The current FAQ on pronouns says the following:

8. What if someone wants to be referred to as "the Great and Mighty One" or by an obscenity or something?

If something is obviously unreasonable and seems to be requested unkindly, please feel free to flag for moderator attention. Pronouns are a fairly well defined thing in language and styles/nouns/titles (“Your Majesty”) are generally poor substitutes for them. Note that “it sounds silly to me” is not sufficient grounds to think something is obviously unreasonable. If you and they can't agree, ask a moderator (or, if a moderator is one of the parties to the dispute, the Community Team) as you would in other cases of dispute. The Community Team is also available to help guide moderators upon request. Offensive/trolling “pronouns” (e.g.“attack helicopter”) should be flagged.

Per a moderator, this means:

whether someone's requested pronouns are legitimate is now something that moderators are supposed to determine.

If these moderators and staff have not had diversity training, but are now supposed to police gender (i.e., determine whether someone's gender expression is appropriate or not). This is highly problematic.

This post describes the experience of a user (whose pronouns happen to be similar to mine). The pronouns were a derivative of the user name.

To summarize the post, pronouns were removed from this user's profile and an about me from one Stack Exchange site was copied over to all Stack Exchange sites, including those sites where the user had an anonymized profile.

A moderator responded to the post explaining that a staff member had done this, speculating that it was because the pronouns were not considered legitimate. I can see why a person who is not familiar with nonnormative gender expression could think this. It happens to be a manner of gender expression that is used by others (though this is a highly problematic standard, equating a valid gender expression with one that conforms to norms). It is also similar to my gender expression on this site (though, again, I hate to have to use myself as a norm against which other gender expressions should be measured). Regardless, it does not use offensive content. It was believed to be inappropriate merely because it was unique. That is the wrong standard.

I do not know this user personally, but by post history, the user does not appear to be a troll at all. In fact, this user appears to be an ally who, by identifying with nonstandard pronouns, is expressing a de facto non-binary gender identity and being punished and mocked for this.

Why not just report this as a CoC violation?

I have written this as a post rather than using the Contact Me mechanism because I believe, now that we have seen a clear example of CoC enforcement being used to restrict nonnormative gender expression, the issue of unfamiliar moderators policing gender needs to be discussed by the community and addressed in that context. For that matter, I empathize with the moderator and staff member in question. I believe they are trying their best and should not have been asked to do this.

Is this question a duplicate?

This is not a duplicate of the suggested post. It is relevant to discuss the manner in which current actual enforcement is being used to punish and mock non-normative gender expression, which is counter to the intention of the CoC changes.

We've had several posts discussing concerns about a hypothetical troll, offering statistics about how normal or abnormal individual neopronouns might be. This post is about the actual effect of requiring untrained and unfamiliar people to use their judgement to determine whether a user’s gender expression is appropriate. It is in the context of actual, not hypothetical, actions taken by staff and moderators, and whether we should reconsider the methods this site now uses to regulate the gender expression of its users.

In conclusion

How can we avoid the problems created by policing users' gender expression?


9 Answers 9


To quote iDubbbzTV:

Either all of it is okay, or none of it is okay.

It's the only actively enforcable policy. Either we allow all kinds of neo-pronouns, simply based on the fact that a user requested those pronouns to be used, or we don't allow any neo-pronouns.

Any in-between solution will inevitably result in false-positives (legitimate neo-pronoun user is flagged as troll) or false-negatives (troll is considered legitimate), put unnecessary stress on the moderation team (which seems to grow thinner by the days) and requires them to deal with topics that they likely have not yet encountered in any way that impacts their position as moderators.

