I also want to know...from our LGBTQ users--are you offended when the person just doesn't include a pronoun at all? Because rules like this are FOR the people they might hurt. When a gender-neutral pronoun is used, does that cause harm? When no pronouns at ALL are used, does that cause harm? I'm asking to see if I can get a different perspective on this, though I have no problem using whatever pronouns a person wants, I'm worried that even though I really don't use them much (I say the OP or poster most of the time) that not using them will bring the hammer down, and I want to know how exactly SE can possibly determine what is in my mind as I write and how they would determine how I "naturally write"?

See below from the new COC...

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.

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

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

If we aren't required to insert pronouns, but we have to use them as we would "naturally write" how can Stack Exchange possibly determine the intent? Q12 speaks to what Monica was saying, which was that she doesn't actually use pronouns in that way. But how can the SE possibly determine, in a given piece of writing if the person writing would have "naturally" written those in?

It becomes less about what the person does or doesn't do, and more about what SE thinks the person THINKS. And I believe that's the problem.

  • 57
    Personally, I'm offended when my status in that subgroup is brought to the forefront when it's totally irrelevant.
    – Izkata
    Oct 12, 2019 at 6:17
  • 23
    There are so so many really improtant problems in the world that need to solve, and I just don't see why they bring such rules in the first place, meaningless, wasting of time. I think they are trying to solve the wrong problem, they should focus on something that matters.
    – Eric
    Oct 12, 2019 at 6:44
  • 6
    It doesn't have to be enforceable. Even the threat of a ban is enough to stir users in the planned direction.
    – user
    Oct 12, 2019 at 7:14
  • 15
    @EricWang - I wouldn't say they are trying to solve the wrong problem, I'd say that they went about solving the problem in the entirely wrong way. Oct 12, 2019 at 10:14
  • There is another question that can give you some hints at least about what a moderator thinks they are expected to do. Oct 12, 2019 at 15:19
  • "When a gender-neutral pronoun is used, does that cause harm? When no pronouns at ALL are used, does that cause harm?" I don't know. It could be that the person specifically liked gender-specific pronouns. Not using the preferred pronouns could be constructed as not being nice, couldn't it? Oct 15, 2019 at 11:46
  • "But how can the SE possibly determine, in a given piece of writing if the person writing would have "naturally" written those in?" A very advanced ML/NLP model might help there, especially when it's about recurring patterns. Not sure how good the guys at Google or MIT are nowadays. Oct 15, 2019 at 11:53
  • It will be enforced in the same way as all other possible breaches of the CoC are enforced: by moderators using intelligent judgement. Sometimes cases will be clear; sometimes not. This is no different from the old requirement to be nice.
    – Raedwald
    Oct 16, 2019 at 15:22

8 Answers 8


I also want to know...from our LGBTQ users--are you offended when the person just doesn't include a pronoun at all?

Not really. The alternatives are my names (plain or through a ping) or through alternatives such as "OP" when on main or in chat associated with a post. Ungendered second person pronouns (you/your/...) are in my experience never a problem, as far as I know anyway. I'm saying this with a pretty big backing pool of a few hundred people.

Misgendering is a problem for me, but I'm fine with no gendering or gender-neutral pronouns.

When a gender-neutral pronoun is used, does that cause harm?

Some people don't like it, but I've yet to meet anyone who doesn't prefer 'they' over the common alternatives (usually he/him, some times guessing based on name and avatar, if applicable).

Personally, I prefer she/her, but I don't mind they/them.

When no pronouns at ALL are used, does that cause harm?

If it's done right, no. I like hearing my name for one, but there's plenty of ways to write entirely without pronouns, or at least minimize use in a way that's not likely to hurt someone. If you're referencing multiple people, however, it's hard to avoid the use of an identifier.

But how can the SE possibly determine, in a given piece of writing if the person writing would have "naturally" written those in? It becomes less about what the person does or doesn't do, and more about what SE thinks the person THINKS. And I believe that's the problem.

I think you're greatly exaggerating. This is intended as a good faith component in the CoC, and it's to avoid people feeling forced to write pronouns where they normally don't. They're saying "here's some guidelines, implement them any way you want", not "write pronouns or Thau shalt be banished!". The point of it is, write the way you normally do, but if someone tells you to use a specific pronoun, use it. Depending on which site you're on, the average amount of comments using pronouns can be tiny. Chat is a different story, but the format is also more suitable for specifying pronouns.

Nonetheless, my weirdly phrased point is: you're going to make mistakes from time to time. If mods notice a pattern recurring enough to warrant calling it intentional, you might be at risk. But even now, you're not gonna get banned the first time you break a rule (some exceptions with one rep users who obviously only exist to spam). As long as you try being nice and understanding, you're not gonna run into too much trouble.

