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.

68 Answers 68


Probably too minor to really warrant a proper answer, but I can't find a good place to add this as a comment ... From Edge cases:

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

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

I'm wondering if this section is necessary at all. If it is, perhaps it should be more explicit about how any argument about freedom of speech is a straw man. In most jurisdictions, we are already legally constrained by various well-known and common-sense restrictions about yelling "fire" in a crowded theater etc ad naus.

  • In fairness, there may be readers who have not yet finished primary school and thus are being exposed to this fact for the first time, though they are then probably violating the age clause in the terms of service. – tripleee Oct 23 '19 at 4:56
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    Yeah, this one's a little iffy. In general, the "free speech" argument is one used as a way to communicate: "I don't think I should do this and am using free speech as a shield to defend that." This edge case... seems like it misses the point? But also, those aren't really people you can reply to constructively, so I'm not personally miffed about this one. – user206222 Oct 23 '19 at 5:00
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    Take out "of speech", and the problem is solved. "Freedom of speech" gets people thinking about the specific legal concept, and that's not really the goal of this bullet point. The goal of this bullet point is to clarify that your rights and freedoms stop where someone else's rights and freedoms start. As important as freedom and self-expression are, you don't have the freedom to be impolite or disrespectful to someone else. – Cody Gray Oct 23 '19 at 5:22
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    @CodyGray The problem is that no one asked for the right to insult someone. They asked for the right to not express any opinion, and were told instead that they must explicitly acknowledge another's gender identity or be banned. This point has been raised many times but has been strawmanned into a request for abuse. Freedom of silence is vastly more important to people than freedom of speech because it is the default right and behaviour of humans, dogs, cats, etc. They can privately maintain their own thoughts and still be nice. That's not being respected. – The Anathema Oct 23 '19 at 5:27
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    @TheAnathema No, that's wrong. We specifically say that you don't have to go out of your way to use pronouns for people... There are so many options that meet that need. We've never stated that you have to continue a conversation that makes you uncomfortable... anyone can end a conversation with someone for any reason or no reason on our sites. You're not beholden to complete an interaction with someone. – Catija Oct 23 '19 at 5:35
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    @Catija that is unclear. I would say that it is not a desirable solution that instead of 'avoiding the use of some pronoun' it is better to 'avoid conversation'. So I am not allowed to use 'they' instead of some neopronoun, but I am allowed to ignore people who request/prefer the use of a neopronoun altogether? – Sextus Empiricus Oct 23 '19 at 14:20
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    " There are so many options that meet that need" What other options besides ignoring/avoiding people with preferred pronouns that one may not agree with or wish to not use? – Sextus Empiricus Oct 23 '19 at 14:22
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    'yelling "fire" in a crowded theater' — oh, not this one again. Fun fact: the historical, legal origin of this particular analogy is a US Supreme Court decision that held that non-violent (Communist) war protesters could be arrested and punished for their objections to World War I. When you use this analogy, you are arguing along with the justices that upheld government censorship of conscientious objectors. I submit that this is probably not the side you wish to be arguing for. – Nathan Tuggy Oct 26 '19 at 7:05
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    @NathanTuggy Thanks for this insight! I'll see if I can come up with a different example without tripping Godwin's law. – tripleee Oct 26 '19 at 8:12
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    I’ve seen freedom of speech based arguments used here so I don’t think that it correct to say this is a straw man. – Q the Platypus Oct 31 '19 at 9:16
  • I think the quoted answer doesn't actually answer the quoted "question". It needs at least one sentence like "freedom of speech doesn't guarantee you to do your speech on our private website". – Paŭlo Ebermann Nov 3 '19 at 19:48

Is the new CoC and FAQ about gender pronouns or about pronouns in general?

Reading What does the Code of Conduct say about gender pronouns? it is focused on gender:

The Code of Conduct has two direct references to gender pronouns: “Use stated pronouns (when known).” “Prefer gender-neutral language when uncertain.”

But CoC is not implying that pronouns must be directly related to gender:

We don’t tolerate any language likely to offend or alienate people based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion — and those are just a few examples. Use stated pronouns (when known). When in doubt, don't use language that might offend or alienate.

As far as I know there can be pronouns that are not related to gender but in general to individuals identity https://what-the-heck-gender-am-i.tumblr.com/pronouns

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    That's a fair point for the title/main post. I've updated those to remove gender. – Cesar M Oct 23 '19 at 5:59
  • In guessing this only applies to gendered pronouns—or, rather, third-person singular personal pronouns (which are usually considered to be gendered). So it applies to pronouns like "he," "she," and "they," but not pronouns like "I," "you," "who," "someone," and "each other." Am I understanding the policy right? – Tanner Swett Oct 23 '19 at 8:55
  • @TannerSwett: Correct. – V2Blast Oct 23 '19 at 9:23
  • "there can be pronouns that are not related to gender". I disagree. We need to talk about pronoun use because English third-person pronouns are grammatically gendered. Now, if we were using a language that classified nouns (and pronouns) according to a human/animal distinction, genuine Otherkin might have a genuine reason to complain. But we don't. – Raedwald Oct 23 '19 at 10:14
  • @Raedwald "English third-person pronouns are grammatically gendered" unless you use gender neutral pronouns. Then gender is irrelevant. – Piro says Reinstate Monica Oct 23 '19 at 10:53
  • The problem is that 3rd person pronouns currently relate to gender. And some people may have a problem with that (not only transgenders or non-binary genders but what seems to be misrepresented here is the inequality between man and woman). The wide prevalence of prejudice in standard use of gendered pronouns makes it a problem. There is no problem with pronouns that do not relate to gender. When we are gonna generalize the issue and make pronouns an issue of other types of identity/personification then the situation grows out of hand (allowing helicopter identities and such things). – Sextus Empiricus Oct 23 '19 at 14:32
  • @cesarM so the issue is not about gender, but instead about opening up to the entire gamut of possible (neo)pronouns? – Sextus Empiricus Oct 23 '19 at 14:36
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    @CesarM So if somebody goes by - to take one of the examples from the post - hoof/hooves/hooveself, I am required, when speaking about them, to use that pronoun and thereby express my agreement that they truly are, in some sense, a horse? This is really the position that the company is taking on this; that any assertion a person makes about their identity, no matter how ridiculous, must, if made by way of a pronoun, not only not be rebutted but be actively affirmed by everyone here who talks about them in the third person? – Mark Amery Oct 25 '19 at 11:20

The edge cases may seem to specify in a less restrictive way how one should act and seem to take away a lot of the previously existing compelled speech and conflicts. You might even think that compelled speech is gone.

But, it is mostly confusing language that is used in answers to FAQ 3 and FAQ 4.

  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?

    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.

  2. 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.

For instance it even seems to suggest that one can avoid using pronouns. But then... later it says that one can not conspicuously avoid using pronouns? This is very contradictory. I read the answer to Q4 as "you can avoid using pronouns that way, but don't do it".

And how are people that do not like to use particular pronouns, for whatever reasons, being treated with respect? I read the answer to Q3 "we respect it when your religion only treats male/female gender, but here you are obliged to use non-binary gender pronouns"

The question 3 isn't really answered just like the question 4 is not answered. There is some text below it but it seems to avoid an answer.

