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Over the past week we've been busy reviewing our previous FAQ to directly address concerns over pronoun usage. We tried to anticipate likely questions, but… missed the mark a bit. Inspired by the Community's excellent curated one, we created a new combined FAQ and, after running it by the moderator team, we're happy to officially release it. Check it out in its new question: What does the Code of Conduct say about pronouns?

We know some of you may still have questions or additional clarification on some points. We're happy to further improve the wording of either questions or answers or add answers to new questions. This post here is the place to talk through that. For ease of voting and responding, please limit each answer to one specific concern.

However, note that debating the core of the new rule ("please use stated pronouns") or the validity of people's identities or gender expressions is off-topic for this post, and we won't be entertaining those debates at this point and posts that aren't questions or requests for clarification may be deleted.

Please also note that the FAQ is very long as it is but the questions in it represent a broad spectrum of questions we've seen repeatedly over the last weeks. It doesn't cover many edge cases as an FAQ is not meant to cover/address every edge case that may come up - trying to preemptively legislate for everything hypothetically is a bad practice. Some of the bridges we will have to cross when we get to them, and the Community Management team will work with Moderators to deal with those as they come.

So, with all that said... Here's the place to post your requests for clarification/new questions.

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    (10K+) If anyone wants to see the old FAQ, it's here. – mason Oct 23 at 14:50
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    @aCVn The Wayback Machine has several archives of the FAQ, including an early revision 2 hours after it was posted. – Stevoisiak Oct 23 at 18:10
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    Reminder that comments on meta, like the main sites, should not be used to hold a long, increasingly-tangential discussion between two people on a third person's post - they get all the pings, you get nothing. Meta Stack Exchange Chat is a good venue if you just want to have a conversation with someone . – Shog9 Oct 24 at 1:11
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    @Shog9 there is functionality to move comments to chat, is there not? Deleting all of the comments on a post makes it look bad, especially when other controversies on the site have a wildly different outcome for the comments there. – justcool393 Oct 27 at 16:35
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    That functionality is very limited, @just. You get one shot per post, and if a conversation is headed south then the onus is on you to moderate it in potentially two places. In heated moments, it doesn't pay. Would be nicer if we had a way to lock comments. – Shog9 Oct 27 at 16:47
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    @Ooker I think a mod edited in that 10K note on my comment. Yes, I can see the question too since I have an answer there. But I can't see all the other answers or comments since I'm not 10K. – mason Oct 28 at 12:24
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    @Shog9 Locking comments would eliminate constructive feedback. Non constructive comments can be deleted anyway; no reason to remove the good ones as well. – Fermi paradox Oct 29 at 7:41
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    Some users feel threatened, belong to groups other than trans/non-binary, and would feel much safer if their own language desires were also included in the CoC. How can such users achieve the same language protections as trans/non-binary people? – Gershom Maes Oct 29 at 12:28
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    3rd-person pronouns are already covered. I'm asking about other language controls which would make additional groups feel comfortable. – Gershom Maes Oct 29 at 19:22
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    Hi Cesar ♦. I have 3 yet-unanswered clarification questions posted below for SE to respond to, each in a separate post as you requested. Are you still providing answers in this thread or is this too old and I should post my questions as new question-posts? Thanks! – user-2147482600 Oct 31 at 19:27
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    cc @Shog9 ♦ who is pingable ^^^^^ – user-2147482600 Oct 31 at 19:28
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    Before official release was this discussed with the community too or only moderators ? – Vivek Mishra Nov 1 at 11:12
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    Is there an alternative online community with more sensible CoC? I7d be happy to join there if there are already ongoing efforts – user454322 Nov 8 at 5:37
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    There are limits to even our masochism, @Fermiparadox – Shog9 Nov 8 at 23:09
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    Meanwhile, on a site somewhere else, "people" are just asking questions and getting answers... – James Nov 9 at 3:29

66 Answers 66

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The FAQ says:

Many trans people have told us that they feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, or even unsafe here. That isn't what we want

They're not the only ones who are uncomfortable. Other users may feel uncomfortable too, unless they follow the FAQ's advice and change their writing style, which in itself could be uncomfortable for them:

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

Mods might also feel uncomfortable, but unlike users, they don't have a recourse:

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?

It seems to me that this FAQ is okay with making certain people distressed and uncomfortable, and considers this an acceptable trade-off. Is that true?

I can imagine several groups of people:

  1. Users who want others to use their neopronouns
  2. Users who find using neopronouns "really distressing"
  3. Mods who find it "uncomfortable" to use certain pronouns (probably neopronouns).
  4. Users who find it "really distressing" to use pronouns in a way they think is wrong (other than neopronouns)
  5. Users who don't want to be misgendered, but don't have neopronouns.

Some of these groups contain people with autism.
Some of these groups contain religious objectors.
Some of these groups contain trans people.

Whose comfort is priority here? By answering that, the question of 'whose comfort is given the least consideration' will also be answered. I'd like that clarified.


Answer:

We believe that all participants on Stack Exchange’s websites have the right to participate using the gender pronouns that reflect their identity. You cannot knowingly misgender people. This is what the CoC update is about at its core. Our intention is not to tell you what to think or force you to act in a way that makes you uncomfortable. Interacting with people online is often confusing and distressing. We want to minimize this for everyone. When users are in a situation that makes them uncomfortable, they can always step away or ask for help (raise a flag).

Following the CoC doesn’t require someone to go out of their way to use pronouns. If someone prefers to omit pronouns entirely, they’re welcome to do so, as long as it’s not used in an obviously unnatural way. For example, you can change "The OP wrote in his question" to "the OP wrote in the question" this is a non-obvious rephrasing. If you're writing "The OP wrote in the OP's question" for a user who asked you to refer to them with a neopronoun, that is more clearly discriminatory unless this is your default way of writing. No matter the case, no one can knowingly misgender people, so if/when you use third-person pronouns for someone, use their stated pronouns. – Cesar M♦

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    Right now the FAQ says the user's comfort counts for more than the mods, because mod is a special position and is held to a higher standard. – nvoigt Oct 23 at 4:13
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    This is already answered by the FAQ. They are aware that attempts to be inclusive will make some people uncomfortable and they are stating that this is a known and accepted repercussion. That seems like a reasonable line to draw. Also: this answer to the FAQ strongly implies that the comfort of people who state pronouns is less serious and less important than the comfort of people who don't. That's not really okay. – Aza Oct 23 at 4:15
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    @Aza You are saying they merely feel uncomfortable. For some, it is really distressing. Let's not mince words - Caleb found it really distressing to not exercise his freedom of conscience and religious thought. He wasn't "just uncomfortable." He intensely disliked it. Don't read this as a request to debate gender identity, or request to go out of one's way and call them he instead of she or zir instead of xe. It's a request for how SE is weighing anyone else's emotions. – The Anathema Oct 23 at 4:39
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    @TheAnathema Trying to beat down one group by saying your distress is Worse is really missing the point, no matter how you cut it. I'm... not getting into a distress battle here. – Aza Oct 23 at 4:42
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    @Aza Hold on. I never said it was a request to "beat anyone down." In fact, I explicitly said it wasn't. – The Anathema Oct 23 at 4:46
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    There's always the alternative of not engaging with users if your personal beliefs clash with theirs for some reason. It's a purely theoretical issue for 99.9% of SE users anyway. – JonathanReez Supports Monica Oct 23 at 5:10
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    @JonathanReez: From the text, it seems that moderators are not allowed to not engage, nor to disengage. – Cerberus_Reinstate-Monica Oct 23 at 5:14
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    @Cerberus dunno, I've been a mod for two years now and never once used anyone's pronouns in all this time. I always call users "OP" or address them by their username. – JonathanReez Supports Monica Oct 23 at 5:21
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    @jxh Okay, I understand now, please correct me if I am wrong, but since we have stated that some people are neither male nor female, you are saying that "male or female" isn't including everyone. That is not a violation of the CoC, but if a person points out that they are left out (and you are writing it for them, as you said they are the asker), you could rephrase that as "would look good on anyone". Or someone could make that edit to make it more neutral and all's well. – Cesar M Oct 23 at 22:43
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    Can someone give one example of a religion that prohibits specific pronouns? That scenario is being thrown out everywhere, but I can't think of one religion that has this pronoun limitation. – Lyd Oct 24 at 5:48
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    "[Trans] are not the only ones who are uncomfortable." : Totally agree about that and show how all this mess in in fact a XY problem. – Orace Oct 24 at 8:33
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    "Our intention is not to tell you what to think or force you to act in a way that makes you uncomfortable" actually, that's exactly what you're doing, you're literally forcing people to use language that is distressing to them. – logos_164 Oct 24 at 22:51
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    @trlkly You have no idea what kind of problems other people face. You cannot possibly say that one person is hurting more than the other and what is easy or hard. Some trans people don't care too much about pronouns, some women feel as much hurt when being misgendered as some trans seem to feel. – Her Majesty Queen of ARC Oct 25 at 10:02
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    "The OP wrote in the OP's question" for a user who asked you to refer to them with a neopronoun, that is more clearly discriminatory unless this is your default way of writing - what??? we're now saying "OP" is discrimanatory? I'm done with all this. – Sam Oct 25 at 10:39
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    There were like -1800 votes on the last post how is this Interacting with people online is often confusing and distressing. We want to minimize this for everyone.? It's seems more to us like you SE want to their own thing and not listen to the community. – onkarjit Oct 25 at 14:32
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In What does the Code of Conduct say about gender pronouns?,

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.

This item is a bit offensive, as it mischaracterizes an issue and the people to whom it relates.

In the back and forth of discussion about the CoC and FAQ, a number of people in the trans community raised the point that trans members should not be put in a position of being asked to explain or justify themselves. That is absolutely the case. However, that same courtesy was not extended to people with religious prohibitions concerning pronouns. A number of people were put in a position of needing to explain why the compelled speech issue was a violation of their beliefs.

They explained beliefs that some other people found objectionable. A key point is that the entire context was an explanation of "why" in response to the CoC/FAQ. They were describing a "conscientious objector" issue.

Aside from those discussions, nobody suggested that anybody thought it would be appropriate to raise religious objections to other people's gender identity, or to air those beliefs in the normal course of business.

Item 3 is a strawman that suggests that people with a religious issue against compulsory speech might use SE sites to express religious-based views that would be disrespectful to others. At the same time, it completely ignores the religious issue that was actually raised. So it is both insulting and dismissive.

Aside from that specific issue, parts of the document are unnecessarily inflammatory. There are a number of paragraphs that provide general context and cover innocent mistakes. Those are fine. Other parts characterize any failure to use preferred pronouns as rude, insulting, and other similar terms. Much of the "Edge Cases" portion is like this.

It is certainly possible to be rude and insulting by purposely using pronouns contrary to what someone has requested. But many people take offense at characterizing any and all failures to use the right pronoun as being rude or insulting. It demonizes other users. The intent may be expressed in the "good parts", but that doesn't make the wording in the "bad parts" not inflammatory.

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    People, such as in the most prominent post on the subject, raised objections to a requirement to use preferred pronouns that went beyond just the "compelled speech" objection with phrases like "even if it is a mismatch for their genetic sex." Those read to me like an objection to other people's gender identity. I'm not sure how to interpret that as other than a statement that it could be a "potentially compromising scenario" to the author's religion to respect someone else's self-stated identity in this way. – onetothrowaway Oct 23 at 4:50
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    The fact that this comes after B1 and B4, which both state they their beliefs are objectively, factually wrong just takes the cake. – rockwalrus-stop harming Monica Oct 23 at 4:57
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    @onetothrowaway I think you are characterizing my position there. The issue is not so much that I have an objection to somebody else's identity, but it sets a precedent for being able to express mine when situation arises. I mapped out the direct parallel this compelled speech has to other topics. Also if you can't see why your framing this as "respect" is problematic when I go out of my way to respect others but only refuse to say something that plainly means something I don't believe is true, then you have not understood the problem. – Caleb Oct 23 at 15:07
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    @Xirema, 1. That belief is not trans-compatible, but it isn't transphobia. People can have different personal beliefs that are inconsistent with someone else's. 2. Nobody has said anything about anyone defending that position on the platform. Nobody with a religious objection has suggested interfering with trans users rights. The religious objection is to being compelled to do something themselves. 3. Your objection is to what someone else believes, not to their behavior in treating other people. – fixer1234 Oct 23 at 16:12
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    I don't care about what a person believes, but if they refuse to call a trans woman using she/her, that's undeniably a behavior, not a belief, yes? And if users (or ex-moderators...) are blanketly refusing to use the correct pronouns when referring to transgender users, that's undeniably an interfering with the rights of transgender users. So I don't really understand how that isn't transphobia, or what the difference is supposed to be between transphobia or "being not trans-compatible". – Xirema Oct 23 at 16:28
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    @Xirema, here's an analogy. Suppose people with certain religious beliefs were experiencing less than welcoming behavior on some SE sites. So the company published a policy stating that you must positively affirm that God says any gender other than what people are born with is wrong. You'd be pretty upset about that, right? What if it was framed as simply a matter of being respectful to the religious members and refusing to do it is disrespectful; you could be sanctioned for that rude behavior? And if you have a problem with that, you're being Godphobic. That's the issue here. – fixer1234 Oct 23 at 17:06
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    If that was the policy SE was setting, I would oppose that policy and not use this site, because I would plainly see that the site does not tolerate the presence of transgender users. What's your point? – Xirema Oct 23 at 17:12
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    @Xirema then SE should just state that they do not tolerate religious people and delete all religious communities. At least that would be honest! – Josef Oct 23 at 17:45
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    @Xirema Well, so just don't be a Christian or Muslim or Jew or ... is what you mean? – Josef Oct 23 at 17:59
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    @Xirema, a religion can be intolerant of transgendering, but adherents can still act respectfully toward transgender people. Religions can hold that you should not engage in something yourself, but that doesn't mean you should hate others who do. The point is that a policy of being welcoming and inclusive shouldn't be based on polarizing members against each other, and people gritting their teeth and tolerating the presence of specific groups. Everybody needs to be a little tolerant and look for simple compromises that everyone can live with. (cont'd) – fixer1234 Oct 23 at 18:09
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    It isn't productive to frame things in a manner that anything not 100% compliant with how one side views things is by definition disrespectful. I'd suggest that someone whose religious beliefs says non-biological gendering is wrong, who goes out of their way to be polite and to find alternate ways to interact in a positive way, is being more respectful. There needs to be good faith on both sides. The revised guidelines already provide alternate ways to interact respectfully. – fixer1234 Oct 23 at 18:09
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    Ultimately the policy relates to misgendering people ("Use stated pronouns (when known)"). Regardless of what your beliefs on gender fluidity may be, whether those beliefs are based in your 4th grade biology class or your religion, if you engage in this behavior, you are in violation of the code of conduct as written today, and as written previously in "be nice". That much is not up for debate at this point. – Unionhawk Oct 23 at 18:25
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    But what is that "alternate ways" in this context? Because if all they're doing is trying to find ways to avoid calling a trans woman a woman or avoid calling her by she/her, that doesn't really sound like respect. That doesn't sound like a good faith effort. It just sounds like someone looking for loopholes and thinking they're being clever. – Xirema Oct 23 at 18:25
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    @Xirema, it isn't a matter of being "clever". Some mechanism is needed to allow people to interact without requiring them to violate their own values. The objective is to avoid innocent mistakes and prevent malicious misgendering. Avoiding pronouns entirely is a safe way to accomplish that, and is not disrespectful. The objective is not (or at least should not be), to require one user to validate or affirm another user's gender identity. Except in rare cases, that should be irrelevant. – fixer1234 Oct 23 at 19:41
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    @trlkly, a distinction needs to be made between legitimate issues and trolls who abuse provisions. People do have legitimate religious issues; you can't trample their rights because trolls might find a way to abuse the loopholes. Examples of the kinds of stuff you refer to have gone to court and the courts have generally ruled that people are entitled to act according to their conscience, even if the effects of that aren't inclusive. – fixer1234 Oct 25 at 18:27
196

Since all answers to the previous FAQ have been deleted and this concern isn't addressed in the new FAQ I guess I'll ask again:

How do you think this is going to work for regular (Stack Overflow) users?

