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Danny is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Q. My neighbors: I live on the first floor of a two-family house. I hung a Black Lives Matter sign on my porch, and my neighbors asked me to take it down for fear that our house will be “targeted.” I complied because I have a good relationship with my neighbors. But … did I do the right thing? (It’s worth noting that the porch in question is mine; the neighbors have an upstairs balcony.) I suddenly feel like I took down a sign just to make white people feel more comfortable. Are their concerns legitimate? We don’t live in an area experiencing riots, and it’s a fairly quiet neighborhood.
A: I’m not sure I understand what your neighbors’ concerns are. You say they feared that your house would be targeted—by whom? And for what? On what grounds do they fear “targeting,” and from what quarter? I don’t think signs are the only or most important way that you can support the movement, but it seems pretty straightforwardly true that you took down a sign saying “Black Lives Matter” because your white neighbors were uncomfortable with it. I think you’re dead-on in that assessment. You don’t ask what you should do next, only what I think of your neighbor’s (incredibly vague) concerns, but I think the next right move is to ask yourself what you can do besides hanging up a sign.
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Q. Life-or-death decision? My brother-in-law is in desperate need of a kidney and has been approved for being on the list to obtain a cadaver kidney. However, the expected wait time for him is longer than he’s likely to survive on dialysis. His best chance of survival is to obtain a kidney from a living donor. I’m one of the few people in his life healthy enough to be a donor. I’ve contacted the hospital to ask to be tested to see if I would be a compatible donor. In discussing and researching the issue, I suspect there’s a reasonable chance I’ll turn out to be compatible. My husband is adamantly opposed to my being a living donor for my brother-in-law and does not want me to even be tested. To put things into context, I tend to go overboard in doing things for others—as my brother would put it, I have a “savior complex.” Over the years, I’ve begun to realize I overdo it to the extent of sometimes negatively impacting our lives, which understandably irritates my husband, and I’ve worked hard at scaling back.
Second, this brother-in-law is not our favorite person. We disagree on pretty much every political and religious issue, but more importantly, he’s just not a kind person anymore, having become judgmental and critical as well as controlling of my sister. He wasn’t like that years ago, and the 30 years he’s spent dealing with this serious illness probably has a lot to do with the change in personality. Unfortunately, my husband never knew him before he became ill, has only ever seen this side of him, and strongly dislikes him.
I don’t know whether my husband is bothered by who I’d be donating a kidney to or if he’s afraid it’ll be a problem for me to live with just one kidney. At this point, I’m punting the decision, telling him I’ll go forward with being tested because if I’m not compatible, there won’t even be a decision to be made. If I turn out to be compatible, we’ll make a decision together at that point. If he continues to oppose it, though, I really don’t know how to deal with it. I can’t imagine letting my brother-in-law die if I could prevent it, yet know doing it without getting my husband’s agreement would permanently affect our relationship. We’ve been together for over two decades, get along amazingly well, and I surely don’t want to ruin what we have. How do I convince my husband and/or decide between my brother-in-law’s life and our relationship if I can’t convince him?
A: The question of how your health and quality of life might be affected by a possible kidney donation is one you can get real, practical answers on, by speaking to a doctor before, during, and after testing for compatibility. Potential donors aren’t just screened for the health of their kidneys, but evaluated pretty thoroughly by a team whose sole priority is the donor’s safety. I’m curious how, or whether, you see your current situation as part of a “savior complex.” What has “scaling back” looked like over the years? Would your husband agree that you’ve scaled back significantly, or do you two differ? Has your brother-in-law ever asked you to donate a kidney? Have you two ever discussed the possibility? Does he know that you’re getting tested for compatibility? Where did the idea come from, and whom have you discussed it with besides your husband? If you’re not sure about the nature of your husband’s objections, you can ask him flat-out: “Are you more concerned about possible health risks if I make the donation? Or are you bothered by the fact that it’s my brother-in-law?”
If you do not move ahead with kidney donation, it does not mean that you will be personally responsible for your brother-in-law’s possible death. I also think it’s possible for you to have loving, thorough, respectful conversations with your husband about the situation and ultimately say to him, “This is really important to me, and I’m going to move ahead with testing even if you disagree.” Both options are available to you, and there are good cases to be made for either side. My strongest advice is this: Punting is going to stop working at a certain point, so you need to figure out what you want, what risks you are and aren’t willing to run, what you think might be motivating you, what outcomes you fear the most, and what outcomes you desire the most (not to mention thinking about other ways you can offer your brother-in-law, and your sister, love and support). And don’t frame this as “my brother-in-law’s life” versus “my marriage”—you are not the only thing standing in between your brother-in-law and death, and it won’t help you make a decision if you start thinking of yourself as his only hope in the world. Good luck.
