As many of you may have noticed, Monica Cellio is no longer a moderator on Writing.SE, or on any of the several stacks where she has served for years. This was due to a sudden decision by Stack Exchange staff and was not Monica’s choice (or ours). She remains a SE user with no change in reputation but without moderator privileges.

You can find a summary by Monica and a long discussion of the situation on Mi Yodeya.

The short version is that SE recently announced a policy change in mod-only space which will require the use of a user’s pronouns (if stated). They stated this will be incorporated into the Code of Conduct (CoC) that all users agree to (as of this writing, it has not been).

We the moderators of Writing.SE, including Monica, welcome users of all genders and agree no one has the right to question another person’s gender, whether directly or by purposely using the wrong pronouns for them.

Monica did not violate this policy but asked questions in mod-only space about the details and was involved in heated discussions (with some over the course of this year, before the policy announcement). While in the middle of discussing this further in private email with SE staff, they suddenly terminated her moderator status across SE. Minutes before the Sabbath and 2 days before one of the largest holidays of the year, both times when Monica would be offline.

Even if they had legitimate reason to sanction Monica, they could have allowed the email discussions with her to continue, they could have given her an ultimatum, or they could have used the strongest tool we moderators have for users who violate policy, given her a temporary suspension. They did none of these things. They skipped directly to termination.

We oppose this action. As have dozens, perhaps hundreds, of moderators and other users across SE. At least a dozen moderators have resigned in direct protest of SE’s treatment of Monica.

To our knowledge, no other moderator has been punished, including those who actively oppose the new policy. Monica has been made a scapegoat in the guise of supporting transgender moderators and users (while the policy addition may have been intended to support them, a goal we applaud, the way SE has treated Monica does not make any moderator feel safe). We hold Stack Exchange staff solely accountable for this situation and do not condone any backlash against those moderators who have encouraged this policy change.

We ask that Stack Exchange reconsider their actions. Reinstate Monica to her former positions (turn a firing into a suspension), continue the dialogue on implementing the new policy, and then roll it out for everyone. Monica has a disagreement with a small portion of the policy but supports the Lavender community. There are probably many mods out there who are overtly anti-trans (and anti-Lavender) but, since they’re not saying anything at the moment, they aren’t being targeted.

If SE is going to give one moderator a litmus test, they need to do it with all moderators. All moderators already must review and sign off on an online moderator agreement. The technology to poll every mod exists. If SE is claiming that they will let go of a mod who does not promise full compliance, then ask it of every mod. At that point, any moderator that does not agree can be let go.

You can find a public statement about some of these facts online, though this article implies that Monica violated the policy (which she hasn’t) and does not discuss the way SE handled the issue.

Monica has been one of SE’s most active and most beloved volunteers. She has served as a moderator for years on multiple stacks, including Writing, The Workplace, Worldbuilding, Mi Yodeya (Judaism), and Beer, Wine, & Spirits. Just a few months ago she was so admired for her work that she was handpicked to become a moderator on Meta. Multiple moderators consider Monica a mentor to them and many more praise her for her calm evenhanded approach to moderation, creating welcoming space across Stack Exchange.

We support Monica and look forward to her return.

