This morning brought a harsh reality to many people who truly couldn’t fathom the unimaginable. We do this with a lot of things in life, dismissing them as things that “will never happen” or “that only happens to other people” – or at least that is what we tell ourselves until we slam into the harsh rock of reality that sometimes, good doesn’t seem to prevail. At least not in this moment.
Throughout this election, a great deal of emphasis has been placed on gender, sexual assault, and consent, sadly because our President-Elect has spoken of these things in terms that imply (or directly address) a blatant disregard for the female body and psyche and one’s inherent right to just “grab” it anytime he chooses.
This election cycle – particularly for this issue – has been problematic for people like me. Not just because I’m a woman. Because I am a sexual assault survivor, and it happened fourteen years ago tomorrow, Friday, November 11th.
We call these moments and feelings triggers, because they don’t just remind us of something that happened in the past. A trigger to a traumatic event brings the past into the present reality, forcing emotions, images, and feelings that we can’t – or won’t – dwell on every day of our lives, though our bodies and minds carry the weight of their scars daily.
My rape happened my senior year in college in my own home by someone I had just met that day. At the time, the world was bright and full of hope; I believed the best in people. I felt sure of my faith in God, went to Bible study and church every time the door was open, and the world was fairly black and white to me.
That man changed it all with his choice to demand possession over my body. I lost my faith and my innocence that day, and I’ve spent the past fourteen years piecing back together how I view myself, the world, and the God in which I still choose to believe. This time each year, I find myself grieving what he did to me. I choose not to dwell on it every day of my life, retreat, and view myself as a rape victim. I choose to rise above his violent and heinous choice by living my life fully and with purpose – what I feel is the best revenge.
But I allow myself time leading up to the 11th to feel whatever it is I’m grieving, whether it is the loss of my innocence or the scars that still linger in the depths of my soul. This week is always a difficult one for me. When I was a teacher, my students didn’t know that on this day, I’d escape to the faculty bathroom between classes, sit down, and cry until the first bell rang. Only my closest family and friends know that I get quiet, funky, and need extra care this week. It’s a story I don’t share widely due to the shame that inherently comes with it.
You see, the past month or two since our nation has engaged in dialogue about sexual assault and male entitlement to women’s bodies I’ve felt the weight of this week. It just keeps going. A day or week I used to dread has thrust open a wound that has been bleeding badly since our President-Elect declared that he could just “grab
Let me explain to you what it is like for an assault survivor to hear that and what it triggers. What I immediately saw in my mind were the bruises in the shape of that man’s fingerprints on the inside of my thighs for nearly a month. When he talked about being able to walk into women’s dressing rooms, I think about the humiliation of having to lay on a table and have a nurse photograph all angles of my cuts and bruises while I sobbed covering my face with my arm, knowing that pictures of me like that exist still in some file in East Tennessee. When people dismiss his comments as “locker room banter” I’m reminded of having to sit through an hour-long video interview where this man conjured a story about how I “wanted it.” When I hear the details of Trump’s impending rape trial with a minor, I remember the feelings of helplessness knowing that if I went to trial, it would be my character that was tested, not his.
It’s not just locker room talk. It’s the pain and agony of enduring the unwanted presence of someone inside your body, playing over and over in your memory. It’s having the neighbors watch the Special Victims Unit cover your whole apartment for hours, with you helping them comb the carpet on your hands and knees for the smallest pubic hair for forensics. It’s sitting in an ER with a plastic bag of your clothes waiting to be seen, not wanting to look at the other people in the waiting room because no one carries a bag of their clothes there unless it’s for one reason. It’s the fear of not being able to go outside for weeks from anxiety and depression, then reliving it over and over anytime someone laughs off rape or sexual assault.
These are the memories I grieve and relive, and when I watched him become elected last night, it felt as though every shameful and awful thing that happened fourteen years ago was validated because we as a country decided that decimating the establishment was better than holding a man accountable for his actions and his words. The men of the world who continue to feel entitled to women’s bodies won last night, because Donald Trump proved to them that you really can say and do what you want in regards to women and their lack of consent. I cried last night, and I’ve cried today for the loss of innocence I experienced at 21 and equally so for the loss of faith I had in what I had believed were our collective better natures fourteen years later.
Before you call us over-sensitive or whiny, please remember that stories are attached to our beliefs. It may not be your story, but for a while now, this election has opened wounds and instead of applying a salve to them doused them in acid. We are going about the business of healing now, but give us room to grieve.
***Before anyone comments about Bill Clinton’s indiscretions, understand that this is not a post for debate. This is a post for me to express my own trauma and its exacerbation with the rhetoric surrounding the past several months and this week. Please do not engage in any kind of “But he did this…” – I know all the sides. I read the Starr Report as a senior in high school. I know all the angles. This is my space here, and please honor the grief I experience with choosing not to engage in a tit-for-tat. As far as misogynistic males who claim possession over women’s bodies in any form, they are all bad. The end.***