As for enforceability, like I said, I'm assuming the idea lies in detecting recurring issues. If you noticeably avoid i.e. neopronouns, but still use binary pronouns and 'they' elsewhere, a mod will probably warn you. Patterns are the key here.

Disclaimer: this is based on how I see this being enforced. I'm not a mod, nor have I seen the official enforcement guidelines. I'm also not sure if this is the way it's generally practiced

  • 2
    I agree that your point is weirdly phrased, it does not help when we are trying to clarify the already weirdly phrased guidelines we have been given. Your penultimate paragraph reads to me as "write pronouns or else" and I have seen comments by CMs pointing in the same direction. Oct 12, 2019 at 12:17
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    @Goyo it's not intended as "write pronouns or else", it's "write preferred pronouns". If you don't write pronouns at all by default (or avoid third person pronouns), you're not gonna run into problems. But even if you make mistakes, that doesn't instantly apply the "or else". Also, don't forget that mods are human too - they're likely to assume good faith as well. Q3 and Q4 also covers some moderation, and notably Q4 states: " we encourage you to gently correct them in a comment". Not flagging, not banning, correcting. Oct 12, 2019 at 12:27
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    Sure, "write preferred pronouns", that is what I meant. What I have read suggest me that that gently correction might take, at least in some cases, the form "write preferred pronouns or else". Oct 12, 2019 at 12:51
  • 1
    I haven't read up on all the posts tbh - if that's the case, that sounds like something that needs to be heavily refined. The base idea isn't too bad at least, but the whip right away will be problematic for all parties involved. Oct 12, 2019 at 12:57
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    Notice that "use preferred pronouns or else" is not "the whip right away". If carefully worded it can actually be a gentle correction. Oct 12, 2019 at 13:16
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    Isn't "...but there's plenty of ways to write entirely without pronouns, or at least minimize use" exactly what Monica was fired for saying? Oct 13, 2019 at 10:40
  • @user568458 I have no idea. There was also an answer on Monica's question on judaism.SE (since deleted from what I can tell) showing that attitude from the company, but it appears to have loosened up. "As you naturally write" implies you have a lot of leeway in how you go about writing, which (from what I understand from a different, since deleted answer) wasn't present in the version Monica gave feedback to. Honestly though, I wouldn't put too much thought into the way it was, because it doesn't really matter for the current state or how it's enforced now. Oct 13, 2019 at 10:47
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    I'd agree with you, except that someone who agrees with using people's self-stated pronouns has already been "banished" for talking about things in the "wrong" way. Any one of us could be next. Until SE admits that demodding Monica was a mistake (they almost said so but they haven't demonstrated they believe it) and fixes it, I don't believe any of these rules are designed to help folks who may be misgendered but rather they're meant as a hammer to reshape SE communities for their own purposes (what that is, I don't know, but it's not to make people feel welcome).
    – Cyn
    Oct 13, 2019 at 15:24
  • Over this whole discussion I started to wonder over past comments directed at me. When I was referred to as variously he and she I just ignored it, even when speculation about my gender ensued. I didn't and don't care either way. But now I began to wonder whether some were actively trying to misgender me for provocation. I used to always ask for evidence in this recent conundrum for me to see with my own eyes, and now I can't even find these (obviously off-topic) comments that seem now deleted. Can mods even search for such stuff easily? Oct 13, 2019 at 15:53
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    @LаngLаngС I don't think comments are searchable unfortunately, even for mods. Mods can see deleted comments though, so if you have a rough idea where it happened, you can ask a mod to check out the posts through a mod flag. Although I'm not sure if it's in a format suitable for a mod flag, given the potential reply length. Asking for a chat might be better, but I'm not sure. You could consider asking a friendly neighborhood mod for what to do, and take the details after you know. The same applies to chat. But yeah, this mess is causing trolls who intentionally try to hurt people to pop up. Oct 13, 2019 at 15:58
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    @Goyo [Notice that "use preferred pronouns or else" is not "the whip right away"] - In English, using "or else" at the end of a statement is a threat, so yeah, it does mean that.
    – Izkata
    Oct 13, 2019 at 16:45
  • @Izkata I understood "the whip right away" as actually using it, not just showing it. Oct 13, 2019 at 18:25
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    Very nice answer. I'm not completely sure with the good faith part. To me it really felt like imposing a hard rule, kind of assuming bad faith of the users. "Patterns are the key here." If you need to rely on patterns, statistically speaking one would only have a certain probability to be caused by something real. Not sure if this is satisfactory. Sounds like it could give false alarms often. (Maybe something like "You could have used pronouns X times but used them only Y times. This is below the threshold. ....") In the end, a mod would have to subjectively judge the comments of a whole user. Oct 15, 2019 at 11:59
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    @Trilarion automating the system isn't possible, because as you say, there will be some subjective execution. But to be honest, all mods have a subjective approach to the rules - that's why there's so many different moderation styles. I mentioned a pattern as a way of saying that it shouldn't be considered a problem unless there behavior is repeated. It unfortunately increases the difficulty of detecting this behavior, but I'm not sure how else it's intended to be enforcable. Oct 15, 2019 at 12:52
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    Thank you for reporting your first-hand experience about names and other usage. For some of us this is how we naturally write (I was trained to write this way). Knowingly using wrong pronouns is wrong; I think everyone agrees to that. I was fired for wanting to keep writing the way I do, which is to avoid bringing gender into text where it isn't relevant. Oct 16, 2019 at 18:22