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    While this was posted by Cyn, the text is a collaborative effort between all remaining moderators on Writing SE, including myself.
    – user
    Oct 1, 2019 at 19:58
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    While I guess I shouldn't expect anything less from writers, I find this extremely well written and addresses many of the difficult issues I feel.
    – StrongBad
    Oct 1, 2019 at 22:11
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    Cyn, for clarity, does this leave you as the last active moderator for Writing? Not that we generally seem to need much intervention...
    – Weckar E.
    Oct 2, 2019 at 4:18
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    @WeckarE. Yes, I am currently the only moderator for Writing. I don't know when Neil's and a CVn's diamonds will disappear but they're officially no longer taking on moderator tasks. There's more work behind the scenes than is obvious, but it's not huge. Flagging is helpful. The one thing a single mod doesn't have the time for is going through all new answers and comments. Oct 2, 2019 at 4:49
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    chng.it/gWCY8Qv5M2 Oct 2, 2019 at 8:21
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    Sigh... I'm still trying to decide which would be worse: not clearing the review queues (and maybe accidentally punishing our one remaining moderator), or giving free labor to a company that treats its volunteers like garbage.
    – user36961
    Oct 2, 2019 at 11:57
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    @EvilSparrow And it's not like I am not considering what my role should be going forward too. Right now I'm just going ahead and moderating (I've been in continuous conversation with the other 3 moderators...hard for me to say "ex"...and there's zero pressure on me to pick one response over another). So now, yeah, it would be great if users did review queues and flags and so on. I still care about this site. Even if my opinion of the company running the tech has gone to hell. Oct 2, 2019 at 14:58
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    I thank you for trying so desperately to disambiguate the circumstances involving Monica's dismissal from the discussion on trans rights. It is so unbelievably unfortunate that the rhetoric that is sweeping across the network has no such compunction in that regard.
    – Summer
    Oct 3, 2019 at 0:02
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    @AGirlHasNoName Thank you. Posting this was very important to me. I'm appalled by much of the discussion. Including some of the stuff on this very page. I'm queer myself (but not trans) and I used to feel safe on SE (Monica's moderation was a big reason why) and now I. Just. Don't. Oct 3, 2019 at 4:16
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    @KaranDesai: Unfortunately that site asks me to provide more personal information than I'm willing to give. Thus while I fully support the goal, I'm not going to sign it.
    – celtschk
    Oct 3, 2019 at 10:03
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    Thank you so much for writing this, good writing BTW:) I'm intermittent on a few Stacks, and this is the best summary and impassioned opinion I've read in trying to make sense of recent events. Its amazing to see so many dedicated, respected, and accomplished moderators voice their opinions, cheers!
    – OnStrike
    Oct 4, 2019 at 2:50
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    On her personal blog, Monica has written up her version of how events transpired now in more detail, in Stack Overflow Inc. fiasco: timeline.
    – user
    Oct 6, 2019 at 8:29

6 Answers 6


Gotta love how tolerance and inclusion always starts with a purge. Anyway, forced speech is a red line for me (regardless of what is being forced or why), so this little experiment is over. Bye all.

