From the answers I see on Official FAQ on gender pronouns and Code of Conduct changes it seems like a lot of people are unhappy because they can't follow the grammar rules they learned back in English class, or because they find the changes ambiguous, or various other objections I see more commonly from people on the autistic spectrum.

I note also that there are a disproportionate number of folks on the autistic spectrum in tech, and we are probably more inclined than average to participate in online activities such as Stack Exchange.

I fear that this attempt to make (some) transgender individuals feel more welcome on Stack Exchange has had the unfortunate side effect of making a number of other individuals feel unsafe ("I might get banned for a natural mistake") and unwelcome ("they didn't consult"; "they didn't follow their own procedures"; "they don't care about my feelings/needs/desires/experiences").

And I strongly suspect that a disproportionate number of the affected individuals are on the autistic spectrum.

So my question here - was this demographic considered? Rules that make sense on forums not disproportionately autistic seem unlikely to make sense among hard core techies, who are well known for the numbers of geeks, nerds, etc. How are the moderators to distinguish between intentional insult and autistic rules following?

From where I sit, tech has gotten increasingly autistic-unfriendly over time. An awful lot of spokespeople for disadvantaged groups seem to think that autistic-friendly norms are keeping them out, and if only we'd all do small talk, wear fashionable clothes, and work in wide open spaces, we'd somehow reverse white male dominance in tech.

I'd prefer not to see Stack Exchange go the same route as most of the larger companies in Silicon Valley.

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    Not to mention those with social anxiety.
    – Stian
    Commented Oct 24, 2019 at 15:41
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    Since SE is located in the USA, is the CoC a violation of the Americans with Disabilities act"
    – user316129
    Commented Oct 24, 2019 at 17:29
  • @ReinstateMonica: TBH, people with social anxiety have cause to worry about posting to SO, regardless of pronoun issues. (Not all SE sites though.)
    – einpoklum
    Commented Nov 14, 2019 at 23:32

6 Answers 6


Did anyone consider the impact on autistics of recent code of conduct changes?

I can't answer that definitively, but the answer looks to be no. (I would say SE didn't consider the policy's impact on anything enough though.)

Despite knowing I'm (probably) going to regret posting this, here are my thoughts:

I don't like the pronoun policy but it's not because I'm unable to do anything that it asks. Ultimately the reason is that I don't like feeling stressed and/or spending a lot of time writing stuff. I already put an unreasonably high amount of effort into communication (15 minutes for a single comment and hours writing a single post is all too typical for me). When writing a comment requires too much effort, I just don't do it.

I think that the policy will only make it worse for me, especially as time goes on:

  • Has this user ever specified a pronoun in any comment directed at me, ever? (And wait, what about posts?)
  • What's the correct form of <neopronoun I never see used>? (And how can I be sure I found the right set, when so many of them use the same words?)
  • If I write like this, is someone going to confront me about it? (Can I avoid that by spending more time writing?)

I don't have a problem with some parts of the pronoun policy. I especially don't have a problem with what was probably the intent of the policy. This is a site where we shouldn't have to experience bigotry or rudeness or slights. In fact, I was already following a perfectly good third person pronoun policy of my own, one which unfortunately doesn't completely mesh with the new mandates:

  • Avoid third person pronouns where possible when referring to other users. Otherwise, use singular they.

The fact is, I just don't understand so much about what's been happening on SE, like why such a restrictive policy (for pronouns) was created, why a well-respected moderator was fired over it, and why discussion with Stack Exchange (the company) isn't going anywhere (because I'm not so new here that I don't remember when it was different).

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    When writing a comment requires too much effort, I just don't do it. I have to think that this was the end goal of the welcome wagon, the desired effect, to get people to just not comment, make it so much effort they will just no say anything. Except that down voting without a comment is complained about being unwelcoming as well, who knows what they were thinking, other than they were not and still are not.
    – user148287
    Commented Oct 17, 2019 at 4:35

As someone on the spectrum myself: no.

Stack Exchange has gone so far out of its way to pander to just one protected class, that they ended up hurting all others in the process. Monica's firing has proven that being "gender-blind" is no longer good enough. This used to be a safe way of communication for me, but sadly this is no longer the case.

