I often shudder at the fine line between politics and personal trauma. Americans place so much emphasis on the idea of free will, but we also seem to enjoy taking it away simply because someone else’s personal life doesn’t fully mesh with our own choices. We try not to talk about our own lives and experiences for fear that someone around us will decide our words or actions somehow make us less human, less valuable, less . . . just less. I have lived my life making room for men who insist on taking up half my airplane seat or who corner me for endless conversation like they have an unalienable right to my time and attention. I don’t want to make room for them, but when you live in a post-assault world, when you are still a target but also a casualty, every person who refuses to leave you alone becomes a what-if. Because if they have no regard for your right to use your time, your space, your being for your own purposes instead of theirs, what else don’t they care about?
During Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, I remained largely silent on social media. A thousand things ran through my mind, and there were hundreds I could say, but after weeks of oversaturation, I couldn’t take any more assault talk. Not when the world was so ready to dismiss me and those like me. I stepped away.
In the days following the confirmation, I began rejoining the online community, a little at a time. One night, I was scrolling through the endless chatter, and I stopped on a screencap of Senator Jeff Merkley (OR) on the Senate floor. The caption read:
“Here in the Senate. It’s 5.45am. Sen. Jeff Merkley has been reading the testimonies of sexual assault survivors for almost two hours now. He is addressing an empty chamber.”
I hadn’t cried much during the confirmation process, but I did in that moment. Finally, some evidence that someone understood the frustration of being categorically denied a chance to speak for a packed house simply due to the content of the story. Finally, someone who understood that the constituents who provided him these stories were women who never wanted to tell these tales to their friends and families, much less a stranger representing them to the country and the world. Finally, someone who decided that even if it meant showing up to the Senate floor at four in the morning, they would ensure that stories of violence, trauma, and survival—the ongoing, lifelong stories of survival—made it into the official record. Finally, readers looking back on these dark days would have access to not only Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony but the stories of over thirty Oregonian women, some likely told for the first time.
And Jeff Merkley spoke to an empty room—the only place where survivors may ever be able to speak without fear—to make this happen. And that will always stay with me.
This piece is brand-new, and for now, I’m giving it away for free. Let me know where/when you perform it.
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