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

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

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

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

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

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

66 Answers 66

30

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

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

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

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

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    The intent is a guide for the people writing the answers, that they should take care in how they write the answer. This rewrite does not seem to be conveying the same point. I agree with some of these changes, to the first and last sentences but the "when answering[...]" change seems to be changing the intent. Maybe I'm misunderstanding? If I can help explain better what I'm hoping to convey, let me know. :) – Catija Oct 23 at 2:33
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    My interpretation of that sentence is that the goal is to avoid editorializing. If a question touches on gender, you can write an objective answer to it, but you shouldn’t stick in your personal opinions. Which seems like the goal for all answers on the site, IMO. Is that right? – divibisan Oct 23 at 2:41
  • @Catija ah yes that makes more sense. I think it's really just the order then that makes it confusing -- see my edit. – LShaver Oct 23 at 2:48
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    @divibisan Yes, exactly! I keep thinking of it like a good reporter who reports on the subject but we generally shouldn't know what that reporter's feelings about the subject are. The rewrite looks much better to me. Thanks! – Catija Oct 23 at 2:51
  • +1 thanks for making these changes, CMs, and I now approve of the faq - but yeah I struggled to understand this specific entry too. Seems like it gets into the whole Good Subjective, Bad Subjective thing, and I’m not sure how this would gel with e.g. answers on Parenting. Consider striking or significantly retooling this one part. – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Oct 23 at 3:49
  • @mxyzplk As a former mod on Interpersonal Skills, I'm well aware of the concept. But having a site where opinions are more relaxed doesn't mean you can spew whatever you want. Answers on these sites should still generally be supported with... something other than just "this is what I think" and I have great trust of the mods on these sites to be able to handle this because they already are - they delete unsubstantiated stuff all the time, particularly when it's harmful to others. – Catija Oct 23 at 4:21
  • I’m not saying “you don’t know that”, I am saying “the paragraph above does not reflect that.” – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Oct 23 at 4:22
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    @mxyzplk I mean, asking us to remove it kinda implies that... What's great about LShaver's answer is that he suggests an improvement. Perhaps you have a suggestion for how this could be better conveyed? – Catija Oct 23 at 4:27
  • Yeah, don’t say “objective” because those exact sites thrive on Good Subjective and not objective answers, so it will cause confusion about having to answer gender questions to an entirely different standard. Crib your favorite turn of phrase from the GS/BS blog post to describe the support an answer needs. Or you could just say “these answers should be backed up with evidence (link: stackoverflow.blog/2010/09/29/good-subjective-bad-subjective). – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Oct 23 at 12:48
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    @Catija to mxyzplk's point, I think you could replace the two occurrences of "objective" with "evidence-based." This allows different sites to have different standards for what constitutes evidence. – LShaver Oct 23 at 22:09
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    That makes sense, LShaver. Thanks. @mxyzplk edited based on his suggestion. :) – Catija Oct 25 at 3:31
28

Edit: This has already been answered here

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

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

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

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    Then this concern is resolved already via stated policy changes. – Aza Oct 23 at 2:15
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    This is the first item on Implementation: "1. Does this mean that I will be in trouble if I ever get someone's pronouns wrong? No. It's fine to make an honest mistake. But once you are directly informed of what someone wants, please act accordingly." – scohe001 Oct 23 at 2:16
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    There is now an official policy of “No Comment”. So the answer is: No, they will not talk about you with the press. meta.stackexchange.com/a/335749/388335 – divibisan Oct 23 at 2:16
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    @divibisan Thank you, I had not seen that post. – david Oct 23 at 2:21
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    Oh yeah? And has Monica been reinstated with public apologies in the same press she's been vilified in? – George M Reinstate Monica Oct 24 at 1:55
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    That's the thing. They didn't follow their own rules with Monica, and refuse to go back and fix that, so why should we assume they'll follow their own rules in other situations? It seems that, if the situation gets sufficiently emotionally charged, they're willing to break their own rules. That is the shadow that all of this otherwise good change looms under. People don't trust the organization because they won't make amends, which means their apology was false. Rules exist to restrict those in authority, to prevent misuse of power. – trlkly Oct 25 at 8:15
174
  1. I find it really distressing to use pronouns in a way I think is wrong. Is there really no alternative?

You can often avoid using pronouns altogether. It's actually pretty rare to need third-person pronouns at all on most Stack Exchange sites. But conspicuously avoiding using pronouns for one group of people while using them normally for others is a way of refusing to recognize their identity, and that is discriminatory. Please don’t do that.

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


Answer from Catija:

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

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

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

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

U4. If someone puts their pronouns into a question they're asking, should we leave that in or edit it out as noise?
Add a comment noting what they said and suggesting that they could add it to their profile and comment on the question/answer next time.

