Trigger Warning: Triggers. Also, Trump. Also, sexual assault, but who gives a shit about that? It’s not like we’re talking about something really bad. Like emails.
I’d like to take a moment to talk about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. You know, that thing that people get when they aren’t strong enough to “handle” the atrocities they're unfortunate enough to live through?
I kid. Seriously, of all the awful things that simmering pile of pumpkin spice hatred has said, this was one of the most innocuous. It seems like this election season, we’re constantly focused on the wrong thing.
Like emails. Holy fucking Christ, enough with the goddamn emails already.
I’m not here to talk about emails.
I’m here to talk about sexual assault.
TRIGGER WARNING: Just assume that this is in effect from here until the end of time. Or at least, for the next four to eight years, because it looks like that’s exactly what’s going to happen. Either the US will have elected a sex offender, or a woman- and we all know what happens when a woman says something in public, and just how is a President supposed to avoid doing that?
But I’m getting ahead of myself, when I should be getting behind myself, like a stalker, or a leering old man hovering behind a woman he feels needs to be put in her place by any means necessary. Let me go back to the rosy days of the early 2000’s, when I was with my psychotic BF- no, really, he was honest-to-god psychotic. I mean, I’m not a psychiatrist, but that’s the condition he claimed to “suffer” from, and I believed him, because the evidence supported it, and anyway who would lie about something like that? One night, I was sleeping over in an old set of pajamas I’d borrowed from him- not a sexy set, and they didn’t even fit properly, so my apologies for making it harder to blame what happens next on my wardrobe. I was woken by violent kissing- holding me down, trying to strip me naked- which I just barely managed to fight off. Once I did, he told me that he was suffering a “psychotic break” and required some kind of catharsis to get through it. He was on the verge of murdering his roommate sleeping in the next room, he told me. But because I was a woman, I afforded him opportunities for dehumanization worse than death. Because I was a woman, he could be more satisfied by raping and torturing me than he could ever be with boring old murder. During the night-long ordeal, he even congratulated himself on losing his erection, thinking that it proved that he was really a nice guy deep down, since he didn’t truly enjoy what he was doing to me. See how much it hurts me to do this? I can’t even keep my dick hard. I had to fellate him to get him hard again so he could keep raping me. He really was a nice guy.
He made sure I stayed conscious, that I didn’t “check out”, by making me participate in acts of humiliation against myself. He’d force me to say things, words my young mouth had never uttered before, and certainly not in mixed company, just to make sure I was still paying attention. That I couldn’t escape, not even in my own mind. The hours flew by in eons, and sooner or later, I stopped fearing death. I accepted it. I understood that this was the last thing that would ever happen to me, the way my life would end. All of my hopes and dreams and ambitions would vanish forever with the sunrise. I accepted it. It’s not that I wanted to die. I’d just stopped caring.
Unmercifully, the sun eventually came up, and I was technically still alive, if you could call it that. I was covered in a substance- a mixture of blood, semen, and feces, I think- and he seemed finally sated. I don’t remember exactly how the fluids got all over me- I know the blood was coming from somewhere inside me, but to this day I still don’t know why. I know I was conscious, but my brain won’t let me remember.
As far as I was concerned, I was essentially dead. When you accept death as readily as I had, being still alive is nothing more than a technicality. I wanted to take my body off. It didn’t belong to me anymore. It no longer housed my soul, my identity. My personhood had been destroyed. So this is what it’s like to be a zombie. Aim for the head- the rest is taken.
So, I cleaned myself up, left without making eye contact, screamed internally to be able to rip my skin off, and went to work like it was any other day. I didn’t think about it. I didn’t think about anything. Just went through the motions. No one ever asked me what was wrong.
It’s been like that ever since, with maybe a few exceptions, especially early on (abortion, attempted suicide). Just pick yourself up, clean yourself off, pantomime your way through the rest of your life, and never, ever think about it.
But he really should’ve killed me.
I mean, I was ready. I had accepted it. It’s almost cruel to force me to live after that. Because how can you really live if in your mind, you’ve already died?