Written by StackExchangeStrike

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    It's stating that you shouldn't make it obvious that you're avoiding the OP's pronouns if a polite request has been made to use another set. If your writing style avoids gendered pronouns naturally, keep going, if it includes gendered pronouns however, and the only times you tend to avoid pronouns is with those who have asked for use of other pronouns, it may be perceived to be in bad faith, and while it may not happen often for you, the entire of someone else's experience may be plagued by others avoiding the topic while around them, which can inadvertently "other" some parts of the community – Kyle Fairns Oct 23 '19 at 11:22
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    @KyleFairns the FAQ would be more clear when it simply gets to the point rather than sugercoating it. So compelled speech is still there or not? I can not decide that I find 'they' in some cases confusing or not correct (e.g. because there's also a plural they and there is not a plural he or plural she so I will tend to avoid 'they' more often than how I would normally use he or she) and act by avoiding pronouns in those cases? Neither am I allowed to avoid neopronouns in places where I would normally use he/she/they? – Sextus Empiricus Oct 23 '19 at 11:36
  • More compelled politeness than compelled speech if I'm being honest with you. U2 sort of clarifies that a bit more for me. If you refer to everyone without using gendered pronouns (excluding some edge cases with "they/them") it shouldn't really effect you. Essentially it's about avoiding making the user feel singled out. If you're referring to others in that thread with gendered pronouns, refer to the requester with the gendered pronouns they have requested in order not to "other" that user – Kyle Fairns Oct 23 '19 at 11:54
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    @KyleFairns when it means that people have to adjust their preferred way of speech, e.g. use exotic neopronouns or use they in an ambiguous way (or something against their religion) then compelled politeness turns into compelled speech. Labelling it different doesn't change it. I agree that the 'conspicuously' part is of course a gray area. A sentence like "Bob and Alice went shopping. He bought shoes and Alice did it" is a more obvious and explicit omission of a pronoun than when it occurs isolated. For most other cases I'd say that people should be more free to choose their writingstyle. – Sextus Empiricus Oct 23 '19 at 13:41
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    (pt 1) Looking at your username, I wouldn't be able to tell what gender I should refer to you as if I were talking about you in the third person. I personally have always defaulted to "As Sextus said in their comment" - a username is just a display name after all. If you know a bit of Latin, you may be inclined to refer to someone with a similar display name to yours as "he", but you may be wrong on that, and if I were to make an assumption and it was pointed out as wrong by the person I'm making the assumption about, I'd change how I referred to them so that it was right. – Kyle Fairns Oct 23 '19 at 13:49
  • (pt 2) Essentially, the intentional and transparent differential treatment of someone after they have pointed out an easily correctable mistake in how you have referred to them is what the CoC outlines as wrong – Kyle Fairns Oct 23 '19 at 13:54
  • @KyleFairns I agree with it being wrong and it is fine when it is outlined as wrong. But I believe it should not be compulsive. Besides that it makes the rulebook unnecessarily bigger (the cases rarely happen, especially that somebody insists on a certain neopronoun) it is also suggesting repercussions (although not explicitly stated what will happen) that are potentially disproportionate. – Sextus Empiricus Oct 24 '19 at 7:08
  • "As Sextus said in their comment" This' a use of 'they/their' that's not much confusing. However its not like 'they' is exactly equal to 'he' and 'she'. Those pronouns link much more strongly to an explicit singular antecedent. This inequality (not the people that they refer to but the words themselves are inequal) makes it possible that in some occasions some people might be more tempted to omit the use of the pronoun. This practice should not be disallowed. – Sextus Empiricus Oct 24 '19 at 7:18
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    Be careful with this edge case. I'm sure there are plenty of users who (for whatever reason) believe that gender is binary, but are perfectly nice people and understand it's their personal belief and don't wish to cause offence, so they quietly rephrase their contributions to avoid pronouns wherever those pronouns are ones that they are unwilling to use, but still wish to engage in an otherwise respectful manner. I understand that this itself may be seen as disrespectful and invalidating, but it's arguably not as bad as misgendering, and allows both groups to continue in civil discourse. – anaximander Oct 24 '19 at 11:19

“Implementation” Question 4 is under-punctuated.  It says,

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

It should be,

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


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

I guess it’s the second.

Also, it should probably say “May I”?

  • I assume that it means either, i.e. that "he", "she", "he or she", and "they", are all adequate -- SE prefers and recommends "they", though -- adequate, if-and-only-if you're willing to correct your usage for a specific person on request. – ChrisW Oct 25 '19 at 13:20

May I use they/them by default?

Counter question, that I would like to see answered in the FAQ:

May I never use pronouns? But each and every time, address a specific user by using his profile name? Or user X for example?

Pronouns are in the end, used to avoid redundancy. "Nancy became the new CEO, and then she ruined everything". It can be turned into "Nancy became the new CEO, and then Nancy ruined everything". And you can do that each and every time when you are talking about Nancy. Or Bob.

Is that a valid option for people who want to avoid the whole mess, on cost of writing in a style that most people will not find pleasing?

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    I imagine this would come under the "use gender-neutral language where uncertain" part - essentially, you're declaring that the whole thing is uncertain, so you're sticking to gender-neutral at all times to avoid the problem. – anaximander Oct 24 '19 at 11:00
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    This is answered in the "What's this all about? - Implementation" FAQ, under #7. If you want to write in a way that completely avoids ALL pronouns period, forever, you may do so, but it has to be consistent. You can't decide a trans person gets no pronouns, but everyone else does. – Baron Oct 24 '19 at 11:47
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    I believe that replacing pronouns with proper names/handles, without otherwise changing the writing style, will not be regarded as using gender neutral language, but as an attempt to circumvent the CoC. – Bart van Ingen Schenau Oct 24 '19 at 11:50
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    You need more practice in avoiding pronouns. The example sentence would read much more naturally as "Nancy became the new CEO, and then ruined everything". – Mark Oct 26 '19 at 0:15
  • That'd be obtrusive, & exactly how people who wanted to make a point - that they were being prevented from using the pronoun they considered correct - would write. @Mark is right. – Scortchi - Reinstate Monica Oct 28 '19 at 12:23

Only two remarks this time.

U4 -

Add a comment noting what they said and suggesting that they could comment on the question/answer next time. Edit it out of the question as you would with "Hi" and "Thanks". Because you've made their request less visible, keep an eye out for mistakes in answers and comments and consider making polite corrections.

This still seems noisy in the face of technical sites, since a comment like that could be rife for quick and speedy cleanup. For technical sites only, I still struggle to see how this information would be pertinent to a question or answer; maybe in comments would this come up during conversation, which would still be a signal to me that the comments are too chatty.

However, being able to edit it out as noise addresses my original complaint (10k only), so I'll largely acquiesce. It'd be nice if the FAQ had more explicit guidance for technical Exchange sites.

M2 -

[...] 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.

This reads like a bit of a chilling effect; non-moderators aren't necessarily forced to do this, but moderators must comply or be replaced. This makes moderators slightly more vulnerable since I could anticipate some bad faith actors plying on this angle to try and get a moderator removed from their position.

I see why this needs to be done, but it makes the unenviable position of being a diamond moderator even less enviable. On the sites where this can quickly become a flash point, I'm not sure you could find others who would willingly fill that void.


Q: How can I state my pronouns in my profile and at the same time indictate in a binding way that I do not consider them being ignored to fall under the CoC?

My pronouns are se and sim but I don't care if anybody uses them or not. Do as you please. Not using my pronouns does not violate the CoC.

How can I forbid mods and staff to act against and punish anybody how ignores my pronouns?

  • I'd say that you'd just comment them in response to another user, or pre-emptively under your question/answer in the comments, or at least, that's my interpretation of point U4, perhaps add a note on there that pronouns aren't an issue for you, so to disregard any misgendering toward yourself - but that may poke the bear – Kyle Fairns Oct 23 '19 at 9:43
  • You could put them in the "about me" section of your profile, including a statement to the effect of, perhaps, you appreciate if people use them but you do not require them to be used when addressing you. (Adjust as desired to indicate your exact preference.) That of course won't forbid anything on the part of anyone else, but it will make your preferences clearly known to anyone who looks at your profile. – user Oct 23 '19 at 9:48
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    @aCVn Yes, that would be a possibility. But if overzealous user A flags an answer or a comment in which user B does not use by pronouns (which I am fine with), I have no way to indicate to the mods that this flag shall be ignored. This may result in user B being punished because user A did ignore my explicit wish. – Sockenpuppe Oct 23 '19 at 9:51
  • I'm pretty sure you can't do that; flags are shown to moderators largely in isolation. "About me" is probably about the best you can do. – user Oct 23 '19 at 9:52
  • Hm, that's not good. TY for your comments. – Sockenpuppe Oct 23 '19 at 9:53
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    If you say "se/sim but okay with any pronouns" in your profile I'd expect mods to read that before acting. – user206222 Oct 23 '19 at 10:11
  • @Aza That's what I would expect, too. But I did not find anything in the published CoC and FAQs that indicates that it is mandatory for mods to check back with me before acting. – Sockenpuppe Oct 23 '19 at 10:12
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    @Socken I think this is just common sense moderation. It's not really something that needs to be said -- moderators are, in every case, expected to look into ambiguities before acting. – user206222 Oct 23 '19 at 10:17
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    If you don't really mind, then maybe not say it anywhere in your profile and only mention it to people you interact with regularly when it comes up? – terdon Oct 23 '19 at 11:19
  • Exactly what you have here. See also my answer on the CoC change (10k+ or if you're logged in as me), – user474678 Oct 23 '19 at 14:22
  • @JL2210 I don't understand what you mean by your comment. – Sockenpuppe Oct 23 '19 at 14:23
  • @Sockenpuppe You put "My pronouns are se and sim but I don't care if anybody uses them or not. Do as you please." in your profile. – user474678 Oct 23 '19 at 14:24
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    To be fair, if a user gets a flag saying "deliberate misgendering", the only real way for a moderator to decide whether that is true or not is to check your profile to work out what the correct pronouns are. As soon as they do that, they'll see that you've said you don't care what pronouns people use, at which point the moderator knows that they can drop it. – anaximander Oct 24 '19 at 11:22

This is an answer praising the newly updated FAQ.

