Jenny Block learns a lesson about family and politics during holidays
I’ve learned a lot of things from my fianceé Robin, but the most recent lesson was the hardest one yet. You see, despite the fact that my (divorced) parents and I don’t agree on everything — including not seeing eye-to eye-on my sister’s and my less-than-picture-perfect childhood — we all stand on the same side politically. We may have some surface differences, but when it came to the most recent election, I didn’t lose any sleep wondering if anyone in my family voted for Trump.
Still, the holidays have brought many lively discussions into our house over the years. Thanksgiving often meant a tableful of mismatched strangers and family alike, depending on who needed somewhere to go during the holiday. My dad is a rabbi, and he and my mother have always been extremely gracious and welcoming to strays, inviting to their table whoever needed a seat. Yet I remember some heated conversations between passing the yams. I even remember leaving the table a time or two. But I never remember being so diametrically opposite on an issue that any topic had to be banned for the sake of sanity.
This year, my fiancé and I hosted her dad and his girlfriend — as well as her two 20something sons — for the long weekend. For dinner, we added in our close friends (gay couple who live in our neighborhood) and their “orphaned” friend, as well as the dad of some other friends who was stranded that night. It was a motley crew, to say the least. I was most nervous to meet my Robin’s family. I am not a huge fan of a house crowded with guests who I do not know well. But those things were not the issue.
The issue was that Robin was unsure of how her family had voted. And we both felt very differently about what that meant.
For me, it meant it was time to speak to each of them and explain how this election was about life and death of many of us. For me it was about saying, “You are either voting for or against my right to marry; for or against my rights to my body; for or against my daughter; for or against our Muslim, African-American and Mexican friends. You are either voting for me, or against me.”
For Robin, it was about not losing touch with her father.
Her mother died several years ago — suddenly and too soon. The two were very close and the wound is still fresh. Watching Bride Wars the other night, she cried seeing the brides with their mothers on the big day. For her, the personal is not always political — sometimes it’s just personal.
She is out to her family. When they post lies about Trump’s prowess or Clinton’s failings, she responds with facts, not opinions. She is clear about who she is voting for and what she supports. But in the name of protecting her family relationships, she refused to engage in the direct way that I would with my family. If anyone in my family said they were supporting Trump, I would have told them that vote was for racism and homophobia and Islamophobia and misogyny and I refuse to accept that it’s OK to vote for him because you “just don’t like” Hillary.
And, you know what? A week or two might go by before I spoke to that family member again. But we would recover. I truly believe that.
But I have learned that not all families are like mine. And I have learned that sometimes you have to keep your politics to yourself.
I won’t lie. That scares me. I wonder if we could change the world if each of us used our knowledge and our education to share truth and stop lies in their tracks. I wonder if we could change the world by starting at home, by not letting anyone get away with being lazy politically. I wonder if we could change the world by being honest with family members about our fears and our realities that for those of us who are Jewish or Muslim or queer or black or female or part of any of the favorite scapegoat group of those uneducated/naïve/hateful/disenfranchised/all of the above, we are scared. We are scared for our lives.
But I also know what happened at Thanksgiving. We all got along; it was nice. Politics was banned and we talked about tall ships and we went to the Renaissance faire. We played Scrabble and we ate too much pie. My fiance’s father put one arm around each of us and pulled us in tightly and said, with tears in his eyes, “I don’t think I’ve personally said congratulations to both of you. You are the best thing that has ever happened to my girl. You make her so happy. I love you both.”
That night, that weekend, we were a family.
Maybe we still did change the world that day, just a little. Not with the heated discussions that I am used to. But with just living our lives. They say it’s hard to hate people whose stories you know. Now, they know our stories. Sometimes visibility is the most powerful form of activism.
Jenny Block is an award-winning author, most recently of The Ultimate Guide to Solo Sex, with a foreword by Betty Dodson.
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This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 2, 2016.