As a creative nonfiction writer and woman, I first felt numb with the news that Donald Trump had become our president-elect. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. In the morning, after only three hours of sleep, I felt the strongest urgency I’ve ever felt to write, to tell my story and beg for others to tell theirs. This, maybe more than ever, is a time for political urgency, for all of us to speak up as loudly as we can.
Although I consider myself an empath, someone who feels others’ emotions so strongly she becomes overwhelmed by them, she literally absorbs them, I have been struggling more than ever to be empathetic towards those I disagree with, including family members I may for the first time in my life choose not to see this Christmas. My mom and dad always encouraged me to be polite at these occasions with extended family. Still, my mom and I couldn’t help but – at least once – speak up for our beliefs when someone said something sexist or racist each year. Did speaking up help change their minds, did we ever reach them? I don’t think so.
I was raised to be uncomfortable around gays. When two of my best friends came out to me in high school, crying and frustrated and afraid of being themselves in a small town in Tennessee, I became an ally. I began to accept my own bisexuality that I had pushed down for so long.
I was taught in the Catholic church that women were to be submissive. A girl friend of mine in fourth grade said, “Women shouldn’t be allowed to be president. They’re too emotional.”
As I grew older, I came to believe that I could trust my male friends, the men who were closest to me. When one of my best friends in college started fingering my roommate when she was asleep, she told me about it the next morning. My first response was, “Are you sure? I just can’t believe he’d do that.” When he did it to me, I told myself it was a dream. I didn’t tell my roommate. I’ve never addressed him on it. We’re Facebook friends.
When I fell in love with a man who made me cry in public, who verbally abused me, who hit me and tried to bang the door down, I told myself he was ill and that made what he did okay. When my female mentor slowly saw the signs, she gave me a book called “Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men.” I read it in one sitting. He was a textbook abuser, and I finally realized, “I’m being abused.” I called the abuse hotline listed at the end of the book and asked them how I could get him therapy. Finally, a month ago, I cut off all communication with him. He never took responsibility for his actions.
This year, I realized that the biggest thing I had been taught was that women were supposed to be silent. I do not blame my mother or any other women in my life for this. They were taught to do the same. We pass it down to each other. And even when we believe in empowerment, women’s rights, and equality, we can still struggle to fight against the tides of societal expectations and norms.
The little girl in fourth grade who told me that women couldn’t be president was the first person to console me after Hillary Clinton lost the election. She wrote to me, “I am so, so sorry this happened.” And, “We have to keep fighting.” She’d learned that what she was taught was wrong. At some point, she had changed her mind and come to fight for women, including herself. I am so thankful for her, and I respect her so deeply.
I have aunts, uncles, cousins, and a father who voted for Trump. They slut-shamed the women who came out with their stories of Trump’s sexual harassment and abuse, claiming they should have come out right after it happened, that it made no sense it had taken so long. I was not silent. I told them my story, how it had taken me eight years to process it. How this is a common response to trauma. They responded with silence.
My aunt told me not to be a Dixie Chick, to just accept that Donald Trump was my president. I was not silent. I told her I had every right to free speech, every right to anger.
I know who my audience is right now. It’s my allies. I don’t need to tell you that racism, sexism, xenophobia, and bigotry are alive and well in our country, and that the election of Trump over Clinton is a clear reflection of that. I don’t need to go over all of the ways in which Clinton was radically more qualified than a reality television star. I don’t need to tell you that a large part of why she wasn’t elected was that she was a woman.
This election has taught me that the personal and the political cannot be separated. I can’t be silent anymore. I can’t keep quiet when my relatives or friends challenge beliefs that are at the core of my very being, beliefs that shape the way I live my life every day, beliefs that they challenge in their political decisions.
I worry that they will not be reached until they have experiences that challenge them the way mine did. Still, the only advice that makes sense to me right now, moving forward, is not to be silent. We have to speak up, we have to fight, and we have to stand together.
My sister can’t stop crying. She’s afraid. What can I tell her? My friends don’t know what to say to their children.
As a writer, I have to believe that the written word can make a difference, that the stories we share can shape our reality into something better. Tell your stories. I am begging you, tell your story today. Be angry, passionate, and pure. Do not become cynical and cold. Do not give up on our cause. Do not be silenced by this election, and do not lose hope.
I’m with you.