Realpolitik and Rape Survival

A Survivor Comes To Terms With Biden

Image via NY Post

Five years ago, I cast a vote I never thought I’d cast – a vote for someone who was outspokenly anti-choice. That vote was for now-governor of Louisiana, Democrat John Bel Edwards.

Last year, I did it again. It felt even worse. This time, it was mere months after he shepherded one of the nation’s most aggressive anti-choice laws through our state government, which is now on pause as it works its way through the courts.

Even though I hated casting those votes, there was not even a moment of hesitation or regret, because the alternative was going to be worse. In these dark times, I am endlessly thankful for that anti-choice, sexist asshole.

In my years of therapy, I developed an anxiety-mitigation strategy not unlike the alcoholics’ Catholic Serenity Prayer. My version of it is essentially: if this shitty situation is going to happen no matter what I do, I must stop exerting effort against it to conserve my resources.

So when I am under tremendous stress, I have to separate from the situation, analyze all possible outcomes, and decide where to spend energy.

The abortion ban would have happened with would-be Governors David Vitter or Eddie Rispone; it was a constant, fixed element of our story. The legislators who wanted it were already there. It hurts, but it is a familiar place to be in a red state. When deciding whether I could vote for Edwards again, I had to consider that no matter how that last election had turned out, I would have had an abortion ban on my hands. It was a constant.

I bring all this up because I am doing the same emotional work, as I build up to voting for Joe Biden.

I am fighting against all of my instincts to support him. It’s not about policy differences, or his history of inappropriate touching (and weird touching), or even Anita Hill. Those were all reasons I couldn’t support him in the primary, but I knew I may have to get over should he win the nomination. I did that work; I came to terms with that long ago. I knew, intellectually, that I may have to take this medicine. I knew Trump is too dangerous.

Sexual assault is a pill I didn’t prepare to swallow.

I am a sexual assault survivor. Every time a man in power is accused of assault, I have a visceral, physical response to it. I feel nauseous, my chest tightens, my vision goes dim, and my knees go weak. I have to block out the news. I don’t usually participate in the conversations.

And Jesus Christ, I hate every conversation parcing all the details of an assault accusation, whether they are supportive of or hurtful to the victim – I hate them both. This back and forth brings me back to into the endless years of parcing my own details.

The details are so unimportant when the picture is so big. We don’t all have to be fucking CSI.

It’s especially hard when I hear about rape involving a person who has power over me. It’s a double-whammy, having a man living in my brain, erasing memories and triggering physical illness – and on top of that having the power to legislate whether I can access healthcare, whether I must have a child, whether I can be free.

When Trump was elected, it felt like the country had elected my rapist to be president. That they were putting him in charge of my life. I know that must sound absurd. Writing it out, it sounds so melodramatic.

Tara Reade’s story is believable. Her inconsistencies are typical trauma responses due to memory loss and confusion. That happened to me. It took years for me to remember my assaults. Before that, they lived deep inside me as a bad feeling, or a dream. It took years more for me to put two and two together, and realize that they were assaults.

This is why I don’t like everyone always parcing details. The story is not in the details. There aren’t tiny details that make it true or untrue; the details get lost.

Evidence is all over the place that Reade is telling the truth, yet you can’t deny that there’s some weirdness, too. Why is her lawyer someone who worked for Russian media outlet Sputnik and donated to Trump? I don’t trust the intentions of anyone who donated to Trump. Why would she only talk to Megyn Kelly?

Really, though? It doesn’t fucking matter. Not to me, because I have a poison pill to swallow no matter what the truth is – a truth I will probably never really know. None of us will.

People need to learn to accept that with sexual assault allegations. You, the public, will never know the truth beyond a shadow of a doubt. The endless struggle to wade through the evidence – to what end, to know who to unfollow on Twitter? – is not productive.

And here we are. I have to employ my anxiety-ridden serenity prayer-esque coping mechanism. Where is the part I can expend effort, and what is the constant that I have to leave alone so I don’t explode?

What could possibly happen next? 1) More evidence comes out against Biden, 2) Reade recants, 3) Some evidence comes out that Reade is lying. 4) Biden confesses.

In all cases, we still don’t know the absolute truth. In all cases, I don’t care to learn more, because Biden is another man in power who has problems with boundaries. To me, a man like that might as well be a rapist. If more evidence comes out, he will be exactly as guilty in my mind as he already is. If Reade recants, it might not be real anyway.

I know it might not be real because I recanted. I recanted to escape; not to exonerate.

If evidence comes out Tara Reade is lying, how can we be sure it’s real? The stakes of her accusations are so high, and so many people have a vested interest in it playing out one way or another, that there is no way for me to truly trust that I know the story.

I’m just going to rule out #4 because, let’s be real.

So where’s the constant? He’s always possibly a rapist. That is constant. That feeling will not go away. Two possible rapists are running for president (well, one we know for sure because he confessed). One will be president.

So no matter what happens with Tara Reade, I am at the same impasse.

Here is where I have to call upon myself to harden, like I had to do to reconcile voting for Edwards. Truthfully, I am never 100% surprised when I learn a man in power is a sexual predator. Schrodinger’s rapist, if you will.

