Tuesday, October 18, 2016

“The Clothes Have No Emperor” by Lucia Cordell Getsi

In response to comments regarding Hillary's deportment in the last debate, I think there is simply something more visceral, more important going on than WikiLeaks' revelations, whether or not they have to do with Russia's wish to interfere with a presidential election (toward which I think the shreds evidence I have read point). 

Nobody in American history has ever had to confront and abide what faced Candidate Hillary Clinton in the second debate. The first woman ever to run for President was glowered at, stalked, menaced, grimaced at, hulked over, crowded by, shadowed with, encroached upon by, this unpredictable, barely in control, megalomaniacal, mentally 13 years old spoiled and pampered bratty bully for 90 minutes. 

Watching it brought up unspeakable horrors of my past and the common past of millions of women my age and older and younger. My age--Hillary's age--is a pivotal age though: it is a fulcrum against which the ideas of feminism and equality were torqued against the realities of ownership of women and slave chattel, ownership that persisted into the 21st century but which was daily bread through most of the 20th and before. 

Almost nobody my age survived into middle age and beyond without being: raped, often multiple times, by boyfriends or strangers, neighbors whose children we babysit when we were children ourselves, preachers we confessed to, church elders who watched, sometimes ogling, over us, fathers and brothers, cousins, husbands of friends of our parents, the uncle in the house of the aunt whom we stayed with when our mother was in the hospital having the baby, the older than us and dashingly handsome foreign exchange student who made his way with his practiced expertise upstairs while the house was sleeping and down again before it awoke to the banter of a southern breakfast of eggs, grits and biscuits with white bacon gravy and the silence knitting itself a cocoon around the experience in darkness that had no name or face but would follow you forever like a bad dream.

This is raw, I know, and it stinks because it has been dead and buried for such a long time. But folks, I cannot begin to tell you how real this is. Sexual assault is common as dirt with men like Trump on a sexual power trip. 

Any woman, or man for that matter, like the girls in the Miss Teen Pageant that Trump owned and conflated with ownership of the girls in it and by extension all girls and women, whom he walked in on while they were undressed, is scarred by the Trumps of the world, though I am sure the Trumps are all pleased and would change the word "scarred" to "branded"--and get a sexual rush from the territorial marking. 

In the South of the 40s, 50s, 60s of my memory, even now, violence against women and minorities was breathed in our very air, swallowed in the water and food, woven into the fabric of our lives, the odds of getting to be an adult woman virgin similar to the odds of remaining a virgin in a nunnery when the crusaders passed through, so low that nunnery was a synonym for brothel. 

The whole Trump thing has dredged up from the bottoms such a sticky cauldron of assaults and helplessness, of being forced into unspeakable situations where I/we could not defend myself/ourselves or someone else by outing the perpetrator without outing the victim or myself/ourselves only to make their or my/our victimization and persecution far worse--all those silent tombs of sadness and betrayal and fear and shame feel in me as though the stone of silence rolled over them to keep them in mute darkness are being leveraged away by all the courageous speaking voices now. 

Even as a professor, there were so many times I tried but could not protect my graduate students or myself from the power boys (old or just as often young). I am still haunted ten years after retirement, and now the hauntings surface once more as acute memories. All awakenings are painful, the rememberings as ghastly as the original dismemberings.

This is one such dredging-up that provoked a massive response on her FB page from dozens of friends not FB friends, but closed to all but close friends--I repeat it here though I withhold her name: Response to a comment on Facebook that baby boomers ignore accounts of sexual assault and millennials laugh about it. Because it’s common; it's no big deal.

Imagine that you are in that room, watching a tall, hefty, rich and powerful man grab the genitals of the—let's say victim, since the behavior is not invited. 

The victim is surprised, horrified, then ashamed, but does nothing, because the person doing the grabbing is a large and intimidating male. This man is strong. This man could destroy a career. This man could hurt or belittle the victim in front of others. Add to this the immediate and paralyzing shock of the sudden grabbing. You can see it on the victim's face. Horror. The redness of shame starting to appear. It would be difficult to move, with that man’s hand gripping a most tender and private area.

The man uses his body to press against the victim, completely covering and making his victim disappear as a self-owned body. The victim feels helpless. Ashamed. Afraid of what could happen next. And knows all the while that telling this story will incur public shame and public disbelief. Ridicule. Even if the victim fights back, the accusation is still suspect. The public would believe a story of being robbed or mugged but not a story of being groped. Sexual assault raises all the damning cries of fakery and ulterior motive, of “asking for it.” Especially if the victim is too ashamed to report it unless/until similar accounts from other victims support the story.

So, this victim is being grabbed by the genitals by a man who imagines he can do anything like this. You're there. You see that man's hand between the victim's legs. The smug look on the man's face. A look that says, you have no agency here; I take what I want from you.