I believe that leaving positive feedback is also needed. It is all too easy to criticise and find faults and ignore the positive changes. You cannot please everybody but in this instance, the team has found a good compromise. We therefore begin mending bridges, and that means acknowledging positive progress has been achieved.

It doesn't matter one jot that the pronominal proposal earned nearly 300 upvotes or the team showed great humility and honesty in radically changing the now-defunct FAQ, and gave deserved credit to the author, Gareth McCaughan, if the community continues to downvote and nit-pick.

The continuing sniping, fighting and swiping at gender-neutral pronouns seems to be the reigning atmosphere. Instead of celebrating this progress, some users continue to feel upset, suspicious about gender-neutral pronouns and afraid of them, unnecessarily so IMO.


Respect should not be based on someone's username, avatar, low-quality posts, rep, profession, nationality, English language skills or gender. If someone says they're Corsican, you don't call them French a third time because you have never heard of Corsica and you're uncomfortable with the term “Corsican”.

Instead, say:

Course I can learn how to use that word.



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

Perhaps the above could be worded in simpler terms, for users whose first or second language is not English, but these are not simple issues and this FAQ does not pretend to be Simple English Wikipedia. Kate Gregory's answer is well written, better than I could ever dream of writing, and provides great examples.

The singular they

The snippets below are taken from answers I posted on English Language & Usage. In one, the acronym "OP" is used, and in the other, the person's username. Not knowing the gender of the user, I used the singular and gender-neutral they and their

  • enter image description here
  • enter image description here

This is just an example, but I can assure non-native speakers they have seen the singular they in hundreds of instances, they just weren't aware of it before. So, as the British are wont to say

Keep Calm and Carry On

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    As a french, this is accurate. – aloisdg Oct 23 '19 at 9:11
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    A big difference in the votes for the pronominal proposal and this new FAQ is the current distrust towards SE (that issue has not cleared up yet). In addition, some types of programmers and mathematicians regard rules in a less easy-going way than the average person. I get it that you might say 'common be less nitpicking and give the SE-staff a break', but then you forget that you are talking to people that are used to rigor, at least more than average people (I know, I did not define average here). – Sextus Empiricus Oct 24 '19 at 8:09

In U1 you write:

Avoid volunteering pronouns for third parties who have not indicated them on Stack Exchange (e.g. you know them in person) unless they are general knowledge.

I am not sure I understand the phrase volunteering pronouns for third parties correctly (I do not speak English natively). Am I right to assume that you mean a person I know does not want their real pronoun to be known in public so I should not use it too? (This sounds reasonable)

Or in other words: does volunteer in this context mean something like reaveal a secret?

If this is the case, I guess they/them would be the fallback pronouns, right?

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    Yes, that's a correct interpretation. I would go even further and say that if you don't know that they are ok with you revealing their pronouns, don't - but yea, that's it. – Cesar M Oct 23 '19 at 14:11
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    I would be "volunteering" your pronoun if you were having a conversation with Bob and I added a comment that says "Christine uses the pronoun she". In this kind of context the word "volunteering" means "intervene to try to help". The word "volunteering" does not generally mean "revealing a secret". However in this case it describes an action that might be revealing a secret. – Raedwald Oct 23 '19 at 14:15
  • Revealing a secret would be bad. But I suspect that the FAQ also wants to reduce noise and confusion by having people state pronouns only for themself. – Raedwald Oct 23 '19 at 14:16
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    If they've never posted their pronouns on Stack Exchange and you know them, do not give their pronouns out. Use gender-neutral pronouns unless told otherwise on Stack Exchange. – user474678 Oct 23 '19 at 14:17
  • So how about explicitly putting in the CoC whether the desired pronouns or the closet status are more important? Because there will be more opportunity for that conflict than most others – user625792 Oct 24 '19 at 2:01

But what about the edge cases? Pt. 1:

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

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

Several points about this:

  1. You are implying that the Code of Conduct is at odds with objective facts, and that these facts could come from someone who is an expert on gender.
  2. This implication does the exact opposite of what you want it to do. It highlights for those who do not believe in gender-fluidity that there are objective facts that disagree with your policy.
  3. It also alienates the group of people whom you are trying to make feel welcome.
  4. It also implies that you, Stack Overflow Inc., do not believe that gender-fluidity is compatible with objectivity.

This is not a statement of whether I believe in gender-fluidity or not. It is also not an admission of desire to follow, or not follow the new CoC. It is simply an observation of the effects it most likely would have in the mind of those reading it.

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    I'm pretty sure the intention is to highlight that, when writing an objective answer to a question where gender identity is on-topic, that you have the freedom to discuss these kind of issues (as opposed to a answer about Javascript, where you should not include your opinions on gender). I don't think they intended to imply anything about the validity of gender-fluidity. Can you think of an alternate wording that would make that clearer? – divibisan Oct 23 '19 at 16:32
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    That bit of the FAQ is saying, IMO, that e.g. on an SE site whose theme is a religion or politics or law or etc., it may be OK (on-topic) to say in an 'objective' answer that, "Church X doctrine doesn't support gender fluidity", or, "The laws of country Y don't support gender fluidity" -- that's OK in an answer and is not the same as saying, "I don't support gender fluidity" (which could or would be against the CoC). – ChrisW Oct 25 '19 at 13:28

It still feels very dictatorial. Quoting a Python design principle, we are all consenting adults. According to the current CoC, the following would be a conversation where Person B doesn't want to use the pronouns used by person A.

Person A: Thanks for your answer. I have a few more question, are you happy to discuss this in a chat room? My pronouns are they/them

Person B: .....tumble weed (Person B notices the use of he and she in their previous SE communications, but does not want to use the pronouns stipulated by Person A and decides to disengage.

Person A: Hello??

Using the "be nice" and "we are all consenting adults", the conversation could flow as follows:

Person A: Thanks for your answer. I have a few more question, are you happy to discuss this in a chat room? My pronouns are they/them

Person B: Regarding your pronouns, based on my personal beliefs, I feel uncomfortable using these. Are you happy to proceed if I avoid using pronouns altogether?

This gives Person A an option:

Person A: I respectfully disagree with you, but I am happy to proceed.


Person A: The use of these pronouns is really important for me, let's respectfully agree to end this conversation.

The last scenario empowers Person A to make a choice and if Person A decides to end the conversation, at least it is clear the discussion with Person B has come to an end. However, this is not allowed under the current CoC. Even if Person A and Person B are happy with this conversation, someone can visit the post months or even years later and flag it for moderation. This introduces the risk for Person B to get banned if the moderation flag gets picked up by an overzealous moderator.

Is disengaging really better than a respectful conversation?

Why can Person A not decide what is acceptable for them?


Given the comment below on my post, I would like to clarify that for some people using certain gender pronoun is absolutely nothing minor. For example, a devout Catholic could fear eternal damnation given the recent Vaticans statement on this issue.

In reality there will only be a handful of cases where the Person A/Person B scenario occurs. The majority of the users, including me, will have no problem with the pronouns specified by the SE user. However, if StackExchange wants to be an inclusive community, they should respect different viewpoints on this issue.

