private company. I am not happy with SE's compelled speech approach, but casting it as a violation of my right to free speech is just silly. – terdon - stop harming Monica Oct 14 at 8:55
  • 5
    @terdon : It's not inherently about governments at all. If I say that you have absolute freedom of speech in my household, then I am telling you something about me as a host, not (or not only) about the local government. Indeed, I would consider it a very serious thing to say that to a guest! You don't have a right to free speech in my house, but it might (or might not) be desirable all the same. – Toby Bartels Oct 14 at 22:02
  • 8
    It’s not a violation of the law in the US and other countries that protects freedom of speech. But freedom of speech is a much broader concept that goes beyond law and what the government can and cannot restrict. There’s no law requiring private institutions to grant you freedom of speech, and arguably there’s no precedent, but that doesn’t mean that there is no ideal. – Cody Gray Oct 15 at 19:51
  • 5
    Free speech is a philosophical concept. Just like "no bigotry" doesn't mean "you only need to avoid the categories of discrimination explicitly forbidden by law." This answer is nonsense. – Wildcard Oct 15 at 20:26
  • 2
    @Wildcard How is this answer nonsense? StackExchange is free to set whatever rules they want for their website, including speech restrictions. If someone wants to violate those rules, StackExchange is allowed to take action against them. – pacoverflow Oct 15 at 22:00
  • 5
    @pacoverflow it's nonsense that "Freedom of speech only means that the government cannot restrict what you say." Just like it would be nonsense to say "Bigotry only means discrimination that is legally forbidden." I am not claiming that SE cannot legally restrict speech. I am claiming that your limited definition of "freedom of speech" is nonsense. You could state, "The US Constitution's protection of freedom of speech only forbids governmental restrictions on speech, not restrictions by private parties." But that is irrelevant to the statement "Free choice of language is important to me." – Wildcard Oct 15 at 22:49
  • 4
    @Wildcard: This is a website hosted by a privately-owned corporation. Practically-speaking, nobody has any claim to "free speech" here, because the corporation has no mandate to host anyone's speech. – user102937 Oct 18 at 0:21
  • 2
    @Wildcard: It's a valid distinction, but ultimately irrelevant. The simple fact is that free speech protections don't apply here. – user102937 Oct 18 at 1:27
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    Good edit. I'd drop the "only the government..." sentence completely, though. People are generally well aware of where public allowances end and private rules begin. – House- 'Reinstate Monica' -man Oct 18 at 1:41
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    @Houseman I will keep it in, because I'm not so sure people are generally aware of that. If that was the case, this question might not need to be in the FAQ. I made another edit though. – pacoverflow Oct 18 at 2:00
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    @Houseman I'm just going to remove the last line, as I think that concern is covered by Q11 and Q12. – pacoverflow Oct 18 at 2:14
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    I'd suggest: Q8. "Mah freeze peach!!" A. Like many venues you are expected to maintain a minimum standard of behaviour. This is not 4chan. – user Oct 18 at 10:20
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    This answer gets a -1 from me. Freedom of speech is an abstract concept that does not require a government to exist. @terdon "But it's legal for them to censor whatever they like!" is a terrible argument. Just because it isn't illegal does not mean it isn't still a bad thing. This should be required reading. – Hugo Zink Oct 18 at 11:00
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    This answer and a lot of the comments appear to be conflating the first amendment (A US-only piece of legislature) with the abstract concept and ideology known as "free speech". Yes it's legal for them to censor, and yes we can criticize it. Do you really want a handful of megacorporations controlling what you can and can't say on the internet? Will you still be saying "private platform" when The Party actually turns out to be Google? – Hugo Zink Oct 18 at 11:02
-11

While a good effort, I don't think this adds anything over the existing FAQ. It's just addressing some common arguments, which is probably a mistake as it makes it sound like there is a debate to be had here.

The FAQ is clear and concise. No need to get into lawyering it just to placate people.

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