Care and Feeding

I Walked in On My Son Using a Slur. I Might Have to Let It Slide.

Who am I to step in?

Young teen boy smiling while on the phone.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding, 

I have a teenage son in the process of questioning his sexuality, which I fully support. But it also means I was stunned when I walked through the living room, spotted him on the couch talking on his phone, and laughingly agree to something from the other line.

I caught him saying, “Yeah, they’re a couple of straight F-words.” I let him finish his conversation, and then asked him why he thought using a slur like that was ever appropriate. He seemed honestly confused about the F-word, thinking it was just a kind of collective noun for a group of people you personally don’t belong to. Maybe he’s snowing me—he’s a teenager after all—but he’s not that great of an actor, and I don’t think he’d be able to fake the kind of confusion he was showing.

But it leaves me wondering what to do. I really do believe him when he claims to be unaware of the connotations. And if a marginalized community wants to reclaim a slur, who am I to step in? Still, it feels wrong to hear it, especially out of his mouth. Is this the sort of thing I should just let go of?

—Wanting to Be a Good Ally

Dear Wanting to Be a Good Ally,

My son is Black, and at an age where he can understand the nuance of who is “allowed” to say the N-word. What I’ve told him is that it is not my place as a white person to tell him what his relationship to the word should be, but it’s important to know the word’s history and to understand its impact before deciding to use it.

No one of any sexuality or gender identity should be using a word like your son used without fully understanding the connotations.

If you truly want to be a good ally, letting it go is the last thing you should do. Whether or not he was truly aware of its connotations, this is an opportunity to start some important conversations with your son regarding the word and the long history of marginalization and hate queer people have experienced. If you’re not already, it’s a good idea to connect your son to some resources to help support him through his sexuality journey like an LGBTQ-friendly therapist, support organizations with local chapters like PFLAG, and ideally with queer mentors and role models who can also help navigate these difficult conversations.

—Emily

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