  • 15
    Sigh. I'm so sorry you feel that way. We value your contributions here very much. The pronoun issue doesn't bother me (most people don't state their gender in the Q&A portions, this is more for chat anyway) but SE's reaction to Monica's questions is mind-numbingly awful. Oct 2, 2019 at 5:17
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    It's a shame to see you leave so soon after returning, and may I just say: thank you for all your many valuable contributions to this site.
    – F1Krazy Mod
    Oct 2, 2019 at 8:59
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    @Cyn It is the compulsion,, rather than what is being compelled, the forcing of ideological compliance, rather than the ideology itself, that is the red line for me. The treatment of Monica is appalling too, but the two things, the compulsion and the expulsion, arise from the same intolerant instinct. They are born of the same spirit and made of the same cloth. Stack exchange is a private company. They can impose whatever ideological speech codes they like and conduct whatever pogroms they like. But they will have to do it without me.
    – user16226
    Oct 2, 2019 at 10:17
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    Mark, my guess from your picture and name is that you're male and use he/his for pronouns. But I could be wrong. My name and picture aren't as obvious (though most English speakers will see my name as female). I've been called "he" on Writing before. I didn't bother correcting it but, if I had, would you support the person if they said "well, you just seem like a 'he' to me so I'm going to call you that even though you told me you were female" ??? Oct 2, 2019 at 14:54
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    @Cyn btw I'm an English native speaker and could guess nothing whatsoever from your alias. To my understanding at least, the problem here with "forced speech" is what Monica Cellio described as "not using (third-person singular) pronouns at all is misgendering". If somebody asks for she and I say he that is NOT OK, but if I say "they" or even just skirt the matter, e.g. by saying something like "the OP", is that still a problem? (If the reason you do that is bigotry, I disagree with your reason; but I still can't disagree with your specific utterance where you simply say "the OP") Oct 2, 2019 at 17:09
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    ...anyway from what I gather SE has refused to even clarify the issue: it seems like Monica Cellio was just asking a question similar to the one I asked above, not actively going against SE's policy... (Although of course we don't know what was said in their private email exchange...) Oct 2, 2019 at 17:17
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    @sesquipedalias SE's requirements were not perfectly clear and Monica had the right to ask questions. I see the requirement (or how I'd made if it were up to me) as being, if someone says "please use X pronoun for me" then you do. End of story. No one expects everyone to get it right all the time or remember who uses what, so it's a matter of trying your best and correcting your mistakes when you realize you've made a mistake. We all make mistakes! I have. Oct 2, 2019 at 18:15
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    @Cyn The question of whether one can choose one's own identity, as opposed to your identity being what the world sees when it looks at you, is one with profound and wide reaching philosophical, epistemological, and even theological implications. Making personal preference in pronouns mandatory is making the rejection of the objective view mandatory. At that point is has nothing to do with whether or not one wished to make people feel comfortable....
    – user16226
    Oct 2, 2019 at 20:49
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    ... Philosophically, sophisticated arguments can be made for both the objective view and the social constructionist view. My objection is to the imposition of the philosophical test. The fact that I happen to be one one side of the issue isn't the point. 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.
    – user16226
    Oct 2, 2019 at 20:55
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    @Cyn I thought it was a matter of avoiding gender-neutral pronouns and using names rather than gendered pronouns that got Monica in trouble. Did I misread that?
    – Weckar E.
    Oct 2, 2019 at 22:10
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    @TRiG The question is how the "correctness" of a pronoun is determined: objectively or subjectively. There is a substantial body of thought in support of both positions. I would not call anyone a fool or a bigot for holding either position. You don't know which position I hold. My objection is to a test that excludes one or the other. I would object just as much to a ban as to a requirement. "Be nice" forces you not to use certain words. This policy forces you to positively use words that affirm one position. The first is forced silence. The second is forced speech and also forced belief.
    – user16226
    Oct 4, 2019 at 14:36
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    I understand your hurt and I sympathise. Tragically, this is an issue on which people on both sides feel that their identity and even their sense of reality is compromised by the opposite position. Ideally, people of both opinions should bend as much as they can to avoid injuring the feelings of the other, without giving up their own sense of themselves. But imposing compliance to one position or the other does not foster that. Rather, if causes people to stand upon their own view, causing division and intensifying hurts. That is one reason why it is the imposition that I oppose.
    – user16226
    Oct 5, 2019 at 22:31
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    As one of the 60+ upvoters I want to emphasize that this is not about having the right to misgender you. Like many others, I try to be as respectful as possible to people's wishes about their pronouns and I do think SE should be tougher when it comes to harassment and discrimination. But they can do that without forcing users to do something that goes against their personal beliefs: by having a guideline that says "don't intentionally misgender people". The difference between this and the new CoC is big for the free-speech people, but (I would hope) negligible for trans people.
    – PoorYorick
    Oct 6, 2019 at 11:57
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    @AGirlHasNoName I don't think this is about thought experiments. This is about forcing people to use words. It's perfectly fine to disagree with that even if you agree with what you are being forced to say. And also here, real people are being hurt. Monica Cellio is a real person, and SE is behaving abominably towards her. SE will hurt us (as far as is in their power, and perfectly lawfully, being a private company) for not using specific words rather than for using hurtful words. Calling someone something I'm uncomfortable with is something I might do out of respect and courtesy for an
    – sgf
    Oct 8, 2019 at 9:51
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    .. individual; but if I'm told I have to use words I'm uncomfortable with or not participate anymore, there's no malice in ending my participation.
    – sgf
    Oct 8, 2019 at 9:53

There was a community here. It has become important to me. There were people whose opinions I came to respect and to seek out. I enjoyed being part of this community. I enjoyed contributing in various ways - that's what being part of a community means.