Communication is already enough of a minefield for me as-is. This new CoC is too subjective and makes it impossible for me to navigate my way through interaction. Therefore I have ceased most of my activity on the rest of the website.

Let it be known: Stack Exchange is not welcoming to anyone who isn't neurotypical. Their "inclusiveness" is limited to gender, and gender only.

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    "Monica's firing has proven that being "gender-blind" is no longer good enough." It looks like it but is it really true? In the Q12 of the FAQ, it seems like they open up a loophole (which sounds a bit like it might have been Monica's original position) that you don't have to use pronouns if you naturally wouldn't. At least that's my interpretation of it. Commented Oct 17, 2019 at 8:47
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    @Trilarion OTOH the answer to "Do I have to use pronouns I’m unfamiliar or uncomfortable with?" is a non-ambiguous yes. Commented Oct 17, 2019 at 9:01
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    @Goyo Yes, the FAQ is inconsistent in that regard. Commented Oct 17, 2019 at 9:07
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    This inconsistency is by design. They have made it subjective and broad enough that they can point at practically anyone and have them excluded.
    – user612952
    Commented Oct 17, 2019 at 9:10
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    @Trilarion I do not think that autistic people appreciate that feature. Commented Oct 17, 2019 at 9:11
  • @HugoZink I can't read minds but that is how it looks to me. Commented Oct 17, 2019 at 9:13
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    @HugoZink "This inconsistency is by design." Or it could also be just carelessness. One of the two. Commented Oct 17, 2019 at 9:19

As an autistic person, I love having people's pronouns made clear - it's one fewer thing to have to intuit or infer. Likewise, codes of conduct. Even and especially if you disagree with parts of it - better to know in advance than to find out the hard way by getting pounced on with "that's not acceptable in this space" or whatever.

I kind of take issue with people raising autism as a get-out-of-basic-politeness-free card. Not saying that's what you're doing, but this reminds me a bit of when someone calls out bad behaviour and then others are like, "oh, don't make them feel bad, they're probably just autistic and don't mean it". Here's the thing, if I accidentally do something hurtful, I want to know! So I can avoid doing the hurtful thing again in the future. I don't want people to shut up and let me be an arsehole, just in case it hurts my feelings. I appreciate folks calling things out so that I can learn intellectually the things I can't figure out instinctively.

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    Thanks for posting this. It seemed to me that having explicit social norms laid out as clear directions, with an FAQ and an opportunity to ask questions, would be helpful rather than being something everyone is expected to intuit and assume. Commented Oct 18, 2019 at 3:42

I'm autistic.

I'm a cis woman.

I have no issues with said policy.

"Meet one person with autism, you know about one autistic person". I don't doubt it may be difficult for some folks on the spectrum to adjust their writing style in a way that does not sound like correct English, but it's not for every neuroatypical person.

Individual freedom stops where those of the others begin.

These CoC changes were made to acknowledge that some people were not respected when using SE and that this is not okay. You may have trouble using pronouns you're not familiar with, but if you choose not to, you're hurting other people. Communicate with each other. See if the person would be okay with you referring to them with neutral pronouns (that have been recognized as correct English since the 14th century). If they're not, try to meet their requirements. If you can't, disengage. But don't voluntarily hurt them.

Now I have no idea whether SE did ask themselves about neuroatypical people need for adjustment when publishing their CoC update. But this is how, as an autistic person, I manage to respect the site's policy. I know what it's like to have trouble to adjust to meet other people's expectations. I do it every day. I know it won't be a good solution for everyone but this is the only one I can think of without hurting anyone or running out of spoons.