Regular users don't read Codes of Conduct, FAQs or other guidelines. We know this because thousands of garbage questions come in every day.

And for 99% of the users, 99% percent of the time, on 99% percent of posts gender pronouns are completely irrelevant. So you can't rely on users stumbling upon them via normal interaction with the site.

This means the first interaction regular users are going to have with neopronouns will probably be an unpleasant one. You might say that doesn't matter since 99% of the time this won't come up. But keep in mind that 0.01% of first time Stack Overflow users is still a lot of people. Every day.

Also keep in mind that in most parts of the world (like mine) gender (neo-)pronouns are not a thing. We don't learn about them in English class, we don't encounter them when consuming media, we don't hear them in every-day life. This means for most of your users, the Code of Conduct holds surprises.

If your Code of Conduct includes surprises for at least half of your users, you are going to have a bad time.

To me it seems in your quest for inclusiveness, you just forgot about everybody who doesn't speak English natively.

Do you have any plans to make this easier for non-native speakers, other than canned reassurances (like U3)?

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    Hi, I'm a non-native English speaker. I had a hard time (and still do, fellow CMs can attest) getting out of neutral he - as it is de facto the neutral pronoun in Portuguese (nothing remotely similar to they/it). But I try, sometimes I don't get it right, I correct myself next time and move on. Users who see this for the first time may not fully grasp it, and we are okay pointing them to resources or the CoC through mod messages and helping them along. This isn't going to be applied draconianly (is that a word?) and we're here to help people along. – Cesar M Oct 23 at 6:50
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    @CesarM Kudos to you for effort. But now imagine how hard English is on people who are not in constant, intense contact with native-speakers who are there to gently correct your use of the language. And StackOverflow points users to various resources all day long, it doesn't seem to make much impact. I realize it's not your intention to apply this draconically (dictionary says not a word, but I don't care), but on SO neither users nor moderators have the time to hand-hold every user, adding another hurdle isn't going to make it any easier. – void Oct 23 at 7:29
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    @CesarM, put yourself in the shoes of someone who speaks Cantonese (no gendered pronouns) or worse, Japanese (linguists are still arguing as to whether it has third-person pronouns, or even pronouns at all). When it comes to understanding the fuss about pronouns, you've got a major advantage by speaking a language that changes pronouns based on gender. – Mark Oct 23 at 9:08
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    I'd say this was covered by "Does this mean that I will be in trouble if I ever get someone's pronouns wrong?", but mostly by the fact that use of third-person pronouns is rare on SO. Talking about a third party at all on SO probably indicates comments that are getting out of hand anyway. – Raedwald Oct 23 at 9:53
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    @CesarM But right now you're perfectly proficient in English. I could say I'm not a native speaker either, but I'm also perfectly proficient. The real question here isn't about who is or isn't a native speaker, it's about who is proficient enough to understand A) They're doing something against the CoC and B) to figure out how to fix that. I've seen questions where the grammar was bad enough that I couldn't figure out what they were asking. Those are users it's about. – Gloweye Oct 23 at 10:28
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    @Raedwald this would be easier if our previous exchange on this exact topic was not deleted along with the previous FAQ. But the fact that this will rarely occur on SO makes it worse in my opinion, not better. It's an incredibly complicated policy that is useless most of the time, because it simply does not apply. So normal (ie non-meta) users will stumble upon it and either be totally confused or start the same discussion we are having right now. – void Oct 23 at 11:48
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    @Renan there are two key differences: 1) You can see good examples of stellar, on-topic questions all over SO. Off-topic questions are deleted fairly swiftly most of the time. On the other hand you'd be hard pressed to find pronouns anywhere. And 2) Spam is frowned upon all over the internet. Nobody can arrive on SO and expect Spam to get through without opposition. Pronouns on the other hand are exotic. At least for me both on the internet and in real live, SO is the only part of my life where anybody cares about pronouns at all. – void Oct 23 at 13:58
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    I don’t know, it seems like the only real rule in the CoC is to use specific pronouns when requested (it specifically states that they do not expect people to do research or look in someone’s profile). So no one can stumble into a violation – someone would have to specifically ask them to use a different pronoun, and then they would have to repeatedly refuse. – divibisan Oct 23 at 14:39
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    @Mena "neopronouns are not part of the English language". This is not how the English language works. English is a living, evolving language. For English there is nothing equivalent to the Académie française that makes official pronouncements about what is and is not "correct English". The respected Oxford English Dictionary does not specify the permitted words and their meanings, it describes which words are used and how they are used. – Raedwald Oct 23 at 14:40
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    It might be useful, as 194636 suggested, to provide mods with guidance for how to approach these situations to explain things to non-native English speakers. But I can’t see how you could run into a problem without multiple people talking about the issue with you first. – divibisan Oct 23 at 14:42
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    @Raedwald I get your point, but if you don't find those words on the recent edition of any established English dictionary, you can say in all certainty that they are not, in fact, English words. Otherwise any given word should be considered as English just because it's being used contextually to an English sentence. Language is a living thing: I totally agree, which is why attempting to impose arbitrary norms and conventions generally fails. Neologisms become part of the language through widespread adoption, not coercion. – Mena Oct 23 at 14:46
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    I think, that the "Prefer gender-neutral language" rule should be changed to "Use of gender-neutral language is recommended.", and it shouldn't be enforced unless the mistake is intentional. If this is a reason for banning someone, then at certain points we should have all been kicked. – beerwin Oct 24 at 12:09
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    @divibisan If it's in the CoC it can be enforced, otherwise it wouldn't need to be in there in the first place. Anyway, in the current climate I don't trust SE to handle problems related to pronouns or gender-neutrality fairly. Regardless of the exact wording in the CoC. And I assume you read through the posts related to Robert, I got the impression he doesn't think his case is old-fashioned at all. Several users voiced the suspicion that the flags were a good excuse to silence a strong dissenting voice. That's also the impression I got. – void Oct 24 at 13:41
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    Sure, but it's detrimental to both the site and it's users that those rules are not in line with what's normal around the internet. My country has laws that void EULAs if they are found to be unusual according to local customs. I think that's extremely reasonable. I have been on many sites too, and seen people struggle with simpler rules. I guess we associate with quite different communities. – void Oct 25 at 8:03
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    @CesarM I think what you are saying is correct, yet highly problematic. The CoC and all surrounding FAQs are draconian. Yet, you do realize that they need to be applied in a non-draconian way for the majority of our users. This is highly problematic because it's totally arbitrary, and arbitrary stuff like this does not work when moderating. It exposes moderators to accusations of bias. In fact, it will be applied based on bias. You can't put out rules and put it on moderators to adapt them because they are misguided. Write them correctly in the first place. – Sklivvz Oct 27 at 9:11
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  1. 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.

Does this mean that completely avoiding pronouns as a style of writing is now considered acceptable, presuming it is done consistently?


Answer from Catija:

As Cesar and Aza said in the comments, if you want to stop using third person pronouns entirely, that is fine. What you can not do is stop using pronouns only when referring to people who have specific pronouns - whilst using them normally for other people. But, be warned, if you're doing this in a way that is particularly obvious it may be quite confusing to some. Aza words this well:

For example, consistently wording sentences in extremely clumsy (avoidable) ways to avoid pronouns could leave someone feeling othered, even if you are consistent about it. And advocating vocally against using pronouns because those people would also be... not great.

The FAQ also links to a guide for how to write in a natural gender neutral way.

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    I imagine this is, at minimum, non-justiciable. A stated policy on this question beyond "don't conspicuously avoid using That Person's pronouns" is not likely to be meaningful. I wouldn't expect an official answer to this one, for that reason. – Aza Oct 23 at 2:25
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    @Aza if SE is okay with people not using any pronouns, there wouldn't be a need to bring anyone to trial over it :) – JonathanReez Supports Monica Oct 23 at 2:31
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    I'm... genuinely not sure what you're talking about or how it relates to pronouns. I'm a little out of the loop. But to be clear, are still some ways to hurt people here that are important to keep in mind, and I can see why one would warrant escalation. For example, consistently wording sentences in extremely clumsy (avoidable) ways to avoid pronouns could leave someone feeling othered, even if you are consistent about it. And advocating vocally against using pronouns because those people would also be... not great. But just, quietly doing this? Probably non-justiciable, yeah. – Aza Oct 23 at 2:35
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    @JonathanReez Yes. To a degree. If you are conspicuously not using pronouns for a specific group whilst using he/she normally elsewhere, then that's a problem. If you are not using pronouns at all, that's... not punishable. I wouldn't recommend removing pronouns from your writing altogether as exactly welcoming, but that is your call, not mine. Aza put it well above. – Cesar M Oct 23 at 2:35
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    @CesarM Thank you Cesar. Hopefully your clear answer will address Monica's original concern over enforced pronoun usage and help you folks make amends :-) – JonathanReez Supports Monica Oct 23 at 2:37
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    @Aza I personally don't have any issues with using pronouns of any kind, but others disliked the compelled speech aspect of the previous FAQ. With this new rule no one is compelled to say anything. – JonathanReez Supports Monica Oct 23 at 2:39
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    "Please don’t do that." What does this mean in terms of actions from StackExchange when you still do that? E.g. Monica apparently got demodded for described how she does not liking to use the singular pronoun 'they' and suggests to avoid using the pronoun. But obviously she has not eliminated using 'he' and 'she' everywhere else as well. So she violates this point 4 (only as a thought crime because she may not have ever been in the situation to use they on SE). Does "please don't do that" mean you can not be moderator anymore if you do not (open to) use singular 'they'? – Sextus Empiricus Oct 23 at 10:10
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    @SextusEmpiricus The actual FAQ answers that specifically in the post regarding moderators and curators - M2. – Catija Oct 23 at 21:04
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    @SextusEmpiricus "she has not eliminated using 'he' and 'she' everywhere else as well" Apparently she has, at least that is what she says and as far as I can tell it is true. – Stop harming Monica Oct 23 at 21:17
  • 1
    @Catija do the recent edits, which specify the situation more further, mean that it is in principle allowed to avoid selectively specific pronouns (although not advised or desirable)? But it is in practice that this should not be done in a clumsy or obvious way such that it becomes demeaning. Like: say if Sextus is 'he' and Eros is 'they' then a sentence like "Sextus and Eros went to a bar. He drank beer and Eros drank wine" would be considered unnecessarily obvious and clumsy. (regarding the M2 point, many people including me, might still consider this situation not cleared up) – Sextus Empiricus Oct 23 at 22:40
  • 3
    @CesarM Is it OK if the "specific group" I avoid using 3rd person pronouns for is all Stack Exchange users (and probably pseudo-anonymous users elsewhere online)? I'd like to continue to use pronouns normally for people like public figures, people I know personally, and hypothetical people I made up. – Laurel Oct 24 at 3:20
  • 4
    I find that 'ze' is confusing because not everbody may understand it, because it may not be clear to everybody that Bob uses 'ze'. His friends and wider acquaintances may use it often but on a public forum/q&a-board it may not be obvious unless the people are very close collaborators. So even when it is in a single form 'Ze came in tenth place' (and in some cases also with 'they') I would not use it because it might be confusing (are all readers gonna understand that 'they' refers to 'Bob'? (With 'he' and 'she' we make these connections easier) – Sextus Empiricus Oct 25 at 6:09
  • 1
    @Catija So something like “Bob ran a marathon last week and they got very tired.” might be still ambiguous, even when there is a single person in the story. Of course, I get that only avoiding 'they' and 'ze', but keeping all other 'he' and 'she' in a single sentence, single alinea or even a single post, will be not so nice. But when writing a next comment or post and talking to a crowd without they or ze, then would it be fine to use 'he' and 'she' again? – Sextus Empiricus Oct 25 at 6:17
  • 2
    The reason that I use singular pronouns 'he' and 'she' is because they are easier than the pronoun 'they' in the cases when the pronoun has a specific singular antecedent. In most cases the pronouns 'he' and 'she' unambiguously refer to a specific person for which it is clear that the person is a man or woman. When it is not clear for a particular person whether the person is a man or woman then I wish to not use pronouns. That has little to do with (creating/increasing) inequality and everything with writing in a particular preferred (clear) way. Do not take Bob and Alice away from us. – Sextus Empiricus Oct 25 at 7:15
  • 4
    @Catija, your answer here effectively writes the word "conspicuous" out of the FAQ. I was pleased with that word's inclusion, since I took it to mean that we may avoid someone's pronouns for reasons of conscience or style or clarity so long as we ensure the resulting construction isn't something clumsy that draws attention to what we've done. But your answer now makes it sound like any such approach will be automatically considered to be a rule violation if detected at all. That doesn't seem consistent with banning only "conspicuous" pronoun avoidance. – Mark Amery Oct 25 at 12:29
112

From here:

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.