(Emphasis mine)

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

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    Fixed, thanks for noticing. We cannot legally recommend that. – Cesar M Oct 23 at 4:12
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    What do you mean you cannot legally recommend that, @Cesar? What are the legal concerns with recommending that someone add personal information to their profile? – Cody Gray Oct 23 at 4:15
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    @CodyGray I'm not the best to explain it here, but as far as I know it relates to data collection/processing and the threat of miss uses. – Cesar M Oct 23 at 4:20
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    I'm confused... How, then, would it be acceptable to recommend that people include this information in a post or comment? The profile seems like a perfect place to put personally identifying information, if the person so chooses (that's why it's a recommendation, after all; the default option is not to share). @Cesar – Cody Gray Oct 23 at 4:22
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    We're not recommending in posts either, in fact, under the new FAQ you're welcome to delete those as noise (Something the community requested). – Cesar M Oct 23 at 4:23
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    @CodyGray you can put them in your profile if you wish, but SE cannot recommend it for legal reasons. So it's ok to put pronouns in your profile, but you do it at your own risk - basically it's a CYA thing. – Mathieu Guindon Oct 23 at 4:50
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    @CodyGray The reason may well be related to what was mentioned in this post. Better if malicious actors aren't able to automatically scrape and identify targets of their ire – CertainPerformance Oct 23 at 5:04
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    @Cesar FAQ 10 currently says “ How (and whether) you identify your pronouns is up to you.” I think adding a neutral statement like “some users choose to add their pronouns to their profile” provides useful information to any user that looks up this specific question in the FAQ, without in any way compromising the company. – Reinstate Monica Oct 23 at 5:20
  • @CesarM: I don't really understand. What legal ramifications is a user likely to encounter by having their pronouns in their profile and are we going to get some official guidance on where users can best communicate their pronouns should they desire? – CB Bailey Oct 23 at 7:52
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    @CBBailey Legal ramifications are not for the user, but for SE. Putting pronouns into your profile makes them publically scrapable. If extremists then target you (online or IRL) because of pronouns they got from your profile, SE could get into trouble for suggesting you put them there. Note that people have already reported extremists posting (somewhere online) psuedo-code along the lines of "scrape SE profiles for transgender pronouns; target such people for torture/murder." – Reinstate Monica Oct 23 at 8:59
  • @ReinstateMonica, to be safe, SE should recommend not put pronouns in user profiles nor in questions/answers/comments. It also would avoid a lot of recent conflicts/discussions. – Michael Freidgeim 2 days ago
69

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

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

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


From Catija:

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

  1. A post speaks of a hypothetical or generic person. In this case, unless the gender somehow matters to the post, being gender neutral is beneficial.
    • Be very careful that the edits don't harm the post or make it confusing. This is particularly the case in code.
    • Be aware that suggesting pronoun-only edits should be acceptable but do be certain to correct more than just the pronouns. If there are spelling, punctuation or grammatical errors, fix those, too.
  2. A post speaks of an actual person. In this case, unless you know the pronouns are incorrect AND you know that the person is generally known on Stack Exchange to have identified their pronouns, do not make the gender neutral.
    • It's possible the poster actually knows the correct pronouns.
    • If you know their pronouns from elsewhere, disclosing them yourself can "out" them to a community where they wished to be anonymous.
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    This is a reasonable question, I think. To me, the answer would depend on how old the question is, and how many edits are being made. If someone's making a one-off change to a question that was recently posted, yeah, I'd approve. If someone's mass-editing questions from 2009... eh. – Aza Oct 23 at 4:10
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    Making a post more gender-neutral is generally ok - unless the user has stated their pronouns elsewhere and you're pointed to it, or if they roll it back (then leave it be). We do not recommend/encourage people to go looking for these and making mass-edits, but rather editing as they naturally encounter and wish to do so. – Cesar M Oct 23 at 4:18
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    Mass edits are never okay, pretty much regardless of the motivation. Also, although I am perhaps personally invested, this edit was problematic because you admittedly did not know what the individual's chosen pronouns were. As such, you should not have submitted an edit that imposed pronoun(s) you thought were correct. This is, in my mind, equally as insulting to the party being referenced. – Cody Gray Oct 23 at 4:27
  • I didn't mean any insult, I simply thought (at the time) that "they" was more inclusive than "he". But I believe Cesar is saying that, had that been an edit suggestion, it would be correct to accept, because it wasn't obvious on the QA what OP's pronouns were, and the edit was to make the answer more inclusive. Incidentally it was rolled back 1 minute later anyway and I never made that kind of edit again. – Tas Oct 23 at 4:39
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    There's two separate cases, which is, I think, where the struggle here lies. 1. A post speaks of a hypothetical or generic person. In this case, unless the gender somehow matters to the post, being gender neutral is beneficial. 2. A post speaks of an actual person. In this case, unless you know the pronouns are incorrect AND you know that the person is generally known on SE/SO to have identified their pronouns, do not make the gender neutral. It's possible the poster actually knows the correct pronouns. – Catija Oct 23 at 4:52
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    Exactly what Catija said. Note your use of the word "inclusive". This is a great general goal, but it isn't applicable when the post refers to a specific person. Then, it isn't so much about being inclusive (because there's only one person to include) so much as being respectful (of that person's identity). – Cody Gray Oct 23 at 4:59
  • Note, also, that both of those examples you gave were weird Meta cases, where the answers were referring to actual people. That's certainly not the norm on a Q&A site, or even on Meta, where we do prefer to speak in generalities rather than calling out individuals. But there are moderation-related cases where it is necessary, and it's okay on Meta, as long as you do so respectfully and judiciously. – Cody Gray Oct 23 at 5:07
  • @CesarM So just to make sure I'm understanding, it is acceptable to edit a post to be more gender neutral when pronouns are unknown? We have had a lot of strife at The Workplace in the past with some users being upset about their posts being edited to only change "he" to "they", some of which resulted in edit wars and locked posts. What is the guidance for moderators to handle this sort of situation? – David K Oct 23 at 12:28
  • The change of a generic he into something else like he/she, they or avoiding the pronoun is a change of the style of the post. I believe that this should be first mentioned in a comment rather than abruptly changed directly. (I would not be surprised if there are meta posts about the correct way to suggest these kind of minor edits without asking first). – Sextus Empiricus Oct 23 at 15:34
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    I just want to highlight that, when reviewing edits, its really really hard to figure out who a given pronoun might be referencing. Many people already don't use the review queues because the mental burden of dealing with fact-checking every little detail is not worth their time. Adding pronouns into the mix feels very Papers, Please-y. – Draco18s Oct 23 at 15:48
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    No, you shouldn't make edits just to change the pronouns used with no other changes, even if a word other than "he" is used when it should obviously be something else. Edits should improve the question/answer in a measurable way. SO Meta discussion on this. Though I would agree that moderators decline far too many good and worthwhile edits. I would make the edit only if you have the reputation to instantly edit without approval, and don't change "he" to "they". – Erik Humphrey Oct 23 at 17:34
  • Note that review queues are already problematic and avoided by many users because the automated review checking process is deliberately infested with traps for the unwary. Making that worse is not a win. – Móż Oct 29 at 2:32
334

The FAQ says:

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

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

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

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

M2. I'm a moderator. I often have to refer to other users, I can't choose which ones I have to refer to, and often it isn't feasible to avoid pronouns. So do I really have to use pronouns I find uncomfortable?

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

I can imagine several groups of people:

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

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

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


Answer:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    This question is already answered by the FAQ: "If you don’t need to use pronouns to say something, that’s fine. We ask that you use pronouns as you would naturally. If you’d use them in a sentence, use them; if not, don’t. Problems arise when a person or group feels singled out by having pronouns used for other people but not for them. If you're writing normally and naturally and it comes out pronoun-less, then that's fine." – Aza Oct 23 at 4:23
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    @Aza: Not really. Will a user's old writing style under the old CoC be held as a standard to judge someone's writing style under the new CoC? – jxh Oct 23 at 4:26
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    @jxh Yeah, I still stand by my prior statement. This requires human judgement and a case example in order to evaluate. – Aza Oct 23 at 5:03
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    As Aza stated, this is very much one of the specific edge cases that need to be actually looked at when it happens. In essence, I would say if you stop using pronouns for everyone altogether and consistently don't, that's fine. Even if you did before. It'll become a new pattern in time, and that's okay. However, as it is a very specific case, it may vary from case to case, the above is the general thought on it. – Cesar M Oct 23 at 5:11
220

