FH-hummingbird-slider

when the (white) mothers choose the abuser

Graffiti image of child spray painting the word MOMThis is a hard thing to write.

It’s been a painful few months. For you, too? I’ve been trying to get to the root of the heavy depression–despair, really–that I’ve been stuck in since November. Or even before November, but 11/9 is when it really took hold of all the insides of me, squeezed tight, shuttered me in with its bleak outlook: nothing is ever going to be all right again.

This, of course, is not true. So many of us have made it through impossibly painful times, and we have built up skills and tools for navigating the horrors of our world: governmental ignorance and abuse, a society that treats women and all folks of color like animals to be used and then discarded, that treats the earth like a garden to be plundered and then abandoned. My sweetheart last night reminded me of how scared we all were at the beginning of the AIDS crisis, when no one really knew what was happening–and then, once we did know, the folks in power alternately pretended like nothing was happening and tried to force us to be even more terrified of sex than we were already supposed to be. But we got through it together, with rage and sex and laughter and art and community.

It does seem like life under this Rapist-in-chief (and his so-called administration) will be worse than anything most of us have had to confront in this country, and that we’ll have to build a whole new set of tools for surviving, for helping one another survive. But that’s work we can do, all while resisting and struggling for justice and change.

But knowing this wasn’t getting to the root of my despair. I’ve been isolating mostly, trying to get some writing projects done, but also just wanting to be alone in my house with the blinds closed. Maybe it will all go away. A child’s way of thinking. Maybe when I open the blinds back up, maybe when I wake up tomorrow, everything will be better.

But things kept not being better when I woke up the next morning. I sat on the couch and watched the rains come in over San Francisco bay, and every loud, low plane I heard I was afraid would turn out to be the Rapist’s first bombing raids on too-liberal San Francisco. When would the attacks begin?

This is old fear. I realized my behavior bore a strong resemblance — this despair, this fear, this isolating — to the ways I acted in the first months after I broke away from my family, when I was in my early twenties. I was honestly terrified that my stepfather would make good on his oft-repeated threats to send someone to harm or kill me and those I loved; every noise at night the old New Hampshire farmhouse where I lived with my then-boyfriend was the spy-friend of les’ climbing up the outside wall, about to break through the bedroom window with his weapons: the one attached to his body and the ones clipped to his belt.

So there’s the ache and memory of this terror, arising now because this Rapist now installed in the highest office of the land talks and acts so much like the man who terrorized my sister and I through our adolescence. The demands for loyalty, the gas lighting, the abusive teasing, the Orwellian-Newspeak changes in message or tone, the racism, the elitism, and, of course, the misogyny and sexual violence that he downplays as teasing or helpful or consensual — these were all tactics my stepfather used as well. These are the tactics of the common abuser. So many of us talked about this before the election. We talked about The Rapist’s  abusive behavior toward his opponents during the primary, his horrific language about and threats toward various communities of color, his malignant teasing of a journalist with arthrogryposis, his predatory behavior toward Clinton during the debates. We talked about the difference between “locker-room talk” and bragging about sexual assault.

Folks who supported the Rapist didn’t want to hear it. Folks often prefer to be on the side of power, the side of the abuser. Don’t we who have been through abuse — as children or as adults — know this?

So here’s the other abuser’s tool the Rapist-in-Chief wielded, one my stepfather also brandished, of course: he convinced the mothers that he’s the one in the right. That they shouldn’t listen to their daughters, their children.

That they shouldn’t listen to reality.

A week or so ago, I realized that was the link to this deep grief I was feeling — a grief so big I couldn’t even cry about it. The link had to do with that 53% of white women who voted for this man, this now our Rapist-in-Chief: these women sided with the abuser.

Just like my own mother did.

I remember sitting on the futon in the bedroom of that old New Hampshire farmhouse, just a couple of months, I think, after I first told my stepfather that I wanted to end the “sexual part of our relationship.” He’d moved quickly to get me to agree that what I was really saying was that I wanted to break contact with my whole family; it was his way of further isolating me from my mother and my sister. He threatened to harm me if I contacted them, which I didn’t do for awhile, but then I changed my mind. I thought, it has to be that my mother just doesn’t know. She doesn’t know what he’s been doing to her daughters when she is away at work, or over the phone, or at his office.

