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.