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    Ask Amy

    Offensive remarks strike too close for comfort

    Q. My friend said something homophobic. I told her that my son is gay and she said, “Oh, I hope I did not offend you?”

    My co-worker said something anti-Semitic. After he saw the expression on my face he said, “Oh, I hope I did not offend you?” (My grandparents are Jewish.)

    I am not comfortable talking with them further about this.


    My real question is: How do I get past what they both said?

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    Not Sure How to Feel

    A. Your question implies that people with a close connection to an offended group should perhaps feel more offended by slurs than other people, because the offense becomes personal and therefore cuts deeper.

    This might in fact be true, but you should not have to disclose a close personal relationship to the subject of a slur (”My son is gay”) in order to be disgusted, and to express your disgust. If you truly believe that we are all sisters and brothers (as Dr. King taught), then your kinship to any offended group would be implicit.

    Readers often ask me how to respond to others who hurt or offend them. Recently I responded to an offensive commenter with this: “WHY did you say that?”


    You seem to feel a burden to “get past” these offensive comments. But the people who made them showed you who they are: They express their bigotry when they think they are safe and sound in their bigot bubble.

    And here is how you should feel: disappointed, enlightened, and free of the burden of explaining yourself or making excuses for them.

    Q. We have a kiddo (just turned 9 years old), who is not a fan of physical contact with people other than his dad and me.

    My family, a gregarious set of huggers, absolutely does not understand this.

    My sister and my stepmom are the biggest problem, as they both think that wrestling him into some sort of a half-head hug is completely acceptable, even though he has done an admittedly admirable job of telling them that he would prefer a high five or a fist bump.


    How do we, as his parents, make them understand that this preference is not about them, or their lovability, but about him as a separate human being who just doesn’t appreciate this kind of physical contact?

    I’m a hugger too, but I am at a loss to make them understand that they need to respect his wishes, even though he is still a youngster. Any thoughts or advice is much appreciated.

    Vicariously Misunderstood

    in Denver

    A. Although I have never met a 9-year-old boy who actually enjoyed being hugged by anyone other than his parents, your family members don’t seem willing to understand or accept this fairly common aversion.

    But — even if they don’t understand it, they should still respect it. He is a child and he has the right to express his preference. He has quite admirably tried to communicate his preference, and has offered alternatives.

    Spinning this scenario somewhat beyond what some might think is its rational conclusion, I believe that this is really about consent.

    Perhaps these women in your family will understand your point if you put it this way: “When you ignore his wishes not to be hugged, what you are really telling him is that it doesn’t matter if someone else says ‘no’; that if you feel like touching them or wrestling them into a hug, you should just go ahead and do it. This is not an appropriate message to give to a boy who is interested in creating and respecting boundaries. So . . . please stop it. He loves you. He just doesn’t want to be handled.”

    Q. Thank you for running the question from “Puzzled,” who brought up the subject of young people calling their parents by their first names. I got a kick out of the people you quoted in your answer and agree with you (and others) that this is basically a sign of disrespect.

    I went through a phase of doing this, and my dad put his foot down. I’ll never forget what he said: “Anyone can be called by their first names, but only we get to be called Mom and Dad. We’re proud of that, and I think we’ve earned it.” He ignored the few other times I did it — getting it out of my system, perhaps.

    Missing my Dad

    A. Dad was wise and patient. I can see why you miss him.

    Amy Dickinson can be reached at