Imagine that the victim is your brother. Your best buddy. Imagine that he finds out the same thing has happened to six, ten, twenty other men in the building who work for this bully. Imagine that no one believes him, or them as a group if they all come forward, and your brother is inundated with hate mail calling him a horrible, horrible liar and worse. He'll likely lose his job.

Would you tell your brother to lie back and take it because this is no big deal?" So that is one response of the literally thousands and thousands I have read on FB and in the responses to news alerts from several dozen sources that bing me moment by moment on my devices. 

Everybody, but especially those my age, is having nauseating and terrifying flashbacks and they are speaking in floods of unstoppable words. The person who wrote it is a writer, poet and literary scholar, so it is well-shaped to deliver a point. Most are not that shapely, but they are searing, like hot tongs that reach inside you to pull out all the cancerous secrets you have left there in silence to fester--or perhaps not in silence, but they have been in there festering anyway. 

I have dealt with my wounds, sometimes again and again. I'm a writer and poet and have shaped, formed, poetized and scholared and translated my fears and others' fears into my own language and learned the language of their fears, and am used to verbalizing--managing sort of-- the unspeakable. Many of us have come to political and psychological consciousness in the 60s, have talked our deepest fears and nightmarish experiences through and thought they were resolved or at least resolved enough. Well, resolution, like revolution, is never over. It is the nature of memory and PTSD to re-member the whole experience, each time it is evoked in similar circumstances in the present. 

But you know, there is one type of fear monger that we just didn't verbalize to the point of shaping it into history or literature or law or psychology: the Trumps. We didn't do it because Trumps, at least the little and small time rumps, are ubiquitous, common as dirt, every school has a few, every corporation, every church or hospital, every franchise, they were the fabric of every situation of power and so they have kind of remained hidden, allowed to exist because they were everywhere, still are, and if you are a woman or man and especially a minority woman or man of little or no means, they have a kind of economic ownership of you. 

This is the guy who had any kind power over you and used or let it be understood that he could use that power--no he might not rape you or hit you outright. But he would use his power--a graduate professor/mentor has huge power. 

The professor who first read my attempt at a novel at 18 simply offered to drive me home as it was late, and drove off the highway and into the woods and then several other times, home from a class party at his house. Thirty years later he was removed from his position two years before he would retire--a graduate student consulted a lawyer, not that she wanted to get him fired, but he wouldn't accept her thesis unless she continued to sleep with him. 

The lawyer called the president of the university and told him he was going to have papers served and pursue a lawsuit, and the professor was marched out of his office never to return. The lawyer said there had been a trail of students, but this was the first active case of not granting a degree unless sexual favors were granted or continued to be granted. 

The little Trump would ogle the details through prurient spectacles if he were your counselor, or fire you if he were your boss and did not put out or if not fire you, make you work for less money or in demeaning ways thinking himself a good guy because he gave you any job at all, or hold it over you that you were surely a slut and he could touch you if he wanted to, or embarrass you publicly or fail you if he were your principal, teacher, or professor or coach, he could touch you, lay hands on you as though he were entitled by some kind of ownership, and NOT doing it was a favor worthy of your esteem and gratitude, because he could, at any time, ruin your life, expose you as the charlatan or impostor or failure or ugly girl (or boy) that he made you believe you were or believe in his power to name you as that, the research professor who put his name on your work and laughed when you asked him about it, laughed harder when you asked his buddy the Department Chair about it, the cop who kept stopping you just to get your license and remind you he knew where you live, the cop who kept stopping your daughter to remind you he knew where you both lived, man-less and therefore protection-less in your little home. 

The ubiquitous Trump is common and hated and feared--but he is usually not the stuff of nightmares and mythmaking. To become that he has to think of himself as that and learning to wield the sleazy, narcissistic power of great wealth he did not earn, the wealth he was allowed to believe from youth he could recreate again and again with the power of his personality, a cult unto himself, the god of his little world that kept growing with each snatch of a woman's body, each time he fired, each time he was not stopped and stopping him became hard because he thrives on his own image, and any publicity is good, notoriety is better than the nothingness and the emptiness within the clothes and all the trappings of power and wealth, his name like tomcat spray marking everything he touches, his name his destiny. 

Trump has only risen to nightmarish and mythic proportions right now at this moment. No ordinary Trump has ever had all the elements needed to become a symbol of something larger than an asshole. That is why nobody has really heard the outrageous things he always says out in the open--no person of stature has ever taken him seriously enough to hear him, to see his actions as anything more than disgusting or what is expected of the common as dirt trumps who don't resort to murder or stalking or obviously against the law actions. 