Q. Newfound faith: I grew up as a member of a cultural and religious minority and always thought I’d marry within the faith. I grew away from that as I got older, though—by the time I graduated from college, I realized I was queer, and numerically, there aren’t many queer members of my religion out there. My girlfriend “Betsy” is atheist/agnostic. We are a perfect match in so many ways. She has been generally interested in learning more about my culture, more in an anthropological way than a religious way, and we’ve had many conversations about how we want to raise our children fairly agnostic. But. Over the past year, I’ve lost a parent, had a close friend die in a car accident, and then of course the pandemic. These three traumas made me reach out to my old religious community, and I’ve been warmly welcomed back. I find myself yearning for the spirituality I had when I was younger. I’ve already taken steps to join a spiritual community here in my new city. Betsy is pretty lukewarm about this. She’s encouraged me to explore general “mindfulness,” but she’s leery of religion (in part because she grew up feeling stifled by clergy because of her queerness). I understand and respect where she’s coming from; honestly, I’d probably feel the same if the situations were reversed. I feel guilty for exploring this because it feels like a bait-and-switch. I also worry that I will get so into it that I’ll want to raise our kids religiously, which I know Betsy won’t want. How should we navigate this?
A: Honestly, carefully, and patiently. If you’re thinking about having kids together, and you believe (or “worry”) that you’ll want to raise them with religious training, the solution is not to avoid the subject out of fear of disagreement—you have to pursue the disagreement and discuss it openly. You say you “know” Betsy won’t want that, but that doesn’t mean you can shield her from such a conversation just because you’ve already rehearsed it with her in your mind. You can preface it with everything you’ve included in your letter—that you respect Betsy’s worldview, that you understand her skepticism of organized religion, that you might feel the same way in her position—but don’t downplay your own religious devotion just because you’re afraid she’ll be upset if she finds out just how much this recommitment means to you.
Unfortunately, you may end up creating a “bait-and-switch” situation simply by giving in to your fears about creating a “bait-and-switch” situation. There’s nothing wrong with changing your mind—people do it all the time, and you can’t reasonably promise a partner that you’ll never reconsider your approach to religion or spirituality for the rest of your life. But if you withhold or downplay the intensity of your feelings now because you feel guilty about them, hoping they’ll simply never come up, then when they inevitably do come up (either because you actually have kids or because she starts to notice how much time you’re putting into your religious community), Betsy will have been left in the dark for so much of your reversion process that she’ll feel disoriented and shut out. You have not done anything wrong, nor betrayed Betsy, by finding solace, comfort, and meaning in your religious community. You can share those things with her, even knowing they may lead to distress or conflict or a possible breakup, without apology. I don’t know what compromises, if any, will be possible between the two of you in the long run. But I do know that you can only find a compromise if you’re both working with the same up-to-date information.
Q. Taxidermic cats: My mother is elderly and in very poor health. I have started bracing myself for the end of her life. I am anxious about eventually having to deal with all of her things. In particular, I do not know what I will do with her dead cats. She had her last two cats preserved through taxidermy after they died. I knew and loved the cats when they were alive, and their current state makes me uncomfortable, but this is how my mom chose to deal with her grief when they died, I guess. I don’t know what I will do with them when my mother passes away. Throwing them in the trash would feel horrible, but I absolutely do not want to keep them. I thought about burying them, but where? We both live in apartments. What does one do with two long-dead cats?
A: It’s possible these old taxidermic cats have been preserved in a way that could be dangerous to simply throw them in with household trash and leach out in a city dump. My best advice would be to contact a taxidermy association and ask about safe disposal methods. (Are such associations formally regulated? I have no idea off the top of my head, but surely there’s some consensus on best practices and dealing with chemical hazards.) They may even be able to dispose of or destroy the specimens on your behalf. I understand that you’re not eager to throw these taxidermic cats away once your mother dies, given how much they mean to her now. But you won’t be taking anything away from her by humanely and safely disposing of them after her death.
Q. An odorous affair: My partner smells awful. Even after he showers using soap, even after he brushes his teeth for two minutes and flosses, he just smells awful. I used to love his natural scent, but it’s slowly changed over the years. It’s so bad that we can’t even snuggle together, and I have to do my best to tolerate the odor when we’re intimate. I’ve brought this up several times to my partner. Now he gets angry with me any time I bring it up, but I can’t help that I dislike his smell. He says I’m rude every time I bring it up, even though I do my best to be polite. I’ve asked him how I can better communicate to him about his scent when it’s particularly ripe, and he just responds, “I don’t know.” Well, I don’t know what to do either. Any advice?
A: It’s possible that a drastic change in body odor could be a side effect of any medication he may be on or a new medical condition—it might be worth discussing with a doctor, although if you’re at the point where you fight every time you discuss it, it might be challenging to introduce the possibility of a health risk. But it sounds like you’re on the verge of breaking up over this already, so I think this might be your best and only option to figure out a solution. It’s not as if he’s inattentive to personal hygiene, and he didn’t smell like this when you two met. I think talking about this with a doctor, even if it feels embarrassing at first, might be the only choice you have left before breaking up.