  • This is rather well aligned with my personal feelings, but I'm having trouble squaring it with the objections that get repeatedly made by people who feel attacked by other users' insistence upon certain pronouns that they perceive as "trolling". The "I identify as an attack helicopter" case is the most well-known, but there have been many other instances emerge on Stack Exchange after the announcement of this policy by users who feel it is an act of performative protest against the policy. Is all of that OK? What do we tell the people who say it denies the legitimacy of their identity? Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 1:55
  • 34
    @CodyGray We tell them that they didn't just fight for the legitimacy of their own identity, but for the legitimacy of everyone's identity, even those they don't believe are valid. Maybe they don't like being on the other side of the issue, but that's life. At the end of the day, the philosophy of respecting others' identities implies that it's far better to incorrectly call a troll what they want than to incorrectly call a legitimate person what they don't want.
    – manveti
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 2:39
  • 11
    @CodyGray very few people from my community that I know personally are offended by anyone trying out a non binary gender identity, whatever their apparent motivation. The attack helicopter is loaded based on it's history. I have no problem with it personally, but I'm probably in the minority there. Otherwise, if it's not offensive in some other context, it's hard to see it as offensive as a pronoun.
    – De Novo
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 4:00
  • 23
    As a non-binary person, I would rather have a false-negatives (troll is considered legitimate) than a false-positives (legitimate neo-pronoun user is flagged as troll). If it means we have to allow the "helicopter attack" thing, them I'm okay with it. Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 6:50
  • 11
    @BelovedFool I fully agree with you on this one. " I would rather have a false-negatives (troll is considered legitimate) than a false-positives (legitimate neo-pronoun user is flagged as troll)." Protecting the innocent is far more important. Also, trolls thrive on inducing bad reaction in other people. If others just ignore and don't react, then trolling becomes worthless. Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 10:15
  • 6
    @CodyGray You are right. Someone will always get hurt. This is the nature of the problem. If you accept all pronouns, people who use neo-pronouns will get hurt by those who they feel use "troll" pronouns. If none are allowed, people who use neo-pronouns will be hurt because they can't express themselves. Any moderation attempt will inevitably result in the same problems, just with having the moderation team involved as well.
    – MechMK1
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 11:05
  • 4
    Wouldn't the latter option not be "we don't allow any neo-pronouns", but, "we don't enforce use of any neo-pronouns"? There's no need to ban someone from, in good faith, kindly asking to please use a neo-pronoun, or ban people who do understand this from being nice by using it. We just need an easy, clear, safe, accepted fallback option (like "they") for the confused - for example, for those whose native language doesn't even have gender pronouns, who struggle with pronouns in English class, don't understand this, and just want to respectfully help fix some stranger's server. Commented Nov 18, 2019 at 10:21
  • Enforcing the usage of user-defined pronouns has been the core of the issue of a lot of discussion. And telling users they are free to request their pronouns from being used, but users can just ignore that request and use something else is bound to run into the same issues.
    – MechMK1
    Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 5:27
  • 11
    When you allow made up pronouns (and all neo pronouns are, when you're pedantic, the classic pronouns are as well), there is no way to troll it. When you choose something obscure as your pronoun on a site where everyone can demand his favourite pronouns, there is no reason to call it trolling. What would be a proof, that "attack helicopter" is trolling or not? What criterion would make a proof for a pronoun valid or invalid? You would need to judge other people's personal boundaries, what is not up to you. So we either need to allow everything or just stick with classic and neutral pronouns.
    – allo
    Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 0:53
  • @allo I would like to keep my political views out of this situation - a move I could recommend SE, Inc. to try for once - but I agree that in a pedantic sense, there is no way to know for sure which pronouns are "legit" and which one's are not.
    – MechMK1
    Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 6:18
  • @mechMK I would think we could use the same standard as for anything else, not re: whether a pronoun set is valid, but whether the content is allowed in general.
    – De Novo
    Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 15:27
  • That depends on the kind of content in question.
    – MechMK1
    Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 16:16

A proposal

  • Stop asking people who are new to this to police gender expression

  • Have at least one staff member go through some quality diversity training. If gender must be policed, let that staff member do it.

  • Follow this excellent advice. Consider the risk of being nice to a hypothetical troll who performs a non binary gender expression, as if there is nothing at all odd about it. In fact, allowing skeptical people who are unfamiliar with nonnormative expression to try it out is an extremely useful exercise. Hypothetical trolls may feel free to walk a mile in my shoes.

  • Generally, dial the troll detector way back when it comes to user profiles and pronouns. If it's not explicitly offensive, leave it be.

