Unsafe In A Strange Land: Navigating Trump’s America As A Sexual Assault Survivor

via Unsplash - Steinar La Engeland
via Unsplash – Steinar La Engeland

Perhaps Tuesday night happened because we were too cocky, too sure of a certain victory after months of Donald Trump’s self-destructive late-night Twitter rampages and uncovered confessions of aggressive sexual acts. 

Perhaps Tuesday night happened because of those smug smiles us liberals shared during debates, when Trump uttered phrases like “bad hombres” and “nasty woman.” 

Perhaps Tuesday night happened because our social media all seemed to hint that progress had been made, with hijab-wearing Muslims becoming some of our fashion trendsetters while black women dominate the most captivating television shows at this precise moment.

Of course, this is all speculation and does not begin to paint a complete portrait of the complicated horror show that transpired Tuesday night.  Even our nation’s most seasoned journalists and respected publications could not have predicted the outcome we faced at 12:49 this morning, EST, when the first headlines announcing Trump’s victory were released.  All of those empowering pro-Clinton hashtags I saw trending on Twitter and Instagram – #TheFutureIsFemale, #AWomansPlaceIsInTheWhiteHouse – came crashing down in one of the most brutal evenings in the history of the Democrat party, when Americans made it clear that a xenophobic misogynist accused by multiple women of sexual assault and who is planning for mass deportation is still better than permitting a woman to exercise control over the nuclear codes.    

Anyone who thinks Trump’s victory isn’t about gender and sexism is grossly ill-informed – not only is this upset proof of an ideological war on women and women’s progress in the social and political spheres of this country, but it also serves as a commentary on our rapidly shifting demographics.  Trump’s victory is a white backlash against President Barack Obama, a respected, half-black politician inspiringly passionate about issues regarding race and gun violence.  It is a backlash against acceptance of gender fluidity and marriage equality, of our growing Muslim presence, and the increasing power of our Hispanic voter base.  And it is a backlash against women who dare to call out men for their violent words and actions.

Coming out publicly as a sexual assault survivor, like I did here on Thought Catalog about two months ago, is never easy.  Leading up to the publication of my emotionally-wrought essay, I remember feeling overwhelmed with fear and unease.  Will my friends and family believe me?  Will I be subject to harassment on social media by misogynistic twelve-year-olds with a Confederate flag for a profile photo?  Will I receive threats?  Will I be blamed for not reporting my assault to the police, for initially engaging in consensual kissing, or for not being to able to physically fight back once he started to force himself into me?

Luckily, my concerns at the time proved to be grossly unfounded, as an outpouring of support, from both close family members and friends I hadn’t spoken to since middle school, reaffirmed my decision to write about male violence and my resulting trauma.  My Facebook messenger app became an unexpected confessional for about a number of friends, who privately revealed to me their struggles with having survived violent episodes similar to my own. 

Today, however, I feel chastised by the nation of my birth, which in the course of about eight heartbreaking hours reminded me and every other survivor of sexual assault that our attacker has a better chance of ending up in the White House than behind bars.

An exaggeration for the sake of my argument?  Yes, obviously, although I think my point is well-made.  The only reality scarier than Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration is the one wherein our general populace sees fit to ignore his record of assault and hate speech against women – have we so soon forgotten the audio recording leaked last month, featuring none other than Trump bragging about how he yanked women by their privates?  Did we collectively ignore his response to the numerous sexual assault allegations, which he brushed aside by denouncing some of his accusers as too unattractive to attack?  What about when he denigrated a former pageant contestant by calling her “Miss Piggy,” or when he made his immature criticisms of FOX News journalist Megyn Kelly personal by linking her take-no-prisoners demeanor to her menstruation?

Yesterday afternoon, as soon as the clock in my home city of Denver ticked to four p.m., I parked myself in front of my laptop and followed along as The New York Times started displaying election results from the East Coast.  I think I began crying four hours later, and by nine o’clock, my tears had morphed into a meltdown of toddler proportions.  Along with millions and millions of Americans, I watched as red kept creeping across the digital outline of our nation: how could “Middle America,” an allegedly Christian region deeply rooted in family values, vote overwhelmingly for a man who boasted about grabbing women by their vaginas?  How could the Bible belt, with all of its rhetoric about the sanctity of mothers and wives and daughters, elect as Commander in Chief a man who allegedly walked into dressing rooms filled with underwear-clad teenage girls and described at length aggressive attempts to pursue an uninterested married woman?

After Tuesday night, I don’t feel safe.  Had I not submitted my previous essay for publication back in August, I’m not sure I would have felt comfortable disclosing my survivor status in this post-election landscape, and I struggle to see how women and girls are going to speak out about their sexual assaults when their president has threatened lawsuits against the women who have accused him

How am I, a sexual assault survivor, to make sense of Tuesday night’s results?  How am I supposed to exist in a nation that knowingly elected a President with a record of hate speech and violent behavior towards women?  I can only imagine this will allow misogynists to feel more comfortable expressing their anti-woman beliefs; after all, the nation just validated their hate with their choice for our next president. 

With a Republican-controlled federal government, I fear what will happen to women’s healthcare – a precarious right already alarmingly inaccessible to women of color or those steeped in poverty.  Thankfully, my assault did not result in a pregnancy, but many women are not so lucky, if one can even employ that word when discussing gendered violence.  Throughout the next four years, will sexual assault survivors continue to have access to the morning-after pill or abortion?  Or, if they choose to carry their child to term, will this new political climate facilitate parental claims made by their rapists, thus launching an already-traumatized woman into expensive custody battles or drawn-out adoption proceedings?