Monica was a pillar of this community. A leader and a champion.

I am saddened to see that our community has been built on shaky ground.

If democracy is a value Stack Exchange upholds, Monica is the moderator this community wants. If elections were to be held today, Monica would have the role again and again and again.

If Justice is a value Stack Exchange upholds, one can only be punished for what one has done, not preemptively for what one "might do".

If respect is a value Stack Exchange upholds, a moderator doesn't get summarily dismissed without warning.

If diversity is a value Stack Exchange upholds, a Jewish moderator doesn't get dismissed on Sabbath, nor on the eve of a sacred holiday, but on a day when they might be in position to respond.

Stack Exchange can choose to recognise its mistake, apologise and give Monica her diamond back. Until they do so, there will be no contributions from me on any SE. Stack exchange is a pyramid of power. Much as I love this small community, when those at the top of the pyramid act this way, I cannot remain part of the structure.

  • 3
    That is a shame to hear - because for me, in my brief time on Stack your opinion on Writing has become someone's, "...whose opinions I came to respect and to seek out." Your solid contributions will be missed.
    – J Crosby
    Oct 2, 2019 at 22:43
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    You, too, are one of the pillars of this community, and I am very sad that Stack Exchange has dealt us this misguided, blundering blow. Oct 3, 2019 at 3:35
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    I understand and respect your decision. But I'm saddened by it. I think I'm trying to bail out a sinking ship with a thimble and I'm not sure how much longer I will keep trying. I hope SE comes to their senses and makes it possible for everyone to return. Oct 3, 2019 at 4:39
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    After that non-apology of theirs... I think we should all follow your example.
    – user36961
    Oct 3, 2019 at 23:21
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    @Galastel: all that you wrote here, I agree with you!
    – NofP
    Oct 4, 2019 at 21:26
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    If elections were to be held today and Monica Cellio would be a candidate, she would probably be unopposed or win a landslide.
    – gerrit
    Oct 5, 2019 at 8:28

These enforced pronouns will get a lot of users, who's English may not be that good, into hot water - and therefore it is the very opposite of inclusion, which already caused one pretty obvious exclusion. When they talk about "respect and inclusion", but their words do not match their actions the least, this is mind-bending double-speak at it's finest. The end of the story might be: paid moderators, moderating low-quality questions and low-quality answers - as many moderators and experienced users already suspended the contribution. They might say: there once was a civilization before ours, who actually delivered answers, despite they were not that perfectly "politically correct", as we are now. It is a gross assumption, that someone would intentionally use the wrong pronoun.

My alternate perspective on this topic might be based upon an autistic condition (if one may disagree with the term "disorder") - because people like me do not really know any prejudice and therefore it appears pointless to me, being forced to use terms dictated upon me. Usually I'm rather a technical writer - and therefore I find gender and genitals indeed slightly off-topic.

I will try my best not to offend anyone because of their condition - but the paradox is, that people have awarded me lots of bounties for destroying their delusions on SO and replacing them with working solutions - and in real life I'm also often consulted concerning psychological issues - while all reality is being constructed from language - and manipulating the language manipulates the presumed reality. Most higher level programming languages even offer the concept of "generics", so that one could substitute something alike he/she/it with a generic placeholder.

There may be a better solution, than having a minority imposing lingual restrictions on the majority - because all gender is non-binary. To some degree I understand the desire to fit into that binary thinking-pattern, but this pattern is obviously wrongful - despite it had been declared as "normal". Inclusion cannot be accomplished by excluding others. Let's hope that common sense will prevail.