I can only answer with an example from within my own family.

My sibling's partner has suffered long and deep hurt from the refusal of his birth family to refer to him as 'he/him' after his transition. They go out of their way to refer to him as 'Chris' (or rather his own gender-neutral birth name), or 'my child Chris' or 'my sibling Chris' or 'they'. By doing so they are denying his gender-identity, and doing so deliberately (and passive-aggressively) -- malicious compliance, it has been called elsewhere.

Imagine then the pain that he would be reminded of, if somebody in this venue insisted on avoiding pronouns unnaturally.

It is possible to learn to use somebody's chosen pronouns when you've been made aware of them -- or to default to natural sounding neutral language when you don't know/are not sure. Some of us have been doing so for over 40 years in all walks of our lives.

And if somebody's chosen pronoun contradicts your deeply-held beliefs, or you find you really can't adapt your writing style, it's possible not to engage, or to withdraw gracefully from a conversation online. (Face-to-face is different).

Edit: this is longer than my original response, so I want to emphasise that I TOTALLY AGREE with the CoC change (while believing that its introduction has been a failure on all levels).

Also, I expect downvotes, but I'm staying true to myself. As everybody should.

By discussion/reading, I have come belatedly to understand that for some people, it is not a matter of adapting their writing style or disengaging/withdrawing; the change in the CoC fundamentally challenges their deeply-help beliefs and they can't see any way of continuing to participate while staying true to their beliefs. This does not automatically make them 'bad people' (unless and until they demonstrate unmistakeable intent to hurt people, including denying their existence, having been informed what can be included under that umbrella that they may not previously have realised). We should not shun and excoriate people on the basis of their beliefs -- actions/speech (or patterns of actions/speech) is what matters here (and -- more practically -- what is actionable). And a single action isn't grounds for launching a nuclear attack.

I apologise unreservedly for not understanding before why people might find the CoC changes impossible to accept -- when you've never experienced something, it's hard to recognise how it impacts somebody else but that's no excuse for not apologising when you recognise you've been wrong. So, again, I apologise to those who are finding this hard for reasons of belief (while wholeheartedly refuting the argument that belief is an excuse for hurting people).

I may disagree with underlying beliefs, but it can't be gainsayed that some groups are feeling pain because of this change, while others believe it improves matters. I have no sympathy for those who are being denied a route to be deliberately hateful, but I do understand the pain of those who would choose to 'live and let live' and have not previously understood how that can transmute into 'keep quiet, don't rock the boat, don't tell us who you are and you'll be fine'. I DO NOT accept that position -- it favours the people who don't want to know, above the people who are expected to keep quiet. I do understand that the people who are required to accommodate the change might find it impossible to adapt.

I have an analogy that has helped me to realise where some people are coming from.

I have spent my entire life not accepting the usage of 'he' in English as the generic/gender-neutral third-person pronoun -- I was taught by my mother and also at (an all-girls) school that it was wrong, and belittled women, who were the equal to men in all fields (but not their equivalent).

I spent my University years and my years in employment fighting the usage, and am pleased that it is no longer -- in some quarters at least -- the default generic pronoun; and that correcting the usage of 'he' to 'they' in some venues is no longer challenged. There are places it isn't recognised, or is actively ridiculed, and those are places I do my best to avoid, because I can't participate and still stay true to what I believe on the subject.

Let us suppose that the CoC had been modified to mandate the use of 'he' as that generic third-person pronoun. Let us also suppose that the reasoning has been explained and it explains the 'benefits' (however 'benefits' are defined) to a group of people not including me who feel disadvantaged without the change.

