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Some journals require authors to submit a photograph and a short biography to go along with the publication.

The question I have is: Would it strike you as weird if said biography had a gender neutral tone, using "they/them" pronouns? As in, could a non-binary author that is not out use those pronouns and not have a conversation (comments by advisors/co-authors) occur? Would it be something that could be passed by without a second glance?

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    Seems to depend heavily on your coworkers, sad to say.
    – Jon Custer
    May 19, 2021 at 13:22
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    Not an answer, just a suggestion to bypass the issue: Why not use your name rather than any pronouns at all, if you want to avoid coming "out"? With some skill, this could be phrased without too much repetition. May 19, 2021 at 13:57
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    Even if this does not lead to a conversation, it seems unavoidable that your colleagues will notice it. May 19, 2021 at 15:20
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    There's two questions here, one about the journal (which we can answer) and one about whether your coworkers would notice (which we can't) May 19, 2021 at 16:32
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    To second @henning--reinstateMonica: Instead of using the name, you could also vary with "the author" or "the authors" which is neutral in English. In other languages like French or German this works comparable well.
    – usr1234567
    May 20, 2021 at 18:31

6 Answers 6

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As a reader, familiar with the gender-neutral usage of they/them, I wouldn't consider it weird. Beware, however, of two facts:

  1. Papers are read by international readers with different levels of English who may not clearly understand the usage.
  2. Frequently copy editors (e.g. I'm familiar with IEEE on this) heavily edit the biographies to adapt them to the publishers' editorial styles: sometimes, I have found that in doing so the copy editor introduces significant errors (because e.g. they do not understand local information). So, if you submit a biography using the pronouns they/them check carefully the proofs and be prepared to ask for changes defending your choice.
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    At the level of the journals, editorial policies are increasingly becoming aware of pronoun usage- see for example physicsworld.com/a/… -- and this will probably increase with time but is still not universal, I believe.
    – Rococo
    May 19, 2021 at 13:47
  • I am looking at an IEEE journal currently...if you ve had experience with them making an issue over this I think I would rather avoid it May 19, 2021 at 15:50
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    @riverwastaken I haven't had issues specifically on pronouns because I haven't used they/them, so I'm not suggesting to avoid this altogether, but I had issues with other stuff, and so I'm just saying to be prepared at requesting adjustments if the copy editor doesn't follow your preferences. May 19, 2021 at 15:54
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As in, could a non-binary author that is not out use those pronouns and not have a conversation (comments by advisors/co-authors) occur?

It seems to me that as soon as a person uses the pronouns they/them to refer to themselves in a journal publication, they are effectively outing themselves as someone who uses those pronouns. So, an author who wishes to maintain their status of being not out might want to avoid such a move. If they go ahead with it anyway, people may notice, and there are no assurances that they will not make any comments about it.

In other words, if one is going to come out selectively or gradually, the pages of a journal are maybe not the best place to start from.

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    "effectively outing themselves as someone who uses those pronouns." This is confusing. Pronouns are what other people use to address an individual; their use can't be secret. It is pronoun preferences or gender identity that can be revealed. May 19, 2021 at 23:03
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    @AnonymousPhysicist There is an implied (to describe themselves) at the end of that sentence, which is made explicit by the first half of the sentence "refer to themselves". I see no need to be more redundant.
    – Bryan Krause
    May 19, 2021 at 23:18
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    The first part of the sentence is also confusing, as most people who are referred to as "they/them" refer to themselves with "I/me" most of the time. This is not important. You could write "If a person identifies themselves with they/them in a journal article, they are indicating that they prefer to be addressed with those pronouns." May 19, 2021 at 23:28
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    @AnonymousPhysicist The context here is a biography typically written in the third person.
    – Bryan Krause
    May 19, 2021 at 23:43
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    I am aware. ...... May 20, 2021 at 0:24
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The answer is: it would probably strike most people as weird, odd or different, yes. But: that is not a bad thing, as all change will probably at first inconvenience a not inconsiderable amount of people.

And if every non-binary or otherwise happier-without-gender-specific-pronoun person would start doing so, then maybe in a few years time, it will not be odd anymore but normal. So while it may take some courage now to admit you non-binary (or whatever else) status to a bigger audience, it will pave the way for those to come.

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    Or alternatively, in the future this will just look like an odd fashion that flared up for a few years in the early 21st century and then vanished.
    – DrMcCleod
    May 20, 2021 at 20:15
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I think it would stand out, but only in the sense it might read like a plural "they". Using "they/them" for gender still seems very context-oriented. Articles about an avant-guard artist can do it without confusion, often giving an extra hint. But just today I saw a business news article with something like "John Smith invented the technology, they are...". It only took a moment to consider it as a genderless pronoun, but I had to pause -- it seemed just as likely I'd somehow skipped the paragraph explaining who John's partner was, or "they" referred to the technology.

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Certainly, some people may find it weird or ask about it. However, it is also true that if you ask to be called by they/them pronouns when meeting in-person, some people may find it weird or ask about it there. My advice is to use the pronouns that you are most comfortable with when writing a biography about yourself.

You can also write a new biography for each paper, meaning that you can use different pronouns on the biographies for different papers, if your preferred pronoun changes.

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A decade ago this would have been extremely weird and stick out like a sore thumb; while it has been common for some time to use they/them when the referrent is unknown, it was unusual for a known person. But in the past few years recognition of non-binary genders has become much more common. I've heard that some conferences even ask registrants to specify their preferred pronoun, and will include it on the name tag if desired.

So in many contexts, it is becoming common to accept people's preferred form of address. I would be surprised if any journal would object to using the author's pronoun prefecences these days.

I'm answering this from a US perspective. I expect there are some other cultures where this would be less acceptable. I'm sure the journal editors will let you know if there's a problem.

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