Dear Prudence

My Once-Progressive Friend Is Dating a Racist Homophobe

How do I make her realize her boyfriend is awful?

Collage of lesbian couple next to a white woman with her arms crossed and man drinking.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by visi.stock/iStock/Getty Images Plus and MangoStar_Studio/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Prudence,

I’ve been best friends with “Hannah” since college. She’s always been a big advocate of LGBT rights and was involved in lots of anti-racism campaigns both in college and afterward. When she started dating “Rick,” she raved about him to me and other friends, telling us how funny and awesome he is. I met him at a party Hannah was hosting, and one of the first things he did was to drunkenly “congratulate” my wife for marrying a “hot Asian lesbian.” (My wife is white, and I’m Asian. Hannah and Rick are also white.) He made degrading, sexist comments about Asian women, then called her a “killjoy dyke” for getting upset.

Hannah’s response when she heard about this was that he just had a “non-PC” sense of humor. The next day, I got an apologetic text from Hannah, and she asked to meet up for lunch. Rick managed to act like a human for the first half-hour of our lunch, then started drinking, sexually harassing the waitress, and asking invasive questions about our sex life. Hannah either pretended not to hear his “jokes” or laughed at them. I told her I felt like she’d gotten a new personality, at which point she said I was so smug in my “perfect” marriage that I judged everyone else’s relationships and that I probably had a thing for her and was “just jealous.”

I got another text from her suggesting we meet up just the two of us for a meal free of “partner drama”! I have not replied and am at a total loss. One friend thinks we shouldn’t blame someone for their partner’s actions, but I can’t try to pretend she isn’t responsible for anything. What should I say to her?

—Lost My Friend

Hannah has made it extremely clear that she adores Rick’s actions, that she stands by them, and has gone out of her way to commit some pretty unforgivable actions of her own, like laughing when someone sexually harasses a waitress at work or telling her friends that they’re probably in love with her if they don’t like her boyfriend’s racism. It’s a shockingly long list of offenses. It’s understandable that you were horrified but wanted to give her an opportunity to do the right thing, given how close you were before, not to mention her previous allegiance to progressive causes.

I don’t think you should worry too much about trying to come up with the perfect thing to say, because she’s clearly lost to reason right now and determined not to listen to you. You’re free to ignore her message entirely, to tell her off, to say you’re disappointed in her, to say “Lose my number.” But please don’t let yourself be pressured, either by Hannah or any of your other friends, into pretending that this wasn’t a big deal, or that there’s fault to be placed on both sides, or that Rick’s behavior couldn’t possibly reflect on Hannah—especially when she’s gone so far as to not only justify but egg him on.

Help! Social Media Makes Me Anxious. How Can I Social Distance Without It?

Danny M. Lavery is joined by Phil Surkis on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.

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Dear Prudence,

I’ve barely seen or talked to my family for months now. I’m trans, liberal, and no longer religious. I’ve come out to about half of my family, whose reactions have ranged from neutral to negative. I’ve stayed closeted with the rest. I’ve also kept quiet about my political and religious beliefs with most of them because of the likely backlash. I have gone to therapy for years to learn how to distance myself from my family. I don’t miss them, but I know they miss me. In my limited contact with them, they’ve expressed this and have expressed excitement to see me again. My main emotion is guilt for not reaching out to them, as I feel that I should. In this time of pandemic, what is my obligation to family members who may want to talk to me but from whom I have worked very hard to distance myself?

—Do I Have to Call My Mom?

Part of the challenge of determining what one’s obligation is to other people is the sheer responsibility of deciding, rather than accepting, the terms of the obligation. Your goal in pursuing a modified or soft estrangement is not to cause your relatives distress but to preserve your own well-being as a trans, irreligious person in a family where such people are neither respected nor treated well. The fact that they may sometimes experience distress as a result of that distancing is a side effect of their decision not to accept trans people, not something you’ve sought to inflict on them out of malice.