Trump himself never took himself seriously on that kind of magnificent operatic stage. He was very content to keep tomcat-spraying his name all over the gaudiest buildings and resorts and casinos the world has ever seen and grabbing and pressing and "copping feels"--until he came to be roasted publicly at the Press Club by a black man who was truly the most powerful man in the world. You could see on his face on camera: He was seething in a blind fury of hatred, every pore, the set of his jaw said, "I am going to be as big as you so I can fire you and take your job, and then I will be all powerful!" 

At that moment of murderous retaliation contemplation worthy of the Macbeths, he became the stuff of myth and nightmare creepy crawling through the deepest caverns of fear and across the common embedment of the lesser ubiquitous trumps to become the most terrifying person America has ever had to contemplate becoming President, a man who could ruin, pillage, destroy any person or type of person, en masse, he wanted. Trump sees types, not people. And the Trump-type at that moment began to make himself an archetype.

Well, now, to continue with my response regarding Hillary's performance at the second debate with the pussy monster: yes, she was a little bit unhinged from her usual total control of self and situation. Controlling the PTSD-level emotional and psychological hurricane forces that were swirling within and around her, the Hulk looming over her and invading her personal space; yes I counted twice where for the first time she not only did not answer but obviously forgot entirely the question asked by the moderators. 

After the debate, I watched her on her plane talking to reporters briefly. She was still holding it together, but she was visibly drained, like she had been beset by a public carnival of vampires. And suddenly, nearly in mid-sentence, she said “Good night” and turned and disappeared behind the curtain into privacy. 

I was worn out from watching that debate, scared to death that this crazy, looming and stalking and leering and grimacing and towering man was going to just lose it and send her flying or start choking her right there on stage. 

I felt like I had run a marathon of my own deepest fears, and could not settle to sleep all night, memories burbling up from the seething cauldron I thought had long since cooled and frozen over. The cauldron is still seething and running over. 

Every time I post on FB, the responses of women boil over. I boil over when I read their postings. I feel again and again what Michelle Obama described as being touched to her very core in a way she could not anticipate. 

Like her, I could not even put words to it for a time--it was like all the hidden assaults of the past, like did I just see what I thought I was seeing, did that just happen, and if so what was it that happened? What is its name? I felt it as more like being gored, a stomach full of secrets I had thought I had expressed but I guess not, spilling out of me, the emblematic perpetrator gliding around his target, and I felt like a child wanting to jump into the picture screen and save Bambi's mother! My fear during that debate was atavistic and though I knew it was completely irrational, uncontrollable.

When you have been through all sides of protecting victims and being a victim, there are but two possible ways to deal with the emotional tumult set loose by having to remember it all again in an instant: say little or nothing or say entirely too much. I have said entirely too much here, but I can't stop.

I voted the first day I could after that debate and wore my sticker for days. Absolutely nobody but women there voting with me, and our lips were tight, determined lines closed around the sentence our ballot would utter. 

I have never seen women going to a voting booth have this kind of look and posture before. People in the stores and in the doctor's office and on the streets and in hallways for the days I wore my sticker asked me who I voted for, not jokingly but in earnest as if they really were pleading for advice, and I answered: "WOMEN!”

Up and down the ballot every woman I could find even if they were running unopposed, and every minority person on the democratic side of the ballot, and one lone white Republican state senator because he is the kind of decent, non-partisan, break with the Party if the Party is wrong, hard-working for the nitty-gritty work of the state that has to get done, despite the Governor, kind of guy, Republican or not. The sorts of Republicans who used to be some of my closest friends but who seem now to be all dead or closing in on nursing homes.

Yes, of course, there are crucial issues other than this one, but is hard to think about those as more than distractions as none is more important than this one: a dangerously vicious, brutally retaliatory, openly and proudly racist and misogynistic, unhinged from all truth, termed “pathologically narcissistic” by Charles Krauthammer, insanely perverse Father Karamazov of a human laceration, an unredeemable load of human waste that is the apex of millennia of his destructive kind writ small or large, is commanding the full attention of the press, the country, and the entire world--and even if he does not become President, he will try to make women's lives and the lives of good people everywhere nightmares for as long as he lives. 

Another good FB post I've seen several times: “Hell hath no fury like a bully scorned.” However, he cannot perceive, and therefore is left vulnerable, that he has unleashed the tsunami of justice of the “woman” that belongs in that sentence, only not the woman scorned, but the woman empowered, the woman who has faced her worst bogeyman, who can simply, calmly, look down and announce that his fly is unzipped, and oh too bad, there is nothing in there, nothing behind the buttons, in the cuffs, stretching the collar, holding up the cap or bracing the tie--and then turn toward critically important things alongside that woman in the White House, just vacated by the black man who trumped Trump. 

However, now that he knows he has lost the election, nothing is going to stop him from producing Trump T.V.! Surely, surely, there must be a way the media can just not give him front page or air him anymore. Probably nothing to be done about his tweets, but nobody has to read those.

—Lucia Cordell Getsi, October 18, 2016

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