  • Counsel moderators to not, ever, call someone's pronouns made up. If they were flagged and someone with diversity training believes them to be offensive, say something like a user found your pronouns offensive. The phrase "made up" does not read as "something you developed on your own to express your individual identity". It contains within it the idea that the individual's identity is concocted; falsely fabricated or invented. Even, e.g., a sexually explicit pronoun may be valid. It is just crosses the line for this site. Don't put yourself in a position to guess at someone's intentions. State the facts, without judgement.

  • 29
    @SurpriseDog I can see how deferring to an academic authority may be tempting here, but that paper is not at all meant to draw boundaries around gender expression. Rather, it describes observed gender expression.
    – De Novo
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 21:45
  • 27
    @SurpriseDog: If you're looking for an authoritative list of "acceptable pronouns," that's not it. The paper states that "Respondents report a variety of reasons for choosing their particular pronouns, ranging from phonetic and visual appeal to feeling an instinctive sense of “rightness”/“comfort”, and goes on to say that "Many found their pronouns on websites such as Pronoun Dressing Room, which has lists of existing pronouns and tools for constructing new ones.
    – user102937
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 21:48
  • 7
    So what I'd like to know is "How do I get my own personal pronoun that feels right to me on that list, so that it can be widely-accepted as well?"
    – user102937
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 21:49
  • 60
    The enforcement of "let's respect non-binary users and use their pronouns" has been a disaster since week negative one, but now it's so disastrous it's turned into "and let's do that by disrespecting non-binary users and refusing to use their pronouns". I'm sort of awed. Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 22:26
  • 29
    Have at least one staff member go through some quality diversity training. If gender must be policed, let that staff member do it. And be accountable/answerable for their actions. No more of this detached 'i nuked your profile because I don't like it'. If you're going to deny a chosen identity you better damn well be ready to answer for it. Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 3:23
  • 6
    I have two words for you: Grimble/Gromble.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 10:31
  • 9
    @einpoklum-reinstateMonica that was posted when guidance was to leave extraneous information in the post. Grimble/gromble are perfectly fine pronouns. I would welcome grimble to try out this gender expressions if it is new to gromble. Regardless, with current guidelines their is no need to tell the story of the four friends. The old policy of requiring us to treat any post with pronouns differently then we've treated every other post here is what opened the door to trolling, not the pronouns grimble/gromble
    – De Novo
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 14:34
  • 14
    @SurpriseDog: Then why do you need an official list? Any neopronoun should do.
    – user102937
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 17:03
  • 9
    In the end a pronoun is used to avoid using a noun ( the name ) all the time, but that's it. Using the noun as fallback is verbose, but valid. Some languages don't use pronouns all the time like english does, or have a very strict small subset of them that can't be modified without altering the whole language.
    – CptEric
    Commented Nov 18, 2019 at 8:12
  • 3
    @einpoklum-reinstateMonica Serious question: What makes "grimble" a less legitimate pronoun than "shpee", "xim" or "peilonrayzelf"?
    – MechMK1
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 14:36
  • 2
    @einpoklum-reinstateMonica that similarity may make xim less challenging (or more challenging, depending on who you ask) but it doesn't make it more valid. Some people explicitly don't want their gender expression to be defined in relationship to male or female.
    – De Novo
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 15:59
  • 1
    @einpoklum-reinstateMonica So your definition, if I understand correctly, is that a neo-pronoun is not allowed to be longer than 3 or 4 characters? I have not seen this restriction mentioned anywhere, be it on Stack Exchange or anywhere else.
    – MechMK1
    Commented Nov 25, 2019 at 14:28
  • 1
    @MechMK1: No, for several reasons: 1. It's not my definition, I'm just trying to interpret what other people do. 2. It's not a definition, it's more of a rule of thumb. 3. It's not about length per se, but rather whether it seems to have some rationale. If someone told me their pronouns were abc/def I'd tell them to get lost.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Nov 25, 2019 at 15:10
  • 1
    @einpoklum-reinstateMonica But why? I could decide that I want to be refered to by neo-pronouons, regardless of how well they adapt to existing pronouns. Perhaps in an effort to express how I feel like existing norms don't apply to me, I desire my pronouns to be "bahtreplohmep", and according to the current CoC, anyone has to respect that. The whole point is that it is impossible in practice to tell "legitimate" and "illegitimate" neo-pronoun users apart, because that would require the ability to read minds, a skill I assume few moderators possess.
    – MechMK1
    Commented Nov 25, 2019 at 19:49
  • 2
    @einpoklum-reinstateMonica I disagree. It assumes that neo-pronouns follow any specific rules, which could be applied to tell if any word is a valid neo-pronoun. This assertion is simply false. Furthermore, pronouns don't express intent, they express identity. If I would say my pronouns are him/his, what can you judge about my intent? I might be a neo-pronoun user usually, but the recent controversy made me pick "wrong" pronouns on purpose.
    – MechMK1
    Commented Nov 26, 2019 at 12:28