(Never mind that there was plenty of awful that she did see, that happened right in front of her– that happened to her — that wasn’t enough to push her through her fear (or whatever else it was that kept her tied to him) and get her to leave.)

So I decided to call and tell her. I was terrified. I brought the phone over to the bed, sat crosslegged at the far end, and dialed her number at work. Their secretary transferred me to her office, but she was about to go into a therapy session with a client; could she call me in an hour?

I spent the hour trying not to throw up from fear. She told my stepfather about the call, and so they spent the hour (I found out later) talking with my sister about how to contain Jen’s most recent “attack” on the family. My mother called me back. I took a deep breath and asked whether she knew what her husband had been doing to us.

She said, Yes.

This took all the air out of my body.

“What do you mean, yes?”

She gave me specific acts, which, I found out later, my stepfather had told her to specify. She said, “He told me about it.” And, “He’s sorry. He knows he crossed a line.”

I didn’t have any words. What could I say to this? Here was my mother, calmly telling me that she knew her husband had been sexually abusing her daughters. She wasn’t raging. She wasn’t telling me that she’d hit him with a paperweight when he told her, then called the police and was leaving him immediately. She just said, “I know.”

I don’t remember now how the call ended. But I remember the enormous blanket of grief that overcame me. What could be done now? Wasn’t that my last possible attack on this man who’d destroyed my childhood and family? Hadn’t it been my belief, all through my adolescence, that if I could just get up the courage to tell my mother what was happening, she would be outraged, she would take our side finally, she would make it stop?

But it wasn’t true. She chose him. She would keep on choosing him for another year or so, until my sister broke contact with them, and even after that — until we called the police and they were both arrested.

She chose him over us.

This is the sorrow that is so big it doesn’t have anywhere to fit in my body. This is  the grief that is too big for tears. This is the heavy lead blanket of despair that has covered me since the release of that fucking tape from 2005 of our-now-Rapist-in-Chief bragging about what he could do to any woman he wanted, and I heard (white) women from around the country excusing him. White men, too, of course — isn’t that to be expected? (Think about what Brock Turner’s father said about his son’s rape; the men so very often stand up for their own.) But here I was, still the abused girl, hoping my mother would step up for me, us, the country, when she heard the truth.

But she didn’t. More than half of the white women in the country, again, chose the abuser over the abused, for reasons I will never quite be able to understand, even though I can articulate some of them: Security? Defiance? Fear? Having spent many years working in domestic violence prevention, I know the dangers of calling out the abused women who stay with abusers — I know how quick we as a society are to blame women for their own abuse. And, too, as an abused child of an abused woman, I know how painful it is to have your mother turn her back on you in favor of the man who has been hurting her as well as you.

So, it’s complicated, this work.

As a white woman who voted against him, who spoke out against him, who joined with others in calling out his abhorrent behavior, what can we say to these women, some of them mothers, to get them to choose their children, and the children of others, over the Rapist?

Of course, women of color, all folks of color, have their own deep, historical (and present!) grief about white women choosing, repeatedly, to side with violent white men.

What will these women tell their own daughters, their sons, their children, about how to behave in the world? What can they say that will ever contradict they message they sent when they explicitly chose this man? It’s likely that their daughters will have to do the work for them.

My mother eventually walked away from her second husband. She eventually got out from under him, when he was sent to prison. But we have never quite reconciled that moment when I told her what he’d done to me, to us, and she said, “I know,” like it was nothing. Even if she was speaking out of her own brainwashing, her own abuse, her own terror (and I do believe now that she was) — that doesn’t undo the wounding to our relationship, the way it unhooked something inside me from what Mother was supposed to mean, from the possibility of having a mother.

What do we do when the mothers seem not to care about the abuse of the fathers? Here’s how I got through those early years of grief — well, I drank a lot then, which I’m not doing anymore. Bad tv helped, and movies that made me laugh, and then movies that made me cry hard. Long walks helped. And speaking out helped: telling the truth to people who could hear me, receive my words, who helped me to understand that I was not crazy — that yes, in spite of how my mother had reacted, what my stepfather did was not ok. Not even a little bit at all ever.

