The President Hiding in My Closet
Sarah Jones wrote an excellent article on the very real phenomenon of Trump-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I have a unique perspective to offer about this visceral response to the election. My story is no longer charged with pain or suffering; I neither require nor desire sympathy. I offer the story in the hopes that it will give voice to those women and men who feel too vulnerable to speak out against those admonishing people to stop whining about the election result.
The only time I can remember having the specific feeling I had the day after the election was the day when my sexual abuse was exposed.
I was a teenager. I thought I was pregnant. Being a good little Catholic girl, I went to a don’t-have-an-abortion clinic. I still don’t understand the function of these clinics other than administering a pregnancy test and making you feel SUPER shitty, as in, I’m-going-to-hell-for-eternity for having a vagina and breasts and thinking about sex.
While I waited for the results of the pregnancy test (negative), the woman at the clinic heavily pressured, if not straight-up badgered me, to reveal who the father was. She said I’d feel better. In her estimation, God wanted me to be honest about about my sins before He could forgive them. (This is why it’s a HUGE problem to call sexuality a sin. The only thing I did to commit my sin was exist with two X chromosomes.) She adamantly insisted everything I said was totally protected and confidential. Nothing bad could happen to me, she promised, and my eternal well-being was at stake.
She did not disclose her mandatory reporting requirements for child abuse. After a solid 45 minutes of her cajoling me into thinking I was in a safe space, I told her a family member had been abusing me for years. I had never told anyone, not even alluded to it. For ten years my abuser had conditioned me to know that if I told, he would get revenge, and besides, no one would believe a little bitch like me.
When I told her this scariest fact of my existence, the don’t-have-an-abortion counselor’s first look was not one of concern for me, sympathy, empathy, compassion, or anything remotely comforting. She was inexplicably angry, ordering me to calm down. She told me she had to call the police. I couldn’t think of anything worse. You might have the same reaction as her — oh, great, the abuse came out and I was removed from the situation. It did not feel that way. I was completely betrayed at the exact moment in my life when I needed support and comfort.
The way the abuse came out was almost as traumatic as the abuse itself, humiliation after humiliation. Besides the sense of being betrayed, in the immediate two days following, I had to go through a long, invasive rape exam with my mother watching.
You guys, they checked if my hymen was intact so they could know if my story checked out.
I was removed from my home for a period and didn’t have my own clothes to wear. I had to come up with some explanation to tell the kids at my school, who already thought I was a weirdo. Having social services come for me in the middle of AP European History didn’t help my reputation much.
The police interrogated me for hours on end, asking the same questions over and over. I watched my family fracture and for years felt like it was my fault for not having known better than to keep my mouth shut.
The Catholic women’s center/don’t-have-an-abortion clinic could not have cared less about how I might feel, how this might affect my life and sense of safety in the world. Like so many Trump voters, they were much more concerned their own agenda and about my afterlife than my current life. Though the perpetrator confessed in full and pled guilty, my trauma was deeply confounded when my mother refused to believe it was true — like so many Trump voters who brush off Trump’s sexual predations because they just don’t like it as part of their reality.
After the don’t-have-an-abortion clinic experience was over, I went outside and the world was still happening normally. It was surreal, a complete cognitive dissonance. I went to my regular baby-sitting gig, too shocked to do anything but what I usually did. I went home, where no one knew anything was wrong yet. I knew my abuser wasn’t going to be arrested that night but that it was imminent. I locked myself in my room that night and pushed the dresser in front of my door. I spent the night hiding under my bed, simultaneously afraid of the abuser coming to get me and in fear of what would happen to my life when they came to get him.
All I knew was that something very bad happened; everything was going to change, and not for the better: vague doom.
That’s the feeling I had the morning after the election.
Things were absolute chaos for a while after the abuse came out. It took me a long time to shake the shadowy sense that my abuser was still lurking in my closet, waiting for me to get home. I fought like hell for my quality of life. While I have long resolved the trauma of my abuse, my body will always carry the somatic memory and work to protect me. That’s a good thing — I like having don’t-get-raped instincts.
Trump triggers me. I won’t deny it. I have to take special conscientious care of myself right now to make sure I’m noticing and then not reacting to those triggers. I’m up against a narcissist sociopath who gaslights and bullies. Why don’t people see it or care? I want to scream, “YOU GUYS, this emperor isn’t wearing any clothes and he’s coming after you with a gross orange dick trussed up in a KKK hood!!!”
