Let's suppose that we have a moderator who is willing to use any pronoun made available to their attention, including neopronouns, except the pronoun "they".

  1. Does this stance constitute a violation of the Code of Conduct in its current form (see CoC FAQ)?

  2. If yes, would it be an acceptable workaround for a participant with a personal aversion to using they/them to avoid, in an inconspicuous way, participating in certain discussions, where avoidance of the singular they could be noticed?

  3. And if it's a moderator who has such an aversion, would it be an acceptable workaround to occasionally hand off discreetly to another moderator?

Alternative workaround proposals gratefully accepted for the community's consideration.

Edit to add:

This question is intended as a very specific problem-solving effort. Thus, the focus is quite different from the proposed duplicate.

  • 7
    I feel like there's a broader conversation to be had here. If a current diamond moderator had an issue with using certain pronouns when known, whether or not that is a violation of the CoC is a very answerable question. @aparente001, you can remove anything specific to Monica and you still have a serviceable question here.
    – Makoto
    Nov 6, 2019 at 18:41
  • 5
    It's unclear to me why you're asking this. Is this out of concern for the moderators? As you are not a mod, it's certainly not a personal concern to you. It seems to be conspicuously referring to a moderator who in the past refused to use "they". This question appears to me to like picking scabs to draw new blood. Nov 6, 2019 at 22:04
  • 1
    @anongoodnurse - Maybe the revision history will help. If not, I suggest you ask Makoto, who edited the question, and presumably had their own reasons for trying to rescue the question. Nov 6, 2019 at 22:06
  • 3
    The moderator you referred to voted both to close this question and to delete it. I don't see it's value except to stir the pot. It's all been hashed out again and again. If you really want to help, visit that moderator's GoFundMe site. She needs money and lots of it to prevail against the injustices done to her. Nov 6, 2019 at 22:12
  • 1
    @anongoodnurse - We each have our own ways of trying to find a solution. I have had personal experience with legal actions and have learned that sometimes, even if one wins, one loses. So, I've learned that sometimes it is helpful to consider creative approaches that incorporate negotiation, mediation, meeting in the middle, etc. Nov 6, 2019 at 22:14
  • 1
    I'm not saying Monica should take one approach or another. That's for her to decide. // I would prefer not to engage in a back-and-forth with you here. My invitation to clear the air is still open -- as I said, in a private room with a neutral third party present, without preconditions. Nov 6, 2019 at 22:17
  • 1
    I think users have reached a saturation point. Two weeks ago, we had something like 15 questions per week. This last week, it's just one a day. Nov 6, 2019 at 22:24
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    @Mari-LouA - What's your point? (I really want to know.) // I've been talking to labor relations experts and people at the department of labor. I've also been doing more reading and thinking. I very much hope a way out can be found. Some solution that people with various different points of view can live with. I'm very unhappy with the idea of a Stack Exchange without Monica being a moderator. Nov 6, 2019 at 22:26
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    My point is that users are beginning to get tired of hearing the same discussion. Which is why your question, even after editing, has been closed for the second time in less than four hours. Nov 6, 2019 at 22:31
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    @Mari-LouA - This isn't the only roller coaster question I've had. // I'm not ready to give up yet. I've seen situations where A realizes he took an outrageous position but just doesn't know how to back down -- like a cat stuck in a tree. And B feels so much hurt that he can't see past his righteous indignation to look at possible compromises. But sometimes a creative solution can be found. I hope you'll allow me to hold on to some hope. Nov 6, 2019 at 22:37
  • 3
    You cannot have a dialogue when one of the two parties is stubbornly silent or simply missing. Ever tried marriage therapy without a spouse? Nov 6, 2019 at 22:44
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    @anongoodnurse: My motivation was more to see if the community could start dealing with the actual issues that are presented by the CoC as opposed to using it as Yet Another Platform to Discuss the Situation between Monica and Stack Exchange™. I've got my data points on this now.
    – Makoto
    Nov 6, 2019 at 22:54
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    I just don't understand what's so hard about using preferred pronouns and/or "they". It's a very simple adjustment that many users are taking as a personal offense.
    – weakdna
    Nov 7, 2019 at 15:45
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    @weakdnasaysreinstatemonica: It's basically asking a group of people - forcing moderators - who have some kind of cultural opposition to doing this to comply to satisfy another group of people who have the inverse cultural opposition. There's a middle ground somewhere, but the compelled speech aspect of this has unmistakably rubbed some people the wrong way.
    – Makoto
    Nov 7, 2019 at 16:39
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    @weakdna - This question is a collaborative effort between Makoto and me. We have a common interest but are coming to this in a slightly different way. For me, a light bulb went on in my head when I read heather's comments below this post. Also Monica's comment helped. Here's what she responded to heather: My avoidance of singular "they" is not mere convenience/preference or even mere grammar. I tried to explain the deeper identity issues to heather, and also to a CM in ... Nov 7, 2019 at 16:52

3 Answers 3


Spirit of the law - likely, but I feel like someone's picking a fight.
Letter of the law - yes, but it's a chilling effect on moderation.

