Dear Liza, 


Recently, I went to a relative’s bat mitzvah in Fairfax County, Virginia—one of the richest counties in the United States, in part because of the military-industrial complex. My parents and I have only recently gotten to know these relatives, and some of them are very right-wing. The bat-mitzvah girl and her parents are likable, and their politics don’t seem too bad (though we avoid the topic). Not so with the other family members at the event, whose conversation was peppered with casual transphobic jokes, cop worship, and intense Zionism. I’m a supporter of trans rights, Black Lives Matter, and the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement—yet I said nothing and dodged their questions about when I was going to visit Israel. Should I have spoken up, alienating this newfound family and angering my parents? There seemed to be little practical gain in making a scene. Am I right, or just rationalizing my timid behavior?
— Cowardly Jewish BDS Supporter


Dear BDS Supporter,

Many readers have been in similar situations recently, as the holiday season reunites us with relatives we don’t see often. Quite a few progressives sat down at the dinner table with Trump-supporting family members this year and tried to decide whether to change the subject from Steve Bannon to football.

Although we shouldn’t be hectoring or overbearing about it, close relatives—people who see one another often—should confront and discuss their political differences. Doing so can make a difference: Our loved ones deeply influence our ideas about the world, especially if we value and respect their intelligence and humanity. The daughter who comes home from college and argues with her climate-denier father might change his mind. And, in any case, their relationship would suffer if she hid her views from him; he wouldn’t get to know the opinionated adult she has become.

Your encounter with the Fairfax relatives was different, because you aren’t close to these people and probably never will be. That means you have little persuasive leverage with them, and your conversation won’t lay a foundation for future discussion. Because you don’t know each other well, you also don’t owe them the intimacy (or risk) of your honest opinion. I think you might have spoken up about the transphobia, because unless bigotry is expressed in an unconscious or subtle way, rejecting it doesn’t necessarily demand a lengthy political argument (unlike, say, anything to do with Israel). A gentle reprimand lets them know that the social consensus is changing. In situations where drama is undesirable and the message is simple, I find that merely shaking my head emphatically and making a face (perhaps adding, “No, not OK”) can be effective. Otherwise, you were right to spare your parents from discomfort, and to avoid marring a joyous celebration with conflict.

Dear Liza, 


I used to be a submissive in a BDSM relationship, having recently separated from my husband after a smothering marriage. The relationship was wonderful, and my partner, the dominant, was very supportive of my becoming an independent, successful woman in the wider world. No matter what humiliating or painful act I submitted to in the bedroom, my consent was crucial, which oddly gave me the power. I consider myself a feminist and, along with so many other women, have railed at the pure, disgusting sexism of Donald Trump’s “pussy-grabbing” boasts. However, recently I’ve started wondering if being the submissive in a BDSM sexual relationship disqualifies me from being a true advocate for women. Shouldn’t slapping and choking be relationship deal-breakers for a feminist? On the other hand, I quite enjoyed it and would love to find another equally dominant partner. What are your thoughts?
— Muddled in Mississippi


Dear Muddled,

That sounds like a pretty hot affair! While I’ve always found female dominance exciting, I used to assume that female submissiveness—like male 
dominance—was erotically and politically insipid. Since women submit to men in so many areas under patriarchy, I reasoned, why replicate that grim reality in bed? But after having, and witnessing, a variety of kinky relationships, I realize how wrong I was. Most likely, your sexual submissiveness shows how solid your feminist game is in daily life, since kinky sex often gets its charge from violating norms that matter to us outside the bedroom.

Most crucially, your lover respected you and supported your ambitions. While we should require this in any relationship, it’s undeniable that (for example) letting a man come on your face raises the bar. You might drunkenly hook up with anyone, but you wouldn’t engage in such intimate humiliation with someone who didn’t demonstrate considerable respect for you.

As you suggest, your submissiveness requires your elaborate consent, which means that you must think deeply about what you want (more than in most sexual situations). In a society that does its best to obscure women’s desires even from ourselves, this is a radical and highly welcome process. BDSM tends to entail extensive discussion about limits and desires (perhaps you like to be whipped, but draw the line at being called a slut). It is rare that people have such detailed negotiations about what kind of vanilla sex they might like—though maybe they should. With so much conversation about sexual assault in recent years, especially on college campuses, there is much to be learned from the kinky community about consent. From a feminist perspective, any arrangement that foregrounds consent, respect, and a woman’s desires is a solid model for future relationships. Enjoy your next one!

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