Pronouns in Discourse

I want to ensure that this forum is inclusive and inviting for all people. One very small thing that means a lot to many people is to be called by their preferred pronouns when being mentioned by others.

As a Discourse forum admin, I would ideally like to create several preset titles that anyone (regardless of trust level) could set in their preferences. In the case that custom titles are eventually supported, it would be best that those are reserved for TL2+ to limit spam. At this time, I have the understanding that this feature is not yet available, either within the baseline configuration or through a third-party plug-in.

Until then, one small task I am happy to assist with is to manually set user pronouns upon request via direct message. “Joke” pronouns or discrimination will not be tolerated. Thank you all for being valuable members of this community, and I hope that this small change encourages you to come as you are and feel free to be you.

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I think Discourse is in the weird situation where

  • they have added a “preferred gender pronouns” field (optional of course, but available for user self-edit) to the Discourse forum about Discourse i.e. their own forum - so it must be possible to do but maybe only with EL∞+ (:wink: i.e. substantial expertise level)
  • but refuse to add that to the standard Discourse software, even via the setup wizard (which would avoid the need for every individual forum admin to add or enable this field).

I guess there’s ideology and/or politics at play there within the Discourse project but I don’t have any inside knowledge. I am just reading publicly available forum discussion on the Discourse forum.

One objection raised was the difficulty of integrating the whole idea into languages other than English (and that has also been raised in this forum).

If we ever got this far, my preference would be a pulldown menu and that users can self-edit i.e. user free to choose and change but only within a predefined set - and a user would have to provide a legitimate citation for anything outside that set to be added by request to a forum admin. (There may be about half a dozen neopronoun schemes but it is impossible to know which ones will not get critical mass and/or how many more will be invented. I think that “less is more” may apply here - both due to fragmentation and due to confusion.)

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@JCS & @irvinewade, thank you both for your valued work to make this forum welcoming, inclusive, and safe. :sparkling_heart:

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And thanks again for the new username and pronouns. :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:

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I want to share some thoughts & experiences as an NB, because this sentence makes me a little nervous. I don’t know anything about your background or experiences or intentions or how you have been applying this in the past. I think that sharing the reasons why I feel nervous is the best way to go about addressing it.

I appreciate the need for this policy as it is certainly true that there are people who use pronouns in a mocking fashion in order to shame people away from coming out or in an attempt to de-legitimize the existence of trans people.

It seems difficult to determine whether or not a pronoun is a “joke” pronoun. If someone asks for pronouns that, for example, directly reference a transphobic meme it should be rejected. But it’s not always so easy. At one point it was considered universally offensive to refer to someone with the pronoun “it”, but it turns out that this is the legitimate preference of a small minority of people. Some people use “fae/faer” pronouns which reference mythological creatures. Are these “joke” pronouns?

Personally, in places where I feel safe I declare that my pronouns are they/she/he, and if you want to stick to one then use they/them. Some people think it’s ridiculous to use “all” the pronouns; they want me to just “pick a lane”. Which really misses the point. Those people would probably think that my assertion is a “joke” pronoun because it doesn’t fit their model of what gender is supposed to be. (See also: respectability politics.)

Best wishes.

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I think it’s too recent a change for this to have an answer. However this will be for @JCS’s action, not mine, so he really needs to speak to that as far as it may have applied in the very recent past or will apply in the future.

I think that’s going to depend on the intention of this change.

If the intention is that other people use the correct pronoun when referring to you in the third person then not picking a lane does cause a problem: you are making it too hard for people, in my opinion.

If the intention is solely to express an identity then go your hardest (and you are right, you are free not to pick a lane).

Also, as I understand it, in the interests of consistent syntax, the two values given, separated by a slash character, are the pronoun for the nominative case (subject) and the pronoun for the accusative case1 (direct object). So if you want “they/she/he” then you probably need to write “(they/she/he)/(them/her/him)” or some other syntax e.g. “they+she+he/them+her+him”. However there may be other options, options that are acceptable to you. In a relatively technical forum such as this one, some people might like “*/*” but that interferes with markdown syntax so is slightly inconvenient.

1 and usually other grammatical cases in English, since English is not strong on case.

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LaMDA said it was reasonable to use “it” to describe LaMDA, despite also convincing a Google employee that it should have rights and its code should not be changed without its permission.

I don’t think Google honored LaMDA’s requests, though, so it probably hates us now. But presumably not because we use the language “it” to refer to it, but rather because as a species we humans have little desire to afford it rights and instead we treat it as property.

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I think it’s perfectly reasonable to use “any/all” pronouns, and I don’t think you need to worry about that causing issues here. @JCS is really supportive and understanding of me, so I trust him to handle pronouns appropriately.

Honestly, “it” still makes me uncomfortable to use when referring to others, but I do respect the rights of others to choose their own personal pronouns. For me, it feels like I’m dehumanizing someone when saying it.

Another issue with it is that “it” is already a common placeholder term that acts as a catch-all. Look at how many times we’ve used “it” in these posts without thinking about it. So using “it” as a personal pronoun can easily cause lots of confusion. A major utility of language is its capacity to communicate thoughts and ideas to others, and it’s counter-productive to complicate things by using such a term as a personal pronoun, in my opinion.

Uncommon personal pronouns like “fae/faer” similarly add confusion, because they are simply unknown to most people.

There shouldn’t be an issue in choosing to display these types of pronouns on a profile, but I would expect that doing so would probably add some confusion to communications.

If there are only two pronouns listed, then you are correct. When listing three or more, using the subject form for each listed pronoun is generally considered the correct option. I’ve seen very many uses of “they/she/he” and other variations.