Further readings:

Language as an oppressive device in Orwell's 1984

  • 5
    The pronoun use is only when someone asks you to use a specific pronoun for them. We are still totally fine speaking in gender neutral terms when we don't know what someone's pronouns are. Mostly this will apply in places like chat. Oct 2, 2019 at 14:51
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    I'm not going to argue this point but I will just say I completely disagree with your views of biology here. No matter why or how someone has a certain identity, it's not our job to judge that. If someone tells me she is a woman, he is a man, or they are non-binary, I'm going to respect that and act accordingly. That's all this policy is about. If someone tells you "please refer to me as ____" then you do it. If you get it wrong, you say oops, correct yourself, and move on. The only problem is with someone who willfully, purposefully chooses not to respect someone's identity. Oct 2, 2019 at 15:31
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    That it is being enforced is also what bothers me, if it would be guideline, this would likely be way better accepted - only because the Vatican reduced 6 genders into 2, does not imply that 3 is the correct amount. one would have to design 4 further icons (or hieroglyphs), and display them along with the user avatar, in order to rule out any unintended misinterpretation, which might destroy the delusions of people easy to offend. I'll simply ignore people who ask me to change - and strictly answer on-topic programming stuff... German is even worse, with more genedered nouns than English has. Oct 2, 2019 at 20:13
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    @MartinZeitler I'd strongly encourage you to stop speaking and start listening, perhaps reading up on some trans 101 topics, rather than calling members of the community disordered and tossing out random scientific theories about why people have the identities they have. Oct 2, 2019 at 21:06
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    @MartinZeitler, this is not off topic at all. As we see in the world around us more and more people are speaking out about the discomfort being wrongly identified and referred to causes them. Whether you agree or not, whether you believe it is a disorder or not is completely irrelevant for basic human decency. If someone asks you to refer to them using a different identifier - don't fight it. It's simply not worth it. It is common courtesy to call people what they would like (within reason of course). How would this be any different than calling a "Zach" by "Zacahry" as requested or an...
    – J Crosby
    Oct 2, 2019 at 21:41
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    ..."Ash" by "Ashley"? It is just courtesy in our very politically correct world to do the same for gender pronouns. I have personally made it a practice to aim to avoid such pronouns outside of knowing that person's identity o not cause offense (primarily done in my professional correspondence and here on Stack). So, in short --- just be polite and respectful. It's really not that hard.
    – J Crosby
    Oct 2, 2019 at 21:43
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    @MartinZeitler You can have whatever opinion you want, but it is fundamentally rude to declare that other members of this community have a disorder, to hold yourself forth as an expert on anyone else's hormones, or to proclaim that the reasons for their identity stem from their mother's chemical exposure during pregnancy. None of those things are your business or necessary to accept someone's identity. Oct 2, 2019 at 22:01
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    @JCrosby It's absolutely fine. Appreciate you asking. Oct 2, 2019 at 22:29
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    It saddens me the number of upvotes that vitriol like this gets.
    – Summer
    Oct 2, 2019 at 23:58
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    Anyone who wants a platform to espouse bigotry against the Lavender community has plenty of places to do that around the internet. Writing.SE is not going to be your place. You have one moderator left and that moderator is as queer as a 3 dollar bill. I am not a disorder. I am not someone where you get to decide if you agree with my identity. Nope. Nope. Nope. Thanks to everyone who's flagging the worst of it for me. I will do my best to keep up with it. Oct 3, 2019 at 4:28
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    @Cyn I've merely advocated common sense, because forced inclusion is alike forced diversity - that often results in denial. If you wish, I can cut and paste this elsewhere... by enforcing "political correctness", one certainly is excluding autistic people, in particular those who often deal with language & individual/mass psychology. Oct 3, 2019 at 11:03
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    @MartinZeitler again you seem to be missing the point. "Common sense" or not, as you call often may not be the most sensitive way of conversing with someone. In this case, the ruling was only to enforce (albeit way to heavy handed on SE's part) courteous practices which are already in full force in most of society (workplaces, academic institutions and even some military units). Whether you agree or disagree with their gender expression is 100% irrelevant to the conversation. All you have to do is call them as they wish. Would common sense not dictate that is a reasonable thing to do across...
    – J Crosby
    Oct 3, 2019 at 14:34
  • 3
    @Cyn If someone tells you "please refer to me as ____" then you do it. Indeed that is as it should be among good-willed people. Unfortunately there are some who enjoy strawmans in order to try to ridicule this reasonable request. It might help a policy clarification that such policiy has some limits and can't be used to force writers to express opinions contrarian to themselves. As would be the case with "Your majesty" and would not be the case with "she", "he", "ve" or "ze" (none ... Oct 3, 2019 at 16:45
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    The actual source of bigotry are the EPA and FDA, along with the corporations, which run them. Changing the language does not change their complicity - and I prefer religious freedom over corporate dictatorship. At least I've learned that the EU has a whole different way of risk-assessment than the US, despite TTiP. As I used to say: "those easily offended are those easily manipulated". I'd be looking forward to a post which explains why it's a good thing for a global community to adhere to their agenda. Oct 3, 2019 at 17:35
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    AHHH "religious freedom" the notion at which your god(s) can dictate what is or is not appropriate. However, most religions have a caveat for being a decent human being - "Do unto others...". Regardless of your religious persuasions or your cited sources of bigotry (which sounds more "tin foil hat" than concrete fact) - or even the language being used. I am pretty sure most languages (I am bi-lingual for the record, working on my third) have appropriate terms for what is being asked here as well. Using language as a prop to support your already shady and inconsiderate argument is simply...
    – J Crosby
    Oct 3, 2019 at 17:51