I think that if it’s acceptable for people to choose not to use pronouns and ask people to use their name instead, users here should be permitted to ask people to use their account name to refer to them and to use their profile to educate people on how to do that properly.

The changes to the Code of Conduct (CoC) were framed in terms of pronouns and with a too specific idea of resulting behavior in mind, which is why this is all unnecessarily complicated. The goal should have simply been for everyone to be kind to each other and to educate users that it’s polite to respect someone’s wishes if they ask you to use certain words to refer to them.

If the CoC and subsequent FAQ had just stated that we must not refer to people using words they’ve asked us not to, none of this would be an issue. The only reason this is so complicated is because the FAQ that accompanied the change tries to strong-arm people into normalizing things that some people think should not be normalized.

I think neopronouns are a terrible solution for gender expression, and the situation that led to this question being asked is part of the reason why. I don’t think allowing only some people to choose certain non-standard pronouns judged to be serious or acceptable by some arbitrary group helps anyone and it sets up a conflict that hurts people. I think expecting everyone to invent or choose a pronoun that they feel expresses their gender is simply not a feasible way to communicate, even if there weren’t people choosing pronouns in bad faith to try to make it harder.

That said, I don’t have a negative view of people who disagree with my opinion about it. I understand that every solution to a problem has pros and cons and good, thoughtful people can weigh those pros and cons differently.

In my opinion, you can believe whatever you want to, so long as you don’t act in a way that makes people feel unwelcome. Moderators don’t need diversity training to handle the vast majority of instances where someone is interacting in ways that make others feel unwelcome. If moderators get a complaint they don’t feel comfortable handling, they should escalate it to the CM team. If a community member feels that moderators aren’t taking complaints seriously, they should escalate it to the CM team. Any other expectation is not reasonable when you’re dealing with volunteers.

I think it’s a bad idea to try to proactively identify “problematic” profiles or posts. If no-one has complained about it, why buy trouble? If everyone who has interacted with that person didn’t see anything rude or unwelcoming in their behavior, is there actually a problem that needs solving?

It’s far more important to make sure that the community feels safe complaining about content that makes them feel excluded or unwelcome so that those things get reported when someone notices them. We do that by making sure that we take people’s concerns seriously and treat all of our users respectfully, even when they’re in the wrong. Treating people disrespectfully when they’ve done something wrong causes two problems. It makes it less likely that person will want to correct that behavior and be an upstanding community member, and it makes good people less likely to report borderline bad behavior because they don’t want to be the cause of someone who made a mistake getting treated poorly.

