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Brett Kavanaugh and the Power of Public Trauma
For the first time, a whole nation of women are being triggered at once, and they’re not afraid to speak
Pick a woman in your life. Any woman. Odds are, if you look at her right now, you’ll see it in her face: the brittleness. The weary rage. The way the laughter coming out of her mouth never quite makes it to her eyes. The way she regards people on the street, with a set to her jaw that says, Not today, Satan.
If you’re a woman yourself, maybe you’ll see something a little more tender, too. Maybe she’ll go out of her way to be kind to you. Maybe you’ll get that fleeting moment of eye contact that says, with silent eloquence, Don’t let the bastards grind you down.
On Friday night, with that sham of a hearing mercifully done and the vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court still in wretched limbo, my wife and I put on jewels and heels and went out to dinner. One needs a break from all this misery. We told our server we were in need of some oysters and champagne because of the garbage world, and she smiled the most beautiful smile and told us she had bought herself roses on Thursday for just the same reason. We left her a $50 tip. My wife wrote “for more flowers” on the receipt. I don’t know this server, but I love her. I’d take a bullet for her.
It feels good to be in Lady Club this week. For the roses — but also, truly, for the thorns.
Christine Blasey Ford herself has been keeping a tight lid on whatever anger she may possess, but her testimony was nonetheless deeply enraging. It was so devastatingly specific. The laughter of her assailants — not at her but with each other. The second front door, god help us. And while Ford laid out the terrible instruments of her destruction, in the presence of her foes, thousands of us were chanting our own troubles along with her. The hashtag #WhyIDidntReport is an avalanche of rage. There are ranks upon ranks of women on Twitter right now, telling their stories, women for whom no Kill Bill GIF can possibly convey the fire of their fury.
I’m one of them, and it is fortifying to have company.
Like a lot of sexual assault survivors, I’ve been managing my trauma for a very long time. I was five when I was raped by a sadistic teenager. I’m now 42. In all those years, the subtle pressure on me to stand down, coming from people who were close to both of us, has never ceased. The pressure to heal us all by being a better victim — the pressure to forgive, to have compassion, to reconcile. The pity. The minimizing. The inventive forms taken by all the myriad varieties of disbelief. Being privately gaslit by people who can’t live with your narrative is disorienting and crazy-making, no matter how tough one is.
It’s a terrible song we’ve been singing this week, the fed-up survivors of the world. But it’s so strong and so raw, singing it in harmony, a thousandfold.
By now, I’m fairly adept at navigating the wicked world. But watching this whole sordid saga unfold has been triggering on a level I was wholly unprepared for. Our stories are very different, but it feels like for every fresh insult piled on Ford’s old injury, there’s a parallel in my own life. Casual yearbook misogyny! Ah, there’s a jack-in-the-box labeled “Prep School Feelings” I forgot I owned. Mistaken identity gambit! Ah, my old nemesis, I’ve encountered you before. Teenage “horseplay”! Rape. Say it. Say the word.
People disclose to me because I’ve been public with my story for years. I know so many women — so very many women — with rape stories that beggar the moral imagination. I know a few men, too, and this Kavanaugh business is privately wrecking them.
And yet — I haven’t cried, not once. With the humiliation of Thursday’s hearing — I almost wrote “trial” — now mercifully behind us, I feel almost energized.
I’m grateful for the public rage of women right now, in this moment, because I’m not a good victim. I’m not a nice one. I have no desire to perform forgiveness, certainly not in the absence of any admission of guilt on the part of my perpetrator. Anger isn’t everyone’s path to sanity, but it’s been mine, and I have had to defend it tooth and claw. Hearing the rage and the pain and the utter moral clarity of survivors, getting in the faces of powerful men and telling their stories in the public square, has been so thoroughly validating. I’m not crazy. We’re not crazy. We deserve to be angry.
It’s a terrible song we’ve been singing this week, the fed-up survivors of the world. But it’s so strong and so raw, singing it in harmony, a thousandfold. We are all being gaslit in back rooms, each in her (or his) own brutal and specific way. But we have each other. It is a great comfort to have backup this time around.
A final note: I’ve been working hard at therapy for the past two years. I don’t regret it. But it didn’t fix my anger. No matter how much grief I get on that front from my nearest and dearest, I’ve known for some time that my fury and my disgust with my perpetrator aren’t problems that need solving. They are the natural, normal, human sequelae of deep injustice. On Wednesday, with the hearing looming, and an army of enraged maenads already in full battle cry on Twitter, I quit therapy in triumph.
Watching this dark carnival whirl and spin, it’s clear to me: I’m very, very sane. It’s not me. It’s not you, either.
It’s the world.