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

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

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

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

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

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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?

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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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If person1 sees person2 use certain pronouns for person3, but person2 doesn't explicitly state that they are the preferred pronouns for person3, what happens?

If person1 uses the same pronouns person2 used, because person1 believed in good faith that they were the correct pronouns, but it turns out they were the incorrect pronouns, will person1 be treated as engaging in misconduct?

If person1 thinks that person2 wasn't using the correct pronouns, and decides to use different pronouns, or avoids pronouns, will they be treated as wilfully misgendering person3 because they had been "told" what pronouns to use for person3?

In addition, does any of this change if person2 is a moderator?

(This is a real life scenario I dealt with recently - a moderator used male pronouns about a person, and then it turned out to be a "generic he" rather than "I know this person's preferred pronouns he".)

This may be technically two concerns, but if so, they're very closely related.

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You advise that questions and answers should be free of references to pronouns.

Do you plan on introducing a feature for making one's pronouns more accessible?

I mean by this, for example, a colored dot near the avatar or an expandable card with a visual cue when there is something to expand.

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    This is not answered by the FAQ, but Stack has previously implied that there are some legal implications to this and they may not introduce an official feature for this purpose. – user206222 Oct 23 '19 at 5:54
  • @Aza Well I thought it was on topic, how we interact with a rule is closely tied with how that rule is accessible. – Arthur Havlicek Oct 23 '19 at 5:56
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    Oh, don't worry, I definitely think it's on topic, I'm just not sure an FAQ can really answer it. But it's a useful question and worth answering here, anyway. – user206222 Oct 23 '19 at 5:57
  • @Aza do you have a link where SE implied that? I expected some UI support for pronouns, at least a field where one can write own preferred pronouns. – Piro says Reinstate Monica Oct 23 '19 at 6:03
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    If I'm not mistaken @Aza is referring to this comment by Cesar M – Bart Oct 23 '19 at 8:11
  • @ArthurHavlicek I would prefer a tag. Something like [they:@Arthur Havlicek], but it will be long to write. – aloisdg moving to codidact.com Oct 23 '19 at 9:20
  • @aloisdg: So what if a user changes his name? [they:<userid>]? Nobody's gonne check a user's ID to write a tag to automate one of several forms of pronouns... It's easier to avoid pronoun usage in sentence structure altogether. – Cerbrus Oct 23 '19 at 11:02
  • There is a userscript that adds this feature: stackapps.com/q/8440/34061 – divibisan Oct 23 '19 at 14:20
  • Legally they can't recommend the feature, but I don't think they'd get into legal trouble simply for providing it, as I know of many, many GPDR compliant sites that allow you to OPTIONALLY display your gender in a special place, or to have badges that happen to include gender or preferred pronouns as an option. I suspect that they are just being overly cautious right now, since there is no such feature on SE yet. – trlkly Oct 25 '19 at 9:35
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Is it a CoC violation if I use "this user" or "you", which are gender neutral non-pronouns and not the non-formally accepted made-up form of the singular "they", and more neutral than gendered pronouns, even after an adjustment is requested?

✽ (Please see OED References at the end of this post.)

Me as a user who is here to contribute by answering questions and responding to requests for clarifications is completely disinterested in choosing pronouns that differ from person to person. Even if someone asks to be referred to as "xe", I don't find it necessary to follow suit when my content does not address a user, but all future readers.

I understand that this may come across as passive-aggressive, but it is not my intention and I doubt will be considered offensive to any other person under the context of reasonable discourse. Is this still a violation or must I follow pronouns as requested even when I wouldn't need to as is?

Patterns of comments I've made that are similar to "this user" which I think are not passive-aggressive and are not "they"

"the user":
As a solution, the user should use Arrays.<Double>asList. source

"the OP":
This preserves numbers, where OP wants to only preserve letters and angular brackets. source
This doesn't preserve letters as asked by OP. source

"the poster":
Mandatory link for poster: youmightnotneedjquery.com source

For all of these patterns, I find using neutral non-pronouns superior to switching over to desired pronouns. (as a solution, xe should... ← It's not natural to me.) I do not find this a violation of "do not misuse pronouns" since they aren't pronouns. I do not find this as not respecting my peers and I am staying polite with non-pronouns. This is not discriminatory right?


Addendum While the quoted phrase, "Prefer gender-neutral language when uncertain." might appear to address this, it does not - this question is an inquiry on using gender-neutral language even when given.

Addendum-2 I understand the rationale and implication of "in most contexts, your opinions about gender are off-topic," and my above claim that "It's (this expression is) not natural to me" is not an opinion on using gendered pronouns but using terms not yet recognized in English dictionaries - it's about correctness of my sentences, not an opinion on how to address someone. I'm not here to argue about whether gendered pronouns are correct, but they will be words defined in dictionaries when they show up in dictionaries. Please treat this stance as-is in face value. It is about how it is to me, and is not a commentary on people who use this pattern of expression.

