Spring 1988. 4th period Social Studies class. Grade 8.
I sit in the back row in class, and am asked to bring all of the papers forward, as is every student at the back of each row. As I am walking, a boy in my class smugly reaches out and squeezes my butt. Hard. Very hard – I had a dark burgundy/indigo bruise for two weeks after this happened. Being suddenly and unexpectedly hurt, I turned around and punched him in the face. I remember the papers fluttering to the floor around me, and the completely stunned look on the kid’s face as he was laying on the floor. Our teacher was an amazing guy, and he was not upset with me, because he felt the kid who grabbed me had been out of line. I thought it was over with.
The next morning, I get called down to the principal’s office. I have no idea what is going on, but I figure it’s something harmless. It isn’t. It’s an ambush. The principal, the boy who grabbed me, and said boy’s mother are there. I am shouted at from the second I enter the room. The woman is red in the face screaming at me, and the principal is glaring. We’ve been studying the Constitution in Social Studies. I tell the Principal I want to call my parents before this proceeds. He says no. I tell him that is a violation of the 6th Amendment. He says “The law doesn’t apply in my office. Sit down and shut up!” Grabby Boy and his Mom look pleased at this. The Mom then resumes her screeching, saying that her son is a good boy, and is on the wrestling team, and that I had no right to hit him. I stated that he’d had no right to grab me. Her reply was “Well, look at you! If you’re going to dress like that, it’s your own fault!”
That day in the Principal’s office, I was wearing the fashionably tapered acid-wash jeans of the time, a black t-shirt, and a denim jacket with many buttons. The jeans were tight-fitting – as were most everyone’s jeans then. The day of the incident, I had been channeling my inner Molly Ringwald, in a grey skirt that was an inch or two above the knee, a white blouse, white tights, pink scrunchy socks with grey ankle boots, and a pink and grey varsity-style jacket (plus requisite chunky earrings!). I loved that outfit – and been extremely proud of being able to put it together despite coming from a lower income family, but never wore it again after that day. Needless to say, even though what the victim is wearing is NEVER an excuse, I wasn’t exposing more than knees in tights when I had been grabbed.
I endured nearly an entire school period of being ridiculed and put down. I was put on in-school suspension. I was accused of “ruining school spirit” because I’d made a guy from the wrestling team fall on the floor. This wasn’t the only incident in junior high, but it sticks out as the first time that I really realized victim blaming existed, and that some kids – usually white boys on sports teams – could get away with almost anything. That sense of discord has been extremely prevalent since Trump became the PE.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop with that. While this incident, and several far worse incidents involving sexual harassment, assault, and rape, have been replaying through my mind since before the election, there are more triggering elements at play. The atmosphere here in NYC reminds me very much of what it was like right after 9/11. I am not the only person observing this. People are nervous, on edge. With good reason – hate crimes are on the rise! Nationwide, too. It didn’t escape my notice when we were the only house egged on Halloween – just over a week before the election. When I found more eggshells a couple days after the election, it was very unnerving. There’s a hideously ugly Hummer in our neighborhood that has at least THREE Trump stickers on it. It’s not the only vehicle that does. People in our neighborhood set off fireworks after Trump was announced as the winner of the election.
Beginning on election night, I started getting echo-tagged on Twitter. People began sending me pictures of Hitler, suggesting I end my life, and making statements about me not being a human because of my last name. Someone tried to hack my Facebook account, and I had several friend requests on Facebook from complete strangers who were clearly white supremacists I wouldn’t want to know. I never experienced anti-Semitism growing up. Why? Because I am descended from Plantagenets. The bad guys you root against in period movies, like Edward “Longshanks” and Prince John “The Phony King of England” – 21st great Grandfather and 23rd Great-Grandfather (John was the grandfather of Edward). I had ancestors on the Mayflower. Delaware is named for my ancestors. My ancestors fought on both sides of the Revolutionary War, and on the Union side in the Civil War. NO, that does not make me genetically superior in any way – just ironic that I am being maligned by neo-Nazis over what they assume about my ancestry. But then, nobody ever accused Nazis of being rational. Regardless, my neighborhood no longer feels safe, and I now have some idea of how my kids felt when they were bullied in elementary school for being Jewish.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, unfortunately. As someone with an (albeit “invisible”) physical disability, I am utterly terrified that the protections for pre-existing conditions provided for in the ACA could be removed, and that Social Security might be dismantled. I do not collect disability. I work. I work, and I pay taxes, and I pay into Social Security – as I have with every job I’ve had since I was a teenager. I am lucky to have private insurance, but if pre-existing conditions are no longer covered, I will lose the ability to get treatment for my incurable genetic condition (thanks, ancestors). So, if the GOP and the Cabinet of Horrors get what they want, I will end up in a wheelchair, in more significant chronic debilitating pain than I already have, and unable to work. I already know of three people with my condition who have committed suicide since the election because they were so overtaken with the fear of losing access to what few doctors are even versed in Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. if you know a person with a disability – and you probably do even if you are unaware of it – chances are they are frightened for their future now that someone who openly makes fun of the disabled has been elected.
Next, we move on to the fact that Trump is filling the Cabinet of Horrors with anti-LGBTQ+ picks. I am no stranger to anti-LGBTQ bullying. Sadly, neither is my youngest child. The fact that all of the progress that has been made for LGBTQ+ rights in recent years could be threatened by the Cabinet of Horrors is despicable. The fact that there are Trump supporters who feel that they now have a license to go after, harass, and target members of the LGBTQ+ community is disgusting. Trump may claim to have nothing against the community, but having Mike Pence as the VP pick clearly sends a different message. The message that Americans only deserve rights if they are heterosexual. The message that the safety of our community isn’t important. With Bible Thumpin’ Betsy Devos tapped to “lead” education, we are not only looking at a nightmare for public education, but also for the safety of our LGBTQ+ youth in public schools. It’s a disgrace.
I have spoken above about the triggers and experiences that affect me directly post-election. I am aware that, despite these, I have privilege. As someone with white European ancestry, and an invisible disability, I can pass for a straight, able-bodied WASP on the street, and usually only have to worry about being harassed or targeted because I am a woman (Tip: Yelling “HEY, RED!” at a woman? not charming.). I cannot begin to understand the terrible experiences that many of our fellow Americans encounter on a daily basis every day – things that are escalating post-election, just like everything I mentioned above, only worse. I want to make it very clear that Black Lives Matter. Very much. Now that Nazis are feeling emboldened, the risk to PoC is escalating, and it has already been high. Please take the time to educate yourself about the experiences of people who are going through this. Please be educated about what is happening to our black, Mexican, Muslim, and immigrant neighbors throughout the country. Please listen to hear. Please take the time to find out what you can do about it – contact your representatives, donate to reputable charities that help marginalized communities if you can, sign petitions, make your voice heard.
I have a poster on my door at work. It says “BEleive THEre is GOOD in the world.” Hate may have wrangled an electoral win in this election, but that doesn’t mean we give up.