What you did to Monica, before this policy was in effect, for asking questions about its implementation, combined with the fact that Monica's de-modding has not been reversed even provisionally pending actual process, mean the correct answer to this FAQ point is yes.

The FAQ should be updated to reflect that reality. In the alternative, the reality should be updated to reflect that FAQ by reinstating Monica immediately* and providing stronger assurances, perhaps in the Terms of Use, that processes will be followed and users should not have to fear bans from good-faith interactions.

*: and probably also reinstating Robert Harvey for supporting her (and/or defending the CEO's silence).


Update: A link to this discussion from under the referenced post keeps getting deleted, and a suggested edit to simply remove U2 and its incorrect answer was very quickly rolled back. While discussion on possible corrections should be here instead of there, and the comment clearly indicates that, the in-context pointer comment should not be censored out to help prevent people reading that part of the FAQ from being misled by its content into thinking something that is inaccurate under present Stack Exchange enforcement practices. This seems to be just another example of how the company is trying to cover up silencing of dissent from their views and hope that anyone who finds this problematic just goes away.

Update 2: I have received an official response from the entire Meta.SE mod team, that I should NOT be pointing out this inaccuracy in the FAQ. That is because the bans/demodding/suspensions others received were "in the past" and "We can not change the past." [sic] even though the conditions continue into the present (and per update 3, the future). I pointed out that the FAQ should apply to the present, and that they could change the present state if they wanted to, but they don't actually want to. The official response to that so far is silence, hoping that anyone observing this disconnect with present reality will just go away.

Update 3: As some readers may have discerned from my 1 rep, I was suspended specifically for calling out this issue (and could not edit this update in until after the conclusion of that first suspension week), without any substantive response from the mods to direct messages reinforcing that I do actually still think this is an issue that exists in the present. By issuing the suspension, it is clear they know about the disconnect but don't care and will continue suppressing voices of dissent who would dare to call out their actions against the community.

Please be sure to spread the word further once I get banned/suspended again for a good-faith effort to get more accuracy in an FAQ answer incorrectly claiming people shouldn't worry about getting banned for something like that.

User network profile

  • 40
    Honestly at this point I have lost all motivation to contribute to Stack Overflow. My time can be better spent doing my work and being with my family, I don't need the headache of wondering whether or not I'm being polite enough when helping strangers. – Bryan Rayner Oct 24 at 16:18
  • 11
    Same here. If anybody wants they can add me to this list of users no longer contributing substantive content at least while the status quo remains. (However, as a non-mod, I may not be eligible for that list.) That's also why I'm not that concerned about consequences if I myself get banned for posting this Answer, which might happen. – WBT Oct 24 at 16:23
  • I really hope they look into getting Monica back on board, but I do think it made sense to get an acceptable CoC in place first. They need to know that she'll follow the rules before they hire her back, and she needs to know what the rules are before she can agree to follow them. No one has ruled out reinstating her, have they? – DoctorDestructo Oct 24 at 17:53
  • 2
    @DoctorDestructo Asking questions about the CoC can get you kicked out. So can supporting someone who that has already happened to. The point I see reflected in your comment is that violating these rules regarding not using the right pronouns, or asking questions about the policy, can get you kicked out, which is contrary to what the FAQ currently indicates. Either the FAQ or the reality can change to make the two more consistent, and that inconsistency is what this post tries to address. – WBT Oct 24 at 18:12
  • The CTO of StackOverflow has acknowledged that the way Monica was treated was a mistake. He said, "We’ll be reaching out to her directly to apologize for the lack of process, privacy, and to discuss next steps." Do we have reason to believe that isn't going to happen? We know this company moves at a snail's pace; maybe they just need time to figure out what they're going to offer, and what they can accept. Monica seems like a reasonable person, so she probably never would have agreed to that last CoC if they had offered to reinstate her. I'm glad they waited (but they better get on it soon). – DoctorDestructo Oct 24 at 18:45
  • 11
    @DoctorDestructo He said that, but then didn't do it. It would not take much time at all to do at least some of the things being discussed, like a correction statement or restoring mod privileges that never should have been removed in the first place (5 min!). Items that are fast & should be high priority (given the fallout) remaining undone is reason to think they won't be. Your point that it takes so long underscores that the FAQ as it stands is inconsistent w/reality, & at least one of the two needs to change to be consistent with the other. – WBT Oct 24 at 19:24
  • @WBT I guess what I'm saying is, I'm glad they didn't put her back on the job before they had the CoC finalized. That could have led to a situation where they had to fire her again (if, for example, she said she could not in good conscience agree to the new rules). That wouldn't have gone over well with the community, even if they followed the rules this time. They kept us in the dark a long time before rolling out the revised CoC, but they did come through in the end. As far as I'm concerned, they bought another week. After that, it's time bring out the torches and pitchforks. – DoctorDestructo Oct 24 at 19:38
  • @DoctorDestructo Then you would seem to vote for the FAQ being edited in response to this post. Do you agree that would be a helpful improvement to the status quo? – WBT Oct 24 at 19:57
  • 1
    This just doesn't really seem relevant to the text of the FAQ. There's certainly reasonable reasons for people to distrust SE and feel afraid, but that's a bad thing. We shouldn't change the FAQ to codify that fear into law, but push SE to better live up to the commitments they made to fairness – divibisan Oct 24 at 20:43
  • 4
    @WBT You mean modify it so that it says "Yes, you should worry about getting banned"? No, they shouldn't do that. I thought you were suggesting it for rhetorical reasons. If Monica can live with the new CoC/FAQ, and is still interested in being a mod even after everything they've done to her, then they should reinstate her-- or, to put it your way, "update reality". Messing with the FAQ is the last thing they should do. – DoctorDestructo Oct 24 at 20:48
  • @DoctorDestructo Or at least remove the clear untruth. Monica has stated she thinks immediate reinstatement followed by some discussion process showing any violation is desired, but as the FAQ currently stands it tells readers something that is flat-out wrong. – WBT Oct 25 at 13:37
  • 1
    Just to follow up on my previous comments: it appears SO is going to stop just short of cleaning up this mess. I apologize for defending them, and thank you for this post @WBT. I do think it's more of a protest than a serious request for clarification, but under the circumstances, I think protest is justified. – DoctorDestructo Nov 8 at 21:54
109

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.

What is conspicuously avoiding and how are you going to determine that?

I am not a native English speaker and my writing style is all over the place. It is not consistent. Sometimes I will use pronouns, sometimes I will use OP, sometimes I will use username. Sometimes I will repeat OP or username several times in a sentence if it is hard for me to write it at given moment.

I also use pronouns for people I know, and I avoid them for people I don't know. Even when someone states their pronouns, I will most likely avoid them unless I get to know (or encounter) that person often enough to be sure I will not make a mistake.

Under current rules, my writing can certainly be interpreted like avoiding pronouns for certain group of people.

I have no problem in doing my best to honor people's pronouns, but having potential suspension hanging over my head because how I might express myself makes me extremely uncomfortable in participating here.


This FAQ is not much of improvement over the old one.

As long as one can be punished for writing in certain way and as long as normal unoffensive sentence can become offensive depending on to whom you are talking there is a whole a lot of room for power abuse.

  • 20
    "conspicuously avoiding" is conspicuous, by definition: it's obvious, easy to see, easy to notice. A writing style that is really "all over the place" will not be avoiding anything. – Raedwald Oct 23 at 10:02
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    @HerMajestyQueenofARC What Raedwald said is correct. That's pretty much a case let's see how it goes. You're not going to get suspended outright without a warning first, and on that warning you can get more information on what caused it / talk about specific instances instead of abstract concepts, which is a lot clearer for everyone involved. – Cesar M Oct 23 at 14:18
  • 19
    This is my main objection to the FAQ as well (for similar reasons even as a Native English Speaker). The fact that it says both "you can avoid pronouns" and then "you cannot" is extremely confusing and I just do not trust this policy to be enforced with the guiding hand I used to see from moderators on this site (basically I don't trust SE to let the moderators be moderators on this issue) – LinkBerest Oct 23 at 16:01
  • 9
    @LinkBerest This is basically just a specific case of: "Don't be a jerk". You can avoid pronouns, just don't be a jerk about it. – divibisan Oct 23 at 16:19
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    @CesarM This is inane. The point of a code of conduct is quite clearly to establish guidelines of how to act so the people might use SE sites without constant intervention from moderators. Making the policy "let's see how it goes" means exactly the opposite. If that is a policy you are happy enacting, you would probably be best off taking more time to write a better policy. – jsarbour Oct 29 at 13:28
  • 2
    All I have to say is "doubleplusungood" – Richard says Reinstate Monica Oct 31 at 18:48
69

If an answer is written, and uses a particular pronoun, let's say "he", and a user suggests an edit to this answer to change it to "they", and no other changes are required in the answer (i.e. it's otherwise perfect), do I accept this edit? What if I reject it instead? Assume the edit reason is "being more inclusive" and the suggester doesn't clarify that OP has specified (e.g. if they say link to OP's bio which says they prefer "they" then the edit is acceptable), and it's not visible anywhere on the QA itself.

An example might be either of these edits I made (although mine were not suggested).

What if a user mass suggests edits changing "he" to "they".


From Catija:

There's two separate cases, which is, I think, where the struggle here lies. In all cases, mass edits are bad. Please don't seek out edits to make.

  1. A post speaks of a hypothetical or generic person. In this case, unless the gender somehow matters to the post, being gender neutral is beneficial.
    • Be very careful that the edits don't harm the post or make it confusing. This is particularly the case in code.
    • Be aware that suggesting pronoun-only edits should be acceptable but do be certain to correct more than just the pronouns. If there are spelling, punctuation or grammatical errors, fix those, too.
  2. A post speaks of an actual person. In this case, unless you know the pronouns are incorrect AND you know that the person is generally known on Stack Exchange to have identified their pronouns, do not make the gender neutral.
    • It's possible the poster actually knows the correct pronouns.
    • If you know their pronouns from elsewhere, disclosing them yourself can "out" them to a community where they wished to be anonymous.
  • 8
    This is a reasonable question, I think. To me, the answer would depend on how old the question is, and how many edits are being made. If someone's making a one-off change to a question that was recently posted, yeah, I'd approve. If someone's mass-editing questions from 2009... eh. – Aza Oct 23 at 4:10
  • 29
    Making a post more gender-neutral is generally ok - unless the user has stated their pronouns elsewhere and you're pointed to it, or if they roll it back (then leave it be). We do not recommend/encourage people to go looking for these and making mass-edits, but rather editing as they naturally encounter and wish to do so. – Cesar M Oct 23 at 4:18
  • 15
    Mass edits are never okay, pretty much regardless of the motivation. Also, although I am perhaps personally invested, this edit was problematic because you admittedly did not know what the individual's chosen pronouns were. As such, you should not have submitted an edit that imposed pronoun(s) you thought were correct. This is, in my mind, equally as insulting to the party being referenced. – Cody Gray Oct 23 at 4:27
  • I didn't mean any insult, I simply thought (at the time) that "they" was more inclusive than "he". But I believe Cesar is saying that, had that been an edit suggestion, it would be correct to accept, because it wasn't obvious on the QA what OP's pronouns were, and the edit was to make the answer more inclusive. Incidentally it was rolled back 1 minute later anyway and I never made that kind of edit again. – Tas Oct 23 at 4:39
  • 36
    There's two separate cases, which is, I think, where the struggle here lies. 1. A post speaks of a hypothetical or generic person. In this case, unless the gender somehow matters to the post, being gender neutral is beneficial. 2. A post speaks of an actual person. In this case, unless you know the pronouns are incorrect AND you know that the person is generally known on SE/SO to have identified their pronouns, do not make the gender neutral. It's possible the poster actually knows the correct pronouns. – Catija Oct 23 at 4:52
  • 5
    Exactly what Catija said. Note your use of the word "inclusive". This is a great general goal, but it isn't applicable when the post refers to a specific person. Then, it isn't so much about being inclusive (because there's only one person to include) so much as being respectful (of that person's identity). – Cody Gray Oct 23 at 4:59
  • Note, also, that both of those examples you gave were weird Meta cases, where the answers were referring to actual people. That's certainly not the norm on a Q&A site, or even on Meta, where we do prefer to speak in generalities rather than calling out individuals. But there are moderation-related cases where it is necessary, and it's okay on Meta, as long as you do so respectfully and judiciously. – Cody Gray Oct 23 at 5:07
  • @CesarM So just to make sure I'm understanding, it is acceptable to edit a post to be more gender neutral when pronouns are unknown? We have had a lot of strife at The Workplace in the past with some users being upset about their posts being edited to only change "he" to "they", some of which resulted in edit wars and locked posts. What is the guidance for moderators to handle this sort of situation? – David K Oct 23 at 12:28
  • The change of a generic he into something else like he/she, they or avoiding the pronoun is a change of the style of the post. I believe that this should be first mentioned in a comment rather than abruptly changed directly. (I would not be surprised if there are meta posts about the correct way to suggest these kind of minor edits without asking first). – Sextus Empiricus Oct 23 at 15:34
  • 4
    I just want to highlight that, when reviewing edits, its really really hard to figure out who a given pronoun might be referencing. Many people already don't use the review queues because the mental burden of dealing with fact-checking every little detail is not worth their time. Adding pronouns into the mix feels very Papers, Please-y. – Draco18s Oct 23 at 15:48
  • 1
    No, you shouldn't make edits just to change the pronouns used with no other changes, even if a word other than "he" is used when it should obviously be something else. Edits should improve the question/answer in a measurable way. SO Meta discussion on this. Though I would agree that moderators decline far too many good and worthwhile edits. I would make the edit only if you have the reputation to instantly edit without approval, and don't change "he" to "they". – Erik Humphrey Oct 23 at 17:34
  • Note that review queues are already problematic and avoided by many users because the automated review checking process is deliberately infested with traps for the unwary. Making that worse is not a win. – Móż Oct 29 at 2:32
60

FAQ contains language likely to offend or alienate people based on religion

The FAQ in its current state contains language likely to offend or alienate people by stating that things they deeply believe are objectively, factually false. If you don't believe that, imagine that the shoe is on the other foot, and some of the community members who believes that calling someone by a pronoun other than their biological sex is a personal insult to God1 wrote an FAQ with answers like the following:


Hypothetical disrespectful FAQ answers

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

God gave each person a pronoun at birth. It would be offensive to Him for someone to refer to a man that He created as "she" or a woman as "he". Some people are rebellious. For instance, a woman might be erroneously convinced that she is neither a man nor a woman and ask to be referred to as "they". Even if someone indicates what pronouns should be used to refer to them, please use the pronouns that God gave them as you would for others.