In What does the Code of Conduct say about gender pronouns?,

3. My religion tells me that people can't change their gender. Aren't you treating me with disrespect in the name of treating others with respect?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    People, such as in the most prominent post on the subject, raised objections to a requirement to use preferred pronouns that went beyond just the "compelled speech" objection with phrases like "even if it is a mismatch for their genetic sex." Those read to me like an objection to other people's gender identity. I'm not sure how to interpret that as other than a statement that it could be a "potentially compromising scenario" to the author's religion to respect someone else's self-stated identity in this way. – onetothrowaway Oct 23 at 4:50
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    The fact that this comes after B1 and B4, which both state they their beliefs are objectively, factually wrong just takes the cake. – rockwalrus-stop harming Monica Oct 23 at 4:57
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    @onetothrowaway I think you are characterizing my position there. The issue is not so much that I have an objection to somebody else's identity, but it sets a precedent for being able to express mine when situation arises. I mapped out the direct parallel this compelled speech has to other topics. Also if you can't see why your framing this as "respect" is problematic when I go out of my way to respect others but only refuse to say something that plainly means something I don't believe is true, then you have not understood the problem. – Caleb Oct 23 at 15:07
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    @Xirema, 1. That belief is not trans-compatible, but it isn't transphobia. People can have different personal beliefs that are inconsistent with someone else's. 2. Nobody has said anything about anyone defending that position on the platform. Nobody with a religious objection has suggested interfering with trans users rights. The religious objection is to being compelled to do something themselves. 3. Your objection is to what someone else believes, not to their behavior in treating other people. – fixer1234 Oct 23 at 16:12
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    I don't care about what a person believes, but if they refuse to call a trans woman using she/her, that's undeniably a behavior, not a belief, yes? And if users (or ex-moderators...) are blanketly refusing to use the correct pronouns when referring to transgender users, that's undeniably an interfering with the rights of transgender users. So I don't really understand how that isn't transphobia, or what the difference is supposed to be between transphobia or "being not trans-compatible". – Xirema Oct 23 at 16:28
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    @Xirema, here's an analogy. Suppose people with certain religious beliefs were experiencing less than welcoming behavior on some SE sites. So the company published a policy stating that you must positively affirm that God says any gender other than what people are born with is wrong. You'd be pretty upset about that, right? What if it was framed as simply a matter of being respectful to the religious members and refusing to do it is disrespectful; you could be sanctioned for that rude behavior? And if you have a problem with that, you're being Godphobic. That's the issue here. – fixer1234 Oct 23 at 17:06
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    If that was the policy SE was setting, I would oppose that policy and not use this site, because I would plainly see that the site does not tolerate the presence of transgender users. What's your point? – Xirema Oct 23 at 17:12
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    @Xirema then SE should just state that they do not tolerate religious people and delete all religious communities. At least that would be honest! – Josef Oct 23 at 17:45
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    @Xirema Well, so just don't be a Christian or Muslim or Jew or ... is what you mean? – Josef Oct 23 at 17:59
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    @Xirema, a religion can be intolerant of transgendering, but adherents can still act respectfully toward transgender people. Religions can hold that you should not engage in something yourself, but that doesn't mean you should hate others who do. The point is that a policy of being welcoming and inclusive shouldn't be based on polarizing members against each other, and people gritting their teeth and tolerating the presence of specific groups. Everybody needs to be a little tolerant and look for simple compromises that everyone can live with. (cont'd) – fixer1234 Oct 23 at 18:09
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    It isn't productive to frame things in a manner that anything not 100% compliant with how one side views things is by definition disrespectful. I'd suggest that someone whose religious beliefs says non-biological gendering is wrong, who goes out of their way to be polite and to find alternate ways to interact in a positive way, is being more respectful. There needs to be good faith on both sides. The revised guidelines already provide alternate ways to interact respectfully. – fixer1234 Oct 23 at 18:09
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    Ultimately the policy relates to misgendering people ("Use stated pronouns (when known)"). Regardless of what your beliefs on gender fluidity may be, whether those beliefs are based in your 4th grade biology class or your religion, if you engage in this behavior, you are in violation of the code of conduct as written today, and as written previously in "be nice". That much is not up for debate at this point. – Unionhawk Oct 23 at 18:25
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    But what is that "alternate ways" in this context? Because if all they're doing is trying to find ways to avoid calling a trans woman a woman or avoid calling her by she/her, that doesn't really sound like respect. That doesn't sound like a good faith effort. It just sounds like someone looking for loopholes and thinking they're being clever. – Xirema Oct 23 at 18:25
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    @Xirema, it isn't a matter of being "clever". Some mechanism is needed to allow people to interact without requiring them to violate their own values. The objective is to avoid innocent mistakes and prevent malicious misgendering. Avoiding pronouns entirely is a safe way to accomplish that, and is not disrespectful. The objective is not (or at least should not be), to require one user to validate or affirm another user's gender identity. Except in rare cases, that should be irrelevant. – fixer1234 Oct 23 at 19:41
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    @trlkly, a distinction needs to be made between legitimate issues and trolls who abuse provisions. People do have legitimate religious issues; you can't trample their rights because trolls might find a way to abuse the loopholes. Examples of the kinds of stuff you refer to have gone to court and the courts have generally ruled that people are entitled to act according to their conscience, even if the effects of that aren't inclusive. – fixer1234 Oct 25 at 18:27
48

Am I obligated to find opportunities to use pronouns?

Not at all! If you don’t need to use pronouns to say something, that’s fine. We ask that you use pronouns as you would naturally. If you’d use them in a sentence, use them; if not, don’t. Problems arise when a person or group feels singled out by having pronouns used for other people but not for them. If you're writing normally and naturally and it comes out pronoun-less, then that's fine.

