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.


69 Answers 69

1 2
  1. Isn't all this causing lots of inconvenience to everyone for the sake of a minority?

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

  1. Surely it self evident from all the turmoil, particularly on meta and amongst moderators, that all this is causing lots of inconvenience?
  2. And surely there is little debate that only a minority of users are concerned about use of their or others' pronouns in the first place (I have no idea if users ever asked for this initially or not, perhaps someone can clarify).

So to simply answer "no" doesn't seem very open-minded. It sounds to me more like the position has been decided and anyone who disagrees is just wrong, in SE's eyes.

  • The question was asked in a way it would be easy to answer "No". It states the combination of (1) inconvenience (2) lots of it and (3) for the sake of a minorty.
    – dfhwze
    Oct 29, 2019 at 18:00

How does the new pronoun policy apply to non-living objects?

Traditionally certain kinds of objects are typically associated with some gendered pronouns. For example, "she" is typically used when referring to ships and countries.

Under the new CoC, can I still use "she" in these cases?

  • 27
    Yes, but if the ship or country states a preference for a different pronoun, you must use that pronoun in the future.
    – fixer1234
    Oct 26, 2019 at 1:27
  • @fixer1234 to be clear, I would be correct in non-conspicuously using gender neutral terms for all ships and countries, if I should have some objection to gendering ships and/or countries? Do ships and/or countries (etc.) fall under singular they?
    – jsarbour
    Oct 29, 2019 at 15:19

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.


Why this fixation on pronouns and not misgendering in general

Consider this comment exchange:

Hi, I'm Jane Doe (known as John before my operation), and a mother of 2 children. Having worked in the police I can vouch it is safe to send a child to school I'm Boston without an assault rifle in the backpack.

Answering comment:

Hello Mr. John Doe, thanks for taking the trouble to comment despite your condition, Sir. So John thinks being a father and a policeman is sufficient to give us her parenting advice, but I think she should figure out her identity first before giving advice to others.

Beside the fake politeness and the anti-trans contents, this shows all the other obvious words that can be used for misgendering, staying inside the confines of the current CoC.

Misgendering is not just about pronouns, so why that fixation on those?


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.


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.

  • 12
    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, 2019 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.
    – Diane M
    Oct 23, 2019 at 5:56
  • 3
    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, 2019 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
    Oct 23, 2019 at 6:03
  • 4
    If I'm not mistaken @Aza is referring to this comment by Cesar M
    – Bart
    Oct 23, 2019 at 8:11
  • @ArthurHavlicek I would prefer a tag. Something like [they:@Arthur Havlicek], but it will be long to write.
    – aloisdg
    Oct 23, 2019 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, 2019 at 11:02
  • There is a userscript that adds this feature: stackapps.com/q/8440/34061
    – divibisan
    Oct 23, 2019 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, 2019 at 9:35

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, 2019 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, 2019 at 20:41
  • 2
    @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, 2019 at 8:27
  • 1
    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, 2019 at 10:07
  • @Unihedron I’m saying that in the situation you mention, where you switch to non-gendered language, your interaction is covered under the old, but ambiguous, “Be Nice” rules. I don’t know how you can always ensure that you’re being nice, but that’s always been a problem with social interactions.
    – divibisan
    Oct 25, 2019 at 14:33
  • 2
    @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, 2019 at 14:34
  • 3
    "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. Oct 25, 2019 at 16:25
  • 4
    @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. Oct 25, 2019 at 17:54
  • 1
    @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, 2019 at 17:58
  • 3
    @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, 2019 at 0:20
  • 1
    @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, 2019 at 1:06
  • 2
    @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, 2019 at 1:14
  • It is noteworthy that the OED blog article cites a 1794 usage that "used singular they on purpose because ‘they wished to conceal the gender’" - not sourced, cited or used in dictionary entry, can't find it. This block brings me to a blog entry written by the same person with lots reused segments, which has a story on "the Tennessee state legislature passed a law banning the use of taxpayer dollars for gender-neutral pronouns." Found myself.
    – Unihedron
    Oct 26, 2019 at 1:28

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."

  • 2
    There's no reason to present them until necessary. When it is necessary, it will be obvious where they should be presented.
    – Kevin B
    Oct 23, 2019 at 18:23

The Code of Conduct states:

No bigotry. 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.

This is self-contradictory and biased, for the following reasons:

  1. It automatically sides with one class of people against another class, and enforces one worldview over and against other worldviews.

  2. It gives one class the right to assert their belief in 2+ genders and takes away the right of other classes to equally assert their belief in 2 genders. If one is not only able, but invited, to assert that they believe there are more than 2 genders, why can't someone else assert that they believe there are only 2 genders?