I hope not.

It’s easy to sit here and contemplate the worst, especially as a sexual assault survivor now forced to recognize a self-professed sexual aggressor as her next President.  But that’s not what us survivors or any other minority in a disenfranchised group needs at the moment.  My first impulse tonight was to bury myself under pillows and blankets and sob, my headphones and beloved Ryan Adams blocking out the world that allowed this nightmare to materialize.  Instead, I chose to write, because if you, reader, are anything like me, then you are probably in need of some kind, optimistic, and hopeful sentiments right now.

For the next four years – and please, let this last only four years – I’m going to hold onto the United States that marches for Black Lives Matter, that stands behind women speaking out against male violence, and that paraded in front of the Supreme Court when marriage equality became the law of the land.  I’m going to hold onto the United States that accompanies women into Planned Parenthood to guarantee their safety, that sets up water stations in the Arizona desert for brave migrants coming from Latin America, and produces those tear-jerker documentaries about polar bears and global warming.  I’m going to hold onto the United States that keeps pushing for police accountability, that catapulted Gloria Steinem’s lyrical memoir onto multiple bestseller lists, and that cheers every time a big-box store announces a gender-neutral bathroom policy.   

I think if we – and by we, I mean anyone who believes all human beings deserve equal rights and dignity – are going to survive these next four years, this is this United States we need to cling to.  We can’t lose hope or escape to Manitoba.  We will stay and fight, because as women, we have a resilience that transcends continents, races, ethnicities, and social classes.  Women have bravely strutted into polling stations only to be dragged away in handcuffs and women have accused Supreme Court Justices and popular sitcom actors of sexual harassment and assault with their heads held high.  We are not going to regress to a nation of coat-hanger abortions where women unilaterally painted as temptresses who lure men into sexual assault or adultery.  And we must not forget that we have a powerful ally in the black community, which just a few decades ago, organized nationwide protests amidst unprecedented violence with guns pointed at their chests all in an effort to end Jim Crow. 

Collectively, we’ve all looked tyranny in the eye before and we have won.

As terrified as I am to call a sexual aggressor “Mr. President,” a man whose sentiments have on occasion echoed words I remember slipping from the mouth of my attacker on a night I’d spend a fortune to forget ever happened, I know we will eventually defeat him and the malignant ideologies he and his supporters espouse. 

If anything, Trump’s victory has successfully dismantled the so-called “family values” voter bloc in between our two liberal coasts.  Those who voted for Trump can no longer invoke the power of the (white) family.  His proposed immigration policies might result in mass deportation, dispersing (brown) families across North and Latin America.  His attitude towards the Muslim world – which is composed of well over one billion people – could force (brown) Syrian families to continue dying in a failed, war-torn state or on inflatable rafts off the coast of Greece.  Trump’s views on women, without whom those treasured families would be impossible, reek of a wicked blend of 1950’s whitewashed Americana and the most shiver-inducing episodes of Mad Men

With this upset, conservative America has effectively forfeited all pretenses of the moral high ground.  Its misogyny, racism, xenophobia, and anti-gay attitudes have been permanently exposed and put on display for the world to rip apart, and it will be forced to bear this burden as we, those who voted out of empathy instead of hate, fight to regain control of our spectacularly diverse nation.

Please, do not lose hope in that spectacularly diverse nation.

Trump’s victory is all the motivation we need to win the alleged culture war once and for all.  Republicans could have selected a traditionally intellectual conservative candidate, like Marco Rubio or John Kasich, and we could have enjoyed an election cycle ripe with fruitful thought-provoking debate about our nation’s future…along with a few comments that probably would have caused Democrats to take to Twitter, but nothing like what we’ve seen this past year.  Remember when we were so outraged by 2012 Republican hopeful Mitt Romney’s “binder of women?”  Doesn’t that seem like a simpler, happier time? 

However, the 2016 election was never about ideological diversity; it was about hate and fear.  Instead, conservative America choose Trump, thus allowing his vile brand of hatred – once nascent and smoldering beneath the surface of our politically correct climate – to rise to the surface and determine an election.

Women, please don’t let this stop you from trying to smash that proverbial glass ceiling.  A qualified, composed, imperfect woman losing the presidency to a misogynistic troll in 2016 does not render the nineteenth amendment obsolete; we will keep fighting for all women, regardless of race, class, and ability, and together, we will not let this incoming white boy’s club steal our hard-earned rights or stop the momentum our foremothers started.

Trump might very well mess with Roe v. Wade, defund Planned Parenthood, and keep intimidating women who have accuse him of sexual assault.  He might enact discriminatory measures against Muslim Americans.  He might praise the effects of torture or further militarize the police force that terrorizes black communities across the country.  However, I have faith that doing so will awake a sleeping giant of angry millennials who are head-over-heels in love with the colorful and diverse society we know is our future, but unlike Trump and his pitiful voter base, we will not lash out at him personally

We will not hate you, conservative America.

We’ll simply defeat you and render you obsolete, this entire election a despicable footnote in the progressive history textbook we’re writing for our twenty-first century, one that champions ideological difference but not hate.  In four short years, I hope we will become a society that believes women, and does not elect men who brag about sexual assault to the most powerful and invincible political office in the world. TC mark

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