As a one-time professional writer, and a sometimes teacher of writing, I'm confident that I could adjust my writing style to avoid using it at all; or I could modify my behaviour not to get into situations where it might be necessary; or both.

But -- and this was my visceral reaction when I thought about it for a few moments -- I could but would I? Doing so requires me (1) to give up 6+ decades of believing otherwise, and (2) give the appearance of condoning the change -- disregarding completely something I believe fundamentally.

My options would all be painful... Swallow my principles? I couldn't do that. Argue against it? I suspect it would be futile, and anyway I might agree reluctantly that it's an improvement for the group it's intended to benefit, and no worse for most people.Decline to participate any more? I would miss SE enormously as a resource, although I've never bought into the idea of it as a 'community'.

Perhaps at best it's a set of distinct communities, with a few points of overlap, but there are places within it where -- even if I lurk, or spend hours researching similar questions and/or crafting questions that won't get closed immediately, I feel that at best I am tolerated, and will never 'belong'; and other places I would never venture because they're toxic, or not relevant to my interests). I suppose I could still lurk, and look for 'community' elsewhere.

I'm fortunate -- the tides of change are not moving in a direction contrary to my beliefs, but I don't envy anyone who finds themself swimming against the tide. (Some of them -- good riddance. But many would be a real loss).

I do believe that the change to the CoC addresses a real issue for a group of people who participate here; and I also understand that it causes a real issue for some other groups.

I regret to say, I don't think there's a solution that doesn't involve pain for some people. If we return to the previous state of affairs, we will hurt those whose presence has been (to be blunt) tolerated on the condition that they keep quiet about who they are and don't make others uncomfortable, otherwise they're expected/driven to go elsewhere -- is that an equitable solution?

If we adopt the new CoC, different groups of people may have to keep quiet about who they are or leave -- is that equitable?

Is it possible to weigh the competing needs of two groups with very differing beliefs and come up with a solution that suits everyone? No, it isn't -- this isn't Physics (my degree subject) or IT (my career) where you can do the work and demonstrate what fits the theory/meets the spec and what is clearly wrong. It's people and beliefs and messy as all-get-out and I don't have a solution.

It will come as no surprise that on balance I favour the CoC change (if I were in position to do so, I would reword the FAQ, and I would definitely handle the whole sorry roll-out differently) but I will no longer dismiss the impact on others as trivial. Which is, I acknowledge, no consolation to those faced with painful decisions.


And I believe that's the problem.

I agree that's a problem (and maybe "the" problem) but to me it just illustrates that this has been massively blown out of proportion.

  • I don't see a lot of pronouns being used on SE sites, and for the type of interactions here (comments, chat), it's not often necessary to use them.
  • Not many people currently make a point of saying what their pronouns are and although it's likely that more will in the future, it's still going to be just a portion of users.
  • Only a subset of people who want a specific pronoun used are going to want "they."
  • Not many people will be completely unwilling or unable to use "they" as a singular pronoun.
  • Only a subset of the people who won't use singular they will make their aversion known. (That's not just because of what happened to Monica, it's not something that comes up in everyday conversation.)

By the time you combine all the fractions, it's going to be very, very rare for Person A (who won't use singular they), to be communicating with Person B (who wants "they" to be used), and for both of them to know the other person's attitude towards "they," and for there to be no way for Person A to write respectfully and non-awkwardly other than using "they," and for it to be clear that Person A isn't isn't using "they" or has stopped communicating at all soley because of their refusal to use they.

So rare, that it's really only a theoretical possibility. In practice, someone might try to make trouble for Monica or anyone else who says they absolutely won't use singular they, but that's the only scenario I could see it coming up.

  • 25
    It seemed to be enough to get someone respected booted with no real process, so, yes, I agree that it's overblown, but it was SE that overblew it. Common sense should be used, but in the absence of that, given what we've seen, it would be great to know how it might be applied. Oct 12, 2019 at 6:34
  • 8
    The rarity you point out is part of what's flummoxed me as well. Like who exactly is this rule written for? Where are the people who need this specific set of rules in order to feel good about being here? Do they exist? If they* do, I just want to know where they* are coming from so I can wrap my mind around this. I don't want to hurt anyone, but that doesn't include imaginary people. *I used they here. This does not refer to anyone specific and is therefore ungendered. Oct 12, 2019 at 6:41
  • 9
    I'd argue that it's only become overblown because of the way it all started. Had they not kicked this off by demodding a well-respected moderator, I probably wouldn't have even noticed any of these tweaks. Oct 12, 2019 at 10:17
  • 2
    From all the posts on this subject, I see virtually no objection to the basic principle. But that was already in the old CoC: Be nice. SE is full of technical people, and they understand a diff. The new CoC differs in its aggressiveness and focus; "be nice" applied to everyone. Oct 14, 2019 at 8:34
  • (Simply for the exercise: Where are the people who need this specific set of rules in order to feel good about being here? I would like to know where such people - if there indeed are any - are coming from, so I can wrap my mind around this. But "they" is plural in this context, so there isn't a grammatical basis to object anyway.) Oct 16, 2019 at 5:51

I am a moderator on The Workplace. My stance on the recent events are well known to those who frequent Meta.

