The election forced me to confront my family about their reactions to my sexual assault -- here's what happened
Like many people, I was surprised by the results of the 2016 presidential election. I was even more surprised – if such a thing is possible – that the result triggered memories and nightmares from my sexual assault, which took place nearly a decade earlier. But it did.
You see, I’d been able to handle hearing about the #TrumpTapes because I was sure no one would elect a man whose words demonstrated that he thought sexual assault was okay. When the alleged victims came forward, I believed them, because it is never fun or rewarding to share what can feel like a shameful, deeply personal, painful experience. I also know what it is like not to be believed. The actual assault was traumatic, but the aftermath — the loneliness, the lack of support — can be nearly as bad.
He’s not the only one who falls into this category and it would be unfair to single him out, but the story I am about to tell is an important one, even a hopeful one.
We’re told activism starts with our families around the table — but I would rather try to convince strangers than my own stubborn family.
But after the results came in, not only was I upset and triggered — a part of me was angry and depressed. It felt very much like half of voters (or half the electorate) had invalidated my experience of sexual assault and the experiences of my friends and countless others. One out of six American women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime — and let me remind you that this is an underreported crime. Most likely, the number is much higher.
During this election, my dad said things like, “I understand why you cannot vote for Trump. You are so passionate when it comes to the issue of sexual assault against women.” In the post #TrumpTapes era, a strange détente took place between us.
When we finally spoke, he asked me how I was doing. I was honest about the fact that the election had brought back memories of my assault. I was sure not to mention particular candidates, but I knew I was entering an arena with the distinct chance I would leave it feeling unsupported.
Dad’s first response was, “Well, you have to get on with your life.” At least he sounded sympathetic?
The truth is, I have worked hard every day in therapy — and outside of it — to come so far. I have gotten on with my life. I have moved on. I will not allow anyone to knowingly or unknowingly demean the progress I have made in moving past something I never asked for. The shame should never be mine.
As you can imagine, the conversation went downhill. I became more and more upset. He felt misunderstood. I tried to provide tools for him (it’s as simple as saying I’m sorry that happened to you) — neither of us were at our best. I sobbed for the first time since the election (I was long overdue) when we hung up.
At that moment, he chose not to name the thing that had happened to me. I thought that was about as good as it could get — which made me even sadder. It hurt that this thing I had never asked for – my sexual assault – was my responsibility to carry alone.
I felt pretty hopeless about the holidays. How was I going to get through them? I needed an exit strategy since dinner table activism was clearly not for us. So I was shocked when my dad reached out to me a few days later with a completely different attitude.
The man who earlier in the year had asked me what trigger warnings were — and if we really needed them — used the word trigger! He promised that if I ever needed to talk, he would try to be a good listener.
I cannot express how much my heart swelled. His words were simple and to the point and they meant the world to me.
Like a lot of people in my life, my dad and I may never agree on politics. Someone decided it would be brilliant to schedule elections right before the holidays, and I know I am not the only having difficult conversations with family.
Hope feels scary right now. A part of me wants to keep my defenses up, remained closed. But after avoiding hurtful discussions, I experienced the healing that can come out of conversations that feel like land-mines.
So I won’t stop speaking. I won’t quiet down about what happened to me.