As painful as the past week+ has been for so many victims of sexual abuse, discrimination, inequity - it has also done something heartbreakingly cathartic. As day after day (let's be honest - two nights ago it was hour after hour) we have seen and heard from victims of Donald Trump's self admitted behavior through the decades, a dam has also burst, flooding the social mediasphere with story after story from women who have lived their own quiet nightmare.
Let that sink in for moment.
For every asshole who is trying to write Trump's accusers off, hell, anyone's accusers off with the "Why did they take so long to come forward?" - that is at the heart of it.
It is a quiet nightmare. One from which our souls never fully awaken.
I do not know any woman who has not been on the receiving end of unwanted, unsolicited attention from men. Catcalling, being brushed up against, being blatantly groped in close quarters, whispered to in passing, touched in a way that immediately made their skin crawl, or followed making their heart beat faster as they desperately look for a place to enter and be surrounded by people.
I do not know how to make it any clearer to men that catcalling is not some innocent compliment you are throwing our way. SHUT THE HELL UP. It is immediately internalized as a threat. IMMEDIATELY. We did not ask for your attention, much less seek your verbal approval. And when we ignore you and keep walking, we can literally feel our blood moving under our skin when you immediately change to abusive language for not appreciating your "interest."
I have been disgusted, sickened, and frightened by catcalling. At no point have I felt complimented or pretty. I have always felt objectified and in danger. But I did not turn around and respond because I DID NOT WANT TO MAKE IT WORSE.
If you are on a subway train and crammed in like sardines, it is not some unwritten rule that you get to grope us.
To the man on the subway train in NYC when I was 19? My ass was not your property just because I was standing in close proximity. I went cold when it happened. I just froze. I told my best friend when we got off. Guess what? You had groped her, too. Yet we did not tell the adult chaperones on our trip because WE DID NOT WANT TO MAKE IT WORSE.
To the disgusting waiter in Las Vegas who purposefully leaned hard into my breast as we were leaving and thanking you for a nice evening? I may have laughed it off with my sister as we walked away with a whispered "he touched the boob" but let me make this very clear, you were not invited to touch my body. Joking with you through dinner, leaving you a nice tip, did not grant you access to my breasts. And in retrospect, through the years, I know I should have gone to your manager. But I can also tell you why I walked away. I DID NOT WANT TO MAKE IT WORSE. I just wanted to get away.
To the smarmy Italian I wrote about years ago here at DGMS following another trip to Vegas with my sister? The one who came up to me as I played slots and began getting way too close, and way too familiar? The one who went on and on about my "teets"? I was frightened. I felt ill. I felt trapped. And I should have gone to security. But I DID NOT WANT TO MAKE IT WORSE. I just wanted to get away.
And finally to the teenager I knew who pushed me into the back of a parked car when I was 16, held me down, and forced himself into me while calling me a whore? Walking home through my neighborhood was not an invitation to grab me. Ignoring your attentions in the locker banks did not make me a whore. And never going to the police does not make it less than what it was - a rape. And a memory that will never go away. I remember everything. Your smell, the streetlight through the window, the hard metal seatbuckle digging into my shoulder. EVERYTHING.
What did I do? I went home. I went to my room. I cried. I wrote in my diary. I bathed. HARD. But I said nothing. We were being watched by my grandmother while my parents were out of town. So I wrote.
I did not tell a friend. I did not call my sister who was in college out of state. I spun in that place of self hate, denial, and self recrimination. That it was MY FAULT.
But I told no one until I thought I might be pregnant. Then I could not even form the words, I just let my mom read my diary.
Her response was, in retrospect, largely generational. And I stress I do not hold her responsible in any way here. We are all formed by the times we are born in and live through. The response was to be quiet, we could not even let my dad know. So we went on acting like it never happened because WE DID NOT WANT TO MAKE IT WORSE.
Thankfully I started my period and simply moved through the days and years. What followed were shame spirals, questionable behavior, eating disorders, cold rages, dark thoughts. But never again speaking of it.
In my life, so many of those near to me have suffered at the hands of men in the same ways. Made to feel uncomfortable, violated. My own daughter was hit. I have friends who have endured sexual abuse beyond imagining. And the refrain is the same when it comes to why they never went to police. Even Culley said the words when I found out she had been abused and threatened by her then boyfriend. I DON'T WANT TO MAKE IT WORSE.
What we are seeing play out on the national stage right now goes to the heart of those words. The People reporter, the woman on the plane (I have been inappropriately touched by seatmates on planes NUMEROUS TIMES), the pageant contestants, the former employees - all of them - young women in powerless positions to confront a billionaire when he touched them, leered at them, walked in on them. And now that they have come forward, spurred on by his own words caught on tape, proudly boasted about repeatedly in interviews, hell, written in his own books - they have come forward verifying his own admissions to how he has treated women throughout the decades, and what is happening?
They are being called liars. Written off as opportunists.
I have news for the Trump defenders who don't want to believe these women - you cannot have it both ways. You cannot act like champions of the women who have accused Bill Clinton in the past, and then write off these women because you think Trump is your hero. If every accuser deserves to be believed, that means EVERY ACCUSER, not just the ones that demean your opponent.
Michelle Obama's impassioned speech yesterday was why I lay in bed awake most of the night, playing every scene in which I was an unwilling co-star over and over in my head, trying to decide whether I could sit down and finally type the words above about what happened to me. Words that will be new to my children, my friends, my sister, my husband.
“It would be dishonest and disingenuous to me to move on to the next thing like this was all just a bad dream,” she said. “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.”
Yet sweep I have done. Like so many women who have a rug covering their own secret abuse.
“The shameful comments about our bodies. The disrespect of our ambitions and intellect. The belief that you can do anything you want to a woman,” she said. “It is cruel. It is frightening. And the truth is, it hurts. It hurts.”
"The belief that you can do anything you want to a woman."
That has played on repeat in my head since yesterday.
You CANNOT do anything you want to a woman. You simply CANNOT. And because victims of sexual abuse are not just women - please know my heart includes everyone - but we are talking right now about what women endure every fucking day.
Trump is unqualified for so many reasons, I would need two extra keyboards to wear out in the typing of all of them. But his own words, his own actions top the list. He had bragged for DECADES. He was caught on tape bragging about actions, how because of his status he can just "grab 'em by the pussy." How he just starts kissing women all the time, uninvited. This was not just banter, these were descriptions of what he does, listen to him - he is proud of it.
Yet now that women have begun to bravely come forward to simply say, "Yes, he is telling the truth" they are labeled "whores" and "liars". And worse, at a rally yesterday, Trump's defense of himself against the People reporter? "Look at her. I don't think so." I see, so she wasn't hot enough to molest, Donald? I've seen her pictures. The woman is beautiful and intelligent, and when you did this to her, she was young, intimidated, frightened, and DID NOT WANT TO MAKE IT WORSE.
I guess, if there is one thing I can laud Trump for, it is this. You have awoken us from our quiet nightmares, Donald. And in solidarity with one another, we are now talking. For years I have told myself that my silence was because I am STRONG. No, my silence has been me mired in fear, and shame, and avoidance. And typing it now won't change my past. It won't make what happened to us disappear. It won't mean we will never again stare into the distance reliving what was done to us. But it does mean that we are throwing off the shackles of shame, thanks to you.
We may not have wanted to make it worse for ourselves when we endured our violations, but we have no compunction now about making it exponentially worse for YOU.
Share your own stories in the comments here or on Facebook. The only way this dynamic changes is if we finally make it obvious that IT HAPPENS, ON SOME LEVEL, TO ALL OF US.