Not every man will become a rapist; but a rapist *can* come from *anywhere*.

Intellectually, not much has changed. Any male president could be revealed to be a rapist at any time. Some would hurt more than others, but it could be. And I might not be that surprised. If men in power are more likely to rape; the president is more likely to be a rapist than most men.

That’s a constant. That’s a constant I never thought much about before, but it was always there.

And then, for every rapist you hear about, there are 30 otherwise good guys (who don’t rape) engaging in rape apology. Or maybe they are masquerading as feminist heroes, and those 30 good guys will use a woman’s sexual trauma as a weapon against a political opponent without a second thought.

(keep that last sentence in your heart during your internet arguments, guys – question why you are going to bat for Tara Reade)

If Biden isn’t a rapist, he’s definitely one of those 30 guys. I don’t feel great about them as president either.

All of this internal wrangling I’ve been doing came to a head when I read this the other day: “I Believe Tara Reade. I’m Voting for Joe Biden Anyway.” The gist is this: Linda Hirshman (who is an old school, sometimes problematic feminist) is being forced to make a terrible choice, and she is openly choosing to turn her back on Tara Reade for what she views is probably an overall benefit for women in the long run.

But the op-ed is not her touting her noble decision-making process and the great personal sacrifice she is making; it’s her public confession of shame, because it is so dark.

That’s fucking ugly. It’s ugly to admit. Yet as soon as I read that, I understood where all this friction was coming from; I have been working my way toward the same. It feels like a betrayal to Reade, a betrayal to other survivors, and a betrayal to my younger self. The problem is that I knew all along I’d betray them, and I’m having to come to terms with that.

You might say to me, “you don’t have to vote for him.” That’s true. But one of them will be president and I want to at least pretend I have some power over which one that is. I just cannot give all my agency up in this situation. It goes against my nature. Being ruled by men who mistreat women is a constant, fixed part of our story. It’s familiar. I won’t regret doing my best to cope when faced with an impossible choice.



  1. I am in exactly this place and have been for quite a while. People were shrieking and whinning about having to choose between the “best of two evils” in 2016, like that is not every day life. It’s no contest. Trump is raping everything, EVERYTHING, all the time. In my world, the biggest example is the actual ongoing and accelerating rape of the earth itself, by his profound commitment to accelerating climate change. But, that’s just the start of the massive list of things and people he’s fucked over since taking office, not the least of which is the country I was born in. I would certainly prefer to have someone other than Joe, I thought I would live to see a woman take the office, and now I don’t think so, which is really an indescribable grief if I think about it. But that doesn’t matter because while Joe is a bleak disappointment, he is absolutely the only option, and if we don’t all get behind him and push, we are all, ALL fucked.
    Also, I am so sorry for what you are living through now and for the last four years. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your experience. I wish you didn’t have to, but I’m thankful that you did. It is a heartbreaking time to be a woman, or to be someone who loves a woman (or a baby woman). We have fallen so far, so fast, into the huge underlying pit of mysogyne that it makes me too ill to think about it most of the time. This is why I hardly ever listen to the news anymore. I know I’m voting Dem, I know I’m working to turn out the vote, I know my extra money is going to Dems. That’s what I can do. I don’t need to be reminded every day of what will happen if we fail.

    • Yeah – it’s like, we all know the intellectual arguments for voting for Biden even if he sucks. That’s a no-brainer for me (I know some people here disagree with me on that, but I know they understand that part of the argument already). I just wanted to communicate the other angle – no matter what, I know that he’s the more logical choice for the things I want, but this is a huge obstacle for me, and so I get kind of chafed when people are like “oh how can you support some survivors but not Reade” and it’s like, jesus christ you cannot put people in that position considering what is happening right now. We are all making a deal with the devil.

      • Yes. It’s not a question of supporting her or not supporting her. I mean, what are we supposed to do, vote for Jill Stein so Trump can be president again? Write in Hilary?
        Ruth will not live forever, and we are a bunch of bastards to have forced her to slog through another four years, FFS. JFC, it’s not even worth talking about, though God knows we’re going to have to quite a bit more, I have no doubt. I absolutly don’t understand how it’s even a conversation.
        Plus, Joe seems pretty, um, not peppy? So I imagine it will actually be about who is VP and who they bring with them, and I hope and believe they bring some decent, sensible people. They could hardly do worse than what is in there right now.

  2. Adding to the stars comment. Can we please not have an old white man as the candidate? Regardless of their overt assaulty actions, they came of age in a time when all executives had a “girl to do that”, and power imbalances were normalized. I too have survived misogyny and assault, and like all women practice consistent danger awareness when walking down the street. But you betcha – Biden has my vote. I hope that those who couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Hilary will hold their noses and vote for Biden. The country can’t survive another four years of the current President.

    • Last time America chose someone other than an old white man to be President, they spent the better part of the last decade and a half undermining his Presidency and electing literally the worst candidate possible with the sole purpose of destroying his legacy.

      I don’t know how America is going to react to electing a woman, but fuck me, it’s long past time for it to happen.

