What’s a Boy to Do?

This is one of those times when I’m looking to all of you out there to help me with a problem over the word “faggot.” I’ve run out of sage advice to give my eleven-year-old son, who has hit a life-altering stalemate over this word. I thought perhaps there may be some silver-bullet solution that I’ve missed. As a mother, I cling to the ridiculous idea that there is a solution out there, even though over 21 years of motherhood has taught me dozens of times that believing there’s an answer, is often a delusion. No, this is not directly about bullying, it’s more about friendship, family, and loyalty. Obviously, you need to know more.

My youngest son, who I’ll call “Joe” to protect his anonymity, has two best friends. One of them, “Alex,” lives only two houses away, which means if they’re both home at the same time, they’re together. Even to our extended family, Alex is not considered “company” anymore. If we’re going out to lunch, it’s not a question of if Alex will come too, it’s if “the boys” are coming, because no thought is ever given to them voluntarily separating…even for lunch. In most ways, they are regular eleven-year-old kids who just enjoy each other’s company. They play football in the yard, basketball in the driveway, video games, computer games, build Lego towns, they look at Selena Gomez pictures on the internet because she’s beautiful, they run outside if a fire truck, cop or ambulance goes by with its sirens on, they burn leaves with a magnifying glass, and they fart on each other. The only time they don’t play together is when they can’t because of schedules imposed by adults. All that changed last week. Feeling like he had no other choice, my son stood up and walked out of his best friend’s house, saying, “That’s it, I’m leaving,” because yet again, the word “faggot” was used as a weapon.

Keep this in context. A young boy saying that he will not go to his best friend’s house is a big fucking deal, a really big fucking deal. His best friend, Alex, is not using the word faggot, Alex’s 13 year old big brother is, and this is, above all things, a brother issue. My oldest son, Joe’s big brother, is gay. In a recent autobiography Joe had to write for his first week of 5th grade, he indicated that the person he admired most in the world was his sober, gay, 21 year-old big brother.

Joe has done and said everything he has in his eleven year old arsenal to stop the use of the word faggot. He explained why using the word faggot is offensive. He explained why it’s personally offensive to him. He explained that it’s not just offensive, it’s hurtful. He’s asked that the word just not be used when he’s around. None of this has curtailed the use of the word in his presence. Important note: yes, the word is used with the full knowledge and in continuous witness of the boys’ father. This is Oklahoma, so in more than half the homes down here, it would not be considered an obscenity, or something to be reprimanded for. If the kid is allowed to tease his sibling with the word dork, or idiot, then the word faggot is likely, equally acceptable.

The main thing Joe’s father and I have tried to get him to understand, is what his limits are. The main one being, he can’t make other people change. He can only know that he did everything possible to try and create a change. Sometimes, you have to find peace in knowing that you did your very best, but the rest is not up to you. We’ve told him that nobody, not even his big brother, expects him to give up going to his best friend’s house. Hanging out there is not a betrayal of his brother, or condoning what Alex’s brother says.

He’s at a “wait and see” point right now. He’s hopeful that the walk-out worked. After all, it did put an abrupt end to a really fun game. Joe was particularly happy with what he heard as he was walking out the door. He could hear Alex screaming at his big brother, “LOOK WHAT YOU DID! THAT’S MY BEST FRIEND AND THE ONLY FRIEND YOU STILL HAVE, AND YOU RUINED IT!” Interesting news, but I’m not really shocked that this young man doesn’t have anyone who will still play with him except his little brother’s best friend. Unfortunately, I think the fact that he’s friendless probably illustrates this kid’s inability to consider others at all.

So, I’m wide open to hearing your ideas, or suggestions, just in case I missed some little known tool in dealing with a semi-sociopathic, Baptist, bigoted, redneck, preteen who is allowed to get away with damn near everything.

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About Kristi

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This entry was posted in Ethics, Families, Friendships, Gender, Language, LGBTQ. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to What’s a Boy to Do?

  1. andie says:

    Personally, I think you’ve handled the situation well. It is true that we unfortunately cannot change everyone’s mind.. I have to point out though, even though you may not change the older brother’s mind, I’m sure this will have an impact on your son’s friend at the very least.

    I think it says a lot about how you’ve raised your son that he would take such a stand, as a lot of kids would just shrug it off or stew quietly. So good on you for that.

  2. Jim says:

    I think your son has done everything anyone, not just a kid his age, can do. I think his friend has done everything he can do. And your son knows exactly where his frined stands. You and your husband are right – your son does not have to choose between his friend and his brother. For that matter your son wojuldn’t have to choose even if the friend had been the one calling people faggot.

