Should my Son Pretend to Be Gay?
And other questions for Persuasion's advice columnist.
I live in Rwanda. Recently, a visiting Instagram influencer with millions of followers posted a benign picture with Rwandan children she had met on the streets. Instagram activists targeted her for "colonialism." I work in the hospitality business and I'm irked that activists harass tourists for harmless stuff when we need to be as welcoming as possible. A close friend was involved: should I confront him? And if so, how?
Eh, I don't know about "confront." The thing about confrontation is that it puts people on the defensive, which is never a great place to start a conversation. Instead, I'd suggest sharing your perspective without specifically indicting your friend: point to one of these controversies and talk generally about why you find them frustrating and unhelpful. Your friend may or may not realize that his activism chases away the clients who help you earn a living, but hearing you talk about how it impacts you might help him think about it in a different way.
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Do you think it's OK for my 16 year old son to falsely say he is gay to his high school?
This is his idea. He's very short and gets bullied by the other boys. His high school has strong protections against LGBTQ harassment, but straight cis male-on-male bullying is treated as "oh well, boys will be boys." My son says that if he tells the school administration that he's gay they will monitor his safety.
Your son sounds like a great kid. And I do know (from painful personal experience, even!) how terrible schools can be about taking bullying seriously, which is why I'm usually of the opinion that bullied kids should do whatever helps them make it through high school with sanity intact, with the sole caveat that the "whatever" should not be illegal. (No spiking your enemy's soda with fast-acting extra strength laxatives, as entertaining as the results might be.) And yet, your son's plan worries me, not because it's wrong, but because it seems short-sighted and extremely non-bulletproof. If he pretends he's gay to stop the harassment, what happens if the school (or the bullies) find out it's not true? Is he prepared to spend two years protecting this lie? What does this mean for his love life, or social media presence, or an event like the prom?
These are things you should discuss with him. Make sure he's really thought through the implications of his plan, including what it will be like to live with it, and what he'll do if it goes awry. Take a minute to figure out if this is really the best and only solution, before he does something he can't take back. Because while I can't say for sure, I'm willing to bet there's a better option—and that someone as resourceful and inventive as your son will be able to figure out what that is, especially with a supportive parent on his side.
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How do you respond to those who maintain that being obese is not unhealthy and that body positivity means we should encourage people to ignore science? How do we get society to accept the basic logic of weight loss and health: a balanced diet and exercise? It seems that we now have a growing movement of, effectively, flat earthers when it comes to the human body.
Er… do we, though? Even if body positivity is having a bit of a moment right now, there's no evidence that anti-science obesity enthusiasts are anything but a vocal minority, let alone effecting a sea change in societal norms. Thin is still in, and weight loss is still a $192.2 billion (and growing!) industry, supported by a majority of Americans who would desperately love to be slimmer. It's just that knowing the basic logic of weight loss doesn't necessarily translate to a fitter population because losing weight (let alone keeping it off) is a lot harder in practice than it is in theory. People struggle like hell with it.
So when you ask how to respond to people who take unscientific positions on this issue, the answer is that it depends on context. Are you a doctor, and is the person your patient? Or are you having a discussion about public health policy? Then sure, politely counter their bad ideas with better information. But if you're looking for a way to inform random body-positive fat people that, actually, their bodies are terrible and they should feel terrible about them, the answer is that you should not do this, because it is very obnoxious.
Kat Rosenfield is a culture writer and author of several novels.