  3. It affords the right for one class to demand others to acknowledge, agree with, and accommodate their belief system, but does not grant the same right to others who hold to a different or contradictory belief system and who, therefore, cannot make such acknowledgement, agreement, or accommodation.

  4. It states that it does not tolerate language that offends those who embrace a worldview in which more than 2 genders exist, but then it enshrines and itself employs language that offends those who embrace a worldview in which only 2 genders exist. Several religions teach that there are only 2 genders; to insist otherwise is to call into question these religions and the sacred texts of these religions, which is extremely offensive, yet such offense is not only tolerated, but codified in the very language of this Code of Conduct. It would be offensive for one to tell another that their religion is wrong, yet that is exactly what the Code of Conduct is doing; but not only that, it also requires those who embrace those religions to themselves adopt language that contradicts their own belief system. This is doubly offensive.

To get particular, the claim that there are only 2 genders, which can never be changed, is very offensive to some people. This Code of Conduct does not allow this offense, but defines it as bigotry. However, many Christians believe that God created only male and female, and the claim that there are more than 2 genders is very offensive to them, because they understand such a claim to directly contradict biblical teaching. Yet, this offense is allowed. These people are not only expected to endure such offensive language, but also to verbally assent to it and accommodate it, even though it will involve nothing less than compromising and repudiating their own religious convictions. So this group of people are doubly offended by the Code of Conduct.

Why this double-standard? Why can't we recognize that everyone will have different views and that these views will be offensive to some, and simply allow people to believe whatever they want, without forcing others to accommodate any one specific belief system? If one is allowed to assert that there are 2+ genders, another should be allowed to assert that there are only 2 genders; the Code of Conduct should not be siding with either, but should remain impartial to all.

  • 3
    Point 1 reads like “It favors (e.g.) non-racists and disfavors racists”. I don’t really see an inherent problem with that. Unless you’re on Politics.SE or Biology.SE and specifically discuss race, what’s the issue? Same thing applies to Points 2 and 3 (seems redundant). See Wikipedia: Intersex; you don’t need to believe that there are more than two genders. No rights are taken away. If I went on Stack Overflow and started discussing that there are more than two genders, this discussion would be correctly deleted, because it’s irrelevant to programming. Oct 18, 2021 at 8:13
  • 1
    Point 4: The CoC states that SE doesn’t tolerate language that might offend people based on gender. It doesn’t say anything about favoring or disfavoring worldviews or any specific worldview in your quote. You don’t need to offend people if you hold a specific worldview. You also don’t need to believe in any specific number of genders to simply use the stated pronouns. A woman shouldn’t be called “he”, a man shouldn’t be called “she” (unless they specifically request that). Next: religions teach all sorts of outdated things. Oct 18, 2021 at 8:14
  • 2
    The quoted CoC doesn’t prevent you from saying anything against religions itself (where on-topic), only from offending people based on their religious affiliation. And sorry, but this is nearly impossible, given the contradictions between different religions, between flavors of the same religion, and between religion and reality. The mere existence of one religion may offend another. How would you codify something that resolves all these issues? Barely anyone follows their religious text to 100 % accuracy — no issue. Does the Bible actually say there’s only man and woman? Oct 18, 2021 at 8:14
  • 2
  • @SebastianSimon the CoC specifically tells you to "Use stated pronouns (when known)," which automatically sides with the worldview held by those who believe in 2+ genders that gender is fluid. That gender is fluid or that there are 2+ genders is very offensive to some because this claim contradicts their sincerely held religious beliefs and the sacred texts of their religion. The CoC is insensitive and disregards religious convictions in telling people to "use stated pronouns" when doing so contradicts their own religion.
    – reformed
    Oct 18, 2021 at 14:16
  • 3
    Can you provide a suggestion for how the CoC could "remain impartial to all", and avoid offending those who believe in the gender binary and those who don't, while simultaneously safeguarding both groups from offence? Alternatively, could you explain why your religious beliefs take precedence over those who believe in non-binary genders?
    – F1Krazy
    Oct 18, 2021 at 14:27
  • @F1Krazy Certainly, by simply omitting the requirement to "Use stated pronouns." Some people don't believe in stated pronouns. The whole issue of stated pronouns assumes gender fluidity is true. If people want to believe gender is fluid, let them; if people don't want to believe, let them; don't side with either. Recognize that one's belief offends another, and another's disbelief offends another. We're all adults, so expect both to understand that their beliefs are offensive to others, and to treat people with respect without demanding that they accommodate one's own views.
    – reformed
    Oct 18, 2021 at 14:32
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