And so my work is to join with all the voices around the country, around the world, committed to speaking up over and over and over: no matter what the (white) mothers and fathers are telling you, this Rapist-in-Chief’s behavior is not ok. We are not crazy to be terrified and furious. We are right to be outraged and to work for change.

Take 10 minutes if you have the chance today and write what you want to tell the women, tell the mothers, who keep on choosing abusers over their children’s or even their own well-being. This might be a letter to your own mother, a character’s mother, or mothers in general. We need all the words of all the people now. Please keep writing and speaking, and be so easy with you–which, I don’t know about you, but has been hard work for me recently, this being easy with myself, but I keep trying, returning to center. Gentle course correction is the name of the game these days, I think. And hot tea. And chocolate. 

Thank you, always and every time, for your words.

 

 

*I think I’ve mentioned in the blog that I refuse to use this man’s name, and intend to refer to him as The Rapist or Rapist-in-chief (I preferred Rapist-elect) for the next four years

FH-hummingbird-slider

the other half of the country said No

No (SFSU Sticker graffiti)

What is there to say? What can we who didn’t want this possibly say?

I haven’t looked at the news yet this morning.  I was up until after 1am, just scrolling through Facebook and Twitter feeds, trying to find something. Solidarity. Hope. Someone announcing that there had been a mistake, that a cache of uncounted votes had been located, that disenfranchised people were going to get their constitutional rights back just in time to make a difference in this election. That this was a mistake. That he announced immediately that it was a joke, he was just kidding, god, he never actually wanted the job. I wanted someone to announce that it wasn’t really happening. That I was dreaming.

I got more and more numb as the evening went on. I didn’t want it to be true — this isn’t really happening, is it? More than half of the American people who voted weren’t actually voting for this man, were they? Weren’t actually telling him that his actions were acceptable, even admirable? Weren’t telling him that it was just fine for a man who said “I could shoot someone on Fifth avenue and still get elected” to actually hold the highest office in the land? I don’t have to list all the horrors for you. You know what they are. They’ve been in the news endlessly, repeated, mocked, memed, lampooned, shared with disgust, fear, astonishment — and still, here he is.

What can be said this morning? That people love to be on the side of the bully? I get stuck there — people love to be on the side of the bully. And he is nothing if not that, the man who stands in front of the whole world and openly mocks just about everyone who is not him. He’s even mocked his own supporters (I was about to write followers — this looks so much worse than a presidential election to me: more like half the country said yes to a cult leader.) More than half of the country said yes.

White people voted for him overwhelmingly. This wasn’t a landslide of sexism. Last night a friend said that more men had turned out to vote in this election than in any other in American history — and that they were voting for this man. But have you seen the infographic making the rounds that shows whites overwhelmingly voting red, and people of every other race voting blue? We can talk about sexism and misogyny, of course we have to talk about sexism and misogyny, but we also have to talk about racism. This was (is — goddamnit, I don’t want to have to use the present tense) a victory in our country for white nationalism.

I have felt horrified and disgusted after elections before. I called W. “Resident Bush” for all the years he was in office. I woke up after the Supreme Court made their decision similarly furious that Bush and his cronies got to gloat, got to win, got to stand in front of the American people and pretend like they earned something.

But something about this morning is different, of course.

This is a man, openly endorsed by the KKK, is going into the white house. There’s something I want to say about never underestimating power’s rage, how hard power will fight, how hard people will fight to keep their power. Can it be  that millions of American citizens love and admire the fact that this man stands up in front of them and openly mocks his opponents, threatens to harm them, encourages violence against them? Can it be that they want an America that looks and sounds more like what this man does and says?

My limbs are numb. I am too afraid to even be aware of feeling afraid. But under that, I am so fucking angry.

This is a vindication for Brock Turner, Bill Cosby, Woody Allen — this is a vindication for all the rapists. Let’s be clear: there have been rapists in the white house before. Probably most of the time that there’s been a white house. But can we at least state with certainty that there hasn’t ever before been a president who stood in front of the country and, when it was revealed that he had bragged about sexually assaulting women, bragged that he would and should have sexual access to any body that he wanted, said it was ok because other people (a former president) had done worse. He hid behind the stories of women who Clinton assaulted, and then he threatened to sue the women who came forward to tell their stories of his assaults. So, it’s a new thing to have an out, admitted rapist in the white house. I’ve decided to call him Rapist in Chief. How grand for us as a nation.

