There are numerous cases where the views held by different people clash. Homosexual intercourses are one such obvious example: many religious denominations (for example Catholicism) consider them sinful, while many other people uphold that there is nothing wrong with such intercourses.

In cases when two people with mutually incompatible views wish to cooperate or coexist without constant arguments (or one of them getting the boot) they may both agree to avoid uttering views the other one finds unacceptable. For example, a Catholic may agree to avoid vocally condemning homosexual sex, knowing that a Liberal believes that such views cause real, tangible and severe harm to homosexual people (and is willing to protect such people from this perceived act of aggression and discrimination by banning the offenders from online communities).

It would seem that this can only work if the non-negotiables of both parties are negative ("don't do X", for example "don't say it is wrong to be homosexual"), rather than positive ("you must do X").

The gender pronoun issue seems to be one such example that frustrates the above. This is because the non-negotiable¹ in many places such as online communities, workplaces, universities seem to go beyond the negative rule, that is, "do not label others with a gender that does not match their stated gender identity". Rather, the non-negotiable seems to be positive: "you must use pronouns that acknowledge other's stated gender identity"².

At the same time it can be argued that the teaching of certain Christian denominations (such as the Catholic Church) is that a person whose biological sex is, say, female, remains female even if such a person has a male gender identity³. It can be therefore argued that if, for example, a person's preferred gender pronoun is he/him and it is known that this differs from this person's biological sex then using this pronoun positively reaffirms this person's identity as a male, which automatically rejects this part of the teaching of such religions.

Since (it seems to me) a Catholic (or other religious person whose faith has similar teachings on this subject) cannot abide by the rule to use preferred gender pronouns without verbally rejecting the teachings of their religion, the rule that requires the use of preferred gender pronouns (as opposed to a weaker, non-positive version of such a rule) effectively requires all such people to reject their faith in order to participate. This is equivalent to forbidding all Catholics (and many other religious people) from participating, even though such an outcome does not seem to be intentional⁴.

Does the requirement to use preferred gender pronouns preclude the participation of people whose faith teaches that gender cannot be changed in communities that implement this rule? (The problem seems to be important since more and more places are implementing such rules.)

¹ "In the Code of Conduct, we state “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.” To clarify, this includes discussion questioning or debating the legitimacy of someone’s race, gender, sexual orientation or religion. Further, the debate or discussion of whether or not you want to or should use a person’s pronouns is both offensive and alienating."

² "The Code of Conduct has two direct references to pronouns: • “Use stated pronouns (when known).” • “Prefer gender-neutral language when uncertain.”" This means that, if one's preferred pronouns are known, their use is compulsory (instead of gender-neutral language). To a certain degree the issue can be circumvented: "You can often avoid using pronouns altogether. It's actually pretty rare to need third-person pronouns at all on most Stack Exchange sites." Even so, circumstances may arise when this positive requirement can no longer be avoided: "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."

³ "In 2015, the Vatican declared that transgender Catholics cannot become godparents, stating in response to a transgender man's query that transgender status "reveals in a public way an attitude opposite to the moral imperative of solving the problem of sexual identity according to the truth of one's own sexuality" and that, "[t]herefore it is evident that this person does not possess the requirement of leading a life according to the faith and in the position of godfather and is therefore unable to be admitted to the position of godfather or godmother." In June 2019, the Catholic Church published a document titled "Male and Female He Created Them", which summarized its official position. The document rejected the terms transgender and intersex, and criticized the idea that people could choose or change their gender as a "confused concept of freedom" and "momentary desires". It asserted male and female genitalia were designed for procreation."

"I sincerely disagree that transgender people are who and what they say they are. Am I still welcome on Stack Exchange sites? You are, but some of the things you might want to say aren't."

