Tiny Traumas, Triggered by Trump

When I lived in New York, I once got on the wrong train very late at night and fell asleep. I awoke to a stranger repeatedly kissing my face, murmuring about how beautiful I was and how we should go home together. His arm was latched around my shoulder. The train was empty except for the two of us. If anyone had been watching, they might have mistaken us for lovers: heads bent together, his quick kisses, the soft mouth against my ear. Instead, I remember the terror that too many women have felt in similar situations — the hot, urgent throb that something horrible was about to happen, something that would shatter the naïve notion that it was ever safe to let my guard down, to relax, to fall asleep on a downtown train, at night, alone. The delusion that I ever had complete control over my own body.

At the next stop I launched myself out the open train doors and up the stairs of the South Ferry station, the stranger stalking behind me — Come on, baby; slow down, baby — and into the seat of the one miraculous taxi humming through the deserted tip of Manhattan. I cried and clenched my fingers around my keys, my only weapon, until we finally reached the safer arms of Brooklyn.

I am luckier than many. Despite knowing that one in four women will be the victim of sexual assault in her lifetime, until recently if anyone were to have asked me if I’d ever been sexually assaulted, I would have said no. I was almost assaulted. My whole life, I’ve envisioned sexual assault as something violent, something with fists and teeth and big purple bruises to match the emotional ones. Because what is my story compared to the thousands, millions of others that are much, much darker than mine?

Last Tuesday night, when the reality that America had voted Donald Trump as its 45th president was slowly sinking in, I flashed back to this memory. I also flashed to others: a middle-aged man grabbing my breast in a pool in Las Vegas, a bus driver honking and making suggestive gestures with his fingers and tongue, a friend running his hands up my shirt even after I’d told him to stop. My experiences may not be violent, but they are the tiny traumas that almost all women share. The near-daily objectifications and belittlings, the aching knowledge that you will always be vulnerable because you are a woman. ‘Tiny’ because we are taught to contain them.

We carry these traumas around every day and feel their weight at unexpected moments. Flashes of shame strike in the grocery checkout or on the drive to work. Conversations and actions replayed, drinks counted. Worrying — even though theoretically we know it’s not our fault — that our actions somehow contributed to a situation or misunderstanding. Were we betrayed by someone else, or by our own bodies? Our lives permanently a little heavier.

And then: election night. Here, again, was a startling reminder that I don’t — that I’ve never had — complete control over my own body. Over 60 million of my fellow countrymen and women put their trust in a man accused of sexual assault and the rape of a child, a man who brags about grabbing women by the pussy, a man who believes that women should be punished for making the most private and personal decisions about their bodies. Over 60 million people who at best dismiss — or at worst, celebrate — one of the very tendencies that makes Trump so frightening. It felt like a slap in the fucking pussy.

Worst of all, Trump’s win was thanks in large part to women. This, for me, was the largest betrayal. Ladies, have we not all been hurt by the same barbs of inherent sexism? Trump’s election represents an America that makes people feel diminished and unsafe; it represents the opposite of the direction I thought our country was headed. Yet so many women — most of them white — chose to overlook Trump’s wolfish vulgarity at the expense of the millions of others who feel it so keenly.

I was not betrayed by my own body, but I was betrayed by bodies that look like mine.

To all my fellow women out there, I am truly sorry that this is the role model for our nation’s children: someone who teaches young boys that it’s okay to grab what you want and without permission. Someone who teaches girls that this kind of behavior is acceptable, that it’s not a big deal, that we should all just suck it up and let it happen. Someone who enables our nation’s deep undercurrent of sexism. I am truly sorry that, instead of a step forward, we must take yet another step back in fear, fists clenched around our keys, eyes darting, mouth opening to call out for help.