    • Excellent point, too – maybe in my mind they’re all maybe-rapists, but they’re almost certainly Of A Certain Time where women as their equals in the workplace (even a legislative body) was not the norm for a long time.

  3. In 2003 Aaron Ralston amputated his own arm to free himself from an 800 lb boulder he had been trapped by in a climbing accident. He first spent 3 days trying to remove the boulder. He had to break his own arm because he didn’t have a tool to that would go through bone. Then he cut off his arm. If he hadn’t he would have died. You all know the story.
    This is the rock and a hard place so many of us find ourselves in with Biden as a candidate. How can I in good conscience vote for Joe Biden? How can I not? Voting for Joe Biden will be psychologically bad for me. But it could help other people.

    After Ralston amputated his own arm he made a tourniquet and hiked 7 miles to get help.
    Even with Biden, a man I believe is a rapist, at the very least a sexual harasser, as president we have a better chance of enacting policies that will make the world safer for women than if trump is re-elected.

    Years later Ralston was arrested for assaultIng his girlfriend, who was also arrested, the charges were later dropped. Because I can’t even write an analogy of working past personal trauma for the greater good without the man turning out to be a violent asshole.

    • It could help YOU. Unless you’re a blindingly rich asshole (which I know you are not) then Trump as president is not good for you, or anyone or anything you love. Even if you ARE a blindingly rich asshole, like Jeff Bezos, Trump is not good for you. I wish people had been able to see this last time, and we would have had a viable response to flipping COVID-19 right now, because no matter what you think of Hilary or her probably rapist husband, they would have made this shit work, and we would all be in a much better place as we speak and thousands more people would be alive as aren’t right this moment, and tomororw and the day after that.

  4. This is lovely writing, thank you for sharing your own difficulty in this time.

    You touched on a great point that I think is oft-overlooked: It’s ^&*%ing awful that sexual assault has become just another battleground for the culture war. But the outright glee that some people have shown in waving these accusations around publicly because it might help their favorite candidate is … honestly, words fail me for how grotesque it all is.

  5. Sadly, this is exactly the kind of shit that the Democratic establishment counts on. We get forced to vote for a piece of shit because he’s the DNC’s piece of shit. But, God forbid they stay out of the whole process and let actual citizens decide who we want to nominate because we might vote for someone super scary like a Socialist.

      • …pretty sure I’ve said this elsewhere but I think there’s a decent chance Elizabeth Warren may have been a better potential presidential candidate than any I’ve seen fielded in my lifetime & the way her campaign stalled out continues to mystify me

        …not that some of the other women weren’t plausibly better than Clinton but that particular lack of traction really puzzled me?

  6. Oof. As a survivor, I felt that when the country elected Trump. I’ve been avoiding the conversations for the same reasons. I know what I have to do, and will. But having to choose which rapist to vote for is a hard pill to swallow. It’s much harder for me to argue in his favor than it was for Hillary in 2016. Sure she was shitty to Bill’s victims, but at least she didn’t assault them herself.

    • With Trump it was really hard to go straight from him admitting sexual assault to him being elected in like a span of two weeks. That was a real mindfuck for me. I always had a bad taste in my mouth when people wanted Hillary to pay for Bill’s sins. She definitely has to answer for how shitty she was to his victims, but he was the fucking perpetrator.

      • There was an entire level of sexism to Hillary’s campaign that I don’t think the left has really reckoned with. We keep asking ourselves how come someone like Warren couldn’t maintain positive momentum, but there’s still a lot of liberals who feel entirely justified in blaming Hillary for Bill’s crimes.

        I mean it wasn’t just that, but even something like the Crime Bill was pegged on Hillary, even when Joe Biden authored it and Bernie Sanders signed it. Biden hasn’t had to answer much for his role in crafting it and frequently saying he’s proud of something that led directly to the for-profit prison industry and to the incarceration of millions of men and women of color, but Kamala Harris was frequently referred to as a “cop” for her role while she was a prosecutor in California.

        Men are often forgiven for their trespasses while women can’t escape literally anything they’ve done. This is true on the left as well on the right. There are still men blaming Warren for not dropping out sooner to cede the Progressive vote to Bernie. And I have no idea how we fix it without making everyone do a whole lot of soul searching.

        • A-fucking-men. She had to answer for everything her husband and the men in the Senate at the time did. And when the right brought up Benghazi or something stupid, it was also harmful to respond to “well yeah she is a flawed candidate” (I’m as guilty as anyone of that). It is fine to have not wanted her to be president but to hold her up against Trump and think that at best they were equal is the sexismest thing I can think of. And now, Warren who had been very nearly flawless this campaign (more than the two men who duked it out to the end) was brushed aside. The fact that the women in the race saying many of the same things as the men, and often with more clarity and evidence, keeping their cool on debate stages – the fact they went home with such a small percentage of the votes – should be a big fucking wake up call on the left.

          But it won’t be.

        • The way the crime bill was used as a cudgel against her, when the men responsible for actually passing it got a mulligan; while simultaneously casting her as against healthcare when she was vilified for pushing That as First Lady really encapsulated the blatant misogyny of anti-Hillary sentiment for me.

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