Thursday, November 24, 2016

Darkness Descends: Life Under Trump

I have a reputation as someone who speaks out against injustice and prejudice. In the wake of Trump's election in the States, my regular readers probably expect me to speak out loudly, assuredly, and clearly. I'm going to disappoint you. I'm too upset. All the fight has drained out of me.

I have fallen into a deep depression, and an even deeper fear. Because I am white and invisibly disabled, I have generally felt that it would be self-indulgent to dwell upon or even fully acknowledge the ways in which I am oppressed. But it's no longer possible for me to ignore them. I am Jewish, queer, and disabled. I am a woman, a woman over 30. I am a child sex trafficking survivor. 

In the eyes of Trump's regime, I am worse than worthless; I am the enemy. 
Never have I felt more unwelcome in the world. Never has it been more clear to me that most people want me to shut up -- and disappear.
When Trump won, a light went off inside me and it has not gone back on.

Me, lying on six ice-packs before bed, hoping it will reduce my pain enough that I can sleep. I do this every night.
The day before the election, Beau and I were both banned from our favourite cafĂ© because, as one of the owners yelled at me, over and over again, "You talk about your disability too much! I'm sick of it!" I've been going there, faithfully, for eight years. I met Beau there. I proposed to him there. I thought I was welcome there. I am not. 

This man's message was clear: "Shut up! Don't make me uncomfortable. Don't ever show or talk about your pain. Disappear." His attitude toward the disabled -- "Be cheerful or don't be at all" -- is not unusual. Many, maybe even most, able bodied people feel the same way. If you're disabled, you already know this.

I was upset by the reactions of many people I consider friends, which boiled down to, "I never liked their coffee anyway." It's about a tad more than that. It's a civil rights issue. It was very disappointing to me that many people couldn't grasp this fact.

It's a family run business and this man's brother and father quickly contacted us to tell us that they disagree with him. (If they had not, I would have gone to the press about it.) But how can I go back? 

And where will I go now? I am disabled, and my world is therefore a small one. I can't work. Many places I'd like to visit are too far away or not accessible enough for me. I had created this small routine for myself: on days when my physical pain (and PTSD) permitted, I took myself out for a little coffee. I wrote. I chatted with friends.

Now what?

So I already felt like my world had changed for the worse. I felt like it had shrunk, and that I was not welcome in it. 

And, of course, I was already very upset about Trump. The things he said about women shocked and disgusted me, as they would any decent human being. After those tapes of him bragging about sexually assaulting women were released, I was naively sure he would not win the election. I stupidly thought that people would care about women, and refuse to vote for him. 

I was wrong. My first reaction when I realized that he was winning was to be overcome by terror. This was not an abstract or intellectual terror about the political repercussions of his leadership. This was the visceral, full-body terror of a rape victim who was about to be raped again. This was the terror of a child sex trafficking victim who has just learned that a child rapist is about to rule her world.

I had to remind myself, my child selves, over and over again, that Trump was not going to come for me and rape me. He was not going to lock me up in a child brothel. He was not going to send his friends to rape me either.

I kept seeing his repulsive, flabby body, on top of that 13 year old, enslaved girl he ("allegedly") raped in the home of convicted child rapist and child trafficker, Jeffrey Epstein. You know Epstein, Trump's buddy, whom he calls a "terrific guy. He's a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side ... Jeffrey enjoys his social life." 

Social life. Is that what they call it?

Trump's victim filed a civil suit against him, but got so many death threats and bomb threats from his supporters, that she dropped the suit just days before the election. They got what they wanted: She shut up and disappeared.

The almost universal reaction from the media? "See? She was lying all along." 

Any of you have ever been raped know that disbelief is common. You know this story. It's an integral part of rape culture.

I believe her.

Paris Hilton, about age 12
Let me say it again. I believe her.

Why wouldn't I? We all heard Trump on tape talking about dating a 10 year old girl in a few years.

He's on record rating the attractiveness of his infant daughter's legs and chest. He's on record saying that his own daughter is "hot" and a "piece of ass" who could pose for Playboy.

