Someone grabbed my pussy once. Grabbed it and forced their fingers inside it. I was 14 years old. Broad daylight; adults present. I was in a neighborhood swimming pool, a pool all the other new girls of the 70-member high school dance team and I had just danced around in our padded bikinis while the football team watched and cheered. Not only did adults witness this initiation, they planned it. Coaches and directors and parents. It was Texas, 1993. Donald Trump would have been 47 years old then.
I’ve written about this sexual assault in more lyric, nuanced, and complex ways and published my writing in a respected literary magazine. I’ve read the essay aloud to a live audience. I’ve won an award for it. But more people will read this blog post than said literary magazine, which might hint at one small problem with our electorate and is one reason I’m winching it up like a dead body from the dark pond of history now.
Trump has excused his words as “locker room talk.” I don’t know if the football player who grabbed my pussy talked about it in the locker room beforehand or not. I don’t even know who he is, although later a high school Assistant Principal and a football coach would try to convince me it was a black player I’d never met. Like I said, Texas. I don’t know if it was him—there were so many hands all over my body in that pool, so many bodies. I never named him because my perpetrator was nameless. A whole team. A whole school. A whole culture. It took me almost 10 years to name what happened to me, to say the words, “sexual assault.” I thought it was normal, because it was. If a team of players assaulted me, a team of players has assaulted us too. The Republican Party might as well wear numbered uniforms and face masks.
In the last two days many, many women writers have published pieces in response to Trump and his Republican party, most recently and powerfully the Guardian’s Lindy West in a New York Times editorial where she states, “Every woman knows a version of Donald Trump.” Other women have left social media altogether, acts of self-protection against the bullets of a relentless trigger. Before I started writing this I thought, who needs more of this? Except I think we do—not more of the politicized commentary and sensationalism (is anyone surprised by that video?), but more of women’s voices saying in whatever language they speak: men grab women’s pussies everyday. This is not a hypothetical, not a joke. When men make those “jokes,” they have the force and veracity of history behind them.
Tonight my husband—a former Texas high school football player—drove our son to my in-laws’ house, and I used the precious alone time to walk along the bayou that curls through the city. As I walked and the drowsy sun leaked pink and purple across the skyline, I wept. I also realized, twenty some years after that day in the pool, what bothers me most about Trump’s language. It’s not “pussy” like you’d think. It’s the word “grab.” To seize roughly. To steal. To arouse attention. Isn’t that what Trump has been doing all along? Stealing things, our attention perhaps most of all.
Real power doesn’t grab. It invites and inspires and encourages, the way the women at Smith College loved me into saying the words “sexual assault,” the way the biggest loves of my life—beautiful, gentle men—loved my Texas back into a place of lonesome blue hills, wide skies, and guttural vowels like big, bear hugs around my ears. Real power moves gracefully; indeed, grace often arrives so softly and so subtlety….The two senior boys I teach critical theory, football players, whose personal essays that I graded today revealed hearts as vast as republics. The man I watched this morning at the restaurant as he fed his 1-year old daughter bites of pancake while shaking his head at the Texans. The threads of women’s voices weaving a burial shroud across our news feeds and papers. A sunset and a season shift. Grace amasses with so much smallness and humility that we’ve been living in it for years before we know its name.