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Please leave any feedback or questions about this FAQ on this other post.


Two weeks ago, we updated The Code of Conduct to directly address concerns over pronoun usage. We tried to anticipate likely questions, but… missed the mark by quite a lot. Based on Gareth McCaughan’s excellent post, “A Pronominal Proposal”, we’ve gone back to the drawing board and written a new FAQ that aims to address actual questions that have been frequently asked in these discussions.

If you read only one thing, the answer to question #1 under The Basics sums up our goals in publishing this guidance:

It would be rude to refer to a man as "she" or a woman as "he". Some people are neither male nor female and might, for instance, ask to be referred to as "they". When someone indicates what pronouns should be used to refer to them, please use the pronouns they state as you would others.

This is a learning process for most of us - from authors to readers to moderators to employees of Stack Exchange, Inc. Let’s all try to approach this with good intentions and a willingness to learn from one another.

Big thanks to Gareth for leading by example here, and to everyone who has stepped up to ask and answer the important questions!

What's all this stuff about pronouns in The Code of Conduct?

The Code of Conduct has two direct references to pronouns:

  • “Use stated pronouns (when known).”
  • “Prefer gender-neutral language when uncertain.”

What does all of this mean and how can I as a user understand and follow the CoC guidance?

Return to FAQ index

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What's this all about? - The Basics

This section is an explanation of singular third-person pronouns.

1. What's this business about "pronouns"?

It would be rude to refer to a man as "she" or a woman as "he". Some people are neither men nor women and might, for instance, ask to be referred to as "they". When someone indicates what pronouns should be used to refer to them, please use the pronouns they state as you would others.

2. Is this about transgender people?

Many people have good reason to say their pronouns. 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.

3. So if someone I think is a woman (or female) asks to be called "he" rather than "she" then I have to do it?

Continuing to call someone “she” after they stated that they are “he” is rude - don't call him "she".

4. What was that about being neither men nor women?

Some people are neither men or women. The usual term for such people is "non-binary" and they’re often included in the term “transgender”. Just as you wouldn't want to be referred to with a pronoun that doesn't fit you, neither do they.

5. "Gender-neutral"? Does that mean like "he/she"?

Not quite. While “he/she” and similar compound pronouns are better than a default masculine “he” alone, gender-neutral writing works to avoid gendered terms entirely when gender is unknown, either through rephrasing statements to avoid pronouns or through the usage of singular (or plural) “they”. For examples and other methods, see Kate Gregory’s answer to a related question - Define "gender-neutral language"? (CoC FAQ)

6. How does this apply to languages other than English?

While these specific requirements around pronoun usage apply only to the English language, the goal of being inclusive and respectful of all genders applies to all our communities. As we find best practices in other languages, we’ll work with those communities and update guidance for those languages.

7. This seems like a small thing to make a fuss over.

While on its surface it may seem like a small thing, we should keep in mind that for some people it's important and significant as it speaks to how they are respected and viewed. It can convey far more than a mere linguistic choice.

8. Isn't all this causing lots of inconvenience to everyone for the sake of a minority?

No. One thing is required of you: that when someone states their pronouns you take notice and respect their request. We also recommend that you don't make assumptions about people's gender and that you prefer gender-neutral language when unsure. Using gender-neutral language instead of default masculine makes the content here inclusive of everyone, including both female and trans users.

9. Seriously, though, I haven't seen any hostility or disrespect towards transgender people; why do we need any of this?

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. If you haven’t seen this content, then that’s good - we’re cleaning it up. There may also be other forms you don’t recognize as such, like pronoun usage. We hope that these small modifications to the Code of Conduct will help make those people feel welcome, and make it easier to take appropriate action if anyone is repetitively and deliberately rude.

More questions?

What's this all about? - Implementation

So, as a curator or moderator, what's my role?

But what about...? The edge cases.

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But what about...? The edge cases.

This section is designed to address specific circumstances that apply to a subset of users.

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

In most contexts, your opinions about gender are off-topic. Some of our sites may have topics where gender is part of the subject and may be a valid question for the experts on that site. When answering these questions, it is important that answers report an evidence-based answer to the question and avoid conveying the author's opinions on the subject. Since these evidence-based answers may be at odds with the Code of Conduct, please take special care and frame them respectfully and politely — please be aware that many things you might want to say may be extremely distressing to some readers, and try to minimize that distress.

2. But the free choice of language is important to me. This rule impairs my freedom of speech.

By participating here you're agreeing to treat others with politeness. That includes not insulting people (even if you sincerely think ill of them, and even if you're right). It also includes not intentionally misgendering them.

3. 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?

Our users may hold any beliefs they do - be it about gender or even having strong opinions about religions themselves. 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 pointing out how wrong they think your religion is aren't behaving in a way we want here. Do not be rude to other people.

4. I find it really distressing to use pronouns in a way I think is wrong. Is there really no alternative?

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 conspicuously avoiding using pronouns for one group of people while using them normally for others is a way of refusing to recognize their identity, and that is discriminatory. Please don’t do that.

5. I sincerely disagree that transgender people are who and what they say they are. Am I still welcome on Stack Exchange sites?

