This summer, I moved out of my liberal bubble of a city and headed for a small town an hour up the coast. My reasons for leaving the city were all related to my mental health: the combination of working two jobs to afford the Boston rent, the noise and the pace of its streets, and the catcalls and invasions of space I experienced almost daily was contributing to a head full of chaos and fear. A series of traumas, and the resulting anxiety, had led me to develop an eating disorder that was on its way to killing me. One of those traumas was a sexual assault.
The things I love about this small New England town of mine — the quiet, the local organic farms, the beautiful gardens, the proximity to the ocean — gave me peace as I settled into my new home. I began to feel like I was on the road to true healing. Then, the Trump signs started going up.
Big ones, in the yards of neighbors I had just begun to know as kind and welcoming. Bumper stickers on cars in the parking lots of the preschool and the public library, some of my safest spaces. Trump hats on spectators at the high school’s field hockey games, where I had previously been so excited to see the huge crowds and the unusual amount of support for girls’ athletics in this community.
I was, of course, horrified for reasons that had nothing to do with my own pain, my own safety, or my personal experience as a white — and wildly privileged — American. We knew then that this man was a bigot. We knew he was inciting, and misdirecting, rage and hatred all over the country. We knew he was dangerously stupid, and racist, and xenophobic, and reckless with the lives — and livelihoods — of other people. All of this was enough for me to feel real despair at the thought of support for him in my new hometown.
Then the other shoe — the rapey shoe — dropped. It became clear that the man who is now our president-elect laughs about sexual assault. He brags about harassing, degrading, and intimidating girls and women. We can no longer count the number of his alleged victims on two hands. He has been accused of raping a 13-year-old girl, though his accuser has now dropped her suit and gone into hiding after receiving death threats. He has almost certainly left a wake of survivors, just like me, all over the country we have now elected him to lead. The day after this story first broke, none of the Trump signs in my town came down. Two new ones were put up on the lawn across the street, a lawn where I have often seen little girls playing.
I understand that an American who chose to vote for Donald Trump on Tuesday is not Donald Trump himself, and that many of his supporters have not committed and would not commit any acts of sexual violence themselves. But I need you to know that during this time, as these women begged for justice and America shrugged, it felt as if every one of these people became either a participant in or a gleeful bystander to my rape.
It felt as if every one of these people became either a participant in or a gleeful bystander to my rape.
Misogyny and rape culture have always run deep in this country, and it is not a new or shocking reality for survivors to demonized, disrespected, or dismissed out of hand. It is not new for entire communities to say, “We don't believe you.” What is new is for them to then double down on that on a national scale, for them to do it with hats and yard signs, for them to do it not to a specific person but to every single survivor and future survivor they know, over and over again for weeks and months and now for years.
As a white cisgendered woman with resources and access to medical care and therapy, I recognize that the many facets of my privilege have shielded me from this feeling in every presidential election prior to this one. I know that feeling unsafe in one’s own country has never before been my reality to claim, and that there are so many Americans for whom this is just one layer of the terror they feel about President Donald J. Trump and his vision for our future. I also know that women who look like me voted, in overwhelming numbers, to make this the new daily reality for women of color. I cannot imagine how they are surviving this, when there have been moments I have felt I could not.
What I can imagine, though, as I process and grieve, is all of us continuing to get up each day and go out into the world, as we have been doing up until now. Finding new grace and strength we didn't know we would need as we pass, and even wave hello, to the Trump supporters in our towns, our neighborhoods, our lives. Feeling a new kind of anger rise up in us, a new survival instinct kicking in.
Somewhere in America this morning, our first female president is getting ready to leave her house for school or work. She may be poor, she may not be white, and she very well may be, now or at some point in her life, a survivor of sexual violence. She sees Trump signs out her window, hears trusted people in her life voice their enthusiastic support for him. On her television screen, at rallies in towns like hers, people hold up banners saying TRUMP THAT BITCH. She, like me, is watching all of this unfold on her home turf. She is quietly surviving it. She is making plans.
Top photo: Screenshot
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Hannah Matthews is an organizer, activist, and writer based in Portland, Maine. Her work has appeared in Time, Inc., SELF, and BUST Magazines, and online at McSweeney's Internet Tendency and Ravishly.com. She can be reached at email@example.com