08/03/2008 10:13 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Other 'F' Word

On Friday morning, I walked my three-year-old son to camp. Our walk was fairly uneventful until a man crossed the street just as the traffic light was changing. A car barreled down (running the red light) and slammed on the brakes in order to avoid hitting him. The pedestrian yelled at the car, "What the hell are you doing?" and kept walking.

The car pulled over and two 20-something men got out. "Come here, you faggot!" The man turned around and screamed back, "Fuck you." Two big bad F-words in two seconds. What was a parent to do?

I tried to block my son. I didn't want him to see what may have transpired, and I definitely didn't want him to hear what the men were saying. I have a problem with certain words; I couldn't care less about profanity, but I hate any incarnation of the word "fag."

The men from car gestured at their groins. "Why don't you just go suck some guy's dick?" I cringed. The verbal attack went on for the entire time it took for the light to change back. It was a long light. I ear-muffed my son with my hands. If only we had made the light. We were so close to camp. We were looking right at it.

Perhaps it is naive of me to think this way, but I will never understand why the consummate insult is a derogatory term for sexual orientation. It's not as if we don't know better and it's not as if you can tell what a person's sexual orientation is just by looking at him/her either. But even if the pedestrian wore a tee shirt with "YES I AM GAY!" emblazoned on the front, verbal (or physical) assaults based upon whom we partner with are just not acceptable.

We are born with our sexual orientation (I know, bring on the debate). We don't choose whom we are attracted to. We can choose whom we have sex with, but that overwhelming inner desire we cannot control. (Did you control who your first crush was? Was it a conscientious decision or did you "just know"? These are the questions I pose to all my students, young and old. Whether they are 9 or 90, their answer is always, "I didn't choose, I just knew.")

It doesn't matter if it's race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender. Attacking people verbally or physically based upon something innate is intolerable. (That being said, attacking people because you don't agree with their choices is detestable, too.)

I am well aware of the original definition of "faggot" - a bundle of sticks and branches bound together (and used for burning heretics - ugh). But it doesn't really matter where the word comes from. Today, its use is always ugly and mean-spirited. I would be mortified if anyone in my family used it. And if my friends ever used it, I would question the role they played in my life. Seriously. If your personal values tolerate usage of the term "fag," I don't want you hanging around with me.

I want my son (and his peers) to grow up in a word where diversity is welcome. He has friends with two mommies, two daddies, one of each, stepparents, and every incarnation of race, religion, ethnicity, and gender. It doesn't matter how many men or women are raising a child. Families are about love and that's it. It's too bad we often forget this.

So bring on the profanity, but never use the other F-word in front of my child.