Protesting Trump As A Survivor Of Abuse

flickrt/Garen M.

For the past few months, I have been anxious around nearly every man I encounter.

I am as scared of a young boy walking behind me at dusk as I am of large crowds of strangers. I jump every time I hear footsteps behind me on the sidewalk. I hold my keys like a weapon whenever I go somewhere alone. Every evening after work, I sit on the metro and think, Which of these men wants to rape me? Which of them actually would?

I’ve been afraid since November, since America elected a man who treats women as playthings, who believes our worth is directly tied to our physical appearance, who engages in relentless misogynistic name-calling and attacks. Whose policies already threaten the lives of thousands of women, trans, and non-binary people around the world.

The truth is, I have been living in fear of men since I was a child. Growing up, my father was often physically and emotionally abusive; he is a bully who often resorts to violence when he doesn’t get his way. Then there is my ex-boyfriend who threw his phone at my head when I confronted him about his infidelity, and tossed me around his bedroom one night when I didn’t want to have sex.

I have worked for most of my life to overcome the pain these men caused me, and just as I began to move forward, another one comes along and becomes leader of the free world.

When I decided to attend the Women’s March on Washington, I was still afraid—I was afraid of an attack on the city, of belligerent Trump supporters (read: belligerent Trump-supporting men) harassing or assaulting us, of protesters facing police brutality.

Yet, while I was certainly afraid to march, I was also angry — and emboldened. I made the decision that instead of letting my fear control me, I would let it fuel me. I wanted to give the victim inside me a voice, a chance to show the girl I used to be that these men hadn’t ruined me, that they only made me stronger. I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself, something of which I could be proud.

I wanted, at long last, to fight back.

I arrived at the march alone. My husband was home sick, and I was scheduled to meet a group of friends a few blocks away. Cell reception was nonexistent, and there were so many people, it was nearly impossible to spot a familiar face. I found myself alone in the middle of Washington, DC, without a phone, in a sea of strangers. Every man I saw morphed into my father, my ex-boyfriend, armed and ready to tear me down. I imagined men encircling me, knocking me to the ground, spitting at me and leaving me in their dust.

This is what my father did. This is what my ex-boyfriend did. This is what Trump does.

To my surprise, the men I feared before coming to the march were standing in solidarity, donning pink knit hats and carrying signs of protest. They held their daughters’ hands and chanted. I saw one man remove his glasses to wipe away tears. These were the not the men of my past who berated me, controlled me, and used me. These men were not the new president so many of us hate and fear.

But then, several hours into the march, I heard a man’s voice yelling at the women around him to “stop pushing, stay back!” My mind rushed through memories of my father’s face flush with mine, his hand gripping my wrist in anger. I thought of my ex shoving me onto the floor, screaming at me to get out of his bed. This was the kind of trigger I feared I would encounter.

As my anxiety began to build, I looked up and saw a sign: “I march for all the women who can’t because they still think it’s their fault.” I had been one of those women once — a woman weighed down by shame, who apologized to her abusers, who shut her eyes and simply winced when the blows came down. I was the woman who watched my identity dissolve until there was nothing left but a victim, someone who never battled back.

I stood on my tiptoes to look beyond the man and take in the whole of the crowd; I saw hundreds of thousands of women facing their own fears of protest and make their voices heard, women who have been abused and ignored and denied basic human decency.

I wanted, at long last, to fight back.

That was the moment I realized that I wasn’t just speaking out for myself. I had taken my survival for granted all these years, and, in the wake of a horrifying election, it was time to stand up for the women who hadn’t survived, for the ones who are struggling on the edge. Somewhere, there is a girl who falls asleep to the sounds of screaming and punches; there is a woman whose partner tells her it is all her fault, and she believes him.

Unless they are stopped, men like Trump will suck up all the power until there is none left for anyone else. Men like my father will continue to abuse their wives and daughters. Men like my ex will grow up to start families and repeat the cycle for the next generation.

I have broken free from the chains of abusive men. Now, as abusers are being emboldened by the open bigotry of Trump’s election and administration, I have to fight to help free others.

As the first few weeks of the Trump presidency have passed, my fear and anxiety certainly have not waned. Beyond his despicable policies, I am sickened and horrified by his ability to mobilize those lurking in the darkest recesses of society: the racists, misogynists, bigots, and homophobes.

Terrors and triggers feel always nearby.

And yet, resisting remains a source of strength for me. While there will always be underlying fears and anxieties when I participate in public acts of resistance or confront the ugly hatred of this administration, I am learning ways to cope and manage my triggers. I don’t, for instance, watch Trump on the news, or listen to his voice on the radio. I do my best not to read the comments on social media or news articles, as they are full of bigotry and ignorance. I write essays like this one that let women know they’re not alone.

Each survivor has her own story and her own triggers, and no protest or act of resistance is worth our emotional or physical health. I faced my fears at the march and in the ways I’ve resisted the administration since, but I’m focused on meeting my own needs, too—always engaging in the self care I need to stay as well as possible given all the stressors.

I recognize and respect my own limitations; I have to take care of myself in order to take care of others.

I no longer believe my abuse was my fault. I am no longer afraid to share my story, to stand up for myself and for women like me. But for those who are still afraid, there is no shame in your fear; just know that it’s not yours alone.

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