He's on record as saying that the 12 year old Paris Hilton was beautiful and that he was bowled over when he saw her. 

Fifteen year old, Katherine Haik, Miss Teen USA, 2015
In those tapes that were released a few weeks before the election, he bragged about walking into the change rooms at the Miss Teen USA contest, rooms in which he knew he would see naked girls as young as fourteen, just one year older than the child he "allegedly" raped at Epstein's home. 

Katherine Haik, 15
This is what a 15 year old beauty queen looks like without all that makeup.

We also know he bragged about sexually assaulting women and being able to get away with it, because he's famous and powerful. 

And we know he talks about women like we're objects with expiry dates, our sole value being in whether or not he would like to fuck us.

So why exactly would we not believe that he had raped an enslaved 13 year old girl?

I believe her.

Me, around 13
It could have been me. In a way, it was me. By the time I was thirteen, I'd been bought and sold -- raped -- hundreds of times, and for years. Trump's heavy, flabby, repellent body is very much like the repulsive bodies of any number of businessmen who paid to rape me.

When I realized that he was winning the election, I remembered those men -- and I became violently ill. I had to run back and forth to the washroom with gut cramps and terrible diarrhoea. Within two hours, I was dangerously dehydrated.

How could this be happening? Knowing everything they did about his treatment of women and girls, how could Americans vote for this man?

The message was clear: They didn't care. They didn't care about women. They didn't care about rape victims. They didn't care about trafficked children.

I felt like I had been punched in the gut. I felt disregarded, valueless, degraded. I felt like I was invisible.

Of course I wasn't the only one. My therapist, who works exclusively with victims of childhood trauma, said that every single one of her patients talked to her about Trump. Every one of her patients is re-traumatized. This is global.

I like to think I'm a formidable force to be reckoned with. I like to think that nobody messes with Charlotte! But now that attitude feels like a lie I like to tell myself to make myself feel better. Nobody really cares. I have no real power.

I've already learned that if someone wants to hurt me, they can. That's why I'm disabled. They've done it before. They could do again.

They can also disregard me. Easily. After all, what am I really? Just an old, fat, disabled Jew who had some bad things happen to her, and has a chip on her shoulder because she can't get over. Any decent person would just get over it -- and shut up. I don't believe that, not really, and you don't believe that, but most people do.

The day after the election, I went to parent/teacher day at the high school my stepson had been attending for nearly three years. Yet again, they had made no provisions for disabled parents. Nobody knew where the keys to the elevators were. Nobody knew where the lift to the gym was, and, when they found it, it was broken. They wanted me to wait in the doorway, while they found someone to repair it! When I said that might take too long, they made me wait in that freezing, echoing doorway while they went and found my stepson's teachers, who then had to try to gather up all their paperwork and come to us.

The principal of the school smiled a lot, and repeatedly rubbed my back like I was some kind of pet, and showed nothing but false regard for my situation. She showed even less regard for the many other disabled parents who have, I assume, long since given up on taking part in their children's school lives. 

When I asked her what disabled students at her school do, she said they don't have any. Disabled students are advised not to attend the best high school in the region and to instead be bussed elsewhere, away from their friends and away from their neighbourhood. She told me all this with a happy smile.

I gave her a lecture, sure, but I know she wasn't listening. I know she didn't care. She just kept touching me without my permission, and grinning like... a politician -- and waiting for me to shut up and disappear.

My voice isn't as loud as I think it is. In fact, does anyone hear it at all. And, if they do, do they care?

Why bother? That's what keeps repeating over and over again in my head: Why bother?

In the days following the election, I did take some comfort in finding that, even as I'd lost my fight entirely, others were just finding theirs. Relatively apolitical style bloggers were in a rage. Rape survivors were too. 

And, of course, so were people of colour. In fact, when you think about it, it's easier to list the one group not negatively affected by the election -- straight, white, able-bodied men -- than it is to list the many groups of people whose rage and fear is entirely reasonable with Trump as president.

My favourite magazine, The New Yorker
I'm not the only one who's upset. Not by a long shot. 