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

Some people erroneously claim they are neither men nor women. The usual term for such people is "non-binary" and they’re often included in the term “transgender”. Just as you would want to be corrected if you were driving the wrong way down a one-way street, you should correct someone who wants to be referred to with a pronoun that doesn't fit them.

3. My gender identity tells me that some people have fluid gender or are nonbinary. 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 religion or even having strong opinions about gender themselves. But if you go out of your way to point out your disagreement about the pronouns God gave you, you aren't behaving in a way we want here - just as people pointing out how wrong they think your gender identity 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 God's sovereignty, and that is discriminatory against His true followers. Please don’t do that.

6. Are you saying that it's blasphemy to use the pronouns someone asks for?

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

M2. I'm a moderator for a site on gender identity. 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. I would be more comfortable using the pronouns my users have asked me to use. 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 God's pronouns is harmful. If you think you will find using pronouns as God has 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.


Of course there isn't an exact parallel for every word and phrase used in the FAQ, so some liberties were taken. That isn't the point. It should be clear that by declaring so many things as fact that trans, intersex, and nonbinary people disagree with and implying that even quiet disagreement is a negative example that only meets a lower standard, the hypothetical FAQ is likely to offend and alienate them, and the claim in question 3 that they are being treated with respect rings hollow.

It doesn't have to be that way. Often the best way for people who disagree on an issue they feel strongly about to show respect for each other is to meet halfway. There is no need for the FAQ to state things so strongly in order to achieve its goals, and is more likely to not fall on deaf ears if it respects people with different beliefs.


Example non-disrespectful answers

Here are some more respectful answers2, this time to the questions in the actual FAQ:

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 don't consider themselves either men or 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.

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

Some people are neither consider themselves not to be either 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 don't like, neither do they.

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. 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 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 will likely make them feel rejected and excluded. Please don’t do that.

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

No. We’re not labeling people. Everybody makes mistakes. Sometimes bigots deliberately use pronouns other than one ones people ask for, 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. 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.

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. That means you are expected to follow the same rules as everyone else. If you think you will find using pronouns as stated that 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.


1: Yes, such people exist, and post on meta.
2: These should sound familiar.

  • 25
    While don't know if I'm a fan of starting an answer by deliberately riling up your readers, I actually like this new wording. I don't think it changes the function of any of these rules significantly, so if that is enough to make certain religious people feel more welcome and included here, I'd be in favor of it – divibisan Oct 24 at 1:27
  • 19
    The problem with this wording you're proposing is that it ultimately capitulates to the transphobic position. Trans women are women. Trans men are men. Trying to hedge around that with "some people consider themselves to be" instead frames it as though their identity is just a matter of personal opinion. In fact, this kind of wording was specifically called out by Aza's repsonse to the proposed rewording of the FAQ, with those considerations having gone into this new revision. – Xirema Oct 24 at 1:45
  • 7
    The problem ultimately becomes that this proposed rewording places a greater primacy on the feelings of latently transphobic users than it does on the feelings of the transgender users whose identities are being invalidated by those same users, no matter how much we frame it as "meeting each side half-way". – Xirema Oct 24 at 1:46
  • 9
    This entire answer doesn't seem like an actual attempt to ask a question or for clarification about how to use pronouns on SE sites. I'm not understanding what the purpose of "meet[ing] halfway" on the FAQ would be. The policy is still the policy. Would those people who believe that calling people what they want to be called is a "personal insult to God" really feel any different about the rule if the FAQ uses the phrase "consider themselves?" – onetothrowaway Oct 24 at 5:00
  • 29
    @onetothrowaway The purpose of "meeting halfway" is to de-escalate conflict. The proposed changes to the wording do not meaningfully change the actual effect of the CoC, but make it less likely for certain kinds of users to become upset and become more combative in their interactions. It's not "capitulating to the transphobic position", it's not taking a position at all while encouraging respectful communication. – Mario Carneiro Oct 24 at 6:32
  • 27
    The core of this issue is that there are those with certain views on gender identity, and those with certain religious beliefs, and these two worldviews are incompatible. These CoC changes are intended to ensure that the former group is not excluded or alienated, but the problem is that the current wording sounds very much like it's agreeing with the former group and telling the latter group that their views are incorrect and they can only participate if they don't let that show. I'm sure SE has no wish to exclude or alienate people based on their religion, but currently, they risk doing so. – anaximander Oct 24 at 11:33
  • 7
    What you're proposing is factually wrong though. Intersex people are scientifically neither man nor women and almost all of them are already born like that. They don't just "feel" like neither, they are, biologically. – Legxis Oct 24 at 12:12
  • 18
    @Legxis While that's true, there are also a great many people who are not genetically or anatomically intersex (ie. they were born with XY chromosomes and masculine anatomy, or XX chromosomes and feminine anatomy) who nevertheless assert a gender identity that is not that of their chromosomes or anatomy. It's this scenario that the proposed wording addresses. In my experience, even those who very strongly believe that gender is fixed and binary are more willing to concede some ambiguity for those with measurable genetic or anatomical discrepancies. – anaximander Oct 24 at 13:24
  • 7
    "not everyone who is uncomfortable about some people's pronouns is a bigot." Name one non-bigoted reason why someone wouldn't want to use another person's preferred pronouns. – Ettina Kitten Oct 24 at 15:00
  • 3
    @Legxis: You might have preferred an early draft of other-shoe question 3: "My personal anatomy tells me that some people are nonbinary. Aren't you treating me with disrespect in the name of treating others with respect?" I ended up changing it out of a desire to make the parallels to the real FAQ more straightforward. – rockwalrus-stop harming Monica Oct 24 at 15:13
  • 10
    The FAQ in its current state contains language likely to offend or alienate people by stating that things they deeply believe are objectively, factually false. An FAQ that states that people of all races are equal would offend or alienate strongly racist people that deeply believe that statement to be objectively, factually false, but that is absolutely not a reason to keep it out of the FAQ. – Beofett Oct 24 at 17:13
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    @EttinaKitten: I suggest, in the spirit of this answer, that you try putting yourself in someone else's shoes and discover for yourself some reasons. – rockwalrus-stop harming Monica Oct 24 at 17:49
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    @Beofett: SE doesn't tolerate any language likely to offend or alienate people based on religion. They are understandably more tolerant of language likely to offend strongly racist people. – rockwalrus-stop harming Monica Oct 24 at 17:57
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    @rockwalrus True, and I'm not saying that religion and racism are equivalent, but in some cases it is impossible to make a welcoming environment for one group without risking alienating some portions of another group. Especially when a subset of one group is offended by the ideals that are core to respecting the other group. – Beofett Oct 24 at 18:02
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    @Beofett: You will notice that I didn't use the word "opinion" in the proposal. The wordings I chose in this answer were intended to dodge the opinion/fact dichotomy entirely. I just read through the entire Wikipedia NPOV style guide and it appears that the wording passes, although "Some people state they are neither men nor women" would be Wikipedia's preferred phrasing. Would that phrasing satisfy you? – rockwalrus-stop harming Monica Oct 31 at 19:03
55
  1. 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.

This is based on a false premise. My native language is Polish. There is nothing natural in my usage of pronouns in English sentences. Natural for me is to omit almost all pronouns as the verb clearly indicates (in Polish) which pronoun is meant. The same applies to Spanish speakers.

It can go even deeper - OK, I try to learn the rules of English and apply them and after some time some way of writing in English becomes more natural than other. But as writing in a foreign language is an effort for me, my natural way is to avoid more difficult situations. So if I know "she - her", I use it freely. But if I don't know "xe - what?" I will try to avoid using "xe". But it is against:

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.

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    Well put. Portuguese here, and that also is not a native concern. – Rui F Ribeiro Oct 23 at 8:36
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    Same in french (afaik) – aloisdg says Reinstate Monica Oct 23 at 9:13
  • European languages are just a tip of an iceberg. What about people from Japan? dummies.com/languages/japanese/… – Tadeusz Kopec Oct 23 at 9:21
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    I've been a member on Stack Exchange for about six and a half years now. With my hand on my heart, only once did a person ever correct me in the comments section, and said they would like to be referred to as "they" ( I had used "he"). Once. It's not such a big deal, you don't have to feel afraid, and if you use the "singular they" it's easier. The pronoun "they" you're familiar with, right? – Mari-Lou A Oct 23 at 10:22
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    This is covered by "Does this mean that I will be in trouble if I ever get someone's pronouns wrong?" and "What if someone wants some nonstandard pronouns that I don't even know how to use?" – Raedwald Oct 23 at 10:37
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    @Mari-LouA it never happens, but still the rule is there and still there are being people being sanctioned according to it (apperently it happened recently with a highly respected moderator). – Sextus Empiricus Oct 23 at 15:12
  • @Raedwald the way that I read the answers to those questions is like 'you are allowed to make mistakes, but don't do it again'. It seems like Tadeusz Kopec desires to not having to comply with it at all, neither after a first correction. – Sextus Empiricus Oct 23 at 15:14
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    @SextusEmpiricus there is nothing about not willing to comply in my answer. I am complaining about anglo-centric point of view taken by quoted part and generally by last CoC change. I desire to have content-focused culture agnostic resource. And now there is a shift from "be polite, no matter which culture you come from" to "obey to our culture, no matter which culture you come from". – Tadeusz Kopec Oct 23 at 16:00
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    "Natural for me is to omit almost all pronouns” then it doesn’t seem like you’ll have a problem. Avoiding pronouns is only a problem if you conspicuously avoid them only "one group of people”. If you naturally omit pronouns, that’s always fine – divibisan Oct 23 at 20:38
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    @RuiFRibeiro Yes, in Portuguese it is easy. All you do is wait for that person to say "thank you", then listen to whether they said obrigadO or obrigadA. ;-} – tchrist Oct 23 at 21:35
  • @TadeuzKopec Asian cultures are an interesting point. My wife is supposed to command 3 languages, is supposed to be native in two, and fluent in the three. The grammar structure in her primary language/dialect is (very) weak. She consistently fails grammar, failing simple concepts like mixing bring and take and mixing up gender in both English and Portuguese to the point of getting into my nerves. We have been living together for 8 years now, she has been here for 20 years – Rui F Ribeiro Oct 24 at 0:37
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    @TadeuszKopec I read it as "It is okay when you make a mistake once, but obey afterwards to our culture when you are being corrected" and your post sort of goes against this-type ("make one mistake, but not again") of sentence. The "you are allowed to make mistakes" sentences are sort of straw-man arguments. Now it seems like the CoC/FAQ is making a concession, but the issue is not so much about 'making mistakes'. The CoC/FAQ is making it appear as if not complying with this novel form of politeness in the English language is just 'a mistake' while the discrepancies go much deeper. – Sextus Empiricus Oct 24 at 8:54
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    Okay. I'm Hungarian. Hungarian language lacks gender specific pronouns, and distinctions between genders are also rare (aside of the most common expressions, such as wife, mother, woman, etc.). To add "insult to injury", some of us have a strong religious/educational background (especially in a rural environment), which makes things worse. We must understand, that change takes time and effort (from both sides). Some changes take decades, even centuries to happen, we should show a little bit of patience and not cry wolf the very first time something happens we don't like or agree with. – beerwin Oct 24 at 12:31
  • @Mari-LouA But the problem and (partial?) reason for this whole change is that people are offended and upset and don't tell you. So that's why this whole thing seems to be around. So how many people ran away from the site for us being "exclusive" and we never knew? So it may happen more often, people just either don't care or get offended and stay silent. Anecdotes don't provide any value and I would assume the people running the show would've had proper research to this. But I fear they didn't. – Sami Kuhmonen Oct 25 at 13:09
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    @Mazura I mean, it is? Look at implementation, question 7. It specifically says that you don't have to use pronouns when you wouldn't otherwise, and says that the issue is that: "Problems arise when a person or group feels singled out" – divibisan Nov 5 at 0:21
48

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.

This needs clarity. Say, I regularly use 'he'/'she' and even singular 'they' (in the all-encompassing sense) to a certain extent. I have personal reservations against using neo-pronouns ('xe', 'xir', etc.) and that has absolutely nothing to do with not respecting the individual or their identity (of course, the individual could argue that that choice is disrespectful in itself; at the same time I could argue that not granting me that choice is disrespectful to me and my beliefs).

If someone explicitly says that their neo-pronouns are 'xe'/'xir' and I consistently use gender-neutral language for that person in order to avoid misgendering them while at the same time not violating my personal reservations, would that be acceptable per the updated CoC or not? Note that that is exactly how I use pronouns as I would naturally. If someone complains that I'm not using 'xe'/'xir' for them (and am consistently using gender-neutral language instead), I hope you wouldn't analyze my entire posting history (or say last 30 days) to determine whether I use 'he'/'she' for other people and suspend me if yes? Or would you?