He considers women something to be dominated, not as humans with dignity. If he were listening to this story, he would have already interrupted me to tell me I’m too old, flat-chested, and ugly for him to rape so shut the hell up. Um, thanks? I wish the man who started raping me when I was 7 thought I was too young, flat-chested, and ugly to rape. But by Trumpian logic, that justifies the abuser raping me when I was 17, ripe with feminine sexuality.
(Actually, I did everything to hide my sexuality, including binding my breasts. Seemed like a good strategy when I was 11. Earlier this year, my mom told me if I didn’t want a flat chest, I should have listened to her advice back then not to bind my breasts. She remains oblivious that my desire not to be raped overshadows my desire to be ladylike. Facepalm. I think she voted for Trump.)
I’ve been through heaps of excellent therapy and self-inquiry. I have excellent support systems, possibly the best a person can have. Though the events of my childhood have shaped who I am, they don’t govern my life. I’m well-adjusted. I like being me. I love being a woman. I even love my itty-bitty rape-able titties. (Mostly.)
At a recent work event, a colleague started berating me. When I told him he’d crossed a boundary, he mansplained how his yelling at me was his holding a mirror up to me. Four women in the meeting asked him stop; he bulldozed on for five more minutes. It’s the second meeting I’ve been in with this guy and the second time I’ve seen him do this.
Here’s the thing: this guy isn’t a jerk. He’s a deeply caring man who would never think of himself as a misogynist. He has a wife and lovely daughters. As a black man, he certainly understands the awful feeling of being inured to implicit discrimination — he had described some of his awful experiences earlier in the day. Yet he was oblivious to how he was participating in a sexist, domineering dynamic.
Twice in the past year I’ve been injured by male yoga teachers who gave me overly aggressive hands-on adjustments, despite my asking them to back off, verbally and physically. They thought they knew better than me what was right for my body. They were wrong. Again, both of them are good guys. One of them is one of the sweetest-hearted dudes I know, who, to his credit, was incredibly chagrined and willing to learn when I pointed the interaction out to him. The other is an extraordinarily well-respected teacher with probably 40 years of teaching experience. I was too uncomfortable to try to talk to him about it, like so many survivors.
These guys would easily qualify for the good guy discount. That might have blinded them to their subtle domination: “I’m a good guy! Good guys aren’t sexist, so I don’t do sexist things. Therefore when I talk over you or disregard your body’s boundaries, I’m not being sexist.”
It’s a low-lying but constant exhaustion to have to fight that daily grind against the good guys who don’t realize what they’re doing.
It is downright demoralizing to my sense of the human condition to have a man who overtly hates and preys on women now governing me.
It takes a LOT to demoralize me, you guys. Life has crammed a lot of surviving into three decades — rare illness, dead Dad, near suicide bombing, broken back three times, starting all over so many times — I’ve still come out each time believing in the fundamental goodness of humanity.
I still believe.
In each yoga class since I’ve taught the election, several people, men and women, have broken down into sobbing, wracking, ugly tears. People cry in yoga — and are absolutely welcome to cry in yoga, so please don’t read this and think that’s not ok. But in thousands of hours of teaching, I’ve never seen anything like these tears en-masse — not after mass shootings, not after natural disasters.
Fear is a beautiful emotion and instinct. It tells us when to take action and how to survive. Granted, our unchecked reaction to fear is not always helpful. But the emotion itself is life-saving. A fearless person is a soon-to-be-dead person.
Be afraid, which simply means, pay attention. Listen to those instincts with wisdom and discernment, rather than reactivity. Respond not with hypervigilance, but with a calculated awareness. A sexual predator is governing your country and your body. That is a legit thing to be scared of. Use that fear. Take time to take care of yourself. Let this be present in your world, but notice if it’s taken over your world. Recalibrate yourself. Then take action.
To those who roll their eyes at people upset and triggered by our Troll-Doll-in-Chief, consider this:
According to the Rape and Incest National Network (RAINN), a woman or man is sexually assaulted every two minutes in the US. That’s likely underreported.
We’re not crying because of politics.
We’re crying because we can’t believe that emails are more important to you than acknowledging our basic sense of safety and security in the world.
We’re crying because no matter how much you tell us to try to rationalize and normalize what happened, our bodies can’t forget about the President hiding in the closet.