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

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

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    This question has already been answered in the FAQ. By stated policy, using pronouns for some people and not others would not be okay. – Aza Oct 23 at 4:44
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    @Aza Thanks, so that's compelled speech no matter how we look at it. I'll avoid the site altogether now that it has been made clear, as using neopronouns is simply not acceptable to me at a personal level. – S.D. Oct 23 at 4:47
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    Yeah, it looks like a firm decision. If that doesn't sit well with you... well, they do kind of say that it's an expectation. – Aza Oct 23 at 4:48
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    @Aza It doesn't sit well with anyone who would like to maintain their rights to neutrality, silence, freedom of conscience, thought, religion, opinion, emotions, etc. If I forced you to say something that didn't align with your values, you'd share the sentiment. You would request that neutrality be sufficient. There is no other walk of life where these concepts are not sufficient. – The Anathema Oct 23 at 5:10
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    @TheAnathema I'm just conveying what's in the FAQ. – Aza Oct 23 at 5:15
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    In reality, the odds of any SE user encountering a post where: a) pronouns are known b) using said pronouns is necessary to write an answer c) the user is using neopronouns; is... vanishingly small. The new CoC is mostly about making a statement rather than trying to address a practical issue. – JonathanReez Supports Monica Oct 23 at 5:20
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    @Aza, it's alright. I'm at least glad that you were crystal clear about it, unlike the SE folks who've beating around the bush about this crux of the issue (IMO). :) – S.D. Oct 23 at 5:24
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    @user437611 No problem. SE doesn't have as much access to conciseness as I do; theirs is policy, I'm just a user. – Aza Oct 23 at 5:28
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    @JonathanReez Small, but important. I support all non-binary people and wish them complete happiness and health. I believe that they deserve respect, dignity, and kindness. I also respect their gender identity. What I do not respect is StackExchange telling its users that merely being neutral is not sufficient, and that they must acknowledge it by using the pronouns - i.e. OP/username is bannable. This has been strawmanned into "Hey, can we call them stuff they don't like?" and this mischaracterization of people's moral compass is frankly insulting and why people left over it. – The Anathema Oct 23 at 5:33
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    @TheAnathema based on this comment, never using any pronouns is acceptable. I've been an active user for many years and I can't recall the last time I've used a pronoun on a non-Meta site. – JonathanReez Supports Monica Oct 23 at 5:39
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    @194636 Yes, that's an option. Though I would absolutely hate it if I had to ignore certain users just because of their pronoun choice. It places me in an almost impossible position where the choice is either "do this" or "leave". Mutual compromises are apparently not an option. Doesn't look like a healthy society to me! – S.D. Oct 23 at 7:15
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    It is not compelled. Instead of using the speech SE would like you to use, you can avoid all third person singular pronouns or disengage with users that cause you distress. – StrongBad Oct 23 at 11:51
  • @user437611 I believe mutual compromise is allowed. A user could list in their profile my pronouns are xe/xir but if you object to using them, then use whatever pronouns you are comfortable with (or avoid them all together). – StrongBad Oct 23 at 12:30
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    It isn't really more compelled speech than asking people to use 'he' and 'she' when appropriate. Many binary people would (also) be upset if they are referred to with singular-they. – BlackShift Oct 23 at 12:36
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    @Blackshift re the singular they. If a user consistently uses they in all cases of using a pronoun then they should not have to change Agreed if they do not use they in general or if they know exactly the user then using they in only some cases would be objectionable – user151019 Oct 23 at 14:59
13

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 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. – Aza Oct 23 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 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 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 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 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 at 14:22
  • '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 at 7:05
  • @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 at 8:12
  • 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 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 at 19:48
6

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.

and

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 at 5:20
  • 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 at 14:25
  • 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 at 14:31
18

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

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

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

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

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

That would be me doing my best.

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

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 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 at 8:55
  • @TannerSwett: Correct. – V2Blast Oct 23 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 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 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 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 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 at 11:20
1

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. – Aza Oct 23 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 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. – Aza Oct 23 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 at 6:03
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    If I'm not mistaken @Aza is referring to this comment by Cesar M – Bart Oct 23 at 8:11
  • @ArthurHavlicek I would prefer a tag. Something like [they:@Arthur Havlicek], but it will be long to write. – aloisdg says Reinstate Monica Oct 23 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 at 11:02
  • There is a userscript that adds this feature: stackapps.com/q/8440/34061 – divibisan Oct 23 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 at 9:35
196

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It would be far better recast to avoid pronouns entirely:

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

Similarly artificial construction, pronouns avoided. Done.

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

… as opposed to the truly horrible:

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

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

It would be rude to refer to a man as "she" or a woman as "he". Some people are neither men nor women and might, for instance, ask to be referred to as "they".

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

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

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    'Character' feels like it might be the wrong term.. if anyone knows the correct term please fix! – Sayse Oct 23 at 7:31
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    Not the point being made in this answer, but an observation. Referring to a man as "she" or a woman as "he" happens innocently all the time and is a human foible. It's typically more embarrassing for the person making the mistake. What is rude is to knowingly and purposely do that. The wording should make that distinction, rather than characterizing normal human behavior as rude. – fixer1234 Oct 23 at 7:56
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    I noticed on Drag Race, the contestants DO usually stick to "she" pronouns when In Character (or working on becoming the character), and "he" pronouns when out of costume -- for some there's a point in their transformation, different for each, where the pronoun shifts -- some it's the wig, some it's the undergarments, and some only when The Look is complete. But my trans friends say they never feel like "The Look" is the key factor or that there's any one point in time, that it's all about self-knowledge and how much effort do they want to go into correcting others. – April --Un-Slander Monica-- Oct 23 at 13:56
  • @Luuklag "may still recognise as a man" is not grammatical, I think you meant “may still be recognisable as a man...” But I see nothing wrong with the earlier may self-define – Mari-Lou A Oct 23 at 20:45
  • @Mari-LouA - That was my original posts sentence.. "may still identify as a man" is probably a better alternative but i'm still not convinced that "character" is correct (I also didn't see anything wrong with may self-define) – Sayse Oct 23 at 20:47
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    @Sayse Character, in drag, or whatever. As that line is written now, it is ungrammatical. – Mari-Lou A Oct 23 at 20:49
  • I simply reverted to the original since a suggested edit was making a mess of it. @Mari-LouA – Luuklag Oct 23 at 20:51
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    I've heard some transvestites refer to it as being "en femme" or "in girl mode". – Ettina Kitten Oct 24 at 15:10
  • @EttinaKitten - That would be a good alternative but it doesn't cover a female transvestite – Sayse Oct 24 at 15:15
109

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

You can often avoid using pronouns altogether. It's actually pretty rare to need third-person pronouns at all on most Stack Exchange sites. But conspicuously avoiding using pronouns for one group of people while using them normally for others is a way of refusing to recognize their identity, and that is discriminatory. Please don’t do that.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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    "conspicuously avoiding" is conspicuous, by definition: it's obvious, easy to see, easy to notice. A writing style that is really "all over the place" will not be avoiding anything. – Raedwald Oct 23 at 10:02
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    @HerMajestyQueenofARC What Raedwald said is correct. That's pretty much a case let's see how it goes. You're not going to get suspended outright without a warning first, and on that warning you can get more information on what caused it / talk about specific instances instead of abstract concepts, which is a lot clearer for everyone involved. – Cesar M Oct 23 at 14:18
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    This is my main objection to the FAQ as well (for similar reasons even as a Native English Speaker). The fact that it says both "you can avoid pronouns" and then "you cannot" is extremely confusing and I just do not trust this policy to be enforced with the guiding hand I used to see from moderators on this site (basically I don't trust SE to let the moderators be moderators on this issue) – LinkBerest Oct 23 at 16:01
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    @LinkBerest This is basically just a specific case of: "Don't be a jerk". You can avoid pronouns, just don't be a jerk about it. – divibisan Oct 23 at 16:19
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    @CesarM This is inane. The point of a code of conduct is quite clearly to establish guidelines of how to act so the people might use SE sites without constant intervention from moderators. Making the policy "let's see how it goes" means exactly the opposite. If that is a policy you are happy enacting, you would probably be best off taking more time to write a better policy. – jsarbour Oct 29 at 13:28
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    All I have to say is "doubleplusungood" – Richard says Reinstate Monica Oct 31 at 18:48
4
  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 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 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 at 16:59
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    @SextusEmpiricus - avoiding people is better, as per official SE position twitted by their employee. – DVK Oct 23 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 Oct 23 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 at 9:32
55
  1. Am I obligated to find opportunities to use pronouns?

Not at all! If you don’t need to use pronouns to say something, that’s fine. We ask that you use pronouns as you would naturally. If you’d use them in a sentence, use them; if not, don’t. Problems arise when a person or group feels singled out by having pronouns used for other people but not for them. If you're writing normally and naturally and it comes out pronoun-less, then that's fine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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    Many native English speakers too. Probably most of them over the age of 60, and a non-trivial proportion over 30. – Peter Taylor Oct 23 at 10:16
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    I'd say this was covered by "Does this mean that I will be in trouble if I ever get someone's pronouns wrong?", but specifically by "Is it a CoC violation if I use "he" or any other pronoun as a neutral one?" – Raedwald Oct 23 at 10:32
  • I've got the impression that there are moderator tools to let other mods know if/how often an user's been told about the pronouns. – HAEM Oct 23 at 10:47
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    The FAQ already states that gender-neutral he is fine, as long as you change it when someone states their pronouns and it isn't "he". – Cesar M Oct 23 at 14:30
9

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.

R.E.S.P.E.C.T

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.

 


No.5

  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 says Reinstate Monica Oct 23 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 at 8:09
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I note that M2 states:

M2. I'm a moderator. I often have to refer to other users, I can't choose which ones I have to refer to, and often it isn't feasible to avoid pronouns. So do I really have to use pronouns I find uncomfortable?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am new to this topic in general (about genders and pronouns) and it's all very confusing.

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

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

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

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

Both these options are okay. - CesarM♦

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    Both these options remain entirely acceptable. You're good. – Mark Amery Oct 23 at 9:55
  • Okay? Only okay? What's wrong with them that they're not perfect? – George M Reinstate Monica Oct 24 at 1:56
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    Which OP are you talking about when you reply to a comment about a comment on an answer to a question that is about another question? Not perfect. You is a second-person pronoun, so allowing usage of it does not resolve issues with using third-person pronouns. Not perfect. But seriously, why do you need something to be perfect, when the point is that it works? the latter being defined by appropriateness and effectiveness. @GeorgeM – Nij Oct 24 at 9:18
  • I've encountered a person online who wished to be addressed in the second person as "zhou", not "you". This person additionally claimed to be deeply upset and hurt, as if by violence, by anyone who didn't comply with this wish. Maybe an extreme edge-case, but why not just include second-person pronouns under the new CoC as well, just in case? – Gershom Maes Oct 24 at 20:36
  • @GershomMaes We don't specify third person anywhere, I don't think? It's extremely rare but there are people who have alternative first and second person pronouns. – Catija Oct 25 at 3:58
  • The CoC seems to dismiss alternative second-person pronouns, since it constantly refers to 3rd person pronouns. If you want to prevent "violence" against at minimum this one person, you'd consider an explicit addendum concerning second-person pronouns. You'd also consider explicitly banning the use of "one", as there are those who would claim it is violent towards schizophrenic and "non-singular-identifying" people. Do you want to commit violence against schizophrenics? Please disallow the use of "one" in reference to people, there's apparently no downside. – Gershom Maes Oct 25 at 12:09
  • @Catija, can you add this clarification in the main FAQ? I am sure there will be many people who are new to the topic about genders and pronouns and it will be very confusing for them as well. To find this answer will be even harder. – Michael Freidgeim 2 days ago
17

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

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

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

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    I think this is covered by "Does this mean that I will be in trouble if I ever get someone's pronouns wrong?" If you get it wrong for someone you interacted with a long time ago, you have made an honest mistake. But if you use gender neutral language (as recommended), or (as you imply you do) you use @user, error is impossible. – Raedwald Oct 23 at 10:54
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    @Raedwald but "long time ago" is subjective. For one person that might mean a week, for others that can mean hours (if they were 2 independent interactions). – ratchet freak Oct 23 at 11:35
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    ""long time ago" is subjective": which is why moderators will apply intelligent judgement. Just like they do about all other claimed violations of the CoC. What is rude? What is condescending? These all require intelligent judgement. – Raedwald Oct 23 at 11:40
7

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 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 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 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 at 12:06
  • Hopefully the edit to the section including my suggested amendments makes things clearer – Kyle Fairns Oct 23 at 14:10
  • "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 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 at 15:57
10

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 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. – a CVn Oct 23 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 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. – a CVn Oct 23 at 9:52
  • Hm, that's not good. TY for your comments. – Sockenpuppe Oct 23 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. – Aza Oct 23 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 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. – Aza Oct 23 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 - stop harming Monica Oct 23 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 at 14:22
  • @JL2210 I don't understand what you mean by your comment. – Sockenpuppe Oct 23 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 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 at 11:22
12

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

  • 2
    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 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 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 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 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 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 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 at 7:08
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    It is not unreasonable when a person does not adopt a neopronoun for reasons other than excluding the person, like the neopronouns being a difficulty and are more like residing in a niche of the language users anyway, it's slang (the suggestion that anybody else should abide with exotic, made up, pronouns instead of using a perfectly fine neutral 'their' is a rather strong unmodest - ugly American - request). It is not unreasonable when people avoid to use the pronoun 'they' for reasons other than excluding the person, like the conflict/confusion with plural that may occur. – Sextus Empiricus Oct 24 at 7:14
  • "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 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 at 11:19
4

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.

  • 1
    @Raedwald, huh? This is a request that the FAQ be clarified, which repeats a request I made of Gareth to clarify the unofficial FAQ which the new one is based on. – Peter Taylor Oct 23 at 12:32
  • Could you re-word this so that what you're requesting is made more obvious? I found it hard to decipher. – House- 'Reinstate Monica' -man Oct 23 at 18:44
  • 1
    Perhaps add a specific request? Something like “there should be an explicit definition of ‘misgendering’ in the CoC" – divibisan Oct 23 at 19:12
  • I would argue that the rest of the FAQ serves to explain what the term means. As does the context of the statement. Those who are not proficient in English often encounter words they don't understand, and often pick it up as it goes along. Unless you can give a better, more clear example, I'm not sure what they could do. (That said, it wasn't worth being downvoted below 0, as that should be for inherently bad ideas, IMO. So I upvoted.) – trlkly Oct 25 at 9:50
27

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are small potatoes to my main point here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Is there a reason to think that gendered statement will be an issue? The CoC says use "Use stated pronouns” (which only applies to pronouns) and "Prefer gender-neutral language”, which is a request, not a demand. The FAQ even says that defaulting to gender-neutral “he” is fine, as long as you change if requested. – divibisan Oct 23 at 13:53
  • 2
    The expectation on how to answer a question and what is/isn't in scope on our sites is not changing, you have always had to state how things are viewed on a field backed up by references, not your personal thoughts on main Q&A. As using genderized words, @divibisan said it, you can continue to do so, albeit not recommended. Adjust if someone states differently for you. – Cesar M Oct 23 at 14:00
  • 1
    @CesarM can we make it more clear on the CoC that it mostly is applying to SO? I was under the impression that it was for all networks (including meta) so a directly line there would help clarify things – Sterling Archer Oct 23 at 14:10
  • It is applying to all of them @SterlingArcher. Essentially, the intentional differential treatment of someone after they have pointed out an easily correctable mistake is what the CoC outlines as wrong (in my interpretation). Your display name is a character name from a popular TV show, and as such I wouldn't want to make any assumptions about you if I were referring to you in the third person. If I did end up making an assumption (and you corrected me on it), I would change how I referred to you for the sole reason that I made the wrong assumption. Why shouldn't that apply to all SE sites? – Kyle Fairns Oct 23 at 14:32
  • @SterlingArcher There seems to be one free pass per user per question without being flagged, so I would simply change the way you type for that one rare instance in which a user does actually correct you. It probably won't happen often, as people usually endeavour to keep comments on-topic and concise; users should never correct you without including information that's also relevant to the question/answer/comments, so it will just make their comments longer. – Erik Humphrey Oct 23 at 17:48
  • I just want to make it clear I have no issue using clear pronouns. I already use OP more dominantly so nbd there. I just want to make sure that I’m safe because I have different opinions on social situations, and that it’s not interpreted as hate or bigotry :) – Sterling Archer Oct 23 at 19:20
  • It's not compelled speech to be told that you can't say something. You can call it a restriction on free speech, but free speech is inherently restricted in any forum that has rules. "Be Nice" is already a restriction on free speech. The rules on what is on topic for a particular SE is already a restriction on free speech. Not having long running chats in the comments is a restriction on free speech, even. The idea that it is better to remain silent than to break the rules is always the case, as well. It's better to remain silent than to be rude, ask the wrong question, etc. – trlkly Oct 25 at 8:22
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    That said, it seems unlikely to me that anyone could misunderstand "Oh, man" to be talking about a male human. It is merely a minced oath, where "God" was replaced with "man." However, calling someone "man," "dude," etc can easily be seen as assuming they are male, and there are non-gendered equivalents which would be better. "Bud," "mate," "chum," "my friend," etc. are all clearly gender neutral, and convey a similar tone to "dude" or "man." – trlkly Oct 25 at 8:31
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    Finally, to address a specific line in your post: "My opposing point of view cannot be silenced on the grounds of it being distressing if it's not threatening, promoting hate or violence etc." This isn't correct, and would make any politeness or civility policies possible. Being polite, nice, civil, etc inherently requires one to avoid unnecessarily causing distress to others. This isn't just on websites: you job probably has such rules. Your friends probably have such as a rule unofficially--as someone who deliberately distresses people is labeled an "asshole" and loses friends. – trlkly Oct 25 at 8:40
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    @trlkly: This is a rather weak understanding of social interaction. In all functional societies, an expectation of politeness is universally predicated on the recipient moderating their own behavior and conducting themselves in a socially acceptable and agreeable manner. Failure to do so demonstrates a disregard for the integrity of the group and naturally invites social censure. This is precisely why such enforcement attempts always fail, because demanding that the rest of the group accepts your personal values under threat of sanction is, ipso facto, anti-social behavior. – Crowman Oct 25 at 16:52
  • Re "non-aggressive disagreements" (near "So if you have religious, or non-aggressive disagreements then SO is not for you."): Don't you mean "aggressive disagreements" (the opposite of "non-aggressive disagreements") (or the quote is wrong)? It would not make sense that the site is for them if they have the opposite, aggressive disagreements. – Peter Mortensen Oct 28 at 11:21
  • @CesarM, please remove your text from the answer. It’s your comment, and it is not endorsed by the author of the answer. – Michael Freidgeim 2 days ago

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