  • 6
    "Did I mention that I think neopronouns are a terrible solution for gender expression?" -> You might want to get rid of that. I don't see how it's helping your answer and I also feel personally attacked by it since I use "neo-pronouns" in my native langage. Commented Nov 18, 2019 at 20:54
  • 37
    @BelovedFool I did debate putting it in there, but this question is very relevant to why I think neopronouns are a bad solution. I don’t think the people who like neopronouns as a solution are bad people or shouldn’t advocate for a solution they like. And of course I would not state my opinion about them in a way I thought would make someone who has those pronouns feel disrespected. I should be able to state my opinion without you taking that to mean I am attacking you.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Nov 18, 2019 at 22:02
  • There's good stuff here, but "terrible" does make me uncomfortable. Not uncomfortable as in, I need to flag this, but uncomfortable as in, I have a hard time upvoting this despite the paragraphs I really like. Your analysis is a breath of fresh air; the last paragraph is great (but makes me sad, since it's sometimes been difficult or impossible for me to get needed support from moderators --and "Contact Us" is useless when there's no response for weeks or months). "Terrible" is a strong word, coming from you. I'd jump to upvote "I personally think neopronouns are a less than ideal solution". Commented Dec 18, 2019 at 4:20
  • @aparente001 But I don’t think the solution is “less than ideal”. I think the neopronoun solutions that are currently being implemented are terrible, divisive solutions that are hurting some people unnecessarily. That said, I would not contribute to that hurt by refusing to use someone’s pronouns. People more important than disagreements over how best to achieve some goal. I can be kind and respectful to an individual without having to accept everything they believe or forcing them to accept everything I believe.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Dec 18, 2019 at 21:43
  • @ColleenVpartedways - I learned a set yesterday that was new to me. It was probably mentioned here but maybe I wasn't paying good attention. Their = eir, them = em, they = ee, for him or herself: emself. // Is the hurt coming from people drawing lines in the sand (not using them is disrespectful ... they feel all wrong to me and I refuse to use them [which is not your position]), or something else? Commented Dec 18, 2019 at 23:50
  • Correction: for they, ey. Commented Dec 19, 2019 at 22:43

The Pronoun Police Concept: progress or a step backwards?

Is this what our community needs? Does it make our participation feel like "community" or does it make us feel as though we have to look over our shoulder each time we enter into any kind of engagement that goes beyond a sterile "the code does this" discourse?

I honestly don't know. I suspect that we'll each adapt to the new environment in our own ways depending on how much we value participation on this network.

It may be that here in Meta we make a tempest in a teapot, or, it may mean that a whole lot of flares are being fired from the Titanic signalling an emergency condition.

An anecdote to illustrate confusion

I was taken aback some days ago about the "attack helicopter" name/meme/thing that arose in a META.SE post. I spent some years in the military, which is a context wherein an attack helicopter is a very real, and a very lethal thing. (And a very expensive one to operate). Suddenly, or so it seems to me, a word with a real meaning has been hijacked and slapped with a surreal connotation. That is but one example of the disorientation I feel with how this conversation, this collective conversation, has gone on for some weeks. I feel a lot of empathy for Monica - what is going on with this language I grew up speaking? How do non-native speakers feel about this?

I come back to, again and again, how broad, vague, and even useful the core Be Nice policy was. It allowed a contextual interaction that an ever-lengthening list, a CODE, of behaviors does NOT.

But what did I expect to see from this culture? It is built by and for Code Writing People. A computer or a script or an app can parse code. It can't handle context.

We have met the enemy and he is us. ~ Walt Kelly

I'm not going to forsake "Be Nice" - it may be imperfect but it is a generally useful guiding principle. I am not always nice, sure, but that appeal - to Be Nice - is a good first step in bridging a gap between two users whose only contact with each other is via keyboard and screen.

My recommendation:

  1. Talk to people, not at them
  2. If someone alerts you to an offense you didn't intend, listen, and see if you can figure out how to reach common ground, common understanding.
  3. And of course, don't be deliberately offensive. The Be Nice idea is grounded in reminding all of us that, as a guiding principle, we can each take the effort to try and do that. It's worth taking that little extra effort.
  • 8
    Just a note: the "attack helicopter" thing is years old
    – muru
    Commented Nov 17, 2019 at 5:32
  • 15
    @muru Only if one spends a lot of time on the internet tracking down stuff like that. I had never heard of that secret meaning. Commented Nov 17, 2019 at 14:52
  • 3
    @KorvinStarmast and thus, in the histrionics over the term, more people are exposed to it, giving trolls yet another weapon in their arsenal
    – user316129
    Commented Nov 20, 2019 at 21:53

I wasn't planning to post an answer here. I think De Novo's proposal is the best answer we can come up with.

But then someone suggests that there might be no middle ground. That:

Either all of it is okay, or none of it is okay.

They also seem to suggest that, to protect everyone from the trolls, banning neopronouns altogether might be okay.

I'm non-binary and I disagree.

I hate trolls. I wish there wouldn't exist and that I could ban them out of my existence. However, what I hate even more is making someone feels like their identity isn't valid.

Being transgender, especially non-binary, is being out of the social norms. And inventing pronouns for yourself can be part of it.

