As Dr. Christine Blasey Ford was providing her