With some timely clarification of the new CoC, we have this snippet.

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.

In essence, this translates to:

If you have a diamond next to your name, you will use stated pronouns irrespective of how you feel about them, or you'll be replaced.

...and these are just the table stakes for being a moderator these days. Being bound to the CoC is a thing that all moderators are, and if this also includes compelled speech in this fashion, then so be it. The only real option would be to not be a moderator, and you can continue to write in a way you find comfortable.

The reason I feel like this is picking a fight is that, had no one known your pronoun, the most appropriate ways to refer to you would be either your display name or "OP". The only time then that a pronoun becomes known is when it's commented to that effect - commented being the operative phrase here - adding information which may or may not be germane to the actual discussion at hand.

I come from Stack Overflow, a land where the compiler doesn't care what state you exist in so long as you satisfy its syntactic requirements. I see discussions adding context about personal identity as noise, so I have a much starker and much more sterile view on this. Reconciling that with the rest of the network is difficult; there's no middle ground on what a moderator can or cannot do since they are meant to represent the best of the community.

I suppose it means that if you don't want to use pronouns in all cases, then you shouldn't try for modship, since that seems to be the position that the Community Team isn't going to bend on.

  • 6
    The word "conspicuously" seems relevant. Nov 6, 2019 at 18:41
  • Whoa, what happened? A little while ago, the post was deleted and completely invisible. I'm thinking of the Cheshire cat. It's rather surreal. Nov 6, 2019 at 20:03
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    @aparente001: A few people voted to undelete it after the edit.
    – Makoto
    Nov 6, 2019 at 20:09
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    @Makoto - Thanks, but I don't understand the mechanics of that. The post was completely invisible. How can one vote to undelete a question that isn't there (not even grayed out)? I suppose the answer might be, Oh, well, it's visible to users with sufficient rep. But I thought in those cases the post's own author would be able to see it.... Nov 6, 2019 at 20:11
  • @Mari-LouA - Well, thank you, I guess. It's been a strange day. I really thought the post's own author would be able to see their own deleted post. // I'm going to try to edit the question now to make something clearer. Hopefully the question will not have gone up in smoke again by the time I hit "submit." Nov 6, 2019 at 20:28
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    @Mari-LouA - Is that better ("discreetly")? // I suppose other moderators might be aware? I don't know much about how communication happens behind the scenes. Nov 6, 2019 at 20:40
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    Point of clarity: What is conspicuously avoiding pronouns?
    – user316129
    Nov 6, 2019 at 21:26
  • @Richard - heather explains that in a series of comments starting here: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/336731/…. If they get removed please see ibb.co/VvRZzDP. Nov 6, 2019 at 21:41
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    @aparente001 I read that, and now it's clear as obsidian
    – user316129
    Nov 6, 2019 at 21:48
  • @Richard - I'm sorry to hear it. I found it quite helpful. It's a shame it wasn't helpful for you. We could talk about it over chat some time if you like. Nov 6, 2019 at 21:53
  • @RichardsaysReinstateMonica: It's their words, not mine. Might be something you could ask on their feedback post instead of here.
    – Makoto
    Nov 6, 2019 at 21:57
  • @Richard - Sorry, yes, of course, as Makoto said, you can ask heather to clarify any parts you don't understand. But I would also be glad to try to help if I can. Nov 6, 2019 at 22:09

The use of "conspicuously" makes it a Weasel Word and basically makes it a truncheon with which to beat mods into submission.

Given the lengths to which they have already gone to enforce the policy before it was even written, there is simply no middle ground, no compromise, and nothing but unquestioning compliance.

If SE were willing to drag someone through the mud, in a very public way, commit blatant libel, and refuse to correct their mistake, all for the high crime of asking a question, where do they stop?

Can anyone honestly say that SE has not created an environment of fear?

SE did all of this to Monica, who did nothing wrong.

What will they do to someone who actually DOES violate the CoC, by accident or on principle?

I see no possibility for middle ground, only blind compliance, with serious, very public consequences for anyone who steps even slightly out of line.