  • 4
    While I agree that some "positive" communal imperatives can clash with personal ethics I do not quite see it in this case. Pronouns are words, what they mean depends on the context of use. The use of a pronoun out of politeness does not mean rejecting the faith in unchanging biological sex, and, indeed, does not indicate believing anything in particular. No more than saying that even numbers exist in a mathematical context indicates believing in platonism. Even if it "positively reaffirms" it in some detached sense.
    – Conifold
    Oct 12, 2020 at 19:24
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    @Conifold In other words... if I call someone a 'he' it does not mean I consider this person to be male? (Ignoring the case if I use 'he' as a generic, gender-neutral pronoun; such a use is often frowned upon nowadays anyway)
    – gaazkam
    Oct 12, 2020 at 20:41
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    @Conifold That argument can work both ways though. Refusing to use a preferred pronoun does not mean rejecting someone's humanity. The issue here is that only one side is allowed to make a big deal out of pronouns for some reason.
    – Ryan_L
    Oct 12, 2020 at 20:44
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    How does a SE member know the biological sex of another SE member (leaving aside a RL friend, spouse, etc.) anyway? I’d leave it at that, but in the interest of adding to a discussion of philosophy, look into allowing oneself plausible deniability. Honestly, you do not know so how are you violating a Church teaching.
    – Damila
    Oct 13, 2020 at 3:30
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    @Damila If one says that he is a 'he' or that she is a 'she' and little more is known about this person then it is one thing. If one is an outspoken trans then it is another thing.
    – gaazkam
    Oct 13, 2020 at 20:05

3 Answers 3


Cultural conflict is sometimes unavoidable

First of all, we must understand that certain views, when they became widespread and popular enough to form a culture, are not a private thing. Culture by its very definition tends to shape society and in broader sense the world. Culture is not just a worldview, it is also ideal what world should be, plus practical steps to implement this. In that sense, culture affects lives, not only on some abstract metaphysical level but also in real life.

To illustrate the point, let's take some extreme examples. On one side ultra-leftist with their idea that gender is a social construct, kids should be educated that gender could be changed, giving puberty blocking drugs to children and even performing debilitating surgeries on their reproductive organs, plus zillion other smaller things like fully grown biological males competing in female sports. On the other hand, let's take fundamentalist Islam that considers outright killing of homosexuals and transsexuals as justified, and even religious duty.

It is obvious that such views as above could not be reconciled and "united". Society as such could not entertain both extremes, therefore at least one of them had to be abandoned, and those who held it must submit to mainstream. As a side-note, in society with mainstream being somewhere in the middle, usually both extremes remain in the fringe. But in the deeply-divided society with population gravitating towards irreconcilable extremes, cultural conflict and even civil war is sometimes unavoidable. This may sound severe, but historically speaking it is a very common outcome even with much smaller differences between warring parties.


This is an old problem with the individualist atomism of classic liberalism, arising first in the economic sphere. Voltaire remarked on the liberalism of the British stock market, where people of all faiths could interact, leaving their beliefs and creeds or personal "identities" at the door.

Similarly, in venues from courts to coffeehouses to laboratories and lecture halls, the spread of this "public square," as famously described by Habermas, had a liberating and generally salutary effect on discourse, but required, in effect, a multiplication and partial anonymity of personal identities in home, church, office, classroom, etc.

The often annoying pronoun wars and campus puritanism are an understandable reaction to this. We are not in fact all separate, teflon, and equal in the marketplace, nor in the so called marketplace of ideas. We come with associations, assumptions, histories, bodies, and very different power relations, and the myth of our "individualism" can cloak such realities.

I am defined and thus constrained to a certain degree by my name, my gender, my class, the pronouns applied to me. If I am presumably free in the marketplace, why can't I choose the linguistic garb of my public identity as well? Market liberalism is not in fact "conservative" at all and "all that is solid melts into air," as Marx put it.

But I think you are framing a false dilemma here. I don't know what the Catholic teachings, for example, say about gendered pronouns, but I don't see that these forms of address have any more bearing on religion than working in a capitalist system that the Pope himself has often criticized. It is a limited area of interaction and identity falling under certain rules of inclusion.