The way I read it is this.

I don’t want to call you by that pronoun. I’m going to refer to you by name, or use grammar instead of saying that word.

This is the problem - the public and clear refusal to do that. For transgender/non binary people, the way they identify themselves is very important. They’ve spent a lot of time and emotional effort identifying themselves. If they have the confidence to want to be identified as “they” then intentionally and publicly not doing that deprives them of their gender identity (and this aspect of their lives is really important to them)

It took me a few weeks to fully understand and process this concept, but I get it and respect it.

I agree that in every day interactions here, this situation isn’t likely to occur that often.

In the vast majority of interactions across the entire site, people are used to addressing each other in a gender neutral manner, because the gender isn’t known (or more usually is irrelevant). We do that without thinking and we do it well.

However, in the small number of interactions where someone says “Can you please address me as ‘they/them’”, we should have the respect to do that.

The FAQ is pretty strongly worded, but it’s reinforcing inclusion and respect for our non gendered users so that they continue having confidence in their identity.

I don’t anticipate running into violations of this CoC clause, I’ve never heard of any examples in my years of being here.

  • 4
    As a counter argument, some Christians will think: "I don’t want to call you by that pronoun, because I potentially face eternal damnation." This position should be respected as well. The majority of the users will have no problem with the new CoC, however, if SE wants to be inclusive it should consider all groups.
    – Alex
    Oct 14, 2019 at 12:21
  • 3
    To me, it seems like "non-binary" is a larger issue than he/she. I don't know whether "Snow" is a male or female name. I'll probably default to "he". If Snow says "I'm a she" then that's all I need to know; I don't need or want to know Snow's personal history. I myself am often "misgendered" because I use a user name that ends in A, which to many people says "female". Personally I don't even bother correcting people on the pronoun anymore. It's only for online interactions, so who cares? But if someone insists on a personal pronoun of "they"...for one thing, that's bad English.
    – user142148
    Oct 14, 2019 at 12:56
  • @Kyralessa They is not bad English. I have been using if for 40+ years to not have to say he/she. A big problem is that the CoC FAQ and SE staff have said you can't us it in all cases.
    – mmmmmm
    Oct 14, 2019 at 13:06
  • 2
    "Somebody lost their wallet" is not bad English...though it's not great English either. "Bob lost their wallet" or "Samantha lost their wallet" is bad English.
    – user142148
    Oct 14, 2019 at 13:19
  • 3
    @Kyralessa It's not bad English. It's in some of the most-used dictionaries as a personal pronoun (definition 4) and in various writing styles, including MLA - "Likewise, writers should follow the personal pronoun choices of individuals they write about, if their preferences are known, and editors should respect those preferences.".
    – Catija
    Oct 15, 2019 at 3:53
  • This is a very clearly laid out position in this answer, but it's also a bit short on practical ideas for enforcing the CoC clause. There could be violations of it somewhere, even if the answerer doesn't anticipate facing them themselves. Oct 15, 2019 at 12:14

I also want to know...from our LGBTQ users--are you offended when the person just doesn't include a pronoun at all?

While I haven't encountered this online, some people have done this to me to deliberately show disrespect while ensuring plausible deniability. They want me to know they reject my gender, but if I raise the issue they can accuse me of being irrational and overreacting.

It's deliberate.

It's hurtful.

And years later I still haven't forgotten.