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    If person B wanted to have a "respectful conversation" they would simply respect person A's choice of pronouns. The fact they refuse to do so tells me that a respectful conversation isn't their goal. If you refuse to do something as absolutely minor as use their pronouns correctly, is it really still "respectful"? – Baron Oct 25 '19 at 12:34
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    For some people using pronouns is not something absolutely minor. For example, a devout Catholic could fear eternal damnation given the recent Vaticans statement on this issue. – Alex Oct 25 '19 at 14:59
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    And the other way around, if Person A wants to have a "respectful conversation" with Person B, why can't they accept the other person may have an issue with using pronouns. Again in reality it will only a handful of cases where the Person A/Person B scenario occurs, the majority of the users, including me, will have no problem with pronouns. However, if StackExchange wants to be an inclusive community, they should respect different viewpoints on this issue. – Alex Oct 25 '19 at 15:02
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    Religious objections have already been declared as invalid; see this response. It simply isn't something that is being considered, nor should it be. If someone's chosen religion declares they must disrespect trans and non-binary people, they are free to just not engage with them. – Baron Oct 25 '19 at 15:19
  • As far as your second comment, because Person A has done nothing wrong. They shouldn't have to be required to be spoken to with the wrong pronouns simply because Person B has an irrelevant hangup on the issue. Person B is in the wrong, and Person B is the one that, per the CoC, needs to adjust their behavior. – Baron Oct 25 '19 at 15:20
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    Religious objections are not ruled out in this scenario as Person B doesn't go out of their way to avoid pronouns or in fact misgender Person A, nor is it their intention to be rude. Personally I find it much worse if Person B disengages from the conversation all together. Differences like this can only be resolved if there is an open dialogue. Without an open dialogue, Person B will return to their own protected world view without ever being challenged. – Alex Oct 25 '19 at 17:15
  • Again, the FAQ does state that religious objections are ruled out. It's a total non-starter of a discussion. If your religion dictates you have to treat transgender or non-binary people poorly, just disengage. Furthermore, their world view IS being challenged by the very fact that intentionally using the wrong pronouns, which is what they want to do, is now banned. If they want to intentionally misgender people, they can move to a website where that is allowed, but it isn't welcome on SE. That alone is a fantastic challenge to their views. – Baron Oct 25 '19 at 17:20
  • Again, Person A is not the one that the discussion should hinge on, which is what your proposed change does. It isn't Person A's fault that Person B can't handle using a pronoun correctly, and so it shouldn't be up to them to either be misgendered or leave the conversation. It is entirely on Person B to correct their own behavior and respect their fellow SE users, and THEY can disengage if that's too much for them. – Baron Oct 25 '19 at 17:22
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    Let's respectfully disagree. I think dialogue is really important to resolve these differences. Without dialogue Person B will move into a different echo chamber where their beliefs are not challenged and society as a whole will not move forward. – Alex Oct 25 '19 at 17:43
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    @Jaco It is important to show people that $minority are human beings who deserve rights, but it is not the job of every single member of $minority to have that conversation over and over and over with hostile strangers on every question and chat room. Meta.SE should probably have a great Hashing Out Of Trans Rights when tensions aren't so high, but it shouldn't be shoved at all trans and non-binary people on all sites. – Leopold says Reinstate Monica Oct 25 '19 at 22:01
  • You have the right idea, but SO Inc. has dug themselves a hole they can never get out of, and they surely realize this as well. That's why the merits of the CoC are not even up for discussion. – President James K. Polk Oct 25 '19 at 22:27
  • @LeopoldsaysReinstateMonica Everyone has the right to disengage. If you avoid the Meta pages, it seems to be business as normal for SE sites. – Alex Oct 26 '19 at 17:15
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    I would rather keep Person A in control and not let Person B dictate things. If Person A started with "My pronouns are they/them, but if it distresses you to use them, call me whatever you want, because I value your input". Then Person B can decide what to do. – StrongBad Oct 28 '19 at 15:17
  • @StrongBad I am happy with any implementation that would allow Person A and Person B to talk to each other, provided Person A agrees to this. – Alex Oct 28 '19 at 22:56
  • The "other" group here is people who are not trans, not non-binary, but have pronoun preferences. That explicitly includes preference for he or she as well as "neopronouns" (as a part-time pedant I struggle to call things invented more than a century ago "new", let alone the "new" use of singular they which could better be described as archaic). There's nothing in the exchange above to suggest that A and/or B are not religious persons with very strong views about this area of dissension. Wait until the pope says "I prefer to be referred to as xe or je"... – Móż Oct 30 '19 at 21:08

I suggest clarifying the answer to Implementation, Q2 as follows:

2. May I use they/them by default?


Note that if someone subsequently requests that you use other pronouns, then "default" no longer applies, and you should adjust as requested. If you continue to use they/them for that person, we may point it out to you.

Original text for comparison:

Yes, but be prepared to make adjustments if so requested. If someone requests that you use other pronouns and you immediately continue to use they/them for that person, we may point it out to you.


"Yes, but" sends a confusing/mixed message. The original answer was trying to both answer the question as stated, and pre-emptively answer the unstated question of whether it's ok to keep using they/them after someone asks you to do otherwise. The proposed rewording directly answers the question that was actually asked; and frames the pre-emptive answer to the unstated question as a non-default case.


Avoidance of pronouns vs. gender-neutral language

There seems to be a self-contradiction here, and I'm concerned that it may trap well-meaning users into bans and other backlash.

Prefer gender-neutral language when uncertain.

Code of Conduct

Ok, this seems fine by itself. Except...

...conspicuously avoiding using pronouns is disrespectful.

What does the Code of Conduct say about pronouns?, question M2

So I should avoid pronouns, but only inconspicuously? What counts as "conspicuous"? I know the principle is "assume good intent", but as the recent days and weeks have shown, this is an emotionally-charged subject where people sometimes take knee-jerk reactions.

What measures are in place to ensure that users who default to pronoun-free phrasing are not unfairly punished for the exact kind of disrespect they were attempting to avoid?

  • This seems pretty related to this answer: meta.stackexchange.com/a/336381/388335 – divibisan Oct 23 '19 at 16:25
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    In context, the second quote is talking about moderators avoiding known pronouns. Avoiding them when the user's pronouns are unknown is still fine. (But it probably wouldn't hurt to edit that clarification in.) – Em C Oct 23 '19 at 16:39
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    So now, along with the research I do to write answers, I have to research everything I can about the user asking the question in order to make sure that, if they've tucked away any "My pronouns are" statements, I've incorporated them everywhere I write anything for fear of being banned - instead of just writing gender neutral language in the first place? – Qix - MONICA WAS MISTREATED Oct 23 '19 at 21:52
  • @Qix See #11 here: 11. Do I need to go looking for people's pronouns before interacting on Q&A? In short, no. And you don't need to worry about suddenly getting banned for not knowing someone's pronouns (see #U2 here). – DoctorDestructo Oct 24 '19 at 3:22

One clarification given in comments on the old FAQ that I don't see explicitly addressed in the new FAQ is whether disengaging is permitted. I don't have the rep to see deleted questions, but if I remember the content of this comment correctly, Catija wrote that silently disengaging is not inherently a CoC violation.

I think this might be a good thing to address to either the "implementation" or "edge cases" section. I don't actually know what the official policy, if any, would be, but here's some possible verbiage that I think matches the spirit of existing Q&A's:

Q. Can I disengage from a thread if another participant's stated pronouns make me uncomfortable?

A. You are never required to continue participating in any public conversation on the Stack Exchange network for any reason. Therefore, silently discontinuing posting in a thread is always an option. However, stating that your reason for disengaging is that you will not use another user's pronouns would be inappropriate, and may be considered a CoC violation.

I can also imagine that a user might develop a pattern of "ghosting" threads as soon as a request for a non-binary or unusual pronoun is made. I don't know if SE would automatically consider this a violation or not, or whether it would be worth addressing in the FAQ as an edge case.