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    Why is your paragraph starting with "These CoC changes..." not the actual CoC. I wish it were. Commented Oct 17, 2019 at 9:09
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    "If you can't, disengage" can you elaborate on this? Do you mean stop responding? I would say ignorance can hurt even more than disagreement. On the other hand when someone will try to disengage in good faith "Sorry I disagree with the use of this pronouns" it will be violation of CoC.
    – Piro
    Commented Oct 17, 2019 at 10:38
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    As another person with autism, I come here to talk about code. According to the CoC., some people require me to talk about their gender identification as well. As an autistic person, I'm used to demands that I do things that make non-autistic people happy, including the common demand that I refrain from doing things that are fun (for me) like talking shop, and instead do things that will be unpleasant for me (like small talk), while at the same time agreeing with them - or at least not contradicting them when they insist that what we are doing together is "fun". Commented Oct 18, 2019 at 0:55
  • @ArlieStephens I don't think anyone requires you to talk about their gender identity, just that you're expected to use it, when you know it, as you naturally write. I don't want to put you on the spot or ask you to you explain anything that you're not comfortable or able to share, so feel free not to respond to this if you don't want to, but I'd like to understand your perspective: are you saying that specifically following that guideline feels to you like needing to make unpleasant small talk instead of talking about code? Commented Oct 18, 2019 at 3:37
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    @Zach Lipton The thing I completely don't understand is when it would ever be natural for me to pay attention to the OP's gender. If they ask me about code, I'm going to reply about code. If they ask me about ideas for a story setting, I'm going to reply about the story setting. Talking about them might be relevant in a very few Q&As, and their gender presentation might be directly relevant in even fewer. Given this, plus explictly not being allowed to intentionally avoid using their pronouns, and I see a demand that I introduce personal comments - as I'd otherwise be dissing the OP. Commented Oct 18, 2019 at 5:50
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    @avazula thoughtful I don't misgender people, except by accident, and I go out of my way to avoid embarassing people whose gender presentation is unclear. But I don't actually grok why it's disrespectful not to pay much attention to a random stranger on the internet's gender identity and linguistic preferences, if they are not clearly and prominently stated. To be a bit crude, if I'm not looking for a sex partner, I don't care about people's gender. Commented Oct 18, 2019 at 6:10
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    @Zach Lipton - if it's just grammar, no problem, though after all this fuss, I'd probably say "When that comment was written, Jane didn't know the OP was using version 4", just in case Jane has something in their profile (or stated 600 lines up on a page I only skimmed) that the only appropriate pronoun is "zie", and using "she" or "they" would get me in trouble for misgendering "zir". Commented Oct 18, 2019 at 6:17
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    @ArlieStephens Sure, that's why the CoC says "Use stated pronouns (when known)" and the FAQ acknowledges that "mistakes will happen." For the most part, I only know the preferred pronouns for some moderators and frequent users on the sites where I'm active, and that's fine. If you don't know: "When in doubt, use gender-neutral language or refer to the user by name." Which is exactly what you just described. I guess my point is that I don't interpret the changes as requiring new kinds of social interaction or small talk you wouldn't have normally. It sounds like it feels like it does for you? Commented Oct 18, 2019 at 6:38
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    @Zach Lipton Clearly my own autism was showing more than usual in my previous comment. As an autistic person, I've been routinely blamed for "maliciously" failing to do what some random person vaguely hinted they wanted, or even politely claimed not to want, perhaps when I explicitly asked. I also expect that when I judge between ambiguous interpretations, my interpretation will frequently be self-evidentally wrong to all right-thinking (i.e. non autistic) people. Commented Oct 18, 2019 at 13:59
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    @Kyle Strand The elephant in the room is clearly that some quantity of people will just deal with this by not responding to anyone where either they feel uncomfortable with that OP's requested pronouns, or they feel afraid that they might get blamed for an accidental CoC violation. Not being neurotypical, I don't know whether the intended beneficiaries of this policy will feel more respected this way; personally, I'd dislike having my questions ignored, and laugh at being misgendered, but my feelings aren't a good guide to NT reactions. Commented Oct 18, 2019 at 14:17
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    You're right. But the following sentence is not to be dismissed: "If they're not, try to meet their requirements. If you can't, disengage". I think that if a person disclaims their preferred pronouns first and foremost then you should do your best to meet this requirement, and move on if you can't. And if they didn't disclaim them, to use singular they as default (I hate being referred as a man simply because I hang out on technical sites). Sorry if I offended you in my previous comment, that wasn't my intention. I'm really tired by all what happened these last weeks. I'll edit to clarify.
    – avazula
    Commented Oct 18, 2019 at 23:34
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    Thanks for the clarification and apology. I'm still concerned by the apparent reluctance of SE itself to affirm that disengaging is indeed always an option, though a diamond-mod has stated that this is the case: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/334900/… Commented Oct 20, 2019 at 19:45
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    @KyleStrand This is just awful! I visited the link you kindly shared (from a diamond-mod that said it is okay to disengage if it all gets too fraught) and it is now 404 gone! I have the same concern that you do. SE is doing nothing to reassure me by deleting moderator content regarding this new, byzantine CoC. Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 9:24
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    @EllieKesselman I've asked for this to be added to the FAQ: meta.stackexchange.com/a/336483/218334 Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 20:33
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    Update: CesarM has confirmed that disengaging is not encouraged but is not an actionable offense. Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 21:08

