Survivors deserve much more than “just vote, we’ll worry about the abuser(s) later”
There is no such thing as bad timing when outing an abuser. There is no such thing as bad timing when highlighting someone’s abuse.
Content warning: Sexual assault and mentions of consent violations
Navigate through your feelings about these truths now, because I am going to say what some of you have deemed to be inappropriate, self righteous or in poor taste.
There is no such thing as bad timing when outing an abuser. There is no such thing as bad timing when highlighting someone’s abuse. Even and especially when they aspire to positions of power such as the presidency. When we engage in these shoddy, subjective and downright victim-blamey tactics, we strengthen the models that uphold property over people, the rich over the disenfranchised and the respectable over the ratchet.
I’m so very tired of sexual assault survivors being exposed to the violence of rape culture that requires we relive our traumas over and over again, especially when they involve old rich white men, the police, and the court system.
When I say survivors are expected to support and/or make decisions that are antithetical to our survival on a daily basis, it is not an exaggeration. We live in a world that constantly gaslights us. A world that forces us to choose between what is unbearable and what is least tolerable. A world that insists difference matters and that we must consider the greater good, the lesser evil.
There’s a difference between what is less terrible for the greater good (harm reduction) and a world that constantly plays Devil’s Advocate with our lives.
Last week, I finally tore open the envelope that held my ballot. It started to collect dust in my room because I just wasn’t ready to open it, let alone fill it out. And some of those things, those phrases we organizers were coached to say when our roles were first “legitimized” (non-profits) came out, taunting me. Then the more mainstream ones like, “Our ancestors died so that we could vote” and “if you don’t vote, you have no right to complain.”
Even though I know these statements are rigid and don’t fully account for the lived experiences of folks who look like me, I grabbed the ballot I’d dropped, my hands shaking the whole time. We grit and bear it. We are resilient. We have to try to build a world that is deserving of us, even when it is not.
My mouth was so dry. Even as I try to describe this moment to you, it isn’t the same. Many Black organizers, including myself, have had death threats and been doxxed because white men and women are emboldened by what Trump promises. Organizers all over the world’s addresses are being shared on backchannels and provided to white terrorists and vigilantes because they’ve dared to require our countries be remade to recognize our lives.
All of that is true. And, I know that regardless of who sits in that office, more of us will die. Regardless of who lives in that house, they will continue to play in our faces.
While I sat on my bed staring at the names on the ballot, my own assaults came back to me. And then the assaults and subsequent victim-blaming of the folks I love. A chorus of survivors.
I don’t remember how it happened but all of a sudden, a scene from Devil’s Advocate began to play in my head, embodying the world’s constant role at disposing of our lives.
The scene, directed by Taylor Hackford, begins with a child survivor on trial for her own sexual assault. She is berated, criminalized and humiliated for the violence she experienced, while her abuser, who is actually on trial, pleasures himself underneath the table as she recounts the abuse. His lawyer, Keanu Reeves, realizes what’s happening and asks for a short recess. And yet, while Reeves is in the restroom contemplating what it would mean to tarnish his winning streak, he ultimately decides to make Barbara, the survivor, look like she’s the liar, even though he knows his client is guilty.
The most horrific part about all this is how resonant the story is. How true it is. We are gaslit and guilt tripped on a regular basis by family members, community, teachers, political parties and presidents. We are made to believe our assaults didn’t happen in the way we experienced them, and are hypnotized into thinking they were never assaults to begin with.
Most of us know intimately how devil’s advocacy is utilized under the guise of a conversation starter or healthy debate. But none of this is healthy. None of it is a hypothesis.
Survivors are cannon fodder for abusers and bystanders alike.
I too, like the sentiment that those who choose to vote, should vote based on who best to organize against. And yet, what is loudest for me are the realities of power, sexual abuse and exploitation that are normalized by engaging in the very systems that require and sign off on our harm. How do we contend with these contradictions? How might we transform the culture of violation into one that prioritizes consent?
At the very least, survivors deserve to live in a world that doesn’t punish us for making decisions about our lives. We deserve to participate in community driven responses that don’t place us in positions to be sacrificial lambs. We deserve more than meager scraps and ignorant, limiting statements such as, “if you don’t vote, you don’t have the right to complain about the conditions you’re exposed to.”
We have every right to complain, whether we participate in the deeply flawed and corrupt voting process or not. We have every right to burn this world down if we choose.
So today, today I offer survivors this breathing meditation:
As we breathe today in,
We call on the trees for their strength, their wind and their color
As we hold our breath,
We reach for the stars, the ocean and our own heart
As we breathe the day out,
We whisper fall, winter, spring and summer
As we take another breath in,
We recognize that our ancestors are always with us
As we hold our breath,
We remember our lungs, how beautiful and alive they are
As we breathe these truths out,
We call for apples and cinnamon, hot water cornbread and magic
And on this last inhale,
We pull in the truth of who we are
As we hold this last breath,
We remember that we are surrounded by deep love and protection
As we release this last breath,
We call on deep joy, coconut oil and lavender