DEAR ABBY: I am 17 and my sister, "Cheryl," is 16. She likes wearing flannel shirts, black leggings or jeans everywhere, especially to school, because they are comfortable. Sometimes she even wears sweatpants and a T-shirt.
Our stepmom tells her she looks like a lesbian and that she gets one day out of the school week to dress like a "slob," and the rest of the days she has to dress nice. By "nice" she means an outfit that looks cute by her standards. It means no "lesbian-looking" flannels and, instead, a lacy blouse or a patterned top.
Cheryl argues that she's just going to school, a lot of other kids dress that way and nobody cares. My stepmom argues that she cares, and she thinks the way Cheryl looks at school is a reflection on her (my stepmom), which makes her look bad. My dad doesn't say anything because he's low-key and agrees with her, but he isn't as vocal or mean about it.
My sister doesn't like being called a lesbian, and it makes me really mad, but my stepmom is mean and will find some way to ground me out of spite if I argue with her about it. What do I do? -- DON'T WANT TO ARGUE
DEAR DON'T WANT TO ARGUE: Your stepmother appears to be a homophobe. The only way your sister's attire could reflect on your stepmother would be if she went to school unwashed and wearing soiled, tattered clothing. Not all lesbians dress in the same style; some are very feminine. If Cheryl were a lesbian, it would be nothing to be ashamed of.
Children who are called names and bullied as your stepmother is doing can become depressed to the point of self-harm or risky behavior. Because you are afraid you will be punished if you speak up, find a teacher or counselor at school you can confide in about what's going on. Your parents could benefit from an intervention -- and so could Cheryl.