It's certainly not advisable or welcoming, and people shouldn't be campaigning/advocating for it. But, It is an option you have, and if you do so silently, that's unlikely to cause any trouble and be actionable for moderators. Cesar M♦

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    Maybe it would be better to say “rude” instead of “inappropriate” to make it clearer that it’s not about judging appropriate reasons to disengage, but instead that the point is that disengaging is fine – just don’t be a jerk about it! – divibisan Oct 23 '19 at 18:53
  • @divibisan Hm - I meant it more as a statement about rules rather than a judgment about the "rightness" of the behavior. I wasn't sure how to phrase it, but I'm not sure whether or not "rude" is an improvement. (I did re-skim the FAQ to see how it phrased similar statements, but the closest I found was some verbiage about "respect".) – Kyle Strand Oct 23 '19 at 20:32
  • It's certainly not advisable or welcoming, and people shouldn't be campaigning/advocating for it. But, It is an option you have, and if you do so silently, that's unlikely to cause any trouble and be actionable for moderators. – Cesar M Oct 23 '19 at 20:33
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    @CesarM to be clear, it is not inherently rude (or at least the less rude option) to merely cease all interactions immediately upon the request to use neopronouns rather than to continue them, incorrectly? That seems to be very explicitly exclusive (ie. not inclusive), and perhaps in breach of "conspicuously" avoiding neopronouns for those requested. This feels like a dangerous precedent to set. – jsarbour Oct 29 '19 at 14:36
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    AFAIK this option has been explicitly ruled out for moderators, the answer only applies to users.But for users, yes, I think it's a great option and I don't have a problem with ghosting. IMO the dominant use case is going to be users who are somewhat abrasive but occasionally useful and losing them isn't going to bother me. I may even make pronoun requests deliberately. – Móż Oct 30 '19 at 21:01

I think these two entries would be easier to understand if examples of sites within SE network where these adjustments are relevant are provided.

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

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


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

Add a comment noting what they said and suggesting that they could comment on the question/answer next time. Edit it out of the question as you would with "Hi" and "Thanks". Because you've made their request less visible, keep an eye out for mistakes in answers and comments and consider making polite corrections. Note: on some sites stating one’s pronouns may be vital information for the question being asked, so don’t remove them in those cases.

Currently I have to guess where the adjustments apply and where they don't.

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    Interpersonal Skills is an obvious example, but it is not the company's place to dictate on which sites gender issues may or may not be on-topic. That should be up to the community behind each of those sites. It's also not a hard-and-fast rule (site scope can and does change over time, and it is dependent on the question itself). I don't see why it would be especially beneficial to make this explicit. Use your common sense. The point of the "some of our sites" exception is to allow that there are edge cases, not to exhaustively enumerate places where gender identity is and is not on-topic. – Cody Gray Oct 23 '19 at 5:20
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    IPS definitely for U4 - we often need to refer to people, and always using names can be clunky. Religious sites might be a better example for 1: it's not okay to say "I'm religious and I think [demographic] is wrong", but (if on topic) you could say "Prominent Religious Writing is widely interpreted to say [demographic] is wrong" - I believe most? all? such sites already have rules like this anyways. If you encounter a pronoun/gender-related issue on a site you're not very familiar with, and can't tell from their on-topic page, you could always ask on their meta. – Em C Oct 23 '19 at 14:25
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    Catija mentioned on a comment on another answer that the goal of the first part was to prevent editorializing. If gender is relevant to the question, that’s fine, just don’t stick your personal opinions where it’s not relevant – divibisan Oct 23 '19 at 14:31


PERSON 1 - identifies as non-binary. They insist that I refer to them using non-binary pronouns. Special rules have been set up to protect PERSON 1.

PERSON 2 (me) - believes the Bible as being God's word and that God made Man and Woman [Gen 5:2]. Instead of pushing that on other people I keep that standard for myself and let everyone else decide how they want to live their life.

QUESTION: Why does PERSON 1 get to make me use specific language that goes against my belief?

CONTEMPLATION: I believe all [including me] have sinned and need Christ. So I don't judge others for their sin because I have plenty in my own life and am trying to overcome it. BUT I should not be pushed to use alternative pronouns which is contrary to the Bible.

Question 2: In a post conversation, if I were to reference Sally as "She" and Sally said, I am not a "She" but a [non binary reference] my conscience would be free with only using her name in future posts, but would not be free to use their [non binary reference]. Is that OK per SE/SO policy?

Answer from JNat:

This is answered by questions 3, 4, and 5 in the But what about...? section of the FAQ. In particular, the answer to question 3 has the most pertinent answer:

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.

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    A valid point, perhaps poorly articulated. In essence: there are many people who hold beliefs (religious or otherwise) that tell them that gender is fixed and binary. Many of these people are in fact perfectly nice people, willing to live and let live, and who simply alter their language to avoid pronouns when those pronouns are ones they disagree with, because this allows them to continue a civil discussion and not force their views on anyone. While I understand that this can feel invalidating, forcing the religious user to use words they disagree with is just as dismissive of their beliefs. – anaximander Oct 24 '19 at 11:39
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    Using a pronoun isn't "following" any "belief", and nobody is forcing you to "walk a path". They simply asked you to use "she" or "they" -- really not a big deal. If that is so unbelievably offensive to your religion that you are unable to function, refer to answers 3, 4, and 5 in the "Edge cases" FAQ. – Baron Oct 24 '19 at 12:04
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    @Baron Calling a person "xe" is an acknowledgement that this person is not male or female, which contradicts the view that male and female are the only genders, which for some people is a view rooted in their religion. Thus, using "xe" contradicts their religious belief. "Edge Cases" Q5 says that these people can still participate if they can do so politely. This is fine. The problem is that Q4 makes it easy for people who try to follow Q5 by simply avoiding pronouns that they find objectionable to find themselves being banned anyway if a moderator decides it's too "conspicuous". – anaximander Oct 24 '19 at 13:31
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    @anaximander No, it doesn't contradict anything. That person could still be male or female, they simply asked you to use "xe" when referring to them. You don't know why. You don't know if it is because they are trans or non-binary, and so don't know if it violates any religious beliefs. I'm male, I'm not trans or non-binary, but still prefer people use gender neutral pronouns to refer to me because it's more welcoming to everyone in my opinion. You're making a religious argument where there isn't one. – Baron Oct 24 '19 at 13:40
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    @Baron The hypothetical religious person would have to maintain a level of deliberate ignorance for that sort of plausible deniability. If a person says "I'm non-binary, please use "xe" to refer to me" then it's kind of obvious, and frankly, the latter half of that sentence kind of implies the former. There is a religious argument here, and there are plenty of religious people here making it. Note that this very answer says "PERSON 2 (me) - believes [...] that God made Man and Woman [...] I should not be pushed to use alternative pronouns which is contrary to the Bible." – anaximander Oct 24 '19 at 14:00
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    @anaximander If they have to maintain "deliberate ignorance" to treat another person with simple respect, then that's fine with me and I don't see an issue with that. The FAQ made it clear that religious objections to pronouns are not valid on SE, and I don't see anything wrong with that, so there's really no argument to be made here. Again, they're not being FORCED to do anything; they're free to simply not respond to people they aren't able to be nice to. Like your parents used to say: if you can't say anything nice then don't say anything at all! – Baron Oct 24 '19 at 14:09
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    @JNat I don't take offense when people disagree with my religion. They do it all the time. This policy is a case in point. My question was if I used their name instead for the purpose of not offending my own conscience would that be wrong. Is it? Ending with, "Don't be rude" leaves me wondering if you are making a judgement or a suggestion. If someone is offended that I don't abandon my faith and speak contrary to Genesis 5:2 there is nothing I can do. – Bryan Oct 24 '19 at 14:36
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    @Baron All that is true, but it misses my point. I'm not saying they should get to choose other people's pronouns. I'm saying that there is a way that people whose religion holds that gender is binary can still participate politely - namely, by avoiding pronouns. My worry is that when people do so, intending to be civil and keep their religion to themselves, they'll get banned anyway for "conspicuously avoiding pronouns", at which point we've excluded someone who was trying to participate in good faith because of something they did for religious reasons. Which is not cool. – anaximander Oct 24 '19 at 14:49
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    @Baron So you're saying that in order to assess a flag on a post, a moderator will now have to look through the user's entire post history to ascertain what their "normal" pattern of pronoun usage is? Can we not just judge a post by its content? That's my objection: a post that reads as respectful should be considered respectful. Moderators should not have to trawl a user's post history to gain sufficient context to determine whether an apparently-respectful post is in fact a CoC violation. – anaximander Oct 24 '19 at 15:44
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    Ones religious beliefs do not preclude one from using polite language and referring to people as they ask me to refer to them. My religious beliefs are actually against the Pro-Life message (due to a scripture and how it's been politically hijacked), but I still refer to them as a the Pro Life movement. Simply using a term out of politeness does not inherently mean that I agree said word is actually correct. – trlkly Oct 25 '19 at 9:01
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    @Trikly equating the pro life movement to trans people is irresponsible and inaccurate. I'm as atheist as they come but I'm still on the side of this answer - you can't have equality if there are people "more equal than others". – Qix - MONICA WAS MISTREATED Oct 25 '19 at 9:57
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    @Baron That's false equivalence and thus is a fallacy. – Qix - MONICA WAS MISTREATED Oct 25 '19 at 12:10
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    @Baron: "The religion you picked" is as offensive to some faithful as "the gender you picked" is to some transgender, and for pretty much the same reason. – Stop Harming the Community Oct 26 '19 at 1:28
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    @Bryan I've intentionally left my beliefs about religion and gender identity out of my activity on Meta Stack Exchange, as I consider them as irrelevant to the conversation as my beliefs about gravity. I do agree with you that SE, Inc is pushing their views into people's faces while you were quietly living out your faith without pushing it into others, and I think they are being deliberately blind to the hurt that causes. Perhaps you were intending to tag Baron. – Stop Harming the Community Oct 29 '19 at 20:22
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    @Baron You have asserted your world view as being absolute fact, "Transgender folk... were born into it" and consequently by default saying the Bible and my faith is wrong. I would make the opposite statement and we would be at the same point in a reversed roll situation. The only difference though is that your view is being pushed into people's faces while I quietly lived out my faith without pushing it into yours (until i had to ask a clarifying question about the pronoun rules). Hmm. Forcing beliefs on someone and requiring them to abide by them. It is like a coerced atheist conversion – Bryan Oct 30 '19 at 3:58