I'm on the autism spectrum.

I am also transgender (NB: My use of transgender here include non-binary people and I am, myself, part of the non-binary community.).

What people who don't belong to both communities don't realize is that a good portion of autistic people are also transgender (or out as such).

So, this new Code of Conduct does benefit autistic people in a greater way than neurotypical (since we are more likely to identify as transgender).

I'm also French and English is definitively not my native language. When I first joined here, I was still using binary pronouns for myself and hadn't yet realized that I was non-binary. Also, I had no idea that singular "they" was a thing.

However, I had no issues learning this new rule and, as a matter of fact, I find using "they/them" way easier than using binary pronouns (because I don't have to wonder if I remember the pronouns correctly and don't have to double-check every time I want to talk about someone).

Relevant links:


So far, as Spectrum reports, almost all of the published studies that explore the relationship between autism and gender diversity have simply been “incidence studies,” illustrating that autism and gender diversity do in fact somehow appear to be linked.


Another study, which looked at children and adolescents admitted to a gender identity clinic in the Netherlands, found that almost 8 percent of subjects were also diagnosed with ASD. That figure is nearly four times higher than the rate of ASD in the general population

Being on the autism spectrum does not excuse hurting someone else's feelings. Yes, I have to be more careful than others when writing a comment. Yes, I'm afraid of making mistakes, and I do make some, very often. But I learn, I become better and I do not hide behind my autism to keep hurting people's feelings!

When I make a mistake, I apologize, I try to understand what I did wrong and I promise myself to do better next time.

That's what humans do; they learn. Sure, it might be more difficult if you are on the autism spectrum. But it doesn't prevent you from learning! After all, if you are here, you did learn to read and write in English!