In the end, the ground rules of market liberalism leave self-definition in large part to the individual, and in most venues that is almost an epistemological given. Who else can better say whether you are "really" this or that? By claiming some gender you are not so much constraining others as much as revealing more about yourself, which may have a bearing on the discourse.

This is, incidentally, why religious faiths often have a distrust of actors and even up until the 19th century might refuse to bury them in consecrated ground. Unstable identities! Fickle souls. At the same time, religions, and Catholicism in particular, are chockablock with willed transformations of personal identity, many assuming a devotional priority over gender.

I imagine a lot of this will calm down once the historical issues are recognized. Already, grammar guides now accept "their" as a singular to avoid the awkward "his/hers." And, as the old New Yorker joke goes, on the internet "no one knows you're a dog" or whatever you are.

  • Right, I mean we have had 'you' as both plural and singular now for a couple hundred years. What's the big deal with 'they'? If he vs she disappeared, there would be less clamor for gendered words at all.
    – Scott Rowe
    Jan 24 at 2:43

Yes, it is specifically designed to preclude participation from people who openly hold different religious (or non-religious) core beliefs about the world.

Some would try to say that this is just a linguistic issue, but they are not asking you to adopt some specific set of phrases or jargon. Those groups would be just as intolerant if you used their words but expressed the fact that genders are not fluid using some other form of language. They are also not just stating a belief as true. They are demanding that you acknowledge that belief as true without leaving it up to your personal discretion or as a matter of open discussion. The issue is that their belief system says that they are morally justified in not tolerating your beliefs about reality, and they are making it clear that they do not wish to extend any accommodations for people who believe as you do about this matter.

This should not be surprising when looking at history. Tolerance of conflicting belief systems is much less common than intolerance and even wars. The sort of tolerance of alternate beliefs with which we have become familiar in the last couple of hundred years in certain places is more of a fluke, and unfortunately for you (or me, or others who do not share the currently trending moral fashion), its time may be past. What you were used to seeing was a very specific sort of social contract forged from a unique set of circumstances and isn't likely to return to favor on the large scale apart from a miracle.

Unfortunately for those who do share the current moral fashion, this trend won't likely benefit them for long, either. In the same way that the feminists and homosexuals of the previous generation who were on the forefront of the cultural shift of that time are now considered to be outdated and even offensive for not being progressive enough, so too will these values likely become outdated and offensive for not being progressive enough. We're in a time of great social change, and I don't know that anybody can predict with any certainty what sorts of values, dogmas, and social contracts will win, but I think that it would be safe to say that whatever they are, they will probably not be very tolerant.

  • So things will get more progressive in the future but also less tolerant? Can those go together?
    – Scott Rowe
    Jan 24 at 2:38
  • Interestingly, progressives still consider themselves to be 'tolerant' as opposed to the 'intolerant' conservatives, who, because of their intolerance, must be fought off.
    – gaazkam
    Jan 24 at 5:31
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    ...They may demand that you refer to your boss using feminine pronouns istead, but it's not because they care what you BELIEVE about gender. They don't care that you believe gender is immutable. They're trying to make sure everyone's work environment is non-hostile and friendly, and part of treating a trans person in a non-hostile way is in gendering them correctly. Treating someone politely in this circumstance is independent of your personal beliefs.
    – TKoL
    Jan 24 at 10:00
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    @ScottRowe "Progressive" is simply being counter to traditional values. Currently, it is the opposite of tolerance. It was only, for a time, advocating "tolerance" in the sense of tolerating change to what was then the norm. There was never an intention to be tolerant to traditional values once the new values become the norm.
    – DKing
    Jan 24 at 14:01
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    @TKoL At this point, it may be best to handle the question in chat, especially because this line of discussion is going beyond philosophy. Your feelings, or mine, about whether intolerance is acceptable or justified is beyond the scope of this question.
    – DKing
    Jan 24 at 15:29

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