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?


I read this as "compelled speech" for moderators -- i.e., "yes, moderators really do have to use pronouns even if they did find that uncomfortable".

Speech isn't so compelled for users -- who, per the "Is there really no alternative?" question, might be allowed to avoid talking about 3rd parties altogether, and/or avoid using pronouns.

Unless you take a "don't ask, don't tell policy" with moderators (i.e. so moderators don't have to declare whether they're willing to) -- which, I'd guess you will -- I read this as saying that moderators are now officially required (by SE) to be willing to use pronouns and neopronouns and that their not being willing to would be contrary to the CoC.

People have contradicted this "bright line" and equivocated on this subject before, posting comments to say that moderators aren't compelled -- with other people posting other comments to contradict that -- which I found to be obfuscation and therefore slightly annoying and a waste of time.

The lack of clarity on that specific subject seemed deceptive, wishy-washy or incompetent -- how could you not be clear?

Still it seems to be clear now.

Unless you change that "Yes" there to a "No" -- which you haven't -- I don't see another way to read it.

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    Is it "compelled speech" when you're required by your job to say "May I take your order" or "Thank you, come again"? Is having to address someone as "Mr. ___" or use "sir" and "ma'am" compelled speech? If not, then why is having to use the right pronoun compelled speech? On the other hand, if it is compelled speech, then it would seem not all forms of compelled speech are inherently bad. – trlkly Oct 25 '19 at 9:44
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    The mods here are volunteers who signed up to do a job, and part of that job requires them to use people's preferred pronouns. If they do not want to, they can quit. Fortunately, I haven't seen any mods quite for that reason, so that suggests this isn't an issue for most mods. (They have quit due to how Monica was treated, but that's not the same thing as quitting because they have to use required pronouns.) – trlkly Oct 25 '19 at 9:46
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    "Compelled" and "required" are synonyms IMO. And apparently that "job" does now require the use of neopronouns on request -- that requirement wasn't explicit before. – ChrisW Oct 25 '19 at 9:52
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    If a mod never uses a neopronoun and has in the past expressed a reluctance to normalize those pronouns by using them, would that mod be operating under a cloud of suspicion because every time they had the opportunity to phrase something so they could refer to someone with their pronoun they choose a different phrasing? If a mod uses singular they instead of stated pronouns in a private moderator room where the person they are referring to will never know about it, would they violate policy? Can we ask without getting marked as a potential dissident (aka bigot)? I don’t know. – ColleenV Oct 25 '19 at 13:40
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    @ColleenV My guess is that it will be "don't ask, don't tell" -- i.e. if you want to resign on principle you can, otherwise SE won't ask, and it probably won't be an issue in the normal course of discourse (unless you engage in discourse on that subject, possibly in TL). Perhaps there'd be an Inquisition only if somebody denounces you officially for your pronoun usage. I guess SE will want this to blow over (unless they reckon this is fun or good publicity), hope they've made a clear policy, and that the one person directly/immediately affected by this policy-as-stated might be Monica still. – ChrisW Oct 25 '19 at 13:59
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. – ChrisW Oct 25 '19 at 17:55
  • @trikly Yes, of course those are all compelled speech: they are things someone is forced to say under threat of punishment. The difference is that compelled speech is an expected element of customer service work, whereas it was not an expected element of volunteer moderation on this site. (Personally, I think it's okay for sites to change their moderation requirements, which is what's happening here, but I think it's clearly true that the compelled speech in this instance is not something that current moderators expected when they originally volunteered.) – Kyle Strand Oct 29 '19 at 15:33

Why not stick to simply dictating behavior ("don't be disrespectful to each other or intentionally misgender anyone")?

I think that this policy is overly complicated for what it's trying to accomplish. Why not just have something like the following alternate version instead?

We're trying to make the site welcoming and inclusive to everyone. Sometimes, transgender members have been made to feel unsafe and/or unwelcome. To help everyone be able to participate in the community equally, please ensure that you either use people's preferred pronouns or write in a gender-neutral way for everyone.

If uncertain of the individual's gender, please prefer gender-neutral language rather than assuming a particular gender.

Controversies regarding gender identity are, in general, out of scope for the site. Please refrain from arguing or debating with other users related to this topic.

Rude or discriminatory behavior based on gender identity will not be tolerated. If you see someone engage in this type of behavior, please flag the comment(s) in question as "Harassment, Bigotry, or Abuse." Violations of this policy will result in a warning from moderators, and continued violations after that will result in suspension.


(I hope this is still the right place to ask what the right course of action would be.)

EDIT: Well, seems like it is not? This is a genuine question, and it's been almost two months since I asked it, and I've yet to receive an answer.

Could any mod or CM please look into it? Thanks.

I've been using "singular they" in English-speaking sites, like Reddit and StackOverflow, for ages now — well before any pronoun controversy arose here. I use they, their and them; and I used themselves too... until I learned that themself is just as valid and more clearly conveys that I am referring to one singular person (it's called "singular they" for something, right?) and not some other plural group that may also be included in the sentence. So nowadays what I use by default is they, their, them and themself.

However, let's say there's one user whose pronouns, as specified in their profile, are: they, them, their,themselves.
So question 1, general case:

  1. Would it be a CoC violation to use themself instead of themselves when talking about users who specifically mention themselves as their self-pronoun?

Now, I've known and interacted with a user like this for some years now. They told me long ago, in private, that they'd rather be addressed as they instead of he or she, and that's what I've been doing. They didn't want to be public about it, but recently they found the courage (way to go! 💪) to specify their pronouns in their profile for everybody to see.
The thing is... We've actually discussed this "themself vs. themselves" issue before, and they told me that they use themselves because they believe themself to be grammatically incorrect.
So, question 2, specific case:

  1. Would it be a CoC violation if I used themself instead of themselves when talking about users who I know (for a fact, because they told me so) that their reasons to state themselves as their self-pronoun are grammar-related instead of gender-related?
    In other words: if a user asked me to use themselves instead of themself when talking about them, not because they feel misgendered but because they think it's not grammatically correct, would I be breaking the CoC if I kept using themself?

Mind you, I don't really have a problem with using themselves instead of themself with this or that particular user if they ask me to. It's all about being nice, after all. But it'd bother me if they tried to force me to do so for reasons that were not what the CoC is there to protect.

If the CoC could be used to force me to employ a standard pronoun because of some user saying the one I'm using is not grammatical, that'd be... mind-blowingly ironic.


A few tweaks, and this CoC change could be beneficial to numerous minority groups across SE

It's stated:

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

... please take special care and frame [objective answers] respectfully and politelyplease be aware that many things you might want to say may be extremely distressing to some readers, and try to minimize that distress.

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...

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

If someone makes an honest mistake, you could point it out gently...

But if someone knows and is refusing to [make an adjustment], treat this as you would any other case where someone is deliberately breaking the CoC.

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

By participating here you're agreeing to treat others with politeness...

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

Not if you're acting in good faith...