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    This question has already been answered in the FAQ. By stated policy, using pronouns for some people and not others would not be okay. – Aza Oct 23 at 4:44
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    @Aza Thanks, so that's compelled speech no matter how we look at it. I'll avoid the site altogether now that it has been made clear, as using neopronouns is simply not acceptable to me at a personal level. – S.D. Oct 23 at 4:47
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    Yeah, it looks like a firm decision. If that doesn't sit well with you... well, they do kind of say that it's an expectation. – Aza Oct 23 at 4:48
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    @Aza It doesn't sit well with anyone who would like to maintain their rights to neutrality, silence, freedom of conscience, thought, religion, opinion, emotions, etc. If I forced you to say something that didn't align with your values, you'd share the sentiment. You would request that neutrality be sufficient. There is no other walk of life where these concepts are not sufficient. – The Anathema Oct 23 at 5:10
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    @TheAnathema I'm just conveying what's in the FAQ. – Aza Oct 23 at 5:15
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    In reality, the odds of any SE user encountering a post where: a) pronouns are known b) using said pronouns is necessary to write an answer c) the user is using neopronouns; is... vanishingly small. The new CoC is mostly about making a statement rather than trying to address a practical issue. – JonathanReez Supports Monica Oct 23 at 5:20
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    @Aza, it's alright. I'm at least glad that you were crystal clear about it, unlike the SE folks who've beating around the bush about this crux of the issue (IMO). :) – S.D. Oct 23 at 5:24
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    @user437611 No problem. SE doesn't have as much access to conciseness as I do; theirs is policy, I'm just a user. – Aza Oct 23 at 5:28
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    @JonathanReez Small, but important. I support all non-binary people and wish them complete happiness and health. I believe that they deserve respect, dignity, and kindness. I also respect their gender identity. What I do not respect is StackExchange telling its users that merely being neutral is not sufficient, and that they must acknowledge it by using the pronouns - i.e. OP/username is bannable. This has been strawmanned into "Hey, can we call them stuff they don't like?" and this mischaracterization of people's moral compass is frankly insulting and why people left over it. – The Anathema Oct 23 at 5:33
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    @TheAnathema based on this comment, never using any pronouns is acceptable. I've been an active user for many years and I can't recall the last time I've used a pronoun on a non-Meta site. – JonathanReez Supports Monica Oct 23 at 5:39
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    @194636 Yes, that's an option. Though I would absolutely hate it if I had to ignore certain users just because of their pronoun choice. It places me in an almost impossible position where the choice is either "do this" or "leave". Mutual compromises are apparently not an option. Doesn't look like a healthy society to me! – S.D. Oct 23 at 7:15
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    It is not compelled. Instead of using the speech SE would like you to use, you can avoid all third person singular pronouns or disengage with users that cause you distress. – StrongBad Oct 23 at 11:51
  • @user437611 I believe mutual compromise is allowed. A user could list in their profile my pronouns are xe/xir but if you object to using them, then use whatever pronouns you are comfortable with (or avoid them all together). – StrongBad Oct 23 at 12:30
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    It isn't really more compelled speech than asking people to use 'he' and 'she' when appropriate. Many binary people would (also) be upset if they are referred to with singular-they. – BlackShift Oct 23 at 12:36
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    @Blackshift re the singular they. If a user consistently uses they in all cases of using a pronoun then they should not have to change Agreed if they do not use they in general or if they know exactly the user then using they in only some cases would be objectionable – user151019 Oct 23 at 14:59
39

I don't like using 'they' for singular and try to recast to avoid it wherever possible. If unavoidable, can we use 'one' instead?

I'm aware the two pronouns are not directly interchangeable & that 'they' has perfectly unambiguous meaning when used appropriately, for example, from comments:

User123 has a problem. They ought to ask about it on Meta.

However, 'they' as a singular pronoun has a lot of room for misinterpretation. It can be clumsy and often sounds inaccurate.

Asfgl decided they were going shopping. Bertim didn't want to go with them. They bought shoes.

Who did what? How many people went shopping? Who bought shoes?
Yes, I'm aware this is a tortured and not particularly elegant construction.

It would be far better recast to avoid pronouns entirely:

Asfgl decided to go shopping. Bertim didn't want to go along. Asfgl bought shoes.

Similarly artificial construction, pronouns avoided. Done.

But if there was no need to refer to any specific individual, then one ought to be free to use one's common sense in avoiding potentially confusing pronouns.

… as opposed to the truly horrible:

But if there was no need to refer to any specific individual, then they ought to be free to use their common sense in avoiding potentially confusing pronouns.

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    Of course you can! Rephrasing the sentence to use "one" generally makes for clearer sentences and better writing, and is fully keeping with the intent of inclusivity and respect. There's nothing "antiquated" about "one". – Cody Gray Oct 23 at 6:58
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    What Cody said is correct - Kate touches on examples of gender-neutral language on this great answer. This is about gender-neutral writing. On the other hand, there are people who have they/their as their personal pronouns, so when referring to them in the third person, please respect their stated pronouns as you would normally with he or she. – Cesar M Oct 23 at 7:01
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    "One" isn't antiquated so much as it just serves a different linguistic function. For example, if you say that "User123 has a problem. They ought to ask about it on Meta.", then "They" is directly referencing "User123". By contrast, if you say that "User123 has a problem. One ought to ask about problems on Meta.", then you're not really referring to "User123" as "One" so much as you're making a generalized statement about a hypothetical "One", with the strong implication that User123 ought to observe it. (To be clear, this seems entirely reasonable.) – Nat Oct 23 at 7:16
  • Perhaps I should just remove 'antiquated' from the header. I do feel it's a bit "Spitting Image, Queen of England" & it's not something I would normally use in conversation, though I'm comfortable using it in writing. I'm also aware that the purpose it serves is different to 'they' - in particular that it is a generalisation, rather than a specific single person. – Tetsujin Oct 23 at 7:25
  • @CesarM "so when referring to them in the third person, please respect their stated pronoun" you referred to Cody's comment but the post from Tetsujin contained more examples. Can you make the change from "Asfgl decided they were going shopping" to "Asfgl decided to go shopping" (a reason might be that it might make it more clear, but it would be a case of conspicuously omitting 'they' when Asfgl has preferred pronoun 'they/their'). Is omitting a pronoun 'they' when it becomes confusing due to the conflict with plural 'they' considered as a violation? – Sextus Empiricus Oct 23 at 11:07
  • So it becomes confusing. Cody says "of course you can" but you say "no you can not when you need to respect preferred pronouns." – Sextus Empiricus Oct 23 at 11:10
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    With a pronoun 'he' and 'she' one actually also avoids using them in cases when there are two males or two females. If Alice and Bob refer to he and she, then the sentence "Alice and Bob went shopping. He bought shoes" works and 'he' is not being avoided. But in the case "Alice and Bob went shopping. They bought shoes" (and one of Alice or Bob associates with 'they') one might consider to avoid using the pronoun 'they'. So this is not a case of using 'they' as normally for others pronouns 'he' and 'she'. – Sextus Empiricus Oct 23 at 11:15
  • I find "one" tends to be a better alternative for "you" -- students write "when you're flunking a class, you should..." when they mean "people in X situation, which is kinda like me, so I assume it's everyone maybe?" So at the VERY least I advise them to switch it to "one" ("When one is flunking a class, one should...") but ideally change to a descriptive noun phrase that more accurately captures the key characteristics ("When a transfer student is flunking a class..."). Students can use plural ("When transfer students... they should" if their other teachers don't accept singular-they. – April --Un-Slander Monica-- Oct 23 at 13:42
  • I admit, I find singular-they awkward for drafting, but I ALSO find plural you awkward, and write "y'all" if I mean multiple people ("Can one of y'all review...") and "all y'all" to mean everyone addressed ("can all of y'all give me reactions..."). But when I revise, I check to see if "he or she" (or "he" or "she") could be a "they," (or if my audience doesn't grok "singular-they", then pluralize the sentence), and if "y'all" could be "you," and if "all y'all" can become "all of you, including you, Lex." I don't do MEGA-proofreading here, but I try to scan for comprehensibility and tone – April --Un-Slander Monica-- Oct 23 at 13:47
  • Note - I'm not saying singular-they is bad, it's just less-familiar to me (I'm Gen-X), and in my workplace, a government agency, not accepted in documentation. I tend to use "Students" or "Users" instead of "Guys" as my gender-neutral collective term. (My friends are called "Peoples" most often: "peoples - any of y'all going to the [event]?" and "Hello, Writing Peoples" to start my podcast.) – April --Un-Slander Monica-- Oct 23 at 13:51
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    @April - personally, not being from the US, I find y'all sends out some bizarre Beverly Hillbillies-type connotation. It's simply never used in speech in the UK, it's only ever heard on TV. I kind of get what it means, but it doesn't feel like a natural part of language, it seems a filler, an adjunct; similar to how some people put "like" in front of ideas that simply don't require it. – Tetsujin Oct 23 at 13:52
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    And since I'm from just-barely south of the Mason-Dixon line (Maryland, with some school in VA), y'all just feels so dang useful! But definitely casual. Yet it fills the linguistic gap we created when "you" subsumed "thou" (or is it the other way around?) – April --Un-Slander Monica-- Oct 23 at 14:00
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    @SextusEmpiricus That is fine, the CoC says that you should use pronouns as you would use them normally on sentences, meaning, if you'd put a he or she there, use other stated pronouns too. You don't have to do it all the time, and clarity is fine, but if you're talking about one person and it's not confusing, them don't conspiciously avoid it when there's no need. The biggest thing here is: don't misgender people intentionally. – Cesar M Oct 23 at 14:05
  • @CesarM - & I'm happy with that. My post wasn't any kind of 'complaint' in any way, merely a 'hey, folks, we could use this as well'. – Tetsujin Oct 23 at 14:15
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    @GershomMaes - this is getting so ridiculous it makes me want to weep for the future of the human race. – Tetsujin Oct 25 at 15:14
30

From the answer But what about...? The edge cases, question 1:

Some of our sites may have topics where gender is part of the subject of the site and may be a valid question for those experts. When answering these questions, it is important that answers are not conveying the author's opinions but reporting an objective answer to the question. Since these objective answers are at odds with the Code of Conduct, please take special care and frame them respectfully and politely [...]

This is a bit unclear. I think this is what it's trying to say (bold for insertions, italics for re-arranged phrases):

Some of our sites may have topics where gender is part of the subject of the site and may be a valid question for those the experts on that site. When answering these questions, it is important that answers report an objective evidence-based answer to the question and avoid conveying the author's opinions on the subject. Since these objective evidence-based answers are may be at odds with the Code of Conduct, please take special care and frame them respectfully and politely [...]

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    The intent is a guide for the people writing the answers, that they should take care in how they write the answer. This rewrite does not seem to be conveying the same point. I agree with some of these changes, to the first and last sentences but the "when answering[...]" change seems to be changing the intent. Maybe I'm misunderstanding? If I can help explain better what I'm hoping to convey, let me know. :) – Catija Oct 23 at 2:33
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    My interpretation of that sentence is that the goal is to avoid editorializing. If a question touches on gender, you can write an objective answer to it, but you shouldn’t stick in your personal opinions. Which seems like the goal for all answers on the site, IMO. Is that right? – divibisan Oct 23 at 2:41
  • @Catija ah yes that makes more sense. I think it's really just the order then that makes it confusing -- see my edit. – LShaver Oct 23 at 2:48
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    @divibisan Yes, exactly! I keep thinking of it like a good reporter who reports on the subject but we generally shouldn't know what that reporter's feelings about the subject are. The rewrite looks much better to me. Thanks! – Catija Oct 23 at 2:51
  • +1 thanks for making these changes, CMs, and I now approve of the faq - but yeah I struggled to understand this specific entry too. Seems like it gets into the whole Good Subjective, Bad Subjective thing, and I’m not sure how this would gel with e.g. answers on Parenting. Consider striking or significantly retooling this one part. – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Oct 23 at 3:49
  • @mxyzplk As a former mod on Interpersonal Skills, I'm well aware of the concept. But having a site where opinions are more relaxed doesn't mean you can spew whatever you want. Answers on these sites should still generally be supported with... something other than just "this is what I think" and I have great trust of the mods on these sites to be able to handle this because they already are - they delete unsubstantiated stuff all the time, particularly when it's harmful to others. – Catija Oct 23 at 4:21
  • I’m not saying “you don’t know that”, I am saying “the paragraph above does not reflect that.” – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Oct 23 at 4:22
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    @mxyzplk I mean, asking us to remove it kinda implies that... What's great about LShaver's answer is that he suggests an improvement. Perhaps you have a suggestion for how this could be better conveyed? – Catija Oct 23 at 4:27
  • Yeah, don’t say “objective” because those exact sites thrive on Good Subjective and not objective answers, so it will cause confusion about having to answer gender questions to an entirely different standard. Crib your favorite turn of phrase from the GS/BS blog post to describe the support an answer needs. Or you could just say “these answers should be backed up with evidence (link: stackoverflow.blog/2010/09/29/good-subjective-bad-subjective). – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Oct 23 at 12:48
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    @Catija to mxyzplk's point, I think you could replace the two occurrences of "objective" with "evidence-based." This allows different sites to have different standards for what constitutes evidence. – LShaver Oct 23 at 22:09
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    That makes sense, LShaver. Thanks. @mxyzplk edited based on his suggestion. :) – Catija Oct 25 at 3:31
30

In But what about...? The edge cases, emphasis mine:

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.

Can this be reworded to be more general? There are also non religious people that say that people can't change their gender. Also religious people with stance not based on their religion.

How about this:

My religion or world view tells me that people can't change their gender. ...

28

Edit: This has already been answered here

One question that I've seen a fair bit recently is:

If a user gets this wrong, will the company publicly slander them to news organisations?

To me that's the most terrifying part of this mess.

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    Then this concern is resolved already via stated policy changes. – Aza Oct 23 at 2:15
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    This is the first item on Implementation: "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." – scohe001 Oct 23 at 2:16
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    There is now an official policy of “No Comment”. So the answer is: No, they will not talk about you with the press. meta.stackexchange.com/a/335749/388335 – divibisan Oct 23 at 2:16
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    @divibisan Thank you, I had not seen that post. – david Oct 23 at 2:21
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    Oh yeah? And has Monica been reinstated with public apologies in the same press she's been vilified in? – George M Reinstate Monica Oct 24 at 1:55
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    That's the thing. They didn't follow their own rules with Monica, and refuse to go back and fix that, so why should we assume they'll follow their own rules in other situations? It seems that, if the situation gets sufficiently emotionally charged, they're willing to break their own rules. That is the shadow that all of this otherwise good change looms under. People don't trust the organization because they won't make amends, which means their apology was false. Rules exist to restrict those in authority, to prevent misuse of power. – trlkly Oct 25 at 8:15
27

Thank you for adding more clarification to the new FAQ and CoC. I'm posting this with as much good faith and respect as I can muster, and as you read it, please keep an open mind. I do not hate people. Anybody. I welcome you with open arms!