  • 3
    I'm sorry you were hurt by this. I see this can be hurtful for you. Does it matter whether it's deliberate? If so, how did you know it was deliberate? If you'd asked these people to please refer to you with a pronoun, would they have refused, and on what grounds? (maybe that's tangential, but I do think I can relate somewhat. I have a boss I don't understand. I'm never sure whether he's deliberate or simply oblivious/stupid when he decrees something we have issues with, even though I've worked with him for a long time now... and when made aware, he says he'll do better but nothing changes) Oct 14, 2019 at 12:25
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    How can you know the intent behind someone elses message without explicity asking them or them explicity saying they refuse to use a pronoun you stated? (This is in the case of not using a pronoun at all, not in the case of someone using the wrong pronoun after being told the correct one) Oct 14, 2019 at 14:08
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    It's pretty discouraging to have a whole set of comments here challenging a clear description of a lived experience. We've all had situations where we know someone is doing something to us deliberately—that's something we can all relate to. Why? Because someone who isn't doing it deliberately says "oh sorry, I'll try to do better" and then makes an effort to stop. Oct 14, 2019 at 18:37
  • 1
    @ZachLipton I don't know if you are trying to throw shade at people here trying to better understand the situation and improve detectction of such abuse, but I don't understand your comment. How has anyone here "challenged" anything? I don't read any of the comments here that way, and while I can't speak for others, my comment was a genuine question which no one has been able to give me an answer to. If the answer is "you just know", then I'm afraid that's way too arbitrary and could effectively alienate users who are being told they deliberately hurt someone when they didn't intent to do so. Oct 14, 2019 at 19:28
  • 2
    @GrumpyCrouton If someone says it's deliberate and hurtful and multiple people push back by essentially asking "how do you know it was deliberate" isn't that challenging what the op wrote here? She said "some people have done this to me to deliberately show disrespect while ensuring plausible deniability," and your response to that is to precisely mirror that behavior of plausible deniability, questioning whether it's not a series of innocent mistakes. As always, it's a judgement call, and anyone in good faith who finds they have inadvertently caused hurt can apologize and do better next time. Oct 14, 2019 at 22:08
  • @ZachLipton I don't want to judge anything, but I would like to add that I think that most people here show lots of respect and aren't the bad guys that are referred to in this answer. I understand what you want to say, but maybe the intentions of Pascal or GrumpyCrouton weren't that bad. Just have a look at the very first sentence of the very first comment. I agree with you that deliberateness is not too difficult to detect in most cases. Oct 15, 2019 at 12:25
  • 1
    @ZachLipton My question was "How can you know the intent behind someone elses message" - I'm not questioning or doubting OP, I'm asking about reading intent. This is relevant to SO because of the new, seemingly completely arbitrary CoC changes. I have no problem apologizing when I've inadvertently hurt someone. My question stems from the CoC where I could potentially be punished "regardless of intent" because someone thought I was avoiding their pronouns (while I rarely use pronouns regardless) Oct 15, 2019 at 12:43
  • This is exactly what I wanted as far as experiences are concerned. If a person asks, I'll use a gendered pronoun, but I am afraid I might miss it--I use they mostly or the OP, and I don't investigate every user profile when answering a question. Oct 17, 2019 at 2:02

Diclaimer: The following answer doesn't mean that I agree with implementing it (in fact I don't at all). It's an interesting thought experiment, though, and I think it could be made to work:

How could the prohibition on pronoun avoidance possibly be enforced?

I think if SE wanted to, it could enforce it using a fairly simple algorithm that works roughly like so:

Look at all of a users posts, comments etc. Connect all of these items to a likely addressee (this isn't easy to do, but it doesn't have to be perfect; how good the heuristic needs to be could be determined by measuring results. One possible heuristic would be to look for usernames in a post or comment, because usually you refer to someone by name before you use a pronoun)

If a large enough number of items contains the right neopronouns (you can use addressee's user profiles to determine correctness), declare this user as "beyond reproach": The user is obviously trying.

If the user's posts do not contain neopronouns:

Classify these posts and comments into two groups: Group A contains the classic third-person singular pronouns, and group B doesn't (or almost doesn't).

Look at the profiles of all the addressees to find out who has declared pronouns, and who doesn't.

If it turns out that Group A addressees mostly haven't stated pronouns (or stated the usual ones), while Group B addressees have mostly stated gender-neutral or neopronouns, then you flag the person for thoughtcrime a violation of the CoC on pronoun avoidance.

This is just a very rough draft, and it would probably have to work differently in practice, using a machine learning algorithm to train a model with supervised learning. But if you asked an ML specialist to design a model, I'm sure he could come up with one that gave you a number 0.0-1.0 which represented the likelihood that someone is avoiding pronouns with certain people on purpose.

You could go further, still (beyond what the current CoC requires): You could detect people who actively disengage from or avoid interaction with people who have stated pronouns of a certain kind.

BTW, since everyone can get a dump of the whole content, and it's available under a CC license, when I say "you", I actually mean it)

As an aside: I think that's an awesome example of how Big Data can be used to identify people who think "bad thoughts" (whatever your specific definition of "bad" is), even if they try to hide it. An entity who wants to do that is totalitarian in nature (that's the historian in me speaking).

