It’s difficult to put into words exactly how triggering recent political events have been for me as a survivor of sexual violence. It’s been difficult to know how to write about my feelings. I’ve been reading the news, my feeds are covered in tweets, blogs, posts and comments related to the election. But honestly, I can’t even look at his face without feeling nauseous and dizzy. I don’t even want to type his name into my blog.
Why am I so triggered by this? Some people around me have said, “it’s not our country, you have to just let it go.” But that is a comment made from a place of privilege. One that I’m not able to occupy because this election impacts me personally. No, it isn’t my country. No, he isn’t my president. But the fact that the democratic country to the south, has elected a man who has openly admitted to sexually assaulting women, is just too much to bear. They say that accusing a man of rape will ruin his reputation. I think this is proof that that is a complete and utter lie. Actually, it will make him leader of one of the most powerful countries in the world.
I’ve watched and heard snippets of news over the last few days. I try to limit any viewing of the man himself, but I’ve gathered some important facts. I’ve seen a new phrase being tossed around: “alternative facts.”
Quite frankly, this is terrifying to me. I am very familiar with “alternative facts.” The word I use for them is gaslighting. I’ve already blogged about my experiences with gaslighting, but to refresh your memory, here is the Wikipedia definition of gaslighting:
“Gaslighting is a form of manipulation through persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying in an attempt to destabilize and delegitimize a target. Its intent is to sow seeds of doubt in the targets, hoping to make them question their own memory, perception, and sanity.”
I experienced “alternative facts” when my abuser told me that I was responsible for the abuse he was perpetrating. When he told me that if I was a “normal woman” I’d be okay with what he was doing. I experienced “alternative facts” when he told me that the reason I didn’t like being assaulted in my sleep was because I already had PTSD. I then experienced “alternative facts” when he claimed in court that I’d made up all the allegations of abuse, including the ones from my childhood, the ones he’d used to as an excuse for my discomfort. I experienced “alternative facts” when my first abuser told me he would commit suicide if I ended the relationship. I experienced “alternative facts” when my ex-husband spread rumors about my mental health to all the health care professionals and school professionals involved with helping me and my children. I experienced “alternative facts” when the family law system told me that my disclosures of abuse were just “allegations” and were “irrelevant” to the determination of custody of my children. I experience “alternative facts” dealing with Children’s Aid, when workers accuse me of coaching my children, and accuse my children of not being truthful. I experienced “alternative facts” when the police officer who investigated my sexual assault told me he had tried to contact me multiple times and then closed the case (it was proved he never contacted me).
I’ve experienced systemic gaslighting in attempts by multiple people and institutions to silence me, to discredit me, to paint me as insane, to transform my self advocacy into “creating conflict” and to dismiss my feminist principles as extreme.
I am not alone. Women and gender non-conforming folks who come forward with disclosures of their experiences of sexual violence face “alternative facts” at every turn. Male survivors of sexual assault are gaslighted too, within a culture which tells them that men can’t be raped. Survivors are no strangers to gaslighting. We are no strangers to having our ideas dismissed as hysteria. We are no strangers to attempts to control us, our bodies, our minds and our souls.
I believe this is why millions of women marched on Washington and in cities and towns all over the world. Women marched because they are tired of “alternative facts” and they have no interest in being gaslighted by anyone (least of all their government) anymore.
I marched because I didn’t want to surrender to a feeling of hopelessness. I marched to show solidarity with those women who are less privileged then I am. I marched to break the feeling of isolation that I’m experiencing. I marched to know that I am not alone. It was not my first protest, it was not my first march and it won’t be my last.
I know that marginalized groups have experienced oppression and “alternative facts” for centuries. This is not a new phenomenon. I know that and I acknowledge it.
But there is something incredibly unsettling and downright terrifying about someone who does it so publicly, so obviously and so without shame.
There is something deeply sickening about knowing that someone who hates the majority of people I care about (My LGBTQ+ friends, my Women of Colour friends, my friends who came here as refugees, my friends who live with disabilities, my trans friends, my own child, and all of my friends who are survivors of violence) has risen to power in such a way.
When I look at him, I see a reflection of all the perpetrators I have known. I see privilege unchecked and unrecognized. I see destructiveness, ignorance and hate. I see all the things I fight against and oppose in my day to day life.
I see you. I see your alternative facts. But I call them gaslighting lies. And they disgust me.