You saw the huge protest marches all over the country, right? Some people care. Just not enough people. If enough people had cared, Trump would not have won. 

The implications of his win have been hitting me in waves. On the night of the election, I kept thinking of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, and wondering if it was prescient. It's a sharply dystopian novel about what might happen if the Christian religious right got absolute control of a portion of America. Women are quickly enslaved, valued primarily for their reproductive value alone. Atwood's story no longer feels so very far fetched, here, now.

Listening to all the people who claimed that no-one need fear a Trump presidency, I also kept thinking about the words of Martin Niemoller, the Protestant pastor who was a vocal opponent of the Nazis and spent seven years in a concentration camp:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did 
not speak out - 
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I
did not speak out -
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not
speak out - 
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me - and there was no one
left to speak for me.

Why is it so hard for people to speak out for and help others? Why don't they care? I don't understand.

Yes, I thought about Hitler. I thought about the Nazis. The similarities between that time and this one are bone chilling. 

Trump has the firm support of the "alt right." "Alt-right" means "white supremacist," and "white nationalist," and don't you forget it. Immediately following Trump's win, hate crimes rose, including those against Jews and people of colour. Swastikas sprang up on walls. The KKK planned a march to celebrate Trump's win. 

Then Trump appointed Steve Bannon, a known racist, as the White House's chief strategist. This is a man who did not want his children going to school with Jews. Yes, this is a matter of record. 

I have never felt more frightened as a Jew than I do now.

Women forced to register, and wear yellow stars marking them as Jews under the Nazi regime
The last I heard, Trump had not backed down on his plan to force all Muslims, including those born in America, to register with the government. We've been here before. If this doesn't remind you of the Nazis, it should.

Jews and Muslims - and all oppressed groups - are in this together. We must be.

Because we know where this leads.

Never before have a felt that my mere Jewishness is so dangerous. Never before have been afraid because I look Jewish. But I am afraid now.

My Jewishness is in the shape of my eyes.

It's in the colour and texture of my hair.

It's in what Beau lovingly calls my "brownie" looks.

And, for the record, if those who hate Jews claim to be Christian, they might do well to remember that Jesus was a Jew and never renounced his religion.

An idea of what Jesus looked like, based on anthropological information. I can never get over how much he looks like my father.
And all anthropological evidence suggests that he looked like a Jew too. 

Like me. 

How can people hate me for that, any more than they can hate blacks for the colour of their skin? 

How can people pretend that opposition to Trump is a mere matter of political opinion? What is wrong with them?

How dare they belittle us that way? 

The ability to do so comes from a position of great privilege.
It's cruel, uncaring, and delusional. 

This is one of Beau's main concerns. How fortunate for some who are in a position to be unafraid, but they can only be unafraid if they don't care about those who are different from themselves.

How fortunate for some who can claim that those of us who are afraid are being overly emotional, irrational, and reactionary. They can only believe this if they don't care about others. 

Any decent person would be upset on our behalf.

Beau gets it. Thank God for Beau. The other day, I woke to find this note from him on our kitchen table. Far from thinking I should shut up and disappear, he values me for speaking out, even when I feel I have no voice left.

He is a white, straight, able-bodied man. But he is not one to rest in the comfort of his privilege. He does not let it blind him to the plight of others, or his responsibility toward them. Nor will he let his children be blinded by their privilege. The other day, he told them that being white and male, as they are, is like having the easiest setting on a video game. The rest of us have it harder, and they need to know that -- and help us when they can.

I'm amazed by how many women are saying that their husbands don't get this simple truth. I'm amazed by how many women are saying that their husbands can't understand why they're so upset about Trump's win. That's not any kind of marriage I would want.

As we've watched Trump's inexplicable rise in popularity, Beau and I have both been very very down.We remind each other that we're in this together, that we understand each other's feelings about it, that we're not alone. 

But we've still found ourselves bickering sometimes, not about politics -- we know we're in agreement on that -- but about stupid little things. We're both so beleaguered and upset, we're bound to take it out on each other sometimes. But we're trying.