This CoC change could be boiled down to locating bad actors, and dealing with them appropriately, while also asking our users to be polite and respectful when utilising this platform.

There was an anecdote I saw the other day about a uniform policy, whereby there were pages of banned items. A review happened and it was cut down to two words: "Dress appropriately".

The employees were free to manage their own dress code, felt less restricted, and it allowed the community to self-regulate - often bringing about the same result as when they were under the pages of rules.

I'd suggest that we increase the scope of this CoC change, opening up the community to be able to voice reasonable suggestions to other users to allow any user to feel welcome here.

My suggested amendments can be summed up to two points, and the points could be treated as complimentary to the FAQ (which is, in effect, a terser ruleset on how these points are enforced)

1. Presume Good Intent

Make the assumption that someone is meaning well, because the majority of users are attempting to respond to your queries and feedback politely. Correct them with that in mind (if you feel something needs to be said) and then move back on topic.

However, if you believe there is enough evidence to suggest that someone may be a bad actor (even in the first instance), flag the comment/post/question that concerns you most and a moderator will review your feedback and take appropriate action

2. Be Polite

Keep in mind that our users come from all over the globe and have many different life experiences - not all of them good.

We'd like users to feel welcome here and as such, if a user requests for a reasonable adjustment to be made to allow them to feel more welcome, we ask that you try your best to accommodate the requested change.

If you aren't comfortable with making that change, try your best to continue responding to that users points (keeping on topic) and take appropriate steps if you feel like you can't do so in a respectful and considerate manner (stop responding to that user and/or flag if there is good reason to)

This will improve upon the original "assume good intent" that had previously been abused, and how the suggestion is worded, it could help the entire community, including lavender community, who (having been singled out by the changes) have been made targets by the last round of proposed changes.

It will be able to be used by people who are requesting that people be patient with their English, to those with autism who experience compulsive and repetitive behaviours that may be the reason they take a while to respond, and other minority groups who are not already catered for by the proposed changes, as well as being a sort of summary of the proposed changes.

It leaves enough open to interpretation to be useful to more than just one subsection of the community, restricts the abilities of bad actors to abuse the new rules, reiterates that individuals always have the right to remove themselves from a situation they no longer want to be part of or request aid from a moderator - reinforcing the idea that the community is trusted to make self-regulatory decisions in a fair way, and covers the communities that aren't already covered by this new CoC change.

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    We must assume that SE deliberately removed "assume good intent" from the CoC. To understand why they might have done that, see Kate Gregory's answer to that question. She provides a link to an article that shows why some people think that "assume good intent" is problematic. – Raedwald Oct 23 '19 at 11:57
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    The directive "Assume good intent" is unintentionally proliferating systemic discrimination. To deal with systemic discrimination (such as misgendering, microagressions and related problems), a clear set of rules is necessary. That doesn't mean that assuming good intent goes out the window, it just means that it's not a suitable prime directive to adress the issues that the code of conduct is intended to adress. – Vogel612's Shadow Oct 23 '19 at 11:59
  • Presume good faith is different from assume good faith. Presumption is the assumption while a lack of evidence exists. I do not state that it should be put in instead of the proposed changes, the rules are complimentary. Assume that a potential slip up is a slip up. If it continues and there is reason to believe it is intentional, something should be done about it. Nowhere in my answer did I mention "assumption of good faith" other than in that context. – Kyle Fairns Oct 23 '19 at 12:05
  • A specific FAQ has been proposed to help those who are in the lavender community, and this proposal is to add in two segments to help those who are in other minority communities, while we figure out the specifics for them – Kyle Fairns Oct 23 '19 at 12:06
  • "There was an anecdote I saw the other day about a uniform policy, whereby there were pages of banned items. A review happened and it was cut down to two words: "Dress appropriately"." That sounds like a nightmare. How am I supposed to know what they think 'dressing appropriately' means? – Ettina Kitten Oct 24 '19 at 15:13
  • @EttinaKitten it’s what you feel is best for the situation you’re going to be in. If colleagues usually wear formal wear, do the same, same for casual, or even fancy dress. It’s about being able to have a stab at what’s appropriate, and being ready to change if your colleagues (or in this case, fellow contributors) let you know that something isn’t quite right. I’m also not suggesting that this goes in place of the current CoC changes. It’s intended as an addition to cover other user groups that haven’t had an FAQ section to clarify how to approach their conduct related suggestions in comments – Kyle Fairns Oct 24 '19 at 15:57

This is much better.

I would prefer it if it had a reminder that somebody who goes overboard correcting someone on these issues is still subject to "be nice", and if there were some language saying that users who see an existing comment train on the issues should probably do nothing other than flagging, as the behavior is already dealt with.

As I've said before, my biggest concerns are workflow issues, and the new FAQ removes this concern, and "third person in the fight" issues. New FAQ is better in that regard, as I thought the original FAQ came close to actively encouraging people to jump in, but I'd prefer active discouragement.

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

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

Equally, for some people it is important and significant in that they cannot morally accept gender-fluidity or refer to people using pronouns they perceive to be invalid.

I accept that in most cases the issue can be avoided, but I did see it written somewhere - I apologise, I cannot see where, maybe someone can aid me - that if a user specifically asks you to refer to them by a specific pronoun, you may not avoid this. I have never understood how your pronoun is relevant to your question but that aside, if this is the rule then you are clearly prioritising one group over another.


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    If you don't see it in the current FAQ you probably just ran across misinformed comments. Implementation 7: "Am I obligated to find opportunities to use pronouns? Not at all!" – Em C Oct 29 '19 at 18:15
  • It is in the answer section of the top-rated answer to this question. It mentions "a user who asked you to refer to them with a neopronoun" – Mr. Boy Oct 29 '19 at 18:20
  • I see, you should edit that link and quote the part you're concerned about in here then so people know what you're talking about. – Em C Oct 29 '19 at 18:27
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    Only moderators are not given the option to disengage. As a user you are free to disengage. What you mustn’t do is use the wrong pronoun once you’ve been made aware of the correct pronouns. – ColleenV Oct 29 '19 at 19:02
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    This post could be improved by explaining why "prioritising one group over another" is a bad thing. The rules also prioritise female users over users who cannot morally accept women who use computers. – Leopold says Reinstate Monica Oct 29 '19 at 21:01
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    @ColleenV "Free to disengage" is a fancy way of saying that those who are unable to accept non-binary gender have no option but to stop participating, which only supports the point. I'm just pointing out that there are two groups, and SE is stating that in order to be more inclusive, one of these groups will be excluded. I don't want to debate which group is right or wrong, or whether SE is right or wrong to do this. I just want them to stop denying that they're doing it, and acknowledge the impact it might have. – anaximander Nov 4 '19 at 9:44
  • @anaximander I wasn’t making a statement about whether it should or shouldn’t be that way; I was just noting how it is. I think it’s fairly obvious from the FAQ that if someone is unable to participate without making folks who identify as non-binary feel excluded, then their participation is not welcome. If it’s not obvious that someone believes there are only two genders, then that someone is free to participate so long as it stays that way. – ColleenV Nov 4 '19 at 17:46
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    @ColleenV That's my point. One could just as easily say "if someone is unable to participate without making folks who hold certain religious views feel excluded, then their participation is not welcome". There are two mutually-incompatible views, and SE has chosen one that they wish to protect. That's their prerogative and I'm not commenting on whether or not it's the right decision, but it annoys me when they try to pretend that it's not going to exclude anyone. I get that when there are contradictory views, you kinda have to pick one - I just wish they'd acknowledge that they're doing so. – anaximander Nov 4 '19 at 23:30

TL;DR: Is secretly modifying a user's profile, exposing personal information on anonymous profiles, a just and proportionate punishment for (alleged) CoC violation?

To quote, emphasis mine:

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

If someone makes an honest mistake, you could point it out gently. (Or let the person in question do it. If it seems likely that they would prefer that.) But if someone knows and is refusing to comply, treat this as you would any other case where someone is deliberately breaking the CoC.

A user's profile page had been modified by a Stack Exchange staff member to remove mentions of said user's pronouns, and in doing so, the user's personal information has been exposed on profiles which were originally anonymous. See My profile's about me randomly changed across all sites.

Under my interpretation of the FAQ(*), the reason behind this is that the staff member had decided that the said pronouns are a violation of point 8 of section "What's this all about? - Implementation". (Whether the decision is correct is not the scope of this post.)

