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Throughout this week I’ve tried to discern how to articulate the pain and heartache I felt from the election results. As the voter tallies show, for almost every person like me who fears a Trump presidency and world, there is someone who was either just as fearful for a Clinton presidency or genuinely believed that Trump was the best candidate in the election. Clearly, there is a lot of healing to do in the coming days, and in order to do that, there needs to be honest and open communication about the frustrations, fears, and stories that led us to this point. For this reason, I feel called to share part of my story.
To say I was in tears as the CNN map filled with red is an understatement. I was suffering from multiple panic attacks, convulsing on the floor, gasping for air, and hysterically clenching the furniture. With each exhale, I whispered “safe” as I had been taught in my cognitive restructuring therapy sessions. I was back and forth between the dorm room listening to Anderson Cooper’s commentary and the school bus enduring the misogynist rhetoric and unwanted advances.
As a freshman in high school, I was sexually assaulted by two male classmates. They had harassed me for months saying that I must be a lesbian for not having dated a boy yet; I definitely have nudes on my phone, because I would not let them go through my texts and photos; I definitely needed to stop wasting hard work on basketball and in school when my fate, like every other woman, is to be a housewife. I was used to tuning it out by the time the flowers were blooming that spring, but a few weeks after my first varsity basketball season had finished, they decided I needed to be “put in my place.”
It started with one asking for a hug. When I declined, he moved to my seat. “Come on, give me a hug.” I put my backpack between myself and him and refused again. They said they can do what they want, because they were men, and I was a girl. I told them false—I’m in way better physical shape, and I know basic self-defense, so I could fight them off and then report them to the school. They countered with any act of violence, including self-defense, is punishable of equal level. (I checked the handbook when I got home and that was correct.) Besides, even if I wanted to get them in trouble, their fathers were the owner of a taxi company and a major bank executive; they would just pay off the school to punish me and let the boys off. (Note: one of them had been protected by the wealth of his family when he had been in a fight earlier that year.) Could my parents do that? No, I remember thinking. My dad has been unemployed for two and a half years. “And,” one said, “you fight back, your family will pay. Don’t forget we’re on your bus route—we know where you live.” In that moment, I accepted that a stiff-arm was the best defense I could put up, for the sake of my own reputation, my school record, and most importantly, for the protection of my family. So, they assaulted me, pulling and grabbing wherever and whatever I couldn’t block. Nine other students looked at their phones or out the window. The bus driver called back once, only for one of the boys to answer, “Everything is fine here, ma’am.” She carried on driving. I told no one when I got home and said nothing at school. I rode the bus with them for the rest of the year; two of the other students never rode the bus again.
In short, I was targeted for being an ambitious girl who did not know how to please a man and was on track to become a terrible wife to her husband. I was told that I am ugly, butch, a burden to society, selfish, and above all, unlovable. I was literally grabbed by the pussy by boys who knew that their inherited wealth provided them with immunity from any form of retribution. Sound familiar?
For every vote that came in on Tuesday for Donald Trump, for every state that turned red, I felt a hand on my body where it didn’t belong. The treatment I had received for PTSD less than two years ago all but evaporated. Before treatment, I avoided as many possible encounters with males outside of my family, particularly any who were bigger than me. I flinched at the offer of a hug and cringed at the sight of a school bus. During treatment, I had to actually learn how to interact with men. My weekly assignments would be things such, “Spot a boy you might be attracted to” and “Introduce yourself, or say hello to a boy you have never met.” Despite the nightmares and the panic attacks, I did it and slowly learned how to mingle with the opposite sex. The last few days, I have had to go back to my notes and review my training. Who can I trust to not touch me without my consent? Who actually cares about my well-being and my pain? Would any of these people even look at me again if they knew what I had been through?
Every vote for him legitimized my perpetrators, whether intended by the voter or not. At best, a Trump vote told me, “That’s terrible, but there are more pressing issues such as _______.” (Insert: gun rights, abortion laws, Clinton’s emails, Benghazi, the economy, reversing LGBTQ+ marriage laws, infrastructure, terrorism, immigrants, and whatever else was on the agenda.) At worst, a Trump vote told me, “They were absolutely right to put you in your place, because that’s where you belong. You are worthless, and you should be ashamed to think otherwise.” I want to give those who voted for him the benefit of the doubt, but I am using all my strength right now just to get out of bed and not burst into tears in the middle of class. Right now a Trump vote just feels like a backhand to my face, which means I got more than fifty million backhands this week.
I have to accept that on January 20, 2017, Donald Trump will be sworn in as the forty-fifth president of the United States. I recognize that I am responsible for my own treatment and recovery from this lapse of PTSD and that the burden of handling whatever triggers it is mine to carry. I also know that no matter what happens, even if I’ve never felt romantic love from anyone, I am very much loved by my family, my friends, my dogs, my community, and my God, even on days when I am incapable of receiving it.
To those of you who, for whatever reason, have felt marginalized or attacked this election season, who have felt personally cast aside by the results, I want you to know that you are loved, that your life matters, and that you have a gift to give to the world. Please take the time and resources you need to heal and move forward. There’s a lot of work to do, but there’s a lot of people ready to struggle with you and for you.
To those who voted for Trump, please try to listen to any stories people may share with you and try to understand the pain. Please refrain from revelling in our despair, which derives not from our candidate losing but from our humanity being viciously attacked. I will listen to your story if you want to share, but only if you can also open your mind and heart to mine.