Everyday problems have been harder. I just have so few emotional resources left. I took this selfie the other day after I'd escorted Beau downtown when he had to go on a scary trip to the doctor. Every moment of that trip had been made harder for me by the fact the world is not set up for the disabled. Ramps are poorly placed, sidewalks are bumpy, elevators are tiny, people ignore me. By the time we got back to our neighbourhood, I was crying in public. 

Would I have reacted this way if world politics weren't as they are these days? I think I might at least have been able to hold back my tears till we got home.

An alert hummingbird, warily watching me watching him. 
What do we do now? Honestly, I don't know. People are saying we must be alert to the immoral and even illegal acts of Trump and his followers.

Still watching me. Hummingbirds are incredibly feisty creatures, despite being so tiny as to seem unreal.
We must monitor his every move and speak out and act whenever necessary. 

But speak out how? Act how? Do what?

I feel unheard and powerless in a way I never have before.

I've been trying hard to find metaphors for hope to make me feel better but the pickings are slim and they feel very false.

The best people have been able to come up with are things like, "The sun will rise tomorrow." As John Oliver said, that's a pretty sad form of hope: the earth is still turning on its axis. The sun rose over Auschwitz as well. Did it give hope to the people there? If it did, wasn't it false hope?

Actually, around here, we don't even know if the sun will rise tomorrow, not in any visible sense, anyway. This is what passes for a sunny day at this time of year. It's not much, just a brief respite from the rain, a slight lightening of the darkness. 

I fear that is what the next four years under Trump will be: a great deal of darkness, with only brief patches of dim light that I'll try to call hope.

It's not enough!

When my mirror cast a rainbow the other day, I posed with it on my face, but it looked more like a knife's cut to me than anything hopeful. Besides, where's the real hope in a rainbow? It is supposed to have been God's promise never again to drown the world. But he'd already wiped out all of humanity. Such vindictive cruelty! Where's the hope in that?

So, if I can't find hope, what about small beauties and pleasures? 

Even that's not working well. I don't even see much point in dressing well. You know I'm very depressed when I don't care about style!

I try to get the hummingbirds to feed from my hand.

I love my deaf and partly blind old cat.

I watch Murder She Wrote at night, while sipping a martini, which might be a little stiffer than usual.

I notice that the male hummingbirds are maturing and I like the flash of their red throats. 

But all feels forced, false. It feels like whistling into a gale: a brave but futile effort. I can't lift the heavy weight that sits in my chest, snuffing out my light.

I don't know what comes next, in this darkness. I really don't. But let's remember one thing: we're in this darkness together. We must not turn away from it, no matter how much we might want to. We must not turn away from each other. It's a matter of life and death.

(I'm sharing this with Not Dressed as Lamb.)


  1. It is at a time like this that the world needs voices like yours more than ever. But I understand you are tired, depressed and feel defeated. There are others, too, who fear what might come next and worry about the rise of the far-right. Or should we say fascism, let's not bother with political correctness... I used to laugh at these far-right clowns, I didn't think they would have any real influence. Then Putin happened, then Brexit. And I stopped laughing. Watching the US elections I was terrified... and now I fear what's going to happen in Europe next year. Yes, Handmaid's Tale, I thought about that, too (I wrote my master's thesis on it). Nothing is impossible. I just know we all have to fight back. So Charlotte, rest and gather your strenght, you're not done fighting yet.

  2. I keep searching for the perfect words to make us all feel better about this heinous act. And I don't have any.

    I'm American, although I live in Belfast, and also female, queer and disabled. So between Brexit and DT (I refuse to dignify him with a name, never mind a title) I have given up a lot of hope for my future. And my 7 year old disabled son's future.

    Being in it together is about all I've got left. So I guess we'll have to hold onto that.

    Thank you for writing this. For giving some others who are voiceless a voice. I know it's hard. And unfair. And so so easy to feel unheard. But you are heard.

  3. I feel the same Charlotte. So much I want to say, but I just can't find my words right now. This last six months have been the hardest I have ever had, and Trump winning was the icing on my shit cake. I will continue to fight, but I need to gather m resources.