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    Do you think someone like me, who has a low % of gendered comments on SO (1.2% - 37/2970 comments) could be labeled as someone who is "actively avoiding certain pronouns when specified" by a disgruntled party misreading my comments intent? - when really I just avoid pronouns in general? My problem is that I feel like I could arbitrarily be punished for avoiding pronouns if I were reported by a user who asked me to use certain pronouns, when I wouldn't have normally anyways. Oct 14, 2019 at 14:16
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    @GrumpyCourton (love the name): That's really not up to me to say, that would be a matter of internal policy. But assuming good faith and postulating that SE isn't interested in a witchhunt, just in getting rid of actual bigots, then I think they'd train the model with data that would keep you clear of problems. But anyway, I agree with you - it's just a bad idea all around. Oct 14, 2019 at 14:20
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    +1 for actually answering the question as stated. Far too many answers on the SE network don't do that and argue with the premise of the question instead (personal pet peeve). -- As to your solution it won't work because the number of gendered pronoun comments is far too law for ML training. See: meta.stackexchange.com/a/335164 Oct 15, 2019 at 2:57
  • @Benjamin: Darn. And here I thought I had a neat idea. No chance to salvage it? (I mean, really I'm glad, but...) Oct 15, 2019 at 7:31

But how can the SE possibly determine, in a given piece of writing if the person writing would have "naturally" written those in?

It will be a decision by the moderators or community managers, possibly assisted by attentive users who flagged suspicious content before. Possibly also assisting could be some ML/NLP/statistical profiling software tool, but not as final decision maker (for now, I guess).

The moderators will implicitly have a model in their mind of how people write naturally or should write naturally, then they will check against the style of the suspect by checking some of their regular contributions and the contribution in question. In the end there will be a single binary decision and the allegation will be "Did not use pronouns in a case where pronoun usage was required and naturally would have used pronouns.".

Depending on the internal detection threshold, this can happen often or rather seldom and the error rates (would not have used pronouns naturally or would have but hasn't been investigated) might be quite high. There might be some rather clear cases, but there might also be lots of unclear cases. Experience will show how easy this is really.

Even more difficult to detect are those that chose to evade. The allegation would be "Chose not to respond in a case where pronoun usage was required and naturally would have responded." While this solution would minimize friction, it's not completely clear to me if this would still be a violation of the current CoC. But it could be detected by moderators asking themselves questions like "who would normally respond and who did not" and then looking for repeated incidents to gather statistical significance.

So much for the possibilities. Either you go only for very clear cases or you will have to look for the whole history of a users contributions and then decide holistically, possibly with high error margin.

We will see, how it will be handled in practice. A simple approach would be to only go for the open and shut cases.


Let me provide an absurd example where using only a person's username and avoiding any personal pronouns e.g. he/his/him, will make a comment sound unnatural, and interestingly, accusatory in tone.

In Erin Thursby's post, Erin Thursby asked LGBTQ+ users

“When no pronouns at ALL are used, does that cause harm?”

Here's an example of what it would look like:

But what did Erin Thursby mean by “harm”? Did Erin Thursby mean physical or emotional harm? Unfortunately, Erin Thursby did not specify, so we must assume that Erin Thursby meant emotional harm, the invisible kind, the kind of hurt that embeds itself and becomes a keloid scar, only the disfigurement is invisible to the outside world, no one can actually see it and like any deep scar, it does not fade in time. Instead, the wearer is reminded of the ugly scar whenever someone underestimates the power of words, and is forced to repeat for the umpteenth time, This is who I am, please respect me.

I am sure that Erin Thursby's question was made in very good faith, I am not doubting Erin Thursby's sincerity at all, I don't know Erin Thursby but I am sure that Erin Thursby is a good person who only wants to understand why the LGBTQ+ community is hurting. Personally, I feel its members are being scapegoated by many Meta users for the self-inflicted mess that Stack Exchange currently finds itself embroiled in.

Like others have done before me, boycotting a person's pronouns that could be she, he, they, eir, xe, co etc. would not be a feasible solution, in actual fact it would be seen, rightly so, as an act of mild aggression a form of trolling and would, justifiably, invite a host of flags. So my answer to the OP's question which I cited above is "Yes, deliberately not using any pronouns for a person whose gender is fluid, is rude, unkind and hurtful.” And finally, the total omission of a person's pronouns, so as to be conspicuous would be in violation of the CoC.