I am very concerned that this still contains text based on "We are setting the social standards here, so if you have religious, or non-aggressive disagreements then SO is not for you.

This would be fine, if we stuck to simply Q&A but SO has grown beyond this.

In most contexts, your opinions about gender are off-topic.

I don't like how this is written, with the context of the answers after it pertaining to free speech, it comes off as compelled speech (if you disagree, whatever, basically). I can look past this, because in an ideal world you're right, this won't be an issue because being nice is just that.

please be aware that many things you might want to say may be extremely distressing to some readers, and try to minimize that distress.

This needs to be worded better. My opposing point of view cannot be silenced on the grounds of it being distressing if it's not threatening, promoting hate or violence etc. As somebody who has opinions, I can't be expected to quell them (except to type them up politely, and as eloquently as I can)

These are small potatoes to my main point here:

What do we do about "gendered" statements that are incredibly common?

Yes, I am talking about "dude" (when not pointed directly at somebody). Yes, I am talking about "man" and "boy". What should I expect to hear back when I comment "Oh man, I didn't think about using X" or "Boy, this is going to cause an entire ..."

Am I expected to change the way I speak or get flagged?

As I stated in my answer on the now deleted old FAQ question: my right to not participate in your life is not harming you. My right to disagree with you does not mean I hate you, or disrespect you. Calling me a bigot, or a transphobe because I am not in direct alignment with you is not ok.

I know that might sound harsh, or come off as non-support, but you need to know that I love all of you equally, despite me sometimes opposing your views. We can all be heard in a productive manner.

The expectation on how to answer a question and what is/isn't in scope on our sites is not changing, on our sites Q&A you have always had to state how things are viewed on a field backed up by references, not your personal thoughts. As using genderized words, @divibisan said it, you can continue to do so, albeit not recommended. Adjust if someone states differently for you. - Cesar M♦

  • Is there a reason to think that gendered statement will be an issue? The CoC says use "Use stated pronouns” (which only applies to pronouns) and "Prefer gender-neutral language”, which is a request, not a demand. The FAQ even says that defaulting to gender-neutral “he” is fine, as long as you change if requested. – divibisan Oct 23 at 13:53
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    The expectation on how to answer a question and what is/isn't in scope on our sites is not changing, you have always had to state how things are viewed on a field backed up by references, not your personal thoughts on main Q&A. As using genderized words, @divibisan said it, you can continue to do so, albeit not recommended. Adjust if someone states differently for you. – Cesar M Oct 23 at 14:00
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    @CesarM can we make it more clear on the CoC that it mostly is applying to SO? I was under the impression that it was for all networks (including meta) so a directly line there would help clarify things – Sterling Archer Oct 23 at 14:10
  • It is applying to all of them @SterlingArcher. Essentially, the intentional differential treatment of someone after they have pointed out an easily correctable mistake is what the CoC outlines as wrong (in my interpretation). Your display name is a character name from a popular TV show, and as such I wouldn't want to make any assumptions about you if I were referring to you in the third person. If I did end up making an assumption (and you corrected me on it), I would change how I referred to you for the sole reason that I made the wrong assumption. Why shouldn't that apply to all SE sites? – Kyle Fairns Oct 23 at 14:32
  • @SterlingArcher There seems to be one free pass per user per question without being flagged, so I would simply change the way you type for that one rare instance in which a user does actually correct you. It probably won't happen often, as people usually endeavour to keep comments on-topic and concise; users should never correct you without including information that's also relevant to the question/answer/comments, so it will just make their comments longer. – Erik Humphrey Oct 23 at 17:48
  • I just want to make it clear I have no issue using clear pronouns. I already use OP more dominantly so nbd there. I just want to make sure that I’m safe because I have different opinions on social situations, and that it’s not interpreted as hate or bigotry :) – Sterling Archer Oct 23 at 19:20
  • It's not compelled speech to be told that you can't say something. You can call it a restriction on free speech, but free speech is inherently restricted in any forum that has rules. "Be Nice" is already a restriction on free speech. The rules on what is on topic for a particular SE is already a restriction on free speech. Not having long running chats in the comments is a restriction on free speech, even. The idea that it is better to remain silent than to break the rules is always the case, as well. It's better to remain silent than to be rude, ask the wrong question, etc. – trlkly Oct 25 at 8:22
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    That said, it seems unlikely to me that anyone could misunderstand "Oh, man" to be talking about a male human. It is merely a minced oath, where "God" was replaced with "man." However, calling someone "man," "dude," etc can easily be seen as assuming they are male, and there are non-gendered equivalents which would be better. "Bud," "mate," "chum," "my friend," etc. are all clearly gender neutral, and convey a similar tone to "dude" or "man." – trlkly Oct 25 at 8:31
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    Finally, to address a specific line in your post: "My opposing point of view cannot be silenced on the grounds of it being distressing if it's not threatening, promoting hate or violence etc." This isn't correct, and would make any politeness or civility policies possible. Being polite, nice, civil, etc inherently requires one to avoid unnecessarily causing distress to others. This isn't just on websites: you job probably has such rules. Your friends probably have such as a rule unofficially--as someone who deliberately distresses people is labeled an "asshole" and loses friends. – trlkly Oct 25 at 8:40
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    @trlkly: This is a rather weak understanding of social interaction. In all functional societies, an expectation of politeness is universally predicated on the recipient moderating their own behavior and conducting themselves in a socially acceptable and agreeable manner. Failure to do so demonstrates a disregard for the integrity of the group and naturally invites social censure. This is precisely why such enforcement attempts always fail, because demanding that the rest of the group accepts your personal values under threat of sanction is, ipso facto, anti-social behavior. – Crowman Oct 25 at 16:52
  • Re "non-aggressive disagreements" (near "So if you have religious, or non-aggressive disagreements then SO is not for you."): Don't you mean "aggressive disagreements" (the opposite of "non-aggressive disagreements") (or the quote is wrong)? It would not make sense that the site is for them if they have the opposite, aggressive disagreements. – Peter Mortensen Oct 28 at 11:21
  • @CesarM, please remove your text from the answer. It’s your comment, and it is not endorsed by the author of the answer. – Michael Freidgeim 2 days ago
27

The quote from Cesar M answer embedded inside House- 'Reinstate Monica' -man‘s answer:

If you're writing "The OP wrote in the OP's question" for a user who asked you to refer to them with a neopronoun, that is more clearly discriminatory

That's an awkward construction, absolutely, but jumping to saying that it's clear descrimination is fairly insane. You're aware of just how many users of this platform do not speak English as their first language, right?

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    It says "more clearly discriminatory" not that it is clear discrimination, though I do realise that is a very fine point. No mod is going to suspend a user just because they happen to have used awkward sentence construction once. This line is really only to give an example of what awkward construction would look like. – Rubiksmoose Oct 29 at 16:45
  • Surely a better example could be used than one that is most likely to be entirely innocent. – Matthew Read Oct 29 at 16:46
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    That's a pretty blatant use of language honestly. That doesn't mean there is bad intent behind it, but it seems like a very good example of something that mods will look out for if they receive complaints about a person. – Rubiksmoose Oct 29 at 16:50
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    Why do people assume that all gender-neutral writing must be bad gender-neutral writing? Skilled writers won't write stuff like that example; skilled writers will write things where you never notice the absence of gender (unless you're hunting for it) because it doesn't matter in that context and has thus been elided. – Monica Cellio Oct 29 at 17:42
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    There was a user, who deleted their account on MSE but "he's" still around on SE, whose username was OP and added OP as his pronouns in his profile page, in all its forms. So if one were to follow to the letter the official guideline, you might find yourself writing "The OP said that OP wanted OP's pronouns to be OP". I think the team caught onto that ploy, pretty quickly and hence the awkward example. – Mari-Lou A Oct 30 at 17:21
  • @Mari-LouA Interesting, thanks for the background. I think my point remains since that's a user trying to mess with the system from the opposite side of the example I quote. – Matthew Read Oct 30 at 18:58
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    @MonicaCellio I guess not all people here are skilled writers like you. So it won't be "all gender-neutral writing", but still probably a lot of it. – Paŭlo Ebermann Nov 3 at 22:01
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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.

Many non-English speakers have learned that he is a gender neutral pronoun. Many have similar rules in their native languages.

Old habits die hard. (For instance, I still use WordStar shortcuts while coding.)

This requirement to avoid he as a gender neutral pronoun, if assume good intent is not applied, can cause a lot of trouble for such people.


Point 3. in What's this all about? - Implementation seems to allow (or at least it is not considered a violation) using he as a gender neutral term, as long as you use stated pronouns once they’re made known.

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    Many native English speakers too. Probably most of them over the age of 60, and a non-trivial proportion over 30. – Peter Taylor Oct 23 at 10:16
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    I'd say this was covered by "Does this mean that I will be in trouble if I ever get someone's pronouns wrong?", but specifically by "Is it a CoC violation if I use "he" or any other pronoun as a neutral one?" – Raedwald Oct 23 at 10:32
  • I've got the impression that there are moderator tools to let other mods know if/how often an user's been told about the pronouns. – HAEM Oct 23 at 10:47
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    The FAQ already states that gender-neutral he is fine, as long as you change it when someone states their pronouns and it isn't "he". – Cesar M Oct 23 at 14:30
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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.

Is one afforded a guarantee, going forward with the new Code of Conduct, that by changing one's writing style to be pronoun free it will be compliant with the new Code of Conduct?

More concretely, if the style of writing under the old CoC used pronouns for a group of people, and then the writing style under the new CoC avoids the use of pronouns, is it possible for this to be interpreted as conspicuously refusing to recognize someone's identity, and thus a violation of the new CoC?

As Aza stated, this is very much one of the specific edge cases that need to be actually looked at when it happens. In essence, I would say if you stop using pronouns for everyone altogether and consistently do not, that's fine. Even if you did before. It'll become a new pattern in time, and that's okay. However, as it is a very specific case, it may vary from case to case, the above is the general thought on it. - Cesar M♦

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    This question is already answered by the FAQ: "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." – Aza Oct 23 at 4:23
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    @Aza: Not really. Will a user's old writing style under the old CoC be held as a standard to judge someone's writing style under the new CoC? – jxh Oct 23 at 4:26
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    @jxh Yeah, I still stand by my prior statement. This requires human judgement and a case example in order to evaluate. – Aza Oct 23 at 5:03
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    As Aza stated, this is very much one of the specific edge cases that need to be actually looked at when it happens. In essence, I would say if you stop using pronouns for everyone altogether and consistently don't, that's fine. Even if you did before. It'll become a new pattern in time, and that's okay. However, as it is a very specific case, it may vary from case to case, the above is the general thought on it. – Cesar M Oct 23 at 5:11
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I am new to this topic in general (about genders and pronouns) and it's all very confusing.

  1. Can I write to any person using "you"? For example, will the comment: "You have XY problem, do this instead" be appropriate to anyone? The Code of Conduct and the FAQ repeatedly simply says "pronouns", but it seems to mean only "third-person pronouns" (he/she/it and neopronouns instead of those pronouns).

  2. Is it OK to refer person as "OP" (original poster) or use @nickname? For example, "OP didn't mean that, but this."?

I am asking, because if the above works then I don't need to change anything, all my previous and future posts will be appropriate.

But will those work in all cases? What are the exceptions? What am I missing​?

Both these options are okay. - CesarM♦

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    Both these options remain entirely acceptable. You're good. – Mark Amery Oct 23 at 9:55
  • Okay? Only okay? What's wrong with them that they're not perfect? – George M Reinstate Monica Oct 24 at 1:56
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    Which OP are you talking about when you reply to a comment about a comment on an answer to a question that is about another question? Not perfect. You is a second-person pronoun, so allowing usage of it does not resolve issues with using third-person pronouns. Not perfect. But seriously, why do you need something to be perfect, when the point is that it works? the latter being defined by appropriateness and effectiveness. @GeorgeM – Nij Oct 24 at 9:18
  • I've encountered a person online who wished to be addressed in the second person as "zhou", not "you". This person additionally claimed to be deeply upset and hurt, as if by violence, by anyone who didn't comply with this wish. Maybe an extreme edge-case, but why not just include second-person pronouns under the new CoC as well, just in case? – Gershom Maes Oct 24 at 20:36
  • @GershomMaes We don't specify third person anywhere, I don't think? It's extremely rare but there are people who have alternative first and second person pronouns. – Catija Oct 25 at 3:58
  • The CoC seems to dismiss alternative second-person pronouns, since it constantly refers to 3rd person pronouns. If you want to prevent "violence" against at minimum this one person, you'd consider an explicit addendum concerning second-person pronouns. You'd also consider explicitly banning the use of "one", as there are those who would claim it is violent towards schizophrenic and "non-singular-identifying" people. Do you want to commit violence against schizophrenics? Please disallow the use of "one" in reference to people, there's apparently no downside. – Gershom Maes Oct 25 at 12:09
  • @Catija, can you add this clarification in the main FAQ? I am sure there will be many people who are new to the topic about genders and pronouns and it will be very confusing for them as well. To find this answer will be even harder. – Michael Freidgeim 2 days ago
22

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 add it to their profile and comment on the question/answer next time.

(Emphasis mine)

May this be a left-over from what used to be in the answer to "10. I want to let people know what my pronouns are..."? The original FAQ said that you can put your pronouns in your profile to let people know of them, and that wording is removed now.

