Late night in a Paris hotel two weeks before the American election, 15 minutes into watching a recording on my laptop of a Michele Obama speech recorded in New Hampshire, my 80-year old mother resisting sleep in bed next to me says, “Have you ever been sexually abused?”
Michele Obama was expressing indignation over the disparaging remarks that Donald Trump has made about women. She expressed outrage about the fact that a major candidate running for president of the United States finds it acceptable to molest women. What’s even more outrageous is that he has a large following and is setting an example for young people. I want to believe in 2016 it’s impossible to elect a president with those values and perspectives. It seems impossible to believe that the American people would actually elect a racist, sexist, bigot, and somehow these values resonate with a large portion of our populous.
Somewhere in the back of my mind and memory, I recall what it was like to be in college 25 years ago surrounded by fraternities, and as much as those boys acted like they respected women in public, I know the same Trump-like comments and conversations were happening behind closed doors. Locker-room talk as it’s being called today.
The answer to my mother’s question is complex. Has a man ever treated me the way Michele Obama described in her speech? Yes. Did it hurt? Yes. Did I get support? Sometimes. Is there more? Yes. Would I like to share it with my Mom, now, in this way? No. I was focused on the speech and truthfully didn’t want to engage in that level of discussion with my mother as she mumbled it out moments before drifting off to sleep. To me, a conversation about sexual abuse is serious and deserves the full attention of the person asking.
As I’ve aged, I’ve made conscious choices about where I live, who I spend my time with, what I read, listen to, put in my body, do with my body and breathe. I’ve positioned myself in communities that for the most part, share my values. I’ve let go of toxic relationships and made deliberate choices to put my energy into supportive relationships. I check in with my moral compass when absorbing news and tap into the critical thinking skills I’ve been privileged enough to study. I form my own opinions. I make my own choices. I stopped letting the presidential race have power over my nervous system. It is beyond my control. I cast my vote and let go.
I had to get some distance. I completed my absentee ballot early and fled. I am enjoying being in spaces where I’m not bombarded by uncomfortable political exchanges with friends and family. Americans are at home focused on the election, making this the perfect time to visit anywhere else.
In writing this now, and feeling into this experience with my Mom I feel compelled to say that this outrageous behavior unfolding on the political stage opens the opportunity for families, friends, and communities to talk about sexual misconduct. And when you do, and I hope that you will, please do it with care, with your full attention, with openness, with respect, with confidentiality. Be prepared to set your judge and counselor aside. Listen to the person speaking. Pause when they come to the end of a sentence. Wait. Wait a little longer. Ask if there is more. There is almost always more. Feel your own feelings when they speak and listen. Take care of yourself as a listener. If you are not able to give your 100 - 60% attention, remove yourself respectfully from the conversation and offer to return when you can give your full attention. Thank them for sharing. Feel your feelings. Listen. Give them a lot of space in the form of you being silent and empathetic when you speak.
I believe we all have a lot of healing to do, and when we share, when we give voice to our wounds, healing occurs. Nothing to force. Nothing to do. Just be present. Listen.