I use they/them. If neo-pronouns where to be banned, it wouldn't affect me personally. But it would affect other people in the non-binary community. People that have to struggle every day to make their identity recognised as valid.

I know how it feels. In my native language (French), it's impossible to talk about someone without gendering them. It doesn't prevent us from trying. From making our own rules so that speaking in a neutral way becomes possible.

It's hard. It really is. It makes you feel like you don't belong in this world. Like you are some sort of monster that shouldn't be here. From time to time, people will say that my way of using "inclusive writing" is awful and shouldn't be allowed or exist in the first place. Hearing this is really not nice. It makes me feel all kinds of negative feelings.

I don't want anyone else to feel like that.

That is why, if the choice is between allowing all neo-pronouns or neither, I choose all.

Even if it means accepting the "helicopter attack" thing.

Sure, it's never nice to be made fun of by someone using the "helicopter attack" meme. But it's even worse to feel invalidated because someone judges that your pronouns weren't acceptable. That they sounded too fake or "silly" to be real.

I'm non-binary, I'll do everything to protect my community. In this case, if we have to choose between "all neo-pronouns or none", then I choose all. Because I feel that this is the best way to protect my community. To protect me.

I really wish we could found a middle ground. I really wish that De Novo's proposal will be accepted. But if a middle ground isn't possible, if we have to choose between "all or nothing", then I choose all.

  • 11
    In my mind the "middle ground" is the "be nice" policy which I think was a really good idea. The problem comes when something that should be an instinctive concept needs to be defined by specifications. We shouldn't expect a policy to make the decision for us if something is a nice behaviour or not. Years ago I worked for a company with 5 core values, and one of them was "Do the right thing". There was no more specification than that because people were expected to ... well, do the right thing. What's happening here is basically micro-managing.
    – ChatterOne
    Commented Nov 18, 2019 at 9:58
  • I believe that "he" was accepted as neutral, but it really isn't. This is a deficiency of the language. To me there are no good solutions, only less bad ones. Long before this pronoun thing came up I was uncomfortable with always referring to the abstract developer as "he." I'm not saying it's wrong. I just wish the language didn't make me think about something that's irrelevant to what I'm expressing. I don't see a better solution than using singular "they" as a gender neutral pronoun that can apply to absolutely anyone. Commented Nov 18, 2019 at 20:36
  • 7
    @ScottHannen per the faq "they" is a reasonable default, but be prepared to make adjustments if so requested. In other words, "they" doesn't apply to absolutely anyone, but it is a good default.
    – De Novo
    Commented Nov 18, 2019 at 22:30
  • 2
    @DeNovosupportsGoFundMonica That "but" is where it falls apart. If gender neutral was always acceptable - a reasonable compromise - all sorts of problems would vanish. The end. Because it is neutral, "they" does apply to anyone. That "but" gets you this post and everything in it. Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 12:23
  • 3
    @ScottHannen what gets us this post it's people can't just call other people what they want to be called. Instead, they spend a lot of energy worrying about trolls. It's very much like the bathroom debate. Oh no! If anyone can use whatever bathroom they want, predators will come for the women and children!
    – De Novo
    Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 13:33
  • 7
    It doesn't. I'm pretty much in spectator mode watching bad decisions cause predictable and unpredictable problems. Except it was predictable that there would be unpredicted problems just as big as the ones the original bad decisions addressed, so all of this was predictable. To some of us, anyway. That's my way-too-talky way of saying, yes, I'll stop talking about it in the comments of your answer. :) Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 13:43

Let's start with this question:

1. How can we avoid the problems policing gender expression religion has brought up?

On religious sites, people post answers purportedly from their sect. Moderators (and diamond moderators) determine whether or not their sect is genuine (keep the answer), or whether it's just same random user on the internet with their own personal religion (delete the answer).

This is proof of concept that moderators already make decisions about boundary problems that relate to "I identify as" issues. In essence they act on their opinion: Is that a real religious sect? The risks of false positives and false negatives exist here too.

I understand the standard for determining if a sect is real is: there exists a webpage written about that sect that is not by the poster. It's very much in favor of giving the benefit of the doubt, but without totally switching off one's brain.

