The thing is, yes, the term “hermaphrodite” is indeed a slur to the intersex community, who have had it applied to them for generations. They have had their bodies medically manipulated and mutilated against their will because they did not fall into the accepted gender binary on a biological level, treated as broken and deformed, and were referred to by that term, so they have every legitimate reason to find it abhorrent in (and this is key) in reference to them. Which is something that I support–they have the right to say “this is upsetting to me because of my history with it.” But this is not widely known, and, yes, I am not sure what happy medium can exist where the word is legitimately and deeply offensive when applied to certain people, and yet is also the technical term for many plants and animals in relation to their reproduction. I suppose, as always, consideration, empathy and understanding are key.
My former friend, on the other hand, you quite correctly diagnosed as treating the term as (ironically) a binary thing, where it is either universally acceptable or universally forbidden, with no shading of circumstance, context, nuance or intention. Ergo, it is the term to use in reference to the World Of Darkness group known as the Daksha, who are essentially a mage Legacy (i.e. a “prestige class”) who literally reshape their bodies into a hermaphroditic expression of perfected humanity (according to their ideology; they also have a third-eye in the back of the head…). I have one NPC that is a member of that group, and their child, who is biologically also a hermaphrodite, but didn’t join the Legacy themselves, causing conflict that has drawn in the PCs, and describing this was the context in which the term was used.
I think the key differences here in terms of tone policing, though, is that my former friend was not a member of the aggrieved group, and her attitude presupposed that I was malicious instead of ignorant, or at the very least was not willing to distinguish between the two. Ironically, though, it didn’t backfire; I did my own research, found that it was, in that context, a slur, made a note, integrated that into my knowledge base, educated myself further on the topic, and am willing to speak up on their behalf.
checks before posting And, whoa, did I derail the thread. Dammit.