Under Trump

November 10, 2016

It wasn’t the only time I’d been sexually assaulted. I grew up a girl, after all. It wasn’t even the worst assault, in the sense of what was done to me, but it’s the one that most paralleled Trump’s presidential campaign – and election. It’s the one mirrored by Trump’s behavior and, later, our country’s.

It’s important to know that where I had once felt without power, I was now – thanks to the women brave enough to tell their stories before me – finally confident enough to say, without apology: “I have worth. This person tried to devalue me. What he did was wrong.”

And what this person did was to grab at my body, repeatedly, in a crowded club. The first time, I felt someone grab my ass while I was dancing. When I turned around I couldn’t tell who’d done it. So I kept dancing. I was grossed out, but I couldn’t really do anything, so I tried to ignore it. And then I was grabbed again, and yet again, this time between my legs. I still couldn’t figure out who had done it – it was jam-packed and dark – but I was scared at that point, so I left the dance floor and squeezed up to the bar.

And again fingers jabbed up under my dress and between my legs, tried to invade me. But this time when I spun around, he was still there, laughing. Giggling. I knew him – he was someone I’d known for a decade, had considered a friend, a well-known man-about-town kind of a guy on a bender – but whatever, my body was not a party favor.

I told him to stop, to leave, but he just laughed and lunged at me, tried to grab between my legs again. I was crying at this point and ended up pushing past him and running away. It was awful. So scary.

I felt small and helpless and now I have all this regret about not causing a scene, not pressing charges. But at the time, I was just so scared and shook up and so I just kind of blocked it out and went on with my life.

But what I was able to do was share, privately, what had happened. I did this partly to explain why I was avoiding him and, most importantly, to warn other women. And other women told me things about him putting his hands on them against their will, so I knew it wasn’t just me, which made it even more important to talk about. It wasn’t easy to tell people given that he was a popular guy that moved in a lot of our small town social circles. It made people uncomfortable. Some didn’t want to know – or the part they wanted to know was exactly what he did. I guess so they could decided if it was bad enough to unfriend him. But, you know, he didn’t rape me, which for some people was the line.

And when some people – people who I’d thought would understand the obvious injustice – gave his actions against me a pass, I was crushed. Where I experienced a frightening assault, they made excuses, saying the guy “wasn’t in his right mind.”

One person accused me of creating a “rift in our community” because I was telling people about what he’d done, countered to our mutual friends,“He got drunk and grabbed her ass in a bar. That happens.”

I tried to explain, repeatedly. I wrote thoughtful emails. I got drunk and cried.

But no amount of logic or tears could match the apparent charm and charisma of the guy who’d attacked me. Being assaulted is awful enough, but when other people shrug off your right to your body as less important than being able to crack Facebook jokes with their buddy – wow, that’s an exponential headfuck.

So, I’d been dealing with that for a couple years, always aware of my own story in the shadow of those in the news cycle – and then that Billy Bush-Donald Trump tape came out. And it was everything I’d experienced in that assault: the “pussy-grabbing,” the attacker’s sense of entitlement and amusement, the fawning pal.

It’s too much, this disregard for our personhood, our rights, our very bodies themselves. People were outraged. It seemed as if this might be a line finally crossed to ensure Trump’s defeat.

And instead he won the presidency.

America voted for a man who ran his campaign on racism and lies. America voted for a man whose record of insulting and harassing women is public knowledge. America voted for a man who bragged about happily using his celebrity status to justify grabbing a woman “by the pussy” if he wanted, no big deal. What Trump voters told me, and the millions of women who’ve been through similar and worse experiences at the hands of men, is, “You don’t matter.” (Or, in the case of women who voted for Trump, “We don’t matter.”) Once again, people shrugged off harm done to others as no big deal.

And I realized what’s most distressing is not that my personal experience was replicated on the national stage – it’s that the national stage is set so that personal experiences like mine are allowed to happen.

I think of the collective effort women have put forth sharing our personal lives – how courageous we have been in changing the conversation – now tossed aside.

My younger daughter texted me as the election results hit the inevitable mark: “I hate America.”

“America hates you, too,” I answered.

I watched the states turn red and was back at that bar, back against the bar, shaken and violated, terrified. I see the suddenly proliferating Trump signs and am back watching people I trusted laugh with the guy who assaulted me, high-fiving that same hand that grabbed between my legs.

In my public life, I will not stop fighting, will not stop speaking out. But in private, I’m again crushed – and more afraid for my girls. It feels like this country just gave every man who feels entitled to help himself to a woman’s body a preemptive pass. I’m having a hard time thinking of anything else.

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