The thing that got me was that, that night, it was proven to me beyond a reasonable doubt that the entire concept of human rights is just a fiction we tell ourselves to hide the fact that we’re just meat, we can be used and disposed of at the whim of others and there are no rules of nature or physics to prevent that, and we all die, we all go to the emptiness, the void where there is no eternity. It’s all nothing. We are nothing. We don’t matter. Or, at least, I don’t.
“Because you’re a woman.”
So, let me explain to those who are fortunate enough not to suffer from it what it’s like to have PTSD. Or at least, what it’s like for me.
It’s like a play. A theater production. There’s what is being performed on stage, and the machinations that go on behind the scenes. Only, behind the scenes, the theater is burning down and everyone is dying. But the show must go on.
When you have PTSD, it’s because the thing that occurred to cause it never ended. It isn’t over. It’s not something that happened, it’s something that IS HAPPENING. Always. 24/7. 365. Forever.
You never dealt with it. You never got over it. You never got past it. It’s happening right now. It is always happening, you just ignore it. You push it to the back of your mind. It’s backstage, and you just focus on the play. Perform, perform, pay no attention to the screams behind the curtain. You are in two realities at all times. You are fully aware of the present, the day to day activities you perform dutifully, seeing friends, talking to family, showing up to work, going through the motions. And you’re present, you really are. But there’s a part of you, behind the curtain, in the back of your mind, that is stuck in that moment, that goddamned eternal moment. And you can never escape.
So, what’s a trigger? A trigger is something that pierces the veil. Something in the front-world, the stage-and-audience world, the world of the present forces a connection to the eternal moment, the backstage, the inferno behind the curtain. That inferno spills out. The moment is no longer contained. Don’t scratch at that wall, Sam, there’s nothing good on the other side. Suddenly, the separation ceases to exist, and both realities come crashing into each other. You are now back in that moment, the Event, not just on a subconscious level, but on every level. It’s happening again. It never stopped.
Some triggers are obvious: a conversation about sexual assault could remind someone of their sexual assault. Others less so: the music of Metallica is a trigger for me, because that was his favourite band, and it will always be associated with that place. Other people have certain sounds, smells, sights… we can’t possibly protect ourselves from all of them, and we can’t possibly post warnings about all of them. But there are some that we really have no excuse for not doing something about. I’ll give you a few examples:
When someone catcalls me on the street, reminding me that I am viewed as nothing more than a piece of meat for the consumption of others, I’m back in that moment, in that place. When someone insists that I tell them my name or give them my phone number when it’s clear that I’m not interested, I’m back there. When someone talks down to me, or suggests I don’t know my own mind, I’m back there. When someone touches me without my consent, I’m back there. When someone tells me I’m being “too sensitive” for not wanting to go back there, I’m back there.
And when the so-called “greatest nation on Earth” is about to elect a misogynistic admitted sex offender to the highest office in the land, you better fucking believe I am back there.
Donald Trump has been accused of multiple acts of sexual harassment and assault. Some of those accusations have led or are leading to trial. He’s even bragged about it himself. The day that he is elected over a hard-working, compassionate, experienced, qualified, lifelong public servant who just happens to be a woman is the day that I know for an indisputable fact that what I learned that day was true: I don’t matter. I will never win. I may as well be dead.
Trying to convince myself that that wasn’t true saved my life. It kept me from finally accomplishing what he couldn’t. I changed my mind about killing myself because I didn’t want to believe it was true. But if Trump is elected, I will know it’s true. I will know that this world offers no place, no safety for someone like me.
Donald Trump is a human trigger, in bright safety orange, and no one fucking warned us. Or did they, and we just didn’t listen? Are we listening now?
I can’t live in a world that would elect this man over Hillary Clinton. I won’t. I refuse. The night I was raped and tortured because I was a woman has lasted for fifteen years, and on Tuesday, I will know if it can finally end. This election will trigger either a resurgence of the social norms that put people like me in places like that, or it will trigger the final, gradual, eventual healing we so desperately need, with all the pain and pus and revolution and regrowth that goes with it.
Either way, you’ve been warned.