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    People who are acting in good faith, of course, will naturally write more like: "But what does 'harm' mean in this context? Does it mean physical or emotional harm? Unfortunately, that isn't specified here, so we must assume that it means emotional harm, the invisible kind, ..." Which is exactly how I would write it, without having to think about it. Point being, this still isn't evidence for needing any specific mention of "pronoun avoidance" in the CoC; behaviour like in your example is behaviour that anyone could already have called out. Oct 12, 2019 at 8:04
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    @KarlKnechtel I was illustrating with an absurd example. Of course, nobody should ever write anything like that. Oct 12, 2019 at 9:01
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    Hopefully the question was not about how to enforce the CoC when people are obviously and openly trolling. As far I as I can tell we have already been doing at least a more than good enough job regarding this for many years. Oct 12, 2019 at 14:11
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    The reason it feels unnatural is that you're still writing in a style that uses personal pronouns, but substituting the user's name everywhere you would normally use a pronoun. A bit of re-wording can completely eliminate third-person singular pronouns, without sounding strange: (1/4)
    – Mark
    Oct 13, 2019 at 1:00
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    Erin Thursby's post asked LGBTQ+ users "When no pronouns at ALL are used, does that cause harm?" (2/4)
    – Mark
    Oct 13, 2019 at 1:01
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    But what was mean by "harm"? Physical harm, or emotional harm? Unfortunately, this wasn't specified, so we must assume that this meant emotional harm, the invisible kind, the harm that embeds itself and becomes a keloid scar, only this disfigurement is invisible to the outside world and like all deep scars, does not fade in time. Instead, the wearer is reminded of the ugly scar whenever someone underestimates the power of words, and has to repeat for the umpteenth time, This is who I am, please respect me. (3/4)
    – Mark
    Oct 13, 2019 at 1:01
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    I am sure the question was made in very good faith, I am not doubting the sincerity of it at all, I don't know the person asking, but I am sure that Erin Thursby is a good person who only wants to understand why the LGBTQ+ community is hurting. Personally, I feel its members are being scapegoated by many Meta users for the self-inflicted mess that Stack Exchange currently finds itself embroiled in. (4/4)
    – Mark
    Oct 13, 2019 at 1:01
  • @Mark I am showing (as others have done before me) why the act of boycotting pronouns that could be used for a transgender person would not work. In fact, as I said in the introduction, the text is unnatural and absurd. Using only the username, the person is made to feel alienated. Furthermore, Mark, it is impossible to omit every single pronoun from one's writing. Well... that's not quite true. 1/2 Oct 13, 2019 at 5:26
  • “Imagine if Mark and Mari-Lou A did eliminate every pronoun from Mark and Mari-Lou A's texts, the amount of words needed to write a short message would increase.” So, once again, I am showing why eliminating all pronouns would not work and why pronouns are actually helpful little words that save time for everybody. Peace. 2/2 Oct 13, 2019 at 5:27
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    Eliminating all pronouns is unrealistic (and in fact, the example in your post does not do so -- it makes use of "it" in both generic and collective form). But the current uproar is over third-person singular pronouns, and eliminating those is quite doable. If you look through my comment history, you'll see a number of examples (or actually, you mostly won't see -- it's hard to spot if done well).
    – Mark
    Oct 13, 2019 at 5:57
  • [EDITED] @Mark I shudder to think what would happen if the CoC stated: "You can avoid the use of pronouns that make you feel uncomfortable." You'd have an outpouring of texts similar to the one above. Now, imagine someone else who writes well, sensitively, and in a natural manner, (like yourself) the troll(s) would silently flag that post for ignoring a person's pronouns. And maybe tell his or her friends to do the same. Do you see where I'm getting at? Flags are anonymous, the moderator doesn't know the author of the flag, and they would have to respond, a clever troll knows that. Oct 13, 2019 at 6:45
  • @frisbee-horde I am not a transgender person. I'm perfectly happy with she/her/herself and if need be they. Oct 13, 2019 at 18:37
  • @Mari-LouA I think the between-the-lines reading of the rule should be "you can avoid pronouns that make you uncomfortable as long as you don't make the person the pronoun attaches to uncomfortable in turn"
    – HAEM
    Oct 14, 2019 at 12:43
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    @HAEM Well, let's hope that moderators, who tend to be a sensible lot, make the reach the same conclusion. TBT I am sure they will but there's a reason for Q11 on the CoC FAQ and I don't think people have really understood the point I have been trying to make, deliberately avoiding a person's pronouns can be offensive if done with malice. Many of us must be on different wavelengths. Oct 14, 2019 at 13:13
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    First time I read this, I didn't understand that those two paragraphs were just examples. Made an edit to highlight them. Oct 15, 2019 at 2:09

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