2. How do medical professionals determine if someone is genuinely transgender?

The usual way of determine if someone is genuinely transgender (as opposed to it being a whim, some kind of fetish, or being a manifestation of a mental illness) is:

  1. Consistent. It's not a new thing.
  2. Insistent. It's not a minor thing.
  3. Persistent. It remains over time.

Indeed, transgender people get grumpy at medical professionals for "gatekeeping", but this is the standard approach.

3. How can we avoid the problems policing gender expression has brought up?

  1. Don't switch your brain off.
  2. If there exists a website describing this gender expression written by someone other than the poster, take it seriously.
  3. If it appears consistent, insistent, and persistent, take it seriously.
  4. If someone's using some unique neopronouns with no indication that it's a sincere belief (have they ever even used the pronouns themselves?), it's probably a troll.
  5. If someone is misidentified as a troll, apologize and make corrections. They should understand because they will be negatively affected by trolling more than anyone.
  6. If someone is genuinely misgendered, it's hurtful and embarrassing, so the last thing they would want is to draw attention to it. If they're making a big stink on meta.SE, it's probably a troll: trolls want the audience. If they want it discreetly settled and to quickly move on, it's probably genuine.
  • 12
    Regarding consistency, people might suddenly come "out of the closet" and start using a new pronoun. Or they might be a new account, so you'd have no "past record" to go on. Just a nitpick.
    – user245382
    Commented Nov 17, 2019 at 3:01
  • 8
    "consistent" and "persistent" are key identity points here, but also impossible to judge for most users, especially new ones. "insistent" can be easily feigned by trolls, so it's dangerous to rely on that alone.
    – goldPseudo
    Commented Nov 17, 2019 at 3:22
  • 18
    Your medical standard is for gender dysphoria, and is used to determine whether medical treatment is appropriate, considering the associated risks. It's an entirely different standard from one to determine whether or not a person's nonnormative gender expression should be respected.
    – De Novo
    Commented Nov 17, 2019 at 4:50
  • 12
    "If there exists a website describing this gender expression written by someone other than the poster, take it seriously" — We still have no clear answer from moderators on whether neopronouns "aqua", "petal", "meow", "voi" etc. are allowed, and these are documented on multiple websites, including Pronoun Dressing Room mentioned in comments to another answer and Nonbinary Wiki.
    – Athari
    Commented Nov 17, 2019 at 5:20
  • 6
    So we should get back to only allow gender expressions that are normative enough and asking the victims to justify themselves just not to get the troll treatment? Wait, that wouldn't be "getting back", actually we have never been there before. Commented Nov 18, 2019 at 13:04
  • 2
    If the guide to understanding how to enforce the CoC is asking, "What would a trained medical professional do, except that people disagree with them too," then have fun with this. It sounds like it's going really well so far. Commented Nov 18, 2019 at 14:04
  • 4
    To me, I would say there is a wide difference between enforcing "mainstream" standards in answers on religious sites, and enforcing "mainstream" gender pronouns. For example, on physics SE, answers should relate to mainstream physics; because that is what the site is about. There's no on or off-topic-ness related to pronouns, so policing them based on the same standards makes no sense. If religious sites are anything like physics, those answers get deleted because they are off topic. Pronouns never have such a problem.
    – JMac
    Commented Nov 18, 2019 at 20:01
  • 2
    "Consistent" and "persistent" hit a really hard limit at this point. Google for keywords like "moongender". I'll not say anything about this, but the context where you mentioned this already implied seeking medical advice, so I can at least say that this doesn't seem to be the worst option...
    – Marco13
    Commented Nov 18, 2019 at 20:54
  • "there exists a webpage written about that sect that is not by the poster". In my (downvoted) answer to the related question Neopronoun or Trolling I suggested a criterion to use was "community: if challenged, the user should be able to point to a gender community that has already proposed use of the neopronoun and has already achieved some degree of support amongst themselves for using it; SE sites are not suitable for making those kinds of proposals and rallying support for them"
    – Raedwald
    Commented Nov 25, 2019 at 13:02
  • 1
    "someone is misidentified as a troll, apologize and make corrections": skilled trolls love being publicly accused of trolling, because then they get to expand the discussion to be about how the accuser is being the bad actor for making such a hurtful and untrue accusation. Probably best to raise a flag for a moderator to consider instead.
    – Raedwald
    Commented Nov 25, 2019 at 13:07

In my view, the correct policy is

If a user requests that you not refer to them with male-gendered or female gendered words (or requests you use neither), you must not continue to do so. Using gender-neutral language is always acceptable, and is encouraged.