Monica, it is a pain to see you being dismissed!

From personal experience I am sure that you must have tried all manners of dialogue and de-escalation.


This really makes me sad. I've always thought of SE as a place where people discuss their opinions and educate people, not stifle them. I now know that such behavior has reached even such a place. As someone said (Mark I think), SE is perfectly entitled to do whatever they please. The only recourse we have is to move elsewhere. I do not want to leave, as Writers and Worldbuilding SE has been one of the best internet finds I ever made. But if SE starts going down the path of forced speech, I will be equally forced to take the only option open to me.

I truly hope they will not be blinded by their single-minded view of everything, and see the true ramifications their actions are and will have. They might own the site, but they do not own us. And we are the community.

I fully support Mark (which is surprising to me, since we've disagreed about virtually everything on Writing), in that it matters little to me in this case what is being forced or why. I firmly believe in freedom of speech, and any forced speech violates that first amendment right. I will not be forced to ammend my speech. SE holds no power over me to do that, and neither will I allow them to exercise it. Likewise, I hold no power over them, so if they go down this path, again, I will be forced to leave.


I may be missing the point but I've scanned through this and it seems to be overblown drama. If we consider Descarte: "I think therefore I am." It stands to reason that we only exist as our own narrative. Or even my mate Billy's famous words: "All the world's a stage . . ." Ergo, unless you are a celebrity; on the Internet any information on gender, race, religion, sexual persuasion or personal experience can only be reliably provided by the user. This notion is further amplified on a 'writers forum'. If I tell you that I am Muslim woman of Irish descent - that's what I am . . . It's not like you can make me submit a DNA sample!

And as writers, particularly those with an aptitude for fiction, we must deeply consider: are we representing 'ourselves' on forums and social media or are we playing a character that we have created for public consumption?

Due to the locations and plots of my last three novels I regularly slipped into the voice and character of a US, left-wing, female, millennial.There are a bunch of people on the Internet that believe that's who I am. But this is the Internet, tomorrow I can log in from a different email address and be the Scottish, male, alcoholic that works on an oil-rig, or the transgender, Jewish guy, living in Paris and working in a brothel.

The Internet offers an opportunity for most of to be the people we want to be rather than the people we actually are. The expectation that 'characters' on this site or social media are not in some way disingenuous is beyond naive. Members are the pronouns they claim to be.

  • 12
    That's a very rational view of the gender issue, but at this point, to me at least, the gender issue is beside the point. The point, to me, is the way SE removed Monica from office. That is what I find unacceptable. Oct 7, 2019 at 21:24

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