Since October 7th, 2016, I’ve spent most of my time processing everything that I’ve felt since the release of Trump’s recently acquired misogynistic remarks. It was on my mind while I was evacuated from my institution with a group of my students. It was on my mind the whole long drive home. It’s been on my mind while I’ve sat at my desk, trying to get back to a routine of normalcy. And it’s been on my mind every night when I’ve laid down and attempted to go to sleep. For someone who prides themselves on their ability to string words together in a way that presents itself as skilled or masterful or at bare minimum coherent, it’s been incredibly hard for me to figure out how to write what I’ve been thinking and feeling and experiencing this past week.
Instead, I’ve mostly sat in a shocked and uncomfortable silence as I’ve watched my Facebook Timeline and my Twitter Feed fill with people who have been quick to defend Trump, who have tried to dismiss his remarks. I’ve sat in a shocked and uncomfortable silence while people claimed that if any of us were to be held responsible for remarks we made 11 years ago that our closets wouldn’t be skeleton free. I’ve sat in a shocked and uncomfortable silence while people have said “it’s just Trump being Trump.” I’ve sat in a shocked and uncomfortable silence while people have claimed that this talk is common, and therefore shouldn’t be surprising or offensive. I’ve sat in a shocked and uncomfortable silence while police officers I know who have taken reports of sexual assault from victims have continued to stand by their Republican political candidate. I’ve sat in a shocked and uncomfortable silence while #RepealThe19th has become a hashtag that people are using in complete and total seriousness. Aside from two conversations and a couple of Facebook comments, I’ve sat in a shocked and uncomfortable silence because part of me cannot believe or accept that we are still having this conversation, and that this conversation is surrounding a presidential candidate, no less.
On April 8th, 2016, a blog post went live on The Art of Survival’s websitedetailing a narrative account of a 13 year old who experienced a sexually abusive relationship with her first boyfriend 12 years ago. The post was well received, and shared by a number of people in the author’s social circles. It was shared by the author’s colleagues in the Facebook group for their profession. It was shared on the Facebook Walls of the author’s close friends. It was retweeted or liked every time the link was reposted on The Art of Survival’s Twitter account. The post remained anonymous until September when the founders of Art of Survival updated the blog post with my name listed as the author at my request as a part of my healing process.
On September 13, 2016, a second blog post went live on The Art of Survival’s website detailing the meaning of the tattoo on my left shoulder blade, linking the story from my April blog post to the one published in September. Again, the post was well received, and some great conversations happened as a result, discussing the healing process for trauma survivors. These conversations provided the inspiration for a proposal that has been submitted for presentation at a regional conference. People connected with the personal nature of my story, and it helped to further open the door for a lot of other conversations to happen, whether it be individually across coffee shop tables or in a larger, more public setting such as a group Facebook comment thread.
But no matter when or where or how these conversations were happening, they were still happening. People were respectful. People were compassionate. People were empathetic. People thought that the survivors’ voices and perspectives mattered.
On October 7th, 2016, I listened to the recording of Trump that was released. I was disgusted and appalled — as I typically am by all things rape culture — to the point that I had to pause the recording multiple times before being able to bring myself to hit “play” again to listen to the audio in its entirety. I can’t say I was surprised by the nature of the tape. Like a number of people have stated, Trump showed his true colors long ago.
But this time it was different.
Because following the release of the #TrumpTapes, conversations around sexual assault were happening. But people were no longer respectful. People were no longer compassionate. People were no longer empathetic. People no longer thought that the survivors’ voices and perspectives mattered.
On October 13, 2016, First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama gave a passionate speech while campaigning for Hillary Clinton. She said a lot of amazing things that I found to be inspirational and true. She made a number of factual statements about the mudslinging state of the current campaign season. And then she shared some personal thoughts, such as the fact that “we have a candidate for President of the United States who, over the course of his lifetime and the course of this campaign, has said things about women that are so shocking, so demeaning” that she was unwilling to repeat them. She shared that she also hasn’t been able to stop thinking about this, that she was “shaken to [her] core,” that she’d “love nothing more than to pretend like this isn’t happening.” Like myself, she “can’t believe that [she’s] saying that a candidate for President of the United States has bragged about sexually assaulting women.”
“This is not something that we can ignore. It’s not something we can just sweep under the rug as just another disturbing footnote in a sad election season. Because this was not just a “lewd conversation.” This wasn’t just locker-room banter. This was a powerful individual speaking freely and openly about sexually predatory behavior, and actually bragging about kissing and groping women, using language so obscene that many of us were worried about our children hearing it when we turn on the TV.” — Michelle Obama, FLOTUS
I know that we have a long way to go. Unfortunately, the whole world doesn’t share the same passion for making sexual assault extinct that our Vice President, Mr. Joe Biden, possesses. We need to get to a point where conversations about sexual assault are not so binary gendered. We need to stop believing that only women get assaulted, and start using more inclusive language that acknowledges the sexual violence against men, non gender conforming persons, and the people belonging to the LGBTQ+ community that exists and often goes ignored. We need to stop looking at sexual assault from the lens of “what if this was your sister, mother, daughter, etc.” but instead look at it from the lens of “this is a human being who deserves better.” We need sexual education reform, and for victim blaming to stop being a thing, and for the eradication of rape culture, and for conversations about consent to be common and not something that student organizations are forced to attend in order to continue operating on college campuses. The list of what we can do — and need to do — to be better goes on and on. But that’s not what I’m disturbed by. At least, not in terms of this post.
I’m disturbed by the fact that so many people appear to be willing to dismiss something this major, this intolerable. I’m disturbed by the fact that it’s not just because Trump is a presidential candidate, but because people seem to have forgotten that two wrongs don’t make a right. I’m disturbed by the fact that somehow, because Hillary isn’t the perfect presidential candidate, that it’s okay that Trump has made these remarks and allegedly acted in this fashion. And I’m disturbed that so many people that I have respected and valued up until now are in Trump’s camp.
Someone is bound to respond or react to this post asking where the outrage was when Trump talked about his dream wall, when he spoke disgustingly about people of minorities, when he trash talked a former Miss Universe, when he made hateful comments about the LGBTQ+ community. Someone is bound to say that I— apparently like so many others — am only in an uproar because something has impacted the white women of America. And some of those questions or reactions will truly be legitimate, and those are discussions that I am willing to respectfully have with people. But some of the questions or reactions won’t truly be legitimate. Some are bound to be ignorant or hateful, because at the end of the day, that someone is simply doing their part to perpetuate the need to silence survivors.
And if I’ve learned nothing else from the days that have followed the release of the #TrumpTapes, it’s that my voice and experiences don’t appear to matter one iota to the Trump supporters in my life.