You are, but some of the things you might want to say aren't. You might sincerely think ill of people, but you are still not welcome to insult them. This is just the same. If you can coexist peacefully with people you disagree with, you're welcome to stay.

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

We’re not labeling people. Everybody makes mistakes. It’s important to note that for trans people the impact of a refusal to use their pronouns is often the same whether the refuser is a ‘bigot’ or not. It is invalidating and hurtful. Through policies like this, we aim to help all Stack Exchange users avoid offending others.

  • The first line of the question is to take discussion to the discussion post. If you want it to stick, please do that. – Catija Oct 23 at 13:38
81

What's this all about? - Implementation

This section focuses on guiding you on how to use these pronouns correctly.

1. Does this mean that I will be in trouble if I ever get someone's pronouns wrong?

No. It's fine to make an honest mistake - but once you are directly informed of what someone wants, please act accordingly.

2. May I use they/them by default?

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

3. Is it a CoC violation if I use "he" or any other pronoun as a neutral one?

We recommend using singular “they”. “He” and “she” are not gender-neutral. Many of us grew up being taught that using “he” was the default gender-neutral third-person singular form, but this is becoming less accepted as time passes. That said, it’s still very common so it is not a CoC violation to use gendered pronouns as long as you use stated pronouns once they’re made known.

4. Can I use he or she based on a user name/avatar and correct if they tell me I was wrong?

We do not recommend assuming people's gender, but you can do so. If someone corrects you with their stated pronouns, please start using the stated ones instead.

5. 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 have to handle dozens of different pronouns?

Many non-binary people will be OK with whatever non-binary pronoun you use for them - however, if they have stated one, use the one they have stated.

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

Then just do your best. Again, honest mistakes are fine. If you are directly corrected, adjust moving forward. If you're not sure how to form that pronoun, you may be able to find guidance here. If you're struggling, that's common. It can take a little effort but it's appreciated.

7. Am I obligated to find opportunities to use pronouns?

Not at all! If you don’t need to use pronouns to say something, that’s fine. We ask that you use pronouns as you would naturally. If you’d use them in a sentence, use them; if not, don’t. Problems 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.

8. What if someone wants to be referred to as "the Great and Mighty One" or by an obscenity or something?

If something is obviously unreasonable and seems to be requested unkindly, please feel free to flag for moderator attention. Pronouns are a fairly well defined thing in language and styles/nouns/titles (“Your Majesty”) are generally poor substitutes for them. Note that “it sounds silly to me” is not sufficient grounds to think something is obviously unreasonable. If you and they can't agree, ask 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. The Community Team is also available to help guide moderators upon request. Offensive/trolling “pronouns” (e.g.“attack helicopter”) should be flagged.

9. Do I have to say what my pronouns are?

No. This is completely optional.

10. I want to let people know what my pronouns are. What should I do?

How (and whether) you identify your pronouns is up to you. In many cases it's unnecessary. Please don’t put pronouns in your posts unless it’s somehow relevant.

11. Do I need to go looking for people's pronouns before interacting on Q&A?

No, that is not required. If you want to go the extra mile before interacting, that is certainly nice, but we're not demanding it. If a user’s pronouns are made known during an interaction with them (for example, in a comment exchange) use them going forward.

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

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

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So, as a curator or moderator, what's my role?

This section covers some moderator and curator FAQs.

As a moderator

M1. I'm a moderator. What should I do if I see these rules being broken?

If someone makes an honest mistake, you could 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 deliberately breaking the CoC.

M2. I'm a moderator. I often have to refer to other users, I can't 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?

Yes. As a moderator, you're held to a higher standard and are expected to set a positive example for your community. Using incorrect pronouns or conspicuously avoiding using pronouns is disrespectful. Telling them you refuse to use their pronouns is rude. If you think you will find using pronouns as stated difficult, please try. Most moderators won’t have to address this frequently. If you need help or have questions, contact the CM team for guidance. After that, if you cannot in good conscience follow it, reach out so we can find a replacement for you.

M3. I’m a moderator. What do I do when I am unsure what action I should take?

As always when any ambiguous or uncertain situation comes up, please contact a Community Manager.

As a user

U1. I'm not a moderator. What should I do if I see these rules being broken?

If you notice someone who is using the wrong pronouns for someone else who has stated them (e.g. in a comment or on their profiles or whose pronouns are publicly known), you could gently correct them in a comment. If the situation escalates, please flag what you see. A moderator or Community Manager will look into it further. Avoid volunteering pronouns for third parties who have not indicated them on Stack Exchange (e.g. you know them in person) unless they are general knowledge.

U2. I'm worried that I may get banned. Should I be?

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 wilfully upsetting people in other ways.

U3. I'm not a native speaker. Am I going to get in trouble just because my English isn't great?

No. Honest mistakes are fine, and everyone should understand that non-native speakers can make a lot of honest mistakes. The key is to show good faith attempts to correct and use the appropriate pronouns.

U4. If someone puts their pronouns into a question they're asking, should we leave that in or edit it out as noise?

Add a comment noting what they said and suggesting that they could comment on the question/answer next time. 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. Note: on some sites stating one’s pronouns may be vital information for the question being asked, so don’t remove them in those cases.

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