Simple, objective, easy to enforce, and covers all the most common cases of misgendering. It does mean users cannot be required to use specific pronouns or to use gendered language instead of gender-neutral language, but that seems like a small downside compared to the great improvement in clarity.

  • 5
    ...and not always allowing gender-neutral language doesn't cause any problems. That's why this question and all the answers and comments don't exist and everyone is happy. Oh, wait Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 13:30
  • But who determines which gender-neutral language should be used and which is not acceptable? Shouldn't that be included in your proposed policy?
    – JJJ
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 21:24
  • @JJforTransparencyandMonica I don't see why any gender-neutral language should be considered unacceptable. If someone wants to use xe instead of singular they, that's fine. Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 22:54
  • @JJforTransparencyandMonica I'm still having trouble envisioning the problem you're suggesting. Offensive language is already disallowed. Commented Nov 23, 2019 at 1:40
  • 1
    @JJforTransparencyandMonica If it's so much of a problem, then singular they can be required as the gender neutral pronoun, but I don't think it will be. Honestly, this proposed policy still works with a vague "be reasonable" standard, because the default of singular they always exists to be used. That is what separates this from the current policy. In the current policy, you must call someone fae if that is what fae claims is faer pronoun, and that's what leaves it open to potential trolling (and the nasty false positives described in the OP). Commented Nov 23, 2019 at 1:50
  • @JJforTransparencyandMonica Well I don't disagree with that. But as long as we're going to have a policy about pronouns (and it seems that is foregone at this point), I would think we should have one that's clear and enforceable. Commented Nov 23, 2019 at 4:07

Personally, this is the first time I've seen someone request their name be used in lieu of pronouns. Given they were using their online alias, I'm not surprised someone, who had the same ignorance about that preference as I did, assumed it was trolling.

I think Stack Exchange should suggest a default pronoun to use, when in doubt. "They" is the default that I see used the most often when pronoun preferences are unclear, and given that general consensus, SE should probably just have that be the suggested default.

I get that, in this case, this particular user said 'they' isn't acceptable, but this preference is currently an outlier, and I don't think it's reasonable to expect every user to click on someone's profile everytime they respond to a poster, to see if they have an issue with 'they'.

  • 8
    This is what the FAQ already says. "They" is the suggested, but not required, default (Basics 5, Implementation 3) and you are not required to check profiles before responding (Implementation 11).
    – Em C
    Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 15:58

This post describes the experience of a user (whose pronouns happen to be similar to mine). The pronouns were a derivative of the user name. To sum up the post, these pronouns were removed from this users profile, and an about me from one Stack Exchange site was copied over to all Stack Exchange sites, including those sites where the user had an anonymized profile.

Those are not pronouns (grammatically speaking). It's just someone who doesn't want to be referred by standard pronouns or neo-pronouns. Which is OK, but this person should know it looks extremely similar to the Attack Helicopter 'meme'. Instead, this person should save this personself the trouble and not making up pronouns on the fly. That only serves to further intrigue the Stack Exchange community.

  • 1
    I don't think it's "extremely similar". I just looked it up, the source of the meme doesn't look like this (content warning: 4chan-level extreme offensive memeing). Before that, I only remember seeing it referenced like "I identify as an attack helicopter".
    – sourcejedi
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 22:03
  • 18
    And "attack helicopter" wouldn't even be offensive had it not become a meme, but merely ridiculous.
    – user102937
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 22:41
  • 15
    Attack Helicopter meme and then making up pronouns on the fly - was that a deliberate or accidental pun? Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 1:11
  • 1
    @RobertHarvey "[not] offensive... but merely ridiculous": but by using it, implicitly ridiculing the idea that someone would identify with a non "traditional" gender, and thus ridiculing trans people?
    – Raedwald
    Commented Nov 25, 2019 at 13:15

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