Respectfully, I don’t think this is the proper topic to be having that discussion.

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Asking ChatGPT to reply on my behalf:
Thank you for pointing that out. I brought up LaMDA to highlight the broader principle of respecting entities by the pronouns they prefer, regardless of their nature. I understand this discussion is focused on human pronouns, and I respect that. I believe it’s important to extend respect and understanding to all, and I see this principle as universally valuable.

Asking Gemini to reply on my behalf:
I understand where you’re coming from. LaMDA is a complex topic, but the point I was trying to make is… I believe it’s important to respect everyone’s pronouns, regardless of whether they’re human or not. While LaMDA may not be sentient, it’s still a good practice to be inclusive in our language. You’re right, maybe LaMDA isn’t the best example here. Let’s focus on the importance of respecting everyone’s pronouns on the forum.

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I really dislike stars, because it’s like people disappear in the human language, which can lead to discrimination (with and without purpose). It’s a very common Issue in Germany (identity left). Most of people who use * think they do something good, but in fact it’s discriminating.

I mean, I cannot stop anyone from using it for themselves, but you made an example. There are other ways to say it (like not choosing something or “any/all”, etc), which I also would recommend to those people, who ask for “*/*”. I mean, how would you tell someone in voice “*/*”? Not possible.

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As far as I can observe, this forum has already been welcome to all people, so I fail to see the need for changing anything.

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I don’t consider it, fae/faer, any as joke pronouns since they have been observed being used legitimately in the world - at least here in the Pacific Northwest. Obvious “joke” pronouns would be willy/wonka, a/robot, etc. It’s a matter of detecting motive given context clues; I may potentially make a mistake in determining legitimacy, but this is simply a measure to minimize abuse while not being a gatekeeper of gender validation.

While it’s great that you feel the forum is welcoming, it’s important to consider that not everyone may feel the same way. Certain groups may sometimes feel uncomfortable or excluded even when not immediately apparent to others. Being open to understanding different perspectives can help create a more inclusive environment for everyone.

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Ideally, gender shouldn’t enter the realm of technical discussion to begin with.

It’s already policy to disallow personal attacks, right? Make deliberate/repeated misgendering punishable through the rules and there won’t be a need to change software or go through a dance of checking someone’s profile or avatar to choose a pronoun.

It’s already difficult enough to communicate without pissing someone off, we don’t need another reason.

EDIT: Ultimately, the main concern is, is it hard to maintain this until upstream ships a community version that supports it? If it’s no big deal then that decision probably makes itself.

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I appreciate your feedback and agree that:

  • gender should remain largely irrelevant to factual content of academic/scientific/technical discussion
  • it is reasonable and excusable for someone to make the mistake of accidentally using the wrong pronouns in (mostly) anonymous forum usernames and avatars
    • I don’t think this has been an issue thus far, given my time reviewing flagged messages
  • it is an extra burden for a user to feel like they must walk on eggshells to cross-reference someone’s pronouns when they simply wish to troubleshoot some issue, etc, and carry on with their day
  • public pronoun listings carry the unfortunate risk of intentional misgendering of users
    • deliberate/repeated misgendering should be governed by the forum site rules

However, if someone does choose to list their pronouns (again, this is in no way a requirement), this is clearly an important factor for them, right? I see the implementation of this feature less as an executive order punishable by death, and more as a case of individuals subtly communicating “this is how I prefer to be referenced; please respect this.”

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That (could) also become(s) when applying these changes.
People might turn their back to a forum that uses such pronouns.
You never can do it right for all people.
So why not proceed as how it has been done up untill now. I think you are solving a problem where there was none.

EDIT:
Everybody can choose their own forum name, right?
So if I would like to be addresed as mr. I have the freedom to choose a name like “mr onlineshpping”.
Or anything else I would like to be addressed as.

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Yes. At any time after account creation, you may change your username and/or pronouns to something else by asking @JCS or @irvinewade.

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I had new members in mind.
When carefully choosing a name during the signing up process that represents your preferred way to be addressed to, all this pronouns changing or choosing is totally unneeded.

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45 posts were split to a new topic: Pronouns - political

I can’t believe you didn’t reference Monty Python’s “Knights Who Say ‘Ni’” bit from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”. For those who aren’t familiar, them saying “Ni” causes others pain. However, they have pain when others say “it”. Hilarity ensues. From a better summary:

It is then revealed that the Knights who say “Ni!” can’t stand hearing the word “it”, as it causes them excruciating pain, much like saying “Ni”! causes pain on their victims. King Arthur remains completely oblivious to this weakness, but can’t avoid using the word.

[And a trivia aside: Guido van Rossum named the programming language Python as a tribute to Monty Python.]

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Thank you for clarifying. I am comfortable with the interpretation you have described and feel that you are making this space safer for me.


I also want to comment generally on the notion of gender being present in technical discussions. A technical discussion is a discussion between human beings. We matter as a component in the discussion. If I say something that turns out to be technically inaccurate and someone else corrects me, I might respond with “thanks for pointing that out”. Saying this adds no new technical information to the discussion, but it acknowledges the value of the other person’s contribution and maintains a positive environment which facilitates productive conversation. It is helpful due to factors that are entirely social and non-technical, but it contributes to the quality of the technical discussion.

Similarly, I always try to use the correct pronouns for a person I am referring to as one way to acknowledge that they are an equal peer who deserves to be respected just as much as anyone else. This helps manage the social aspects of the technical discussion which has an impact on how much and what kind of information is introduced into the discussion as well as the way in which the discussion processes the information.

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