Q. Angry and anxious: My partner (male) and I (female) are in a long-term relationship and are about to move into our first home together. We can’t wait to have our friends and family over; however, I am also dreading this. Three years ago I met my partner’s aunt for the first time—let’s call her “Kirsten.” On Christmas Day he introduced me to Kirsten. When I said “hi” and shook her hand, Kirsten replied sternly, “Hi, no babies yet, please!” while pointing her finger in my face. At the time I was so taken aback I never addressed it, but I have been furious ever since. I realize that this was a long time ago (and for context we haven’t seen her since then—we live in another state), but I am struggling to move on from her comment. Despite the fact that we are financially stable and well and old enough to make our own decision, I am mostly angry that Kirsten thought she had the right to mention my fertility upon our first introduction. Fertility is a sensitive subject for me in general, but my partner is close to his aunt, and I am wanting your advice on how to handle my anxiety and anger around seeing Kirsten again. Do I bring it up?
A: By all means bring it up! Yes, it’s been a long time, and it would have been better to bring this up with your partner three years ago, but you can’t go backward, so the next best time to bring this up is now. That was an incredibly, bafflingly rude way for Kirsten to introduce herself, and no matter how close your boyfriend is with his aunt, there’s no excuse for saying something like that. Ideally he’ll be willing to say something to her beforehand, but if he doesn’t, you can tell him that you’re prepared to (politely) correct her if she introduces the subject again. If you’re worried about your ability to maintain your composure because you’re still so angry, that’s a real sign that you and your boyfriend need to have a few more conversations with each other before you invite her over, whenever that may be.
Q. What’s in a baby name? My husband and I are expecting our first child this fall. We’ve decided to wait till the birth to learn the sex. We’re talking about names a lot, and some of the names we like are definitely “boy” or “girl” names. This has got me thinking about gendered names and what it would be like for our child if they happen to be trans. We are both cisgender. We will love and accept our child no matter who they are, including if they end up rejecting their assigned gender and birth name. I don’t feel like I have any sense of what it’s like to have the experience of being named a misgendering name, other than from trans people whose families were not accepting of their identity and refused to respect their wishes, which we would never do. Since most people are cisgender and you have to pick a name for your kid way before you know anything about who they are, what do you think about choosing a gender-specific name? Is it potentially traumatizing to be given a misgendering name, even if we are definitely going to listen and respect their wishes if they tell us it’s not a name they want?
A: One obvious solution would be to add gender-neutral names to your list of potential baby names—I remember a lot of Jordans and Taylors at school back in the ’90s, just to name a few off the top of my head. But if none of them appeals and you’re really pleased with a particular name, I don’t think you have to strike it from the list just because it “smacks of gender,” as the expression goes. It’s lovely, and meaningful, that you’ve given thought to the possibility of a trans child as part of the imaginative work that goes into preparing to become a parent. But you cannot perfectly anticipate every problem a child of yours might have and solve it in advance, so don’t place that burden on yourself.
Q. Re: Taxidermic cats: When the time comes, it may be possible to have the cats interred with your mom. My grandfather was in hospice when his beloved dog died, so my grandmother had her cremated. At the wake, she slipped the box of ashes under the closed part of the coffin, and the dog was buried along with my grandfather.
A: Thank you so much for that suggestion. I had no idea people were sometimes interred with their pets’ remains, but that makes sense to me. If the letter writer is ready to have a conversation with their mother about what she wants for her eventual funeral/memorial/burial, this might be a great option. Someone else suggested contacting a veterinary crematorium: “If Mom wants to be cremated, you can spread their ashes in the same place.” There are a ton more options than I’d realized at first!
Q. Re: Taxidermic cats: People would absolutely buy those cats if you felt like selling them. There may also be schools that would appreciate a preserved animal for education purposes.
A: I’ll confess I was taken aback by this at first, but there’s a pot for almost every lid and a market for almost everything. Another reader wrote in to say “some pawn and curio shops take ‘unique’ items like taxidermied pets, and they might be able to frame this as passing the cats on to someone who would enjoy and appreciate them, rather than simply getting rid of them.”
Danny M. Lavery: Thanks for the taxidermy information, everyone—I had no idea there were so many good options. See you all next week!
From How to Do It
Q. My boyfriend is, uh, huge: Long and thick as my wrist. We go slow and use lots of lube, but my vagina has a tendency to get really tight when I’m close to coming (and I’ll be close for like 10 minutes before it happens) and it leaves us both quite sore—though because of endorphins, I tend not to feel the pain until the next day. And we’re currently in that new-relationship period where we just want to screw nonstop as often as possible. I see sex tips about how to make a vagina feel tighter, but what can I do to loosen things up a bit? And what can I do to soothe my junk after a long weekend bang-a-thon? Read what Stoya had to say.
Danny M. Lavery’s new book, Something That May Shock and Discredit You, is out now.
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