GitHub warns you that your pronouns may be illegal

Published on 3/2/2023 - 2 min read (681 words)

Recently GitHub rolled out a feature that had a bit of warning text that made me do not just a double, but a triple-take. It sounded like transphobic garbage at first, but I think it was actually a very well-intentioned opsec warning that failed the wisdom check by GitHub's legal team. Here is the warning in question:

Your pronouns will be visible to fellow users across GitHub, including where local laws restrict using pronouns other than those assigned at birth.

Doesn't that read like the kind of dystopian hell statement that you'd read in science fiction books about identity? Like, it implies that changing a field in GitHub's database would somehow result in you getting arrested.

Okay, maybe this isn't such a wildly hellish statement at all. LGBTQ rights have been eroding a lot in the US. By many measurements the so called "small government" party wants to expand their rights to control other people's actions so much that it's at the seventh stage of genocide. Things are getting objectively ugly in "safe" parts of the world and it's making me glad that I decided to GTFO to somewhere with actual human rights enshrined into laws strong enough that I'm not worried about them eroding away without significant advance warning.

I think that the pronoun warning was a very topical and well-intentioned warning for LGBTQ people (we fucking know already, jesus christ), but it got filtered through enough layers of editing that it turned into that hell statement I pasted above.

So like, why do people do this or would they want to do this in the first place? People fuck things up. People get objective fact incorrect. People also put too much faith in personal referents being accurate.

But at some level, being trans on the internet can be a constant torrent of hatred and being called the wrong name so much that you just want it to fucking end. In case you were wondering, that is what microaggressions mean. It's a bunch of constant small pinpricks that add up into a giant log of pain, or whatever metaphor works here because my editoral skills are failing me.

So that's why people put the pronouns in their profiles. So that well-intentioned people can take the 0.3 microseconds required to read and refer to someone correctly so that their messages won't be instantly redirected to the bitbucket.

Trans people ask allies to also do this so that having pronouns in your profile isn't a shibboleth pointing to you being trans. This is the same logic behind the statement "using Tor for innocuous things means that people who really need to use it will blend into the noise instead of standing out". This makes every trans person with pronouns on their bio safer and takes almost no time out of your day to set up.

I think that the GitHub warning started out either with wording or a ticket that said something like this:

By the way, listing pronouns that are counter to what your government paperwork would imply could get you into trouble if someone uses that as a reason to target you with hate or violence. We should probably warn the user out of an interest for them to maintain a balance between being honest about themselves and opsec.

This is too honest of a statement to make, so of course managers, legal, and god knowns who else got involved and then we ended up with this dystopian nightmare:

Your pronouns will be visible to fellow users across GitHub, including where local laws restrict using pronouns other than those assigned at birth.

And now I'm left feeling this doublethink that I can't fault them for doing this, but at the same time holy fuck that wording is repulsive. The wording almost implies a transphobic message, but it's almost certianly "hey keep up ur opsec fam" turned into some kind of formal language abomination.

I hate the modern internet.

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