Now might be a good time to write out some of your hopes, desires, fears, and possible best-and worst-case scenarios when it comes to your relationship with your relatives. What level of contact seems desirable to you? What level seems unbearable? If you feel like in many ways you’ve already informally cut ties, does that make you feel more inclined to come out to the rest of them, since you have little to lose? Do you want to risk having a difficult conversation about what you might need from them in order to have a real relationship? If not, what are some other useful and productive ways you could tend to your own feelings of guilt?

My guess is that whatever you choose, you’ll experience some form of guilt, either for “forcing” your relatives to miss you or by giving them less than what they want from you, so finding an appropriate outlet to process and tend to that guilt is going to be your best bet. But let this guide you as a general principle: While some of your relatives may genuinely miss you, you are not doing anything wrong by denying people access to your time, energy, or private emotional life. That’s something other people can earn by treating you with respect. It’s not something they have an inherent right to, and it’s not something you owe them on demand.

Dear Prudence,

I recently received a “promotion” at work. While it was talked up to be a big career move, I was hesitant from the onset and was pretty much pushed into the role. This promotion comes with no perks or raise, aside being placed on a project for one of our largest clients. It has only been a month, but it hasn’t gone well. I do my job well enough but don’t enjoy the new work, and things are tense between me and my new supervisor. I know your boss isn’t your friend, but this manager has quite a reputation, and they’ve been laser-focused on me ever since I joined the team, often disparagingly.

I really loved my last position and regret ever taking this role. I want to request a transfer back to my old department but am nervous on two fronts. Is it even appropriate to request what would be considered a demotion back to my old position? This present work is a very large client of ours, and I would hope to work with them in the future (as long as it is in a different position). But if they let me transfer, it shouldn’t be hard to fill my current position. Secondly, how do I even go about asking for such a thing? I know I can’t tell them the truth, but just how much of my displeasure can I disclose before it comes across as whining? If I can’t transfer, I will most likely be seeking other employment within the coming months.

—Tired of Promotion

It might not be ideal, but it happens—transferring into a new role doesn’t always work out. I’d start by reaching out to your last manager to try to find out how receptive they are to your return. You don’t have to bad-mouth your current manager to do so. All you have say is that the work isn’t what you expected, that it’s not a good fit, and that you’d rather they find someone who’s suited for the position in the long run—all of which is true. If they’re open to the idea, then you can bring it up with your current manager. They probably won’t be pleased that you’re leaving after a month, but it sounds like they might agree things aren’t working out and that this is probably for the best.

That said, if you’re already thinking about looking for a job elsewhere, I’d be inclined to put my energy there first. Even if you did get your old job back, you’d still be working for a company that pretends forced-job-reassignments are “promotions” without raises. And there’s always the risk that asking to transfer back could get you shown out the door instead. See what else is out there and start sprucing up your résumé before getting in touch with your old boss.

Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

More Advice From Care and Feeding

My 13-year-old son recently came out as gay. There have been some ups and downs, but generally he’s confident and enthusiastic in his identity and has good, supportive friends at his all-boys school and in the wider community. All good, except …

1) His 11-year-old brother is in the intermediate school attached to the secondary school, sharing the same grounds and buses, and he’s getting bullied. It’s likely he’d be bullied anyway (he’s the youngest and smallest at the school and tends to big reactions when things go wrong, which we’re working with him on), but having an openly gay brother is just one more thing to throw on the fire. The school is aware of the bullying and so far has been dealing with it to our satisfaction, but sometimes I can’t help wishing the 13-year-old would just dial it down for his brother’s sake.

2) The 13-year-old has set up an Instagram account where he posts gay memes specifically to get into fights with fundamentalist Christians. He’s convinced of his own righteousness in this and won’t listen when we explain all the reasons this is a bad idea. It’s bad enough that he’s doing this, but also his schoolwork is suffering. He literally told me he didn’t have enough time to do his homework because his evenings are busy with Instagram. We’ve talked to his teachers and he knows there are school trips he won’t be able to go on if he doesn’t pull his socks up, but he doesn’t care. Dealing with this has also meant I feel like I haven’t been able to support the 11-year-old to the extent he needs.