Addendum-3 In light of the fact that I have used gendered pronouns such as he in the past as well as (s)he, I am physically not allowed to edit these comments as they are too old. However, under the grandfather policy they were retroactively following the use common sense rule and should be allowed. If any of my comments have been unacceptable they should be flagged and reviewed. I have taken the liberty of fixing all known instances of me not using gender-neutral language - the one (1) answer, to show that I am not being hypocritcal. If you find instances of me using gendered language in other answers, please let me know.


OED References for “singular” they

Here for the benefit of those who lack access to a paywalled source are the full and complete operative senses from the Oxford English Dictionary mentioned but only partially cited due to length considerations in this post’s ephemeral comments below. Per the OED the pronoun they has these specific subsenses for the various scenarios under discussion here:

  1. In anaphoric reference to a singular noun or pronoun. 🗨

    Use of they to refer to a singular antecedent has sometimes been considered erroneous.

🗨 Dennis Baron • A brief history of singular ‘they’

…But that’s nothing new. The Oxford English Dictionary traces singular they back to 1375, where it appears in the medieval romance William and the Werewolf. Except for the old-style language of that poem, its use of singular they to refer to an unnamed person seems very modern. Here’s the Middle English version: ‘Hastely hiȝed eche … þei neyȝþed so neiȝh… þere william & his worþi lef were liand i-fere.’ In modern English, that’s: ‘Each man hurried… till they drew near… where William and his darling were lying together.’…

[4 September 2018]

  • 2a. With an antecedent that is grammatically singular, but refers collectively to the members of a group, or has universal reference (e.g. each person, everyone, nobody).

    Sometimes, but not always, used to avoid having to specify the gender(s) of the individual(s) being referred to; cf. sense A. 2b.

    [[citations ranging from 1350–2014 omitted]]

  • 2b. With an antecedent referring to an individual generically or indefinitely (e.g. someone, a person, the student), used esp. so as to make a general reference to such an individual without specifying gender. Cf. ʜᴇ pron. 2b.

    In the 21st century, other th– pronouns (and the possessive adjective their) are sometimes used to refer to a named individual, so as to avoid revealing or making an assumption about that person’s gender; cf. sense A. 2c, and quots. 2008 at ᴛʜᴇɪʀ adj. 2b, 2009 at ᴛʜᴇᴍ pron. 4b, 2009 at ᴛʜᴇᴍꜱᴇʟꜰ pron. 2b.

    [[citations ranging from 1450–2010 omitted]]

  • 2c. Used with reference to a person whose sense of personal identity does not correspond to conventional sex and gender distinctions, and who has typically asked to be referred to as they (rather than as he or she).

    [[citations ranging from 2009–2019 omitted]]

Copyright © 2019 Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.

Retrieved 2019-10-25 23:46:13 UTC and shown here under the Fair Use Exception.

