Though Hillary’s debate triumph last Wednesday filled me with bratty, exuberant defiance, the fact still remains that we all sat through ninety minutes of misogyny, gaslighting, and rape culture. It was a night of calling Secretary Clinton (and by extension us) stupid, incompetent, a liar. Trump actually came out and said that if she didn’t want him to do bad things, she should have stopped him. We’ve been through the “debunking,” dismissing, and discrediting of rape victims by both parties. Though it was a wild relief to hear Hillary speak up so unequivocally for our right to physical autonomy, it feels unfair that we should still have to be fighting so hard for it. A lot has been written about how this is a different election for women than for men, about the way Trump’s debasement of women has gotten into our bodies. I hate the way it separates women from the men in our lives and bonds us in a state of Get the fuck off us, already.
Going into work after the “grab them by the pussy” weekend (which, by the way, made the Internet what I’ve always wanted it to be, a barrage of incensed women vowing snarlingly to reclaim our space.) I sat down next to a female coworker I don’t know that well and told her that I was feeling jangled. She knew exactly what I meant and expressed her own wish for a blanket fort until the election is over. We had trouble settling in, we were vigilant, both hyperpresent and not there at all. That’s what Trump’s abuse and violation of women reminds us of: The times our bodies were not our own, the vague threat that if we’re okay right now, it’s only because they’re letting us be.
When I went to my tutoring job the same day, the dad had the news on and Trump was dismissing his most recent accusers. Though I shuddered at the situation and the sound of Trump’s voice, I tried to be jokey about it while making it clear that I wanted the news to go away so I could work.
Nice Tutoring Dad said this:
“I don’t know why they’re talking about this. It doesn’t even have to do with policy.”
I was done being jokey. My expression darkened and my voice dropped all the way down.
“Yes. It. Does.”
(I didn’t say: Trump’s WHOLE policy is rape, dehumanization, coercion, entitlement. Instead of “Make America Great Again,” his slogan should be “Let Straight White Men Define, Harm, and Exploit Everything and Everyone.” From stop and frisk to forced pregnancy to anti-gay conversion camps to fetishizing the Second Amendment, Trump’s campaign is aimed at using force to shore up the power of a majority that will soon no longer exist, using fear to fuel oppression of people who are no longer willing to be oppressed.)
Nice Tutoring Dad did turn off the news and I got my work done without a panic attack, but as I was leaving, he put the news back on and when Trump inevitably appeared on the screen, he said “There’s your friend.” Haha yes, my friend, the pussy grabber, the stop-and-frisker, the child-rapist. His jokey comment took me out of any sense of equality and put me solidly on guard, that awful closed-up feeling of suspecting my safety is provisional. I didn’t know how I would go back to work at that house.
I needed to find a way to bridge the distance between my experience of the election and his and so, emboldened by the thousands of women around the world who were stepping up to tell their stories, I just came out and told him. I texted and told him that I’m an “assault survivor” (both “rape” and “sexual” seemed like words I didn’t want to text to an employer, even an informal one) and that the news made me panicky and made it hard to concentrate on my student. He took it very well and there has been no news on and no more insensitive comments. Sending that text was a powerful moment for me, a genuine flawed human connection in the midst of a professional relationship, one of those magically humane moments that always manage to sneak in. But at the same time, why did I have to tell him that I had been raped in order for him to be respectful about it—why isn’t it enough that ANYONE had been?
This week I took to heart the fact that while I have the courage/privilege/years of therapy to stand up for myself, to come out and tell my story, there are so many women who don’t have the words. For every generous soul who shares her story at #notokay, there are countless others who blame themselves instead, who turn themselves inside out to excuse and identify with their attackers, who lose the power of speech entirely just when they need it most. I want to recommit to speaking up for and with them.
In large ways and small, the times our bodies are not our own changes us, changes our course like creepy rocks in an otherwise lovely stream. For me, it’s the constant battle between liberation and safety, between my openhearted adult self and my inner teenager who is livid and snarling because she couldn’t fight off her attackers. No matter how full my life is of flowers, cake, and kid-art, the past is still in me: The drugged, helpless feeling, the favorite shirt covered with blood, the parts left out of the deposition, the loss of connection, the struggle for hope.
With so much grace and work, I’ve transformed my past traumas into superpowers. My pesky vigilance gives me a knack for creating an atmosphere of acceptance and safety. My sensitivity to persecution gives me a chance to be a voice for anyone who might need an advocate. Knowing the true meaning of helplessness gives me the drive to always believe I can make things better, to hang in there for the little changes that add up to big ones.
Still, I’d love to go back in time and lead my childhood self briskly and decisively away from every abuser, every “you’re too sensitive,” every questionable babysitter, every non-consensual bruise. I’d love to intercept myself on the way to one particular party, wrap up my teenage self in blankets, and tell her she is so, so loved. And I can, I do.
Every uncomfortable text, every campaign call, every door-knock, every march and rally has been for that little self, to show her she’s not trapped, to show her the love she deserves and make the world a little safer for other little girls, for everyone.
I hate the things that divide us, especially the disconnect I’ve always felt from men. The times that I manage to bridge the gap are too precious and lovely to contain. In the last few weeks, sprouting like a morning glory on a trellis of triggers, I’ve felt something else: A reconnection to the part of myself that’s open, yielding, willing to let my imagination run away with me in the best ways. In the safety and strength of a sea of riled-up women (and a few adorably ally-ish men) I’ve felt something strangely and miraculously like health, the knowledge that our bodies are have infinitely more love and magic than oppression could ever really take away, that the angry cries of Trump supporters are those of a dying way of life. They’re trolling us because they are at the end of their relevance, because their time is up. Part of me, most of me, is glowing pink for whatever life comes next.