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    This doesn't follow. Transgender people are more likely to be autistic, but even in the non-NT communities they are a minority. Being transgender and being autistic are not mutually inclusive or exclusive. They are two separate concepts. Now, who's to say that this "helps" transgender people? There have been transgender men and women on here who have spoken out against the new CoC, claiming that it has only made their situation worse.
    – user612952
    Commented Oct 17, 2019 at 7:48
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    Furthermore, the CoC can simultaneously hurt you because you're autistic, but also "help" you in another area. That does not make it any less hurtful towards autistic people, even if someone happens to be both autistic and transgender.
    – user612952
    Commented Oct 17, 2019 at 7:49
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    This is also a trap identity politics lays out by treating everyone as representatives of their groups instead of individuals. Are people on the autistic spectrum more likely to be transgender? Apparently yes (I didn't know). Does this mean that they're more likely than NT people to benefit from this CoC? Maybe. Does this also mean that non-NT people stand to lose more from this CoC? This may also be true. Is the average outcome for an autistic person more likely to be positive or negative? Who knows? All of those people are individuals who will respond to the policy in different ways.
    – user622505
    Commented Oct 17, 2019 at 8:30
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    It appears that we can't even tell if the policy benefits transgender people (by their own accounts, both positive and negative). Regardless of benefits and loses, though, I think we can reasonably say that SE did NOT take the autistic spectrum into account. What we do know, though, is that the policy compels speech, which is an objective fact. And that I stand against.
    – user622505
    Commented Oct 17, 2019 at 8:31
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    "...I had no issues learning this new rule and, as a matter of fact, I find using "they/them" way easier than using binary pronouns..." Always using they/them would greatly simplify the language but it's not the new rule, or is it? As I understood it, using always only they/them is not an option? Commented Oct 17, 2019 at 8:52
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    "This is also a trap identity politics lays out by treating everyone as representatives of their groups instead of individuals" That's not true at all--if anything it is the opposite. I only see people use use "identity politics" as a pejorative term committing this fallacy, especially in the context of tokenization.
    – Iguananaut
    Commented Oct 17, 2019 at 10:22
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    @user622505 if gender is a social construct, and ASD involves difficulty with social interactions, then logically there'd be some correlation
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Oct 17, 2019 at 11:52
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    Gender diversity is not only a matter of being transgender. While I'm aware of the correlation between autism and gender diversity, many of the gender diverse autistics I know identify as genderqueer, including the incomprehensible-to-most-transgender-people position of not understanding what a gender identity is, or why they should have one. The only "gender identity" I have has to do with common oppression - if people class you the same as me, and try to force the same restrictions on you, then we have something in common. Commented Oct 18, 2019 at 1:18
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    @BelovedFool You are using "transgender" in a way that includes non-binary identifications. Last time I did that, I got flamed to a crispy crunch. Has the standard meaning changed since I last checked in, or is this just a matter of local/subcultural variants? Commented Oct 18, 2019 at 1:31
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    @ArlieStephens I'm part of the (French) non-binary community (I'm myself agender which put me on the position of "not understanding what a gender identity"). In this community, it's very appropriate to self identify as trans and we believe that people who refuse that we do are just not nice gatekeepers. Commented Oct 18, 2019 at 4:29
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    Thank you for your valuable contribution to this discussion. It’s so frustrating that our broad community tends to offer their opinions about what’s best for minority groups and how minorities might be affected, without actually seeking real engagement with those groups and failing to recognise that those groups are themselves highly diverse. A good start is for us to accept that every change needs to be managed with sensitivity, inclusivity, broad consultation, and patience (rather than haste). Commented Oct 18, 2019 at 5:26

Short answer: A RESOUNDING NO

The longer answer is more nuanced.

I actually debated even responding to this, as I've already taken abuse for even suggesting that some on the spectrum might have problems.

Autism is called a spectrum for a reason, thus the nuance of this answer. If an autistic person is higher functioning, that person MIGHT have no problem. If the person is transgender, that person MIGHT have no problem.

The core of the issue is the rigid thinking and precision of language, and hyperlexia. SOME will not be able to handle the new CoC, and IMO, persecuting them for this amounts to penalizing a blind person for not being able to see, a deaf person for not being able to hear, and a mute person for not being able to speak.

FYI, two of those apply to me, as I am hearing impaired with selective mutism.

But, I digress.

With no disrespect intended towards anyone answering, the fact that you may or may not be able to deal with the new CoC, does not mean that others on the spectrum can. Although we have many common traits, we have many differences as well. Personally, when I see someone like Blair White, I see a "she", some will focus on the fact that she's pre-op and not be able to resolve that in their head. There is no hate involved, but that's not how the CoC handles it.

If someone on the spectrum is not able to comply with the CoC due to the rigid thinking, that person is immediately viewed as hateful, and will be disciplined, labeled, and called names. This has already happened to me for pointing out this fact. I was suspended for 24 hours from chat for saying that I don't want to be called "they".

As I have mentioned in other threads, there is no assumption of good intent, or honest mistakes with this, or even the acknowledgement that someone MIGHT have difficulty with it.

So, IMO, the only thing that can be assumed from this policy is, NO, the needs of autistics were NOT considered, and that anyone who is neuro-atypical to the point of being physically unable to comply with the new CoC is now unwelcome, will be labeled as a bigot, and will be dragged on SE, possibly off of SE if past actions of the staff are of any indication.

It is my reccomendation that anyone on the spectrum evaluate themselves, and if unable to comply, should leave. You will not find this place to be welcoming

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    Toward the higher-functioning end of the spectrum things can be especially challenging, as you "look normal" and therefore the presumption of bad intent is even more readily made. Commented Oct 24, 2019 at 15:32

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