  • To point 3: I can't find the link, but there was another question about that issue and the answer was that there's no need to worry about past posts – only things going forward matter. – divibisan Oct 24 '19 at 20:36
  • My reading of your other issues are that all those examples are fine as long as you don't do it in a conspicuous or disrespectful way. Those all sound like normal sentences and I don't think a reasonable person (or in the worst case, a mod) would see them as jerkish behavior – divibisan Oct 24 '19 at 20:41
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    @divibisan Define "disrespectful way", because I'm not here to care about random people's feelings, my content stands on its own and all these ambiguities are not helpful. – Unihedron Oct 25 '19 at 8:27
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    In the context given, both "you" and "the user" refer not to any particular individual but to a generic person. A generic person cannot have preferred pronouns, so the only applicable rule is "prefer gender neutral language." Both "you" and "the user" are gender neutral, and so do not violate the rules. – trlkly Oct 25 '19 at 10:07
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    @Unihedron Actually, I might be misreading. If you avoid pronouns for everyone, then you’re in compliance with the CoC. If you always use “the user” or “you” or OP, then you’re fine – there’s no requirement to use pronouns. It’s only an issue if you use pronouns for everyone except trans people – divibisan Oct 25 '19 at 14:34
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    "non-formally accepted made-up form of the singular 'they'". Singular they is accepted and has been for hundreds of years (and, side-note, is no less made-up then any other use of any other word. Grammar by definition is made-up). You can find accepted definitions to that effect in major dictionaries such as the OED. Useful reading. – Rubiksmoose Oct 25 '19 at 16:25
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    @Rubiksmoose If you're making a reference to the OED I'd had expected you to link that instead. Here it is. States that it is plural in the first pronoun definition. Second definition: "2. In anaphoric reference to a singular noun or pronoun. Use of they to refer to a singular antecedent has sometimes been considered erroneous." I consider it erroneous. Please stop shoving your opinions down my throat, if your "hundred of years" of usage has not shown up in my life at all then it doesn't align with my experience and I'll call it wrong as is. – Unihedron Oct 25 '19 at 17:34
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    You people can use your singular they however way you want, I would like to be referred to as "the user who writes proper English" or any form of "this user". I'm not interested in how you refer to others. That's not what I asked in here. For other discussions @ me in the MSE Tavern. Can't flag comments on mobile. – Unihedron Oct 25 '19 at 17:45
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    Too long; Didn't read: "Is it a CoC violation if I use "this user" or "you", which are gender neutral non-pronouns and more grammatically correct than the non-formally accepted made-up form of the singular "they", and more neutral than gendered pronouns, even after an adjustment is requested?" – Unihedron Oct 25 '19 at 17:47
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    @Rubiksmoose I'm not interested. – Unihedron Oct 25 '19 at 17:48
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    @Unihedron er yeah. Given that you've sent 4 angry responses to one informational comment that was in no way attacking you, I'm going to pass on a lengthy chat. If you are seeking to actually learn and understand though, I'm always happy to talk. – Rubiksmoose Oct 25 '19 at 17:54
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    @Rubiksmoose I'm not interested in defending a position where I consider a usage erroneous as reflected by the OED while I'm trying to get clarifications. I'm neither offended or angry. The CoC is ambiguous and I'm asking it here in the citations post. I want answers, not to get sidetracked. I understand if you have a stance to make, but not in the comments here please. Sorry. – Unihedron Oct 25 '19 at 17:58
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    @Unihedron What you’ve said here is not quite right: the OED does not itself consider these uses catachrestic ones as you seem to imply. They merely note that it “has sometimes been considered erroneous.” That’s entirely different from saying that they think it’s wrong. They don’t; that’s simply not how lexicography works. In the interests of full disclosure for the truncated references in ephemeral comments and to promote greater understanding about what the OED is actually saying, I have therefore edited your post to include the full OED senses mentioned here in comments. – tchrist Oct 26 '19 at 0:20
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    @tchrist Thank you. Allow me to reiterate. I consider the singular "they" not suitable for use when it's not plural just as "you is" is not a form I would use. OED does not reject the singular they and has valid cases given where the antecedent is generic. Because of the supposed wide-spreadness of the singular "they" usage, I have redacted the "more grammatically correct" statement since it takes away the light of the actual question when it doesn't need to. – Unihedron Oct 26 '19 at 1:06
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    @Unihedron You’re welcome. It's interesting that they managed to antedate 2c all the way back to 2009. I'd only found cases from the past three-ish years or so myself. Still MMIX ⋙ MCCCL. :) – tchrist Oct 26 '19 at 1:14
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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.

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

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

One of the biggest problems with the previous FAQ is that it did not provide good guidance on this question, and in fact recommended filling posts with clutter. I'm glad you're taking a stand and saying that pronouns don't belong in the question (with exception of certain sites where it's relevant).

But the FAQ isn't "What shouldn't I do?", but "What should I do?" This answer has to assert a solution to that question.

From what I've seen in answers to other questions (and implied in FAQ Implementation 11), it seems you want the OP to put their pronouns in the comments. If that's the case, it should be stated plainly in this answer to the FAQ. Perhaps: "How (and whether) you identify your pronouns is up to you. Please don't put pronouns in your questions unless it's relevant to the question. If you want to post your pronouns, the comments section is the most appropriate place."

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    There's no reason to present them until necessary. When it is necessary, it will be obvious where they should be presented. – user400654 Oct 23 '19 at 18:23
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Thank you for taking the time, effort and, to at least a certain extent humility, to listen to our feedback and make these changes. I believe they are an improvement compared to the original version of the FAQ.

In the But what about...? The edge cases. #4, there is

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. ...

This doesn't specify any groups or people it only applies to, so I assume it applies to everyone, in particular it appears to allow members to completely avoid using pronouns. However, in the So, as a curator or moderator, what's my role? M2, there is

Using incorrect pronouns or conspicuously avoiding using pronouns is disrespectful. ... If you think you will find using pronouns as stated difficult, please try.

To me, not using pronouns at all is about as conspicuous as you can get. This seems to state the earlier statement doesn't apply to moderators, so they have to use pronouns. If this is not the case, then this section should be reworded. I suggest adding an initial clarification to the first sentence above so it would be something like

Unless you're not using pronouns at all, using incorrect pronouns or conspicuously avoiding using pronouns is disrespectful.

Alternatively, if the earlier part doesn't apply to moderators, you should make that explicit there. However, I wish & hope that is not the case.

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