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Should I speak?

While waiting in a long line to get my Covid-19 vaccine, I noticed two rowdy white men in front of me. At first, I attributed their noise to excitement. But in the meantime, I realized that they were harassing an older black woman who was in line in front of them. They would pile her up and tell her to get on, even though she was keeping a proper social distance, and nastily shout at her to “get off” and “stop moving”. The older woman ignored them. And I was afraid to intervene lest the men turn their anger on me. What should I have done?


How heartbreaking that an otherwise joyful experience – getting vaccinated after more than a year of Covid-related fear, suffering and death – has been marred by harassment for this woman. I wish someone had protected her. But I also respect your fear for your safety. Bullying can be terrifying not only for its victims, but also for onlookers who are wary of escalation.

Still, there are tactics to step in and defuse situations like these: You may have briefly walked off the line to seek help from someone who worked at the site or looked physically imposing. Distraction can also be effective. Asking the men if they were in line for their first or second beat, for example, may have interrupted their abuse and put them on a different path.

Of course, our first impetus in such cases is often to stop the abuse (and often to punish the abusers). But it is just as important to take care of the victims. Maybe I joined the woman online, for example, to support her. (This may have seemed risky to you.) And I would have made sure to find her in the recovery area to ask if she wanted help or someone to hang out with her.

Credit…Christoph niemann

My son is 9 years old. He was born a boy and identifies himself as such. He participates in football and boy scouts, and he prefers clothes from the boys’ side of the store. He also loves her long wavy hair that falls below her shoulders. It is not a battle that we want to fight with him. Other boys at school have similar hairstyles. The problem: It’s quite common for strangers to call my son “your daughter”. What’s the best way to handle this? The last time I corrected someone gently, she looked at me like I was crazy. How can we support our son’s choice while not allowing others to look down on him?

Mom bear

The striking omission from your question is how your son feels about strangers calling him a girl. If he doesn’t mind, just keep correcting people gently and stop worrying about their apparent hoax. Who cares what strangers think? I’m more concerned about your feelings. The “battle” you mention without picking up with your son, for example, implies that you might be on Team Haircut.

Here’s the thing: The traditional division of hairstyles, clothes, and activities into “male” and “female” types is artificial (even though we’ve controlled them pretty tightly for centuries). Times are changing, however, and many people are starting to relax on gender markers. Why wouldn’t a boy have long hair or a girl play soccer?

Now the caveat here is if your son is upset with the gender error. If so, explain to him that in the past, boys wore their hair short. So, a person with long hair may appear to be a girl. Ask if the occasional labeling errors bother him enough to cut his hair. (If he likes it, I hope he feels safe enough to keep it. But I don’t have a vote.)

My daughter is getting married on the west coast. We want to give him a party on the East Coast in July. We’re about to send out invitations. Is there a polite way of saying that only vaccinated people can come?


Why let a random date or your impatience (which I fully understand) put the health of your guests at risk? Wait for the planning of the party! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people continue to avoid large gatherings at this time.

Me and (presumably) you are not qualified to question these guidelines or predict when they may change. When the CDC announces recommendations for the type of party you want to give (necessarily including immunization issues), set a date and send out your invitations afterwards. Armed with the facts, we can also take care of the wording of the invitations.

My neighbor, who always seemed absent to me, began to walk her cat on a leash in the neighborhood. It looks super weird! Can I ask him what it looks like?


Sure, but I wouldn’t lead with “super weird”. Say: “How new to see your beautiful cat on a leash!” Was it difficult to train her? Most of us have been living in various states of isolation for over a year now. These walks – which don’t hurt anyone, including the cat – can be the highlight of your neighbor’s day. Who are we to judge her?

For help with your sticky situation, send a question to, Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.

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