    It’s a shame that kid’s parents don’t regulate on the older brother, but maybe you can just tell your son there are unregenerate bigots in the world, it’s like a mental illness and this poor older brother has it.

    As a gay man I know the value of real friends. Your son should value his. Every family has a member that should probably be locked away in the attic, but instead we try to include them and love them, as that family is doing. That’s your son’s friend’s position.

    You mention that you live in Oklahoma. I don’t know the specifics, but I seriously doubt that people are any more bigoted there than elsewhere. You say the father (and apparently the mother too) tolerates this, but not that he himself uses this term. That’s a very good sign.

    “semi-sociopathic, Baptist, bigoted, redneck, preteen who is allowed to get away with damn near everything. ”

    There are lots of really nice Baptists and rednecks, who wouldn’t tolerate this kind of thing, mostly for the very same reason this hits so close to home with you. The rest of what you describe – sociopathy is a structural thing, and since no one has developed a prenatal test for this, and mercykilling (mercy to the rest of us) is illegal, you just have to grin and bear it.

  3. Clarence says:

    Over a single word, that is everywhere in the culture?

    I’d be proud of your kid and proud of you and all that for not pushing him to choose. But more likely older brother is using that word to bother his little brother (now that he knows it bothers your son it might be even better) because for some reason there is a strain between those two brothers. I don’t think it’s about the 21 year old at all.

    So what I’m saying is I don’t think the 13 year old is a “sociopath”, needs “locked away” or anything. I think he is having some issues with his family now and possibly taking it out on his little brother and little brother’s best friend. Or possibly its just an adolescent hormone thing that he’ll grow out of. Don’t 12 to 15 year olds like to try and shock their parents or show their family up any way that they can?

    What I’d recommend is that your son not worry about it, and instead play with his friend. Let the older brother know he’s not going to be invited to do things with them when he uses that word. And see if that works.

    Good luck!

  4. Kristi says:

    Love the input, a few things I can expand on: By no means did I call this kid semi-sociopathic because of this one word. The adjectives used were to give the reader an idea of who this kid is as a whole, from years of experience. I don’t believe all Baptists think like this kid does, but I do know that the rigidity of how his family practices their Baptist faith, feeds into his view of gay people in general, which is extremely negative. That view would be the predominant one preached from the pulpit in the majority of Baptist Churches around here. Mom is not in the picture, and Dad does use the word from time to time as a replacement for words like “stupid jerk.”

    Unfortunately, yes, Oklahoma is more bigoted than other areas of the country, though probably not a whole bunch more than some other southern states. During the election, we had an Obama sign in our front yard. Our house and car were vandalized seven times. The “N” word was yelled during said vandalizing. I’ll spare you the details, but we had police protection the last two weeks of the campaign.

    Joe and Alex play at our house all the time these days instead of them going to Alex’s house. Though time will tell, Alex has a Play Station at his house.

  5. Jim says:

    “Joe and Alex play at our house all the time these days instead of them going to Alex’s house. ”

    That sounds like a good work around.

    “Though time will tell, Alex has a Play Station at his house.”

    Now there’s a mother of boys talking!

  6. Kayla says:

    I’ve been reading this blog for a while, but have never commented. I just wanted to say this post made me feel the need to come out of lurkerdom and congratulate you on doing such a good job of raising your son. I know very few people twice your son’s age who would have the courage to do what he did (I say this as a queer twenty-year-old who whishes I could have that kind of courage). Not that I think he should lose his friend over it – I’m glad you’re letting him know he doesn’t have to choose, and I hope this doesn’t damage his friendship over the long term. But your son is truly an amazing kid, to display that kind of loyalty to his brother and other gay people. The world needs more kids like him, and more parents like you who will raise them.

    I wish I had actual advice for you, but of course there’s no easy answer. All I can say is please make sure your son knows how inspiring his attitude and that kind of courage is, even if severing a friendship might not be the best way to express it. I very much hope this all works out for him.

    • Kristi says:

      Thanks for the kind words of support, and I’m glad you came out of the “lurkerdom” to share them. I’m amazed that my children are forced to deal with this kind of crap in their own generation. Sad really, but something worthy of their efforts to overcome.

  7. Tracie says:

    I don’t have any words of encouragement, but I do want to say that your son is inspiring. It’s refreshing to see children (or anyone) standing up for their beliefs and not allowing someone to continue doing/saying something that offends them.

    I hope that Joe and Alex are able to continue their friendship, and that Alex’s brother learns some sensitivity and humanity. It’s unfortunate that the parents allow this to happen in the first place, name calling of any kind is just disgusting.

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