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    Fixed, thanks for noticing. We cannot legally recommend that. – Cesar M Oct 23 at 4:12
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    What do you mean you cannot legally recommend that, @Cesar? What are the legal concerns with recommending that someone add personal information to their profile? – Cody Gray Oct 23 at 4:15
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    @CodyGray I'm not the best to explain it here, but as far as I know it relates to data collection/processing and the threat of miss uses. – Cesar M Oct 23 at 4:20
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    I'm confused... How, then, would it be acceptable to recommend that people include this information in a post or comment? The profile seems like a perfect place to put personally identifying information, if the person so chooses (that's why it's a recommendation, after all; the default option is not to share). @Cesar – Cody Gray Oct 23 at 4:22
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    We're not recommending in posts either, in fact, under the new FAQ you're welcome to delete those as noise (Something the community requested). – Cesar M Oct 23 at 4:23
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    @CodyGray you can put them in your profile if you wish, but SE cannot recommend it for legal reasons. So it's ok to put pronouns in your profile, but you do it at your own risk - basically it's a CYA thing. – Mathieu Guindon Oct 23 at 4:50
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    @CodyGray The reason may well be related to what was mentioned in this post. Better if malicious actors aren't able to automatically scrape and identify targets of their ire – CertainPerformance Oct 23 at 5:04
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    @Cesar FAQ 10 currently says “ How (and whether) you identify your pronouns is up to you.” I think adding a neutral statement like “some users choose to add their pronouns to their profile” provides useful information to any user that looks up this specific question in the FAQ, without in any way compromising the company. – Reinstate Monica Oct 23 at 5:20
  • @CesarM: I don't really understand. What legal ramifications is a user likely to encounter by having their pronouns in their profile and are we going to get some official guidance on where users can best communicate their pronouns should they desire? – CB Bailey Oct 23 at 7:52
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    @CBBailey Legal ramifications are not for the user, but for SE. Putting pronouns into your profile makes them publically scrapable. If extremists then target you (online or IRL) because of pronouns they got from your profile, SE could get into trouble for suggesting you put them there. Note that people have already reported extremists posting (somewhere online) psuedo-code along the lines of "scrape SE profiles for transgender pronouns; target such people for torture/murder." – Reinstate Monica Oct 23 at 8:59
  • @ReinstateMonica, to be safe, SE should recommend not put pronouns in user profiles nor in questions/answers/comments. It also would avoid a lot of recent conflicts/discussions. – Michael Freidgeim 2 days ago
22

The FAQ is punctuated inconsistently.  There are many sentences like

It would be rude to refer to a man as "she" or a woman as "he".

where words that are referenced are quoted. But then there are also a few like

May I use they/them by default?

where words that should be quoted are not.

I suggested an edit to fix this, but it was rejected.

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    +1 for a sane voice for grammar in this horrible grammapocalypse. – GreySage Oct 25 at 18:49
20

Implementation details are still uncomfortably vague, especially for moderators. The FAQ says (emphasis added):

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 find guidance here. If you're struggling, that's common. It can take a little effort but it's appreciated.

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.

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.

The FAQ is basically telling us to use our judgment and common sense, and that mistakes are okay. That would be fine under the old "be nice" policy and when the community had good rapport with the company, but the problem is that you have created a climate of fear: a respected moderator was summarily removed and her name was publicly dragged through the mud for holding the same position that she posted in the moderator Team back in January and which no SE employee said was against the CoC at the time. It was only later when the company's interpretation of the CoC changed that she was accused of "repeatedly violating our existing Code of Conduct". This climate of fear is evident from all the FAQ questions about "I'm worried I may get banned", "Am I going to get in trouble...?", etc.

In this climate of fear the CoC/FAQ needs clear, objective criteria rather than vague assurances to just "do your best".

The FAQ claims that "[p]ronouns are a fairly well defined thing in language", but while the purpose of pronouns is well defined the criteria for what constitutes a reasonable request for a pronoun is not. Without such well defined criteria you have created hell for well meaning users (especially moderators) and heaven for trolls who want to test the limits of reasonable/unreasonable.

The FAQ also tells us to "use your common sense". Now, my common sense tells me that I should be fine if I followed the guidance of the highest voted answer in the moderator Team of the discussion on the use of pronouns (which says not to use incorrect pronouns but that we don't need to use a specific pronoun) and which no SE employee said was a violation of the CoC. Apparently, however, the common sense of the majority of the moderators who voted on that discussion does not have much in common with SE the company since a respected moderator was removed for following that guidance.

I'm not sure what the solution to this problem is. Perhaps we could have a pre-defined list of recognized pronouns which are deemed always "reasonable", and SE can guarantee that users (and especially moderators) are free to use their judgment to decide if any pronoun not in that list is reasonable without fear of any punishment by SE. Users who want to use pronouns not in that list can petition to have their pronouns added to it. That would make it much easier to objectively determine the reasonableness of the pronoun request. However, I suspect this may not be acceptable to SE since users whose pronouns are not on the list would argue that they're still excluded and marginalized.

With this vague guidance and climate of fear I'm uncomfortable using my judgment in acting as a moderator for any but the most obviously reasonable or obviously unreasonable pronoun requests, lest I be summarily removed and publicly smeared for making the wrong call(s). For example, which of the below words are reasonable pronouns and which constitute unreasonable trolling? (I've actually seen some of these in the wild since the new CoC was released.):

  • from (conflicts with an actual, non-pronoun word)
  • let (also conflicts with an actual, non-pronoun word)
  • supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (is this excessively long? when -- if ever -- is a word too long to be a pronoun?)
  • grimble
  • vlkivczq (very difficult to spell and pronounce)

Can we get some more specific guidance on what constitutes a reasonable pronoun? Unless we can get more specific guidance I see no option but to forward all but the most obvious pronoun flags to the CMs so that I don't make the wrong call.

  • Even if the company implements your suggestion, couldn't they just ignore it and fire you anyway? It seems to me the only way to allay such fears is to rehire Monica, and that can only happen if she agrees to abide by the CoC-- and wants to be rehired. – DoctorDestructo Oct 24 at 4:19
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    Basically the FAQ is almost the same content as before, and only in a less aggresive and less negative wording. It is nice to see this work being done on that FAQ, but when it basically remains the same then it seems to be more like a distraction from the distrust in the actions of StackExchange. It is sad that these gender issues turn out to be the battle field. The current discontent among the contributors to SE is not so much about gender (which has become a collateral damage), but much more about how it is being handled (strange apologies, but in no way is the issue made transparent). – Sextus Empiricus Oct 24 at 7:38
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    @DoctorDestructo I don't see SE reinstating Monica. The message I got from SE's actions is that they want a climate of fear, though they did not anticipate and do not desire moderator resignations and strikes. But it seems clear to me that they absolutely want us to fear the threat of punishment, perhaps as a way to signal support for the people the new CoC is designed to help. – Null Oct 24 at 14:25
  • @SextusEmpiricus I have yet to see an actual apology from SE. Sara Chipps' was a total non-apology, and the CTO's post was promising but is ringing hollow. – Null Oct 24 at 14:27
  • @Null We're always happy to help... you can either ping us and ask in the TL (some of the other mods may have some input, too) or ping us in your mod room or raise a CM contact about it. We're learning, too, so we may not have all the answers immediately. There's many lists of the more widely-used neopronouns out there and there's already a partial guide on the Mod Team if you're using it. – Catija Oct 25 at 4:04
20

I note that M2 states:

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.

I know about the "you're held to a higher standard" part. That's been in A Theory of Moderation for approximately forever (or at least since May 2009).

Why not have an intermediary step of, say, "talk to your fellow moderators and see if someone else on the team is willing to handle the situation"? In other words, trying to resolve the situation amicably within the existing moderator team rather than resigning.

As pointed out in the comments, this is in line with long-established standard practice on issues where a moderator has a potential conflict of interest.

After all, the very answer to that question says that for most moderators it won't be a frequent occurence. (It certainly hasn't been for me.) And even if it were a frequent occurence, very few moderation situations need to be handled by one specific moderator.

Part of the reason why there are multiple moderators on each site is that no one moderator should have to handle everything, and to have someone to discuss details with before taking action. Sometimes, this means having a discussion among moderators hashing out the phrasing of a message before sending that message to the user, whether privately (mod message) or publicly (comment, meta answer, ...).

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    Surely if a moderator is unwilling to follow the rules they enforce, they are grossly incapable of doing their job? – Daveoc64 Oct 23 at 10:45
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    @Daveoc64 Just because one moderator doesn't want to handle one specific flag or respond to one specific question or comment doesn't (in my opinion) mean "they are grossly incapable of doing their job". The important part is that the moderation team as a whole is capable of handling issues that arise, and handle those issues in a reasonably consistent manner; that already requires communicating between moderators, and not uncommonly discussing how to handle a particular situation before taking visible action. There isn't much of a leap from there to "can someone else respond to this?". – a CVn Oct 23 at 11:00
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    This is just like those civil servants refusing to marry gay people due to religious objections. Seems very against the new CoC IMO. – Renan Oct 23 at 13:50
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    @Renan what about civil servants that refuse to give woman a hand, when the majority of the country believes giving hands is not only standard, but also polite and respectful? – Sextus Empiricus Oct 23 at 14:44
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    @Renan "This is just like those civil servants refusing to marry gay people due to religious objections." Not really, in my opinion. It's more along the lines of civil servants asking a colleague to do something that they themselves feel uncomfortable doing. If we want an inclusive community, I feel that inclusivity absolutely has to also include the community moderators. Why should an otherwise great moderator be excluded -- no, expelled -- just because there is one thing they don't want to do because doing so goes against that moderator's beliefs? – a CVn Oct 23 at 15:57
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    This seems akin to a moderator avoiding a potential or actual conflict of interest by asking another moderator to handle something. This is standard practice on the moderation teams I've been part of. Asking another moderator to handle something you yourself can't handle for whatever reason should not raise eyebrows. If it were to happen often enough to become burdensome (unlikely!), the team would handle it internally. – Monica Cellio Oct 23 at 16:47
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    @MonicaCellio Yeah, this seems like something that moderator teams could deal with internally. As long as the mod in question doesn't make their recusal conspicuous or rude (for example by saying "Oh, in that case, I can't help you. Talk to X") and so long as their fellow mods are ok with it, then I don't see the problem. – divibisan Oct 23 at 17:05
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    It would be harder to do on small sites, though, where there might only be one moderator active at a time. It wouldn't be good if there were times when certain people couldn't get moderation. But as long as that wasn't a problem, a sites' mod team could probably figure out an arrangement that works – divibisan Oct 23 at 17:14
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    "For many decades British officers had to take an oath against transubstantiation. Its aim was to keep Catholics out of the ranks of officers. A relatively small matter was used to impose a big restriction. This is a requirement of the same kind. The request seems small but the implications are vast." – Wildcard Oct 23 at 17:22
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    @PinnyM indeed. My usual writing style is not in conflict with this CoC. And I didn't violate it before it was official, even if they say that a future CoC is somehow binding. And some say that the pronoun thing was already part of the pre-existing CoC, but Tim Post admitted that that was not at all obvious and that's why they're specifying it now, so any issues before that update can't be called violations unless, you know, somebody actually said "hey we think this is a violation". So the firing was never warranted under any CoC. – Monica Cellio Oct 23 at 19:19
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    Of course the CoC can't allow this. What if there's a trans person on your mod team; do you think they'll feel welcome if they see you consistently refusing to work with trans people? Maybe you can get away with this behavior if no one recognizes your motive, or everyone agrees not to report you, but it's never going to get official approval. – DoctorDestructo Oct 24 at 1:27
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    @DoctorDestructo Actually, both Monica and I have been on a mod team with at least one person who self-identifies as (among other things) a member of the Lavender community. writing.meta.stackexchange.com/q/2243/2533 Insofar as I recall, that was never a problem at all, whether interpersonally between the members of the moderator team or in carrying out moderation tasks. It seems to me to be extremely heavy-handed to require a moderator to resign for something that isn't a problem. If it becomes a problem, it can be handled without becoming a CoC violation. – a CVn Oct 24 at 8:07
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    What if my deeply-held beliefs precluded me from working with non-white people, or Jews, or female programmers, or people with autism? Should the CoC allow me avoid those people too? No business I've ever worked for would have wanted to be represented by someone with those beliefs, nor would they have allowed me to only work with people I approve of. – DoctorDestructo Oct 24 at 17:19
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    @aCVn At your last job interview, if you had informed your prospective employer that there may be some situations in which you simply can't help but to discriminate against a client or colleague, but that's okay because it's possible those situations will never come up, do you think you would have gotten the job? – DoctorDestructo Oct 24 at 18:11
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    The idea that an inclusive community must be inclusive of those who wish to discriminate based on immutable characteristics has been shown not to work in the wild. Back when gaming cons tried to be inclusive of even the misogynists, the result was that many women didn't feel comfortable and were excluded. By excluding the small amount of misogynistic people, they were able to become more inclusive to women. Similarly, excluding as moderators who have trouble being inclusive towards trans people can be actually make the community more inclusive. – trlkly Oct 25 at 8:07
18

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 find guidance here. If you're struggling, that's common. It can take a little effort but it's appreciated.

What exactly is required from me by "do your best"?

Let's take the sentence "as was stated by OP in his question" for example, this is what I would normally write for an OP of an unknown gender.

If it's made known to me that OP's pronouns are "ey/em" am I required to look here, find out that "eir" or "eirs" should be used instead of "his" and then ask a question on ELL about which one should I use(I don't know what is the difference between Pronominal possessive and Predicative possessive, "his" would work in both examples given for "eir" and "eirs")?

That would be me doing my best.