Of course, we’ve also never before had a president who has never held any kind of elected office. We have decided as a country that we value someone vulgar and unprepared for the office over someone who has been learning the ins and outs of the american governmental system for forty-plus years. We want someone who has filed many times for bankruptcy, we want someone who fought to keep from paying his workers even four dollars an hour, who would regularly refuse to pay people with whom he had contracts — this is the man who is going to bring jobs? Are there truly people who believe this?

What is the point of saying all of this this morning? Of rehashing what we already know?

The hope I have this morning, if I have any at all, is that the other half of the country didn’t think this guy was a good idea. The other half of the country said No.

Here’s what I thought last night: we are going to have to fight like hell for the many communities who are now under threat. Let’s not make any mistake — these are the same communities who have been under threat in this country forever: folks of color, women, immigrants. But our rapist-elect has said explicitly and openly and repeatedly that violence against these communities is acceptable. Who knows what the next four years will bring? Any of us with any measure privilege are going to have to put ourselves on the line, to stand with those who will be under assault. We have already seen violence done explicitly in this man’s name — what will happen now?

This is what we as a country have reaped – white supremacy (back) in the white house. What are we going to do about it?

I saw many posts last night in my Facebook feed encouraging folks not to grieve, but to organize. Protest. Fight back. And we will organize. We will fight back. We will spend a generation fighting back against what he and this congress is about to unleash. And we must grieve also. We must mourn.

It’s ok to take some time to sit in whatever emotions are up for you this morning. Write them, if you have it in you to do so — maybe not publicly, if you don’t want to, maybe in your notebook. Scrawl it out. Shout into a pillow. Consider how you’re going to do holiday meals with people who voted for this man, this government, if you have to — my home state went quite red, and I’m sure there are those among my kin who voted for this now rapist-elect. What will I say to them? How do we as a country so horrifically divided find a way to speak across these divides? I heard a reporter on NPR last night speaking to a Republican official; this official was wondering how the rapist-elect (he didn’t use that term) was going to reach across and help to heal the divides in this country. And the reporter said, “But does he really want to do that? Does he really want to heal anything? Isn’t this divide part of what got him elected? Isn’t this part of what he worked for, what he wants?” The government official didn’t have a good answer for that.

I haven’t looked at the news yet this morning, though I know that I have to. I know I’m going to have to see his face, hear his voice, now, for the next four fucking years, listen to him gloat about winning the country on a platform of exactly nothing. So much for his brand being ruined. So much for polls, predictions, all those pundits who told us this wasn’t going to happen.

I guess what I want to say today is that I’m outraged, and I am not surprised, and that lack of surprise is a terrible feeling. I didn’t want it to be true, that our adolescent country would go for brash bullying and farcical pretense over any kind of substance whatsoever. The white men won yesterday (and the white women stood with them, and helped).

 

This morning I am turning to Sharon Welch’s book, A Feminist Ethic of Risk, for words to help me remember how to hunker (back) down for the battle — this battle isn’t new. It has been going on for hundreds of years. Welch says that our “situation calls for an ethic of risk, an ethic that begins with the recognition that we cannot guarantee decisive changes in the near future or even in our lifetime. The ethic of risk is propelled by the equally vital recognition that to stop resisting, even when success is unimaginable, is to die.”

In the next paragraph she says, “As we, too, resist the evil of racism, seeing its connections with other forms of structural oppressions, we need to learn that failure to develop the strength to remain angry, in order to continually love and therefore to resist, is to die […] for if we cease resisting, we lost the ability to imagine a world that is any different than that of the present: we lose the ability to imagine strategies of resistance and ways of sustaining each other in the long struggle for justice.”

We cannot give up. Many, many people were galvanized last night (I can only hope). Many more will be. We will have to raise our children with the language of resistance, with the models of social justice warriors who came before.

We need your words today — and tomorrow, and for the next four years. We need your songs and your plays and your paintings and your many. many acts of artistic truth telling and resistance.Thank you for all of your words, today, tomorrow, and all the days after.