Should I Have Spoken Up?

Why Can't I Wear Political Attire at Work?

While waiting in a long line to get my Covid-19 vaccination, I noticed two boisterous white men ahead of me. At first I chalked up their noise to excitement. But as I waited, I realized they were harassing an older Black woman who was in line in front of them. They were crowding her and telling her to move up, even though she was keeping an appropriate social distance, and calling out to her nastily to “pick up her feet” and “stop shuffling.” The older woman ignored them. And I was afraid to intervene for fear the men would 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 — was marred for this woman by harassment. I wish someone had protected her. But I respect your fear for your safety, too. Bullying can be terrifying not only for its victims but also for bystanders wary of escalation.

Still, there are tactics for intervening and defusing situations like these: You might have left the line briefly to enlist the help of someone who worked at the site or who looked physically imposing. Distraction can also be effective. Asking the men if they were in line for their first or second shots, for instance, may have interrupted their abuse and set them on a different path.

Naturally, our first impulse in such cases is often to stop the abuse (and often to punish the abusers). But it’s just as important to tend to the victims. I may have joined the woman in line, for instance, to support her. (That may have felt 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 walk out with her.

Credit…Christoph Niemann

My son is 9. He was born a boy and identifies as one. He participates in football and Boy Scouts, and he prefers clothes from the boys’ side of the store. He also likes his long wavy hair that falls beneath his shoulders. This is not a battle we feel like picking with him. Other boys at school have similar hairstyles. The issue: It’s pretty common for strangers to refer to my son as “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 misgender him?


The striking omission from your question is how your son feels about strangers referring to him as a girl. If it doesn’t upset him, keep correcting people gently and stop worrying about their apparent mystification. Who cares what strangers think? I’m more concerned about your feelings. The “battle” you mention not picking with your son, for instance, implies that you may be on Team Haircut.

Here’s the thing: The traditional division of hairstyles, clothing and activities into “male” and “female” types is artificial (even if we policed them pretty strictly for ages). Times are changing, though, and many people are beginning to loosen up about gender markers. Why shouldn’t a boy have long hair or a girl play football?

Now, the caveat here is if your son is upset by the misgendering. If he is, explain to him that in the past, boys wore their hair short. So, a person with long hair might appear to be a girl. Ask if the occasional mislabeling bothers him enough to cut his hair. (If he likes it, I hope he feels secure enough to keep it. But I don’t get a vote.)

My daughter is getting married on the West Coast. We want to give a party for her on the East Coast in July. We’re about to send out invitations. Is there a polite way to say that only people who’ve been vaccinated can come?


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

I and (presumably) you are not qualified to second-guess these guidelines or to predict when they may change. When the C.D.C. announces recommendations for the type of party you want to give (inevitably including questions of vaccination), set the date and send your invitations then. Armed with the facts, we can deal with invitation wording then too.

My neighbor, who has always seemed out-there to me, has started walking her cat on a leash around the neighborhood. This looks super-freaky! Can I ask her what gives?


Sure, but I wouldn’t lead with “super-freaky.” Say, “How novel to see your handsome cat on a leash! Was it hard to train her?” Most of us have been in varying states of isolation for over a year now. These walks — which hurt no one, including the cat — may be the highlight of your neighbor’s day. Who are we to judge her?

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

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