  • 5
    You may ask them how to use it, you may do research, you may ask on another site, those are all options. You certainly don't have to do all of them. Do your best at an attempt, and if you make an honest mistake at it, that's fine too. – Cesar M Oct 23 at 5:24
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    @CesarM I see. Then unfortunately I will have to continue not participating on SO or ignore people who want me to use neopronouns. The requirement to do research about neopronouns is unreasonable to me. If I will make a mistake it will not be an honest one, it will be caused by lack of research. – Oleg Oct 23 at 5:33
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    Again, let me reinstate: You're not obligated to do research, nor you will get punished for it. It's okay if you make a mistake once, someone will probably tell you the correct way of doing so, and you can learn and go from there. This isn't a draconian rule that you must get it right the first time. – Cesar M Oct 23 at 5:37
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    You could also say 'As was stated by the OP in the question"... there's no need for a pronoun there in most cases. – Catija Oct 23 at 5:37
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    @CesarM Okay. What you're saying now sounds reasonable. I still have a problem with the wording. Making a mistake would not be me "doing my best" – Oleg Oct 23 at 5:40
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    @Catija But then I would change my writing style because of stated pronouns and if I understand correctly violate the CoC. – Oleg Oct 23 at 5:42
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    So... you can change it generally and always write this way from this point forward and that’s just fine... I’m sure that many have taken the opportunity to write in a more gender neutral way. That’s good. – Catija Oct 23 at 6:13
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    @Catija But.. I don't want to... that's not how I normally write, I have my own style that comes natural to me and I'm interested in just using it in most cases and concentrate on writing a good answer from a technical point of view. Can I use pronouns as I would normally and switch to gender neutral language when using them requires an unreasonable(IMO) amount of effort? – Oleg Oct 23 at 9:50
  • I think this is covered by "Does this mean that I will be in trouble if I ever get someone's pronouns wrong?" If you get it wrong by saying "ey" rather than "eir" when that person said "call me ey", you have made an understandable and minor error. If that person then made a big fuss about your minor error, that person would be in the wrong. – Raedwald Oct 23 at 10:49
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    @catija You are suggesting that one can avoid neopronouns by avoiding the need to use a pronoun. But, from that point on, one is neither anymore allowed to use he, she, or they? – Sextus Empiricus Oct 23 at 12:09
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    @194636 You're probably right. The original CoC was written as if everyone here wanted to act in bad faith and hurt LGBTQIA folks and a strict set of rules was needed to prevent us from doing that. The new one is much better but after all that happened recently I read "do your best" as a commandment to invest considerable effort to not use incorrect pronouns. – Oleg Oct 23 at 13:49
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    I'm pretty sure (as a native English speaker) that, in this context, "do your best" just means "make a reasonable effort," or "do the best that you can without spending a lot of time doing research." It does not mean "do the best that you possibly can." If you don't do any research at all, but you make your best guess, I think that counts as "doing your best." – Tanner Swett Oct 23 at 16:53
  • In this situation, I'd suggest simply using the pronoun you'd use in any other situation where you don't know what pronoun to use. For me, that'd be "their"; in your style, it sounds like it'd be "his". It's not obvious to me that looking up the possessive pronoun that supposedly goes with the ones they've already stated would serve much purpose even in principle; I've seen as many people who mixed and matched from different neopronoun sets as who used one consistently, so you've got good chances of still being wrong even if you do the research. – Mark Amery Oct 25 at 11:10
  • @CesarM so then the onus is entirely on those who wish to have neopronouns used in references to themselves to call out and constantly educate those they are interacting with? – jsarbour Oct 29 at 14:00
  • @oleg "Do your best" really means, "be respectful" or "do not be a troll/dick" etc. I'm not a mod but I think as long as you don't go out of your way to offend someone, you will probably be OK. Someone might edit your posts to make them more gender-neutral. – jerlich Oct 31 at 3:58
17

Q: Am I expected to remember every time someone corrects me on a pronoun in case I have to interact with them again later?

Like I commented in the (now deleted) previous FAQ: I don't care to remember every interaction I've had on this site in case I run into them again. I don't care about the person behind the post, I only care that there is a good answer to the question posted.

As part of that I don't even look at the name of a poster unless I need to @ them, let alone try and recall whether they expressed a pronoun preference to me before.

  • 1
    I think this is covered by "Does this mean that I will be in trouble if I ever get someone's pronouns wrong?" If you get it wrong for someone you interacted with a long time ago, you have made an honest mistake. But if you use gender neutral language (as recommended), or (as you imply you do) you use @user, error is impossible. – Raedwald Oct 23 at 10:54
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    @Raedwald but "long time ago" is subjective. For one person that might mean a week, for others that can mean hours (if they were 2 independent interactions). – ratchet freak Oct 23 at 11:35
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    ""long time ago" is subjective": which is why moderators will apply intelligent judgement. Just like they do about all other claimed violations of the CoC. What is rude? What is condescending? These all require intelligent judgement. – Raedwald Oct 23 at 11:40
17

Why is so much of the FAQ phrased like this?


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

No. One thing is required of you...

.

  1. 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?

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

Our users may hold any beliefs they do... 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.

.

  1. 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.

.

  1. 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.

.

  1. 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... Note that "it sounds silly to me" is not sufficient grounds to think something is obviously unreasonable


In each of these answers, the FAQ immediately contradicts itself. It first gives the answer that will be acceptable to the community, then makes a blanket exception that completely undoes the first answer. Is it any wonder there's just as much confusion over the policy as before? Why not just be direct about what the policy really is:


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

Yes. Sometimes the majority must accommodate a minority...

.

  1. 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?

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

If your beliefs do not recognize the self-identity of trans and nonbinary people, they are not welcome here.

.

  1. 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?

Yes. You must handle any pronouns that a person asks you to. You can start with this non-exhaustive list.

.

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

Yes. If we think you're trying to avoid using someone's preferred pronouns, you may be sanctioned for it.

.

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

We have no actual guidance to give you here because this policy is based on ideology rather than any sensible attempt to create inclusion. You're totally on your own, and if you guess wrong, there will be consequences.

(OK, that last one isn't very charitable, but the original version is totally incomprehensible, and given how many revisions this has gone through, I can only assume intentionally so.)


If you don't want to discuss the actual policy, as you have made clear in the original post, then so be it. But at least be honest about what it is, instead of dancing around it in the hopes the users don't figure it out.

  • 1
    Somehow people thought that wording it in a less direct way would be less aggresive and negative. But they forgot that programmers/coders and mathematicians - the main public here - are dealing a bit differently with this. I guess that a lot of people at StackExchange/Overflow are currently annoyed by "us", but this is how we think/process. – Sextus Empiricus Oct 24 at 7:44
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    I'm a mathematician and hobbyist programmer/coder. I don't find this a difficult thing to deal with, and how I think/process has been an advantage in this situation, not a drawback or hindrance or creating a circumstance requiring alternative structure. You don't speak for me as a mathematician or as a programmer, and I reject the views that your comments (yes, plural, almost all of them you've posted on this page) try to represent me with. @SextusEmpiricus – Nij Oct 24 at 9:40
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    @Nij you could have read a bit more in-between the lines and be less rigorous about my comment; don't take it personal. ----- My association with the ugly and messy discussions that are unfolding here is that it relates to how the group (not the individuals) of programmers/coders and mathematicians is in general dealing with these sort of things. StackExchange is the place where you get much more nitpicking comments than elsewhere (like responses to a particular comment about mathematicians/coders is not relating to an individual). – Sextus Empiricus Oct 24 at 9:50
  • These long-winded discussions about gender and the related Code of Conduct and FAQ takes me back to a meeting among scientist related to computation and modeling. The entire afternoon program got hijacked by discussions that were only about how to define the 'model', and we still had not resolved the issue at the end of the day. What is currently happening here on StackExchange, the nitpicking, is one big deja-vu-explosion putting all my memories of the stereotypical behaviour of mathematicians and coders into one big melting pot inside an exploding volcano. – Sextus Empiricus Oct 24 at 9:53
  • I think you're completely misrepresenting the answers here. They are not contradictory. In the first example, the one thing you have to do is hardly an inconvenience, given its rarity, let alone "lots of inconvenience." For the second one, it's just telling you, that as usual, you should keep your personal religious beliefs to yourself unless they are explicitly on topic. I confess I am puzzled why this bothers anyone, since it's the default in (US) society, where I'm from. You might as well tell me your religion compels you to treat women as property... – jgon Nov 5 at 18:51
  • and therefore asking you to treat women as people is compelling you to speech against your religion. I have no sympathy for this position. I don't see why religious sanctioned bigotry becomes more acceptable if the target is trans/NB people. The third answer doesn't start off saying no, and doesn't contradict itself. I think you just misread the first sentence of the answer. The fourth answer is clear and again not contradictory. The policy is asking you to use stated pronouns if (a) you ordinarily would, and (b) they have been stated. Nothing in answer four seems to be saying anything else... – jgon Nov 5 at 18:56
  • Finally for answer 5, "it seems silly to me" is clearly a different reason than "the person is requesting pronouns in bad faith or as an attack on trans/NB people." – jgon Nov 5 at 18:57
15

This actually sounds suspiciously like what Monica was asking to be allowed to do. That being said, would Monica have been de-modded under this version of the Code of Conduct? If so, which part of this did she violate? If not, are there plans to reinstate her?

14

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".

.. It could be rude, transvestites may still identify as a man but when in character be preferred to be addressed as 'she'.

I still feel like you're missing the point and a bit hypocritical because "trying to preemptively legislate for everything hypothetically" is exactly what you're doing.

  • 3
    'Character' feels like it might be the wrong term.. if anyone knows the correct term please fix! – Sayse Oct 23 at 7:31
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    Not the point being made in this answer, but an observation. Referring to a man as "she" or a woman as "he" happens innocently all the time and is a human foible. It's typically more embarrassing for the person making the mistake. What is rude is to knowingly and purposely do that. The wording should make that distinction, rather than characterizing normal human behavior as rude. – fixer1234 Oct 23 at 7:56
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    I noticed on Drag Race, the contestants DO usually stick to "she" pronouns when In Character (or working on becoming the character), and "he" pronouns when out of costume -- for some there's a point in their transformation, different for each, where the pronoun shifts -- some it's the wig, some it's the undergarments, and some only when The Look is complete. But my trans friends say they never feel like "The Look" is the key factor or that there's any one point in time, that it's all about self-knowledge and how much effort do they want to go into correcting others. – April --Un-Slander Monica-- Oct 23 at 13:56
  • @Luuklag "may still recognise as a man" is not grammatical, I think you meant “may still be recognisable as a man...” But I see nothing wrong with the earlier may self-define – Mari-Lou A Oct 23 at 20:45
  • @Mari-LouA - That was my original posts sentence.. "may still identify as a man" is probably a better alternative but i'm still not convinced that "character" is correct (I also didn't see anything wrong with may self-define) – Sayse Oct 23 at 20:47
  • 1
    @Sayse Character, in drag, or whatever. As that line is written now, it is ungrammatical. – Mari-Lou A Oct 23 at 20:49
  • I simply reverted to the original since a suggested edit was making a mess of it. @Mari-LouA – Luuklag Oct 23 at 20:51
  • 2
    I've heard some transvestites refer to it as being "en femme" or "in girl mode". – Ettina Kitten Oct 24 at 15:10
  • @EttinaKitten - That would be a good alternative but it doesn't cover a female transvestite – Sayse Oct 24 at 15:15
14

However, note that debating the core of the new rule ("please use stated pronouns") or the validity of people's identities or gender expressions is off-topic for this post, and we won't be entertaining those debates at this point.

  • Can the users express their disagreement with the core of the new rule in any way?
  • Can they use their profiles for that?
  • If they do, will that be used against them if they disengage when asked to use neo-pronouns?
  • How about answers and upvotes that reflect this opinion?
  • In general, will users be banned for not using certain pronouns if they have at some point, expressed their disagreement with this rule?
  • 2
    I used my profile to express my disagreement. It was edited out within few days ... But I wasn't banned (yet?). – Teemu Oct 28 at 18:37
  • 1
    "is off-topic for this post": That message only applies to this specific post. You are free to talk about the core of the policy on other questions (and, indeed, there have been many of those) or in chat. This specific question, however, is just for clarifications about the FAQ. – divibisan Oct 30 at 1:44
  • 1
    @divibisan Yes, I know you can express disagreement on different ways, that is why I am asking if it will be used against the user – Luis Reinstate Monica Oct 30 at 6:32
14

Question: May a moderator openly disagree with the policy even while enforcing it fully?

The FAQ says: "As a moderator, you're held to a higher standard and are expected to set a positive example for your community." Clearly there are users of SE who disagree with various parts of this policy and have respectfully voiced their opinions here on Meta. They have not been sanctioned as far as I can tell. Is a moderator held to a higher standard in this regard? Assume the moderator has agreed to fully enforce the Code of Conduct despite the disagreements.

For example, can a moderator publicly disagree with the policy, calling it silly, coercive, grammatically prescriptive, intolerant, etc. (to mention some critiques I've seen thrown around)? Can a moderator tell an offending user that while that moderator doesn't personally think a particular violation was rude in any way, it is still not allowed per site rules? Can a moderator openly announce that only user-flagged offenses will be dealt with and that nothing will be actively sought out by the mod team?

(I suspect, yes, that's all fine so long as the moderator has agreed to fully enforce the CoC despite the disagreements. But I want SE to officially say so, lest some moderator, even a very respected moderator, get in trouble accidentally by unknowingly stepping over some internal SE line of allowed opinions.)

  • 1
    @Unionhawk Not that they didn't break the rules but that they weren't rude. It might help the offending party accept the consequences without fighting, for instance. – user-2147482600 Oct 30 at 18:50
  • 1
    @Unionhawk Because it might be true? It might help the offending party accept the consequences without fighting, for instance. It might help maintain a relationship between a productive user and the mod or the site. Does it really matter exactly the case to answer my stated question? – user-2147482600 Oct 30 at 19:42
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    @Unionhawk "the rules of SE say this isn't allowed and we have to live with that" – user-2147482600 Oct 31 at 12:56
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    @Unionhawk The entire point of rules more specific than "be nice" is to try to prevent moderators from simply acting based on their own opinions, which differ from moderator to moderator. If moderators were free not to enforce any specific rule with which they personally disagree, then flag handling would be highly dependent on which moderator happened to see the flag first. (There's always going to be an unavoidable aspect of that, but letting moderators ignore rules they don't like would make it far worse.) – Kyle Strand Oct 31 at 15:35
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    @KyleStrand Do you think it is appropriate for a mod to tell a user they weren't being rude but rules are rules, or do you think instead that it would be more appropriate to just kind of keep that to themselves – Unionhawk Oct 31 at 18:36
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    @Unionhawk I think both can be appropriate depending on the situation. Mods are people not computers and they can have thoughts and opinions and can adapt to various circumstances and balance different values with nuance. There's a reason we have human beings handle many of these things. Computers don't do nuance so well. – user-2147482600 Oct 31 at 18:39
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    Seeing as Monica was fired for basically trying to work out how to reconcile her position on singular they with the CoC changes in a private moderator chat, I am assuming that if I express my opinion about neopronouns too forcefully in public that would be cause for my removal. There are people that believe that simply expressing that you are going to avoid using pronouns because you don't agree with using certain pronouns is a serious violation of the CoC that should be punished. I would not assume anyone is free to express disagreement with the pronoun policy without consequences. – ColleenV Nov 1 at 12:04
  • 1
    @ColleenV Exactly. There is no reason to "suspect yes" as an answer to this question. – Kyle Strand Nov 1 at 14:43

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