This means at least one of the following conclusions must be true:

  1. M1 applies to moderators only and not to Stack Exchange staff members. Stack Exchange staff members are allowed to be as ungentle as they want to be.

  2. Stack Exchange considers the act of modifying a user's profile page, without the consent of the user (not even the knowledge of the user), a gentle act. And that they have "pointed it out" by not informing the user.

  3. Stack Exchange thinks that the user knows the rules are being broken by using some unusual pronouns. Without informing or discussing with the user, Stack Exchange thinks that the user is omniscient enough to just know that.

  4. The official FAQ is not defined to be part of "these rules", "these rules" is defined to be the CoC only. Thus, violations of other rules, such as rules listed in the FAQ but not in the CoC itself, can be dealt with in whatever way Stack Exchange wants to.

So, I would like Stack Exchange to clarify: which of my conclusion(s) is/are true?

Note: For completeness, logically there is one more option: that my assumption in (*) is wrong. In which case would Stack Exchange please explain why the user's pronouns were removed from the profile page?

  • Regarding last paragraph: we don't need a public statement about the reason for moderator action against a specific user (especially if the user has twice emphasized desires for privacy). I think the linked question needs more clarification, but I guess I would need to write my own answer to argue it. – sourcejedi Nov 24 '19 at 15:19

Thank you for this vast improvement of the FAQ. I found your first attempt at the FAQ to be very confused and self-contradictory. This is much less so.

There is an answer in implementation that is still too vague. I hope you can remove the ambiguity.

  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.

I'm not sure what this answer is telling me. Is it "Why don't you start by using singular they? A lot of people will be OK with that."? I think the sentence up to and including the "however" just adds confusion. My personal phrasing in answer to that question would be: "If someone has asserted that their pronouns are 'xe' or 'ey', it must truly matter to that person. Please be respectful, and accommodate that assertion."

  1. 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.

As I used to be active mostly on SO, I would rather focus on question one asks, not on searching for rules of some pronoun usage. If I decide to still contribute, my options are either try to avoid the difficult pronoun or give up answering to persons requiring such pronouns.
The first option is clearly against:

  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.

So do you accept the second option? Do you consider it improvement?

  • Avoiding people is worse. – Sextus Empiricus Oct 23 '19 at 11:42
  • You also have the option to try and correct if someone corrects you. It's pretty rare that third-person pronouns will come up when answering a question anyway. – Cesar M Oct 23 '19 at 14:22
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    @CesarM - dismissing people's valid concerns on the "it's rare" is rather disingenuous (never mind a logical fallacy), since this WHOLE issue was over something that's pretty rare, and your desired solution being the preferred solution is even rarer. – DVK Oct 23 '19 at 16:59
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    @SextusEmpiricus - avoiding people is better, as per official SE position twitted by their employee. – DVK Oct 23 '19 at 17:00
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    or give up answering to persons requiring such pronouns If people begin to get suspensions or bans for this, this is the trend SO will go. Stack doesn't seem to understand this - by compelling speech, you're going to force users away. – Qix - MONICA WAS MISTREATED Oct 23 '19 at 21:54
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    @Qix I think they understand just fine. Someone not using the correct pronouns at all is already not desired, but merely tolerated. It is a compromise to avoid getting rid of people who are willing to have their beliefs but not push them onto others. If that compromise is not good enough for them, then it's perfectly acceptable for them not to post. The goal is to make this a more trans friendly community, and if that means losing some people, that is acceptable. Such is always the tradeoff when making new rules--those who can't stand them will leave. – trlkly Oct 25 '19 at 9:32

The point I made in an answer to the unofficial FAQ proposal still stands: if you want to communicate clearly, you should avoid or define neologisms. In particular, in "Edge cases",

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

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

the word "misgendering" will be new to many native speakers, not to mention non-native speakers. It shouldn't be necessary to guess its meaning from context. The code of conduct and its FAQ should be clearly understood by everyone with a working grasp of English (say, Cambridge First Certificate), not just a subset of native speakers.


May I use they/them by default?

Yes, but be prepared to make adjustments if so requested. If someone requests that you use other pronouns and you immediately continue to use they/them for that person, we may point it out to you.

This is silly. The whole point of using a genderless pronoun like 'they' is to avoid misgendering and the discussion about it. It's like using UGT when you enter a chatroom. To demand that users change commonly accepted genderless pronouns to something else isn't really helping anyone, is it? It only adds noise.

If it becomes so important to use that right pronoun that the genderless version won't do anymore, you might as well demand someone who managed to construct a sentence without pronouns to rewrite it to contain your specific pronouns.

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    It doesn't seem that silly to me. If I kept referring to someone as a "they", and that same user came to me and requested to be referred to as "she", it seems kind of imprudent to continue to use the word "they" toward that user. – Sonic the Curiouser Hedgehog Oct 24 '19 at 2:17
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    In a more familiar environment, yes. But in the concrete, informational, noise-free Q&A setup that SE is trying to be, where even greetings are removed from questions and answers, because they would add noise, I think that shouldn't be asked in the first place. – GolezTrol Oct 24 '19 at 2:20
  • UGT is a continually moving UTC that's always -8 hours out relative to the subject. :-p (This may be an even more appropriate analogy than it first appears! :-p) – tu-Reinstate Monica-dor duh Oct 24 '19 at 4:12
  • The request may add noise, but actually changing the pronoun does not, since there apparently needs to be a pronoun there anyways. And it's perfectly find to have noise in comments--it's just that they may be deleted at any time. – trlkly Oct 25 '19 at 9:08
  • I would like to get clarification about what SO, the company, is doing to prevent external targeting of users revealing their pronouns, especially if they belong to a minority. Is there any plan to work to together with local authorities and hand over collected evidences? Are users actively informed about the risks? Is there some kind of process in place how to deal with such cases or only reasonable suspicion of such cases?

(I'm aware that the means are rather limited, but it's probably better to think about it before and not after the fact. A quick but temporary hide/change/anonymization of user contributions might be some idea, for example.)

  • While the expectation is clearly not to check the user profile of every interaction partner before starting a communication, doing so would surely increase the success rate of used pronouns. However, it would also be impractical. Please consider a better UI process that provides the required information more readily. Similar matter is that probably not many people will read the commentary to the CoC unless you notify them about it. Maybe it should become a notification similar to the recent podcast notifications.

  • Maybe and despite of the public interest, the new FAQ could further be shortened a bit. The more text there is the less likely it is that somebody reads it all. At the very least, some summary of the FAQ (a few bullet points with the gist of it) might be good.

  • "The expectation seems to be to check the user profile of every interaction partner before starting a communication." - the FAQ says otherwise: "11. Do I need to go looking for people's pronouns before interacting on Q&A? No, that is not required. [...]" – npostavs Oct 24 '19 at 12:26
  • Question 11 here clearly states you're not expected to go check users' profiles, etc., for pronouns before interacting. – JNat Oct 24 '19 at 12:46
  • @JNat and npostavs. You're absolutely right. I'm sorry. – Trilarion Oct 24 '19 at 12:55

Here's the place to post your requests for clarification/new questions.

Q: What happens when someone is genuinely against using non-binary pronouns?

Are their rights revoked in favour of the CoC "enforcing" the usage of someone's preferred pronoun?


What does "stated pronoun (if known)" mean, and does "general knowledge" from U1 apply?

There are many cases where someone's pronouns could be argued as "publicly known" / "general knowledge", but grepping the string on the FAQ, as it is currently written, only gives U1: "I'm not a moderator. What should I do if I see these rules being broken?" Can I apply public / general knowledge when creating new content, or does the principle of public / general knowledge only apply if one sees the rules being broken?

If not, then, what does "if known" mean? Do the pronouns need to be explicitly stated by the person, or can it be inferred from existing official documents? I.e., are the pronouns only known when the person state "please refer to me with the pronoun $pronoun", or is it OK to refer to the current Queen of England as "she" because I know she owns a ship called Her Majesty's Ship Belfast (and because I'm inferring from her title as the Queen)?

Looking forward, if I were to discuss certain government departments in the future, where the British monarch may have been changed, and I do not know the gender of this future monarch, can I still use, say, HM Passport Office, with the HM assumed to mean "His/Her"? Or do I have to start calling it "TM Passport Office" for "Their Majesty's", which at present is not the actual name of this department?

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