  • 9
    You're making this about a person as opposed to a circumstance. This is not constructive in the slightest.
    – Makoto
    Nov 6, 2019 at 22:01
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    "What will they do to someone who actually DOES violate the CoC, by accident or on principle?" Do you know what will happen? They'll be given a second chance, and maybe even a third chance, because SE cherishes their moderators. But if the mod is actually someone who thinks this pronoun business is nonsense, and detracts attention from the site's aim: supplying answers to questions, that attitude will show through and they will lose their moderator privileges. All it needs are a few red flags from two or three different individuals. Nov 6, 2019 at 22:51
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    @Makoto Oh, it's constructive, just not comfortable. It's not about the person at all, it's about how A person, ANY person could be treated, My family left a country that would use similar tactics. You take out the most inoffensive person and punish them for nothing. That way, you send a clear signal that nobody is safe. It's a known, and effective tactic. Any mod who thinks they couldn't be the next one is very optimistic
    – user316129
    Nov 6, 2019 at 23:20
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    @Mari-LouA So, if someone THINKS something you don't agree with, they are fair game? That's a good one about how SE cherishes moderators. If Libel is how they cherish moderators, I would hate to see the way people who are not "cherished" are treated
    – user316129
    Nov 6, 2019 at 23:22
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    I suppose I should rephrase. The question no longer references an individual. You do. This makes your answer less than helpful in the context of the question being posed. (There's also no argument to be made that your answer was invalidated by the edit since your answer didn't exist before the edit took place.)
    – Makoto
    Nov 6, 2019 at 23:26
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    No. If a moderator secretly thinks that gender-neutral pronouns are "stupid" and just mere "noise" because it doesn't matter who is asking the question, the attention should be on the question, then that type of attitude will eventually transpire when dialogue is involved. Now for many users, this no-nonsense approach is seen as being effective and productive, and perfectly acceptable, but for others it will be interpreted as being hurtful and rude. P.S. My "cherish" wasn't meant to be taken seriously. Nov 6, 2019 at 23:30
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA Sounds like the thought police will be quite busy
    – user316129
    Nov 7, 2019 at 0:00

That seems difficult, but maybe possible to route around much of the time.

Who is this a problem for and why?

In our culture, non-binary genders are usually poorly recognised. That means any attempt to express one's non-binary gender is already conspicuous, awkward, and often ridiculed. In English, this is strongly alleviated by the existence of the pronoun "they", which has a very long history as a gender-neutral singular pronoun. "This is Sam. They work here." will unsettle some speakers, but far fewer than "This is Sam. Per works here." will.

As a result, non-binary people almost always accept the pronoun "they". I've asked around and found the following patterns. (Sorry, no linkable source; those were personal interviews.)

  • Most non-binary people accept any gender-neutral pronoun. They usually suggest a pronoun (most often "they", sometimes "zie") but are just as happy with others. In such cases, your hypothetical moderator could use their favourite set of gender-neutral pronouns.
  • Some people are uncomfortable with any pronoun and want their name used every time. (Usually these are people in the process of figuring out their gender.) Again, no problem.
  • Some people accept only "they" and are put off by all neopronouns, because they are so intrusive and attract so much mockery. This is the case that poses a problem here.
  • No non-binary people I've found accept only some pronoun other than "they". I'm sure they exist, but they seem to be very rare. This is why it's so annoying the problem is with "they" and not, say, "fae": it affects far more people.

Is this a CoC violation?

Obviously yes. It says "use stated pronouns when known". Outright refusal to do so, when one needs to refer to someone, is a clear violation of that.

Can this moderator avoid the user?

Well, isn't that kind of a jerk thing to do? Refusing to talk to or about someone because of who they are?

This is a bigger problem for a moderator, whose job is to serve the site by helping users, and who is refusing to do so for a particular user on grounds of gender.

Can calling in a different moderator help?

It alleviates the problem somewhat: moderation is getting done. But it's still, y'know, a mod giving a user the cold shoulder because of their gender.

Is there a middle ground?

Users who state pronouns in their profile can help by specifying whether alternatives are okay, especially if the primary set is gender-neutral. Rather than "they/them", say either "they/them, or your favourite set of gender-neutral pronouns" or "they/them pronouns only, please". Since (unless SE demographics are very different) most non-binary people are in fact okay with alternatives, this reduces the number of cases where the problem comes up.

Unfortunately, there is very little the moderator can do. Even if they attempt to be inconspicuous about it, by writing around pronouns or avoiding these situations entirely, the assumption of good faith is gone.

Inevitably, the refusal to use "they" will follow the usual pattern: It'll look like a subtle sign of anti-trans beliefs, making trans users uncomfortable and emboldening openly anti-trans users. Other users who have not been quite so burnt by this will be confused, say the behaviour is entirely reasonable, and make trans users even more vulnerable by dismissing their concerns. This cycle has played out multiple times so far and there doesn't seem to be a fix.

  • @JJforTransparencyandMonica Good faith died when a dozen people said "Why should we accommodate trans people? They're deluded and mentally ill!" and demanded that everyone acknowledge that's a perfectly fine and not hostile position. Most people who say "oh of course I don't hate trans people, how dare you suggest that, I just think it's unreasonable to..." are prejudiced against trans people, and they need to work hard to counter the assumption. Nov 19, 2019 at 5:53
  • @JJforTransparencyandMonica Refusing to use someone's pronouns is strong evidence of prejudice. That evidence needs to be overcome by contrary evidence in order to restore the default assumption of good faith. Can you suggest an edit to make that clearer? Nov 19, 2019 at 6:46
  • @JJforTransparencyandMonica Yeah, you've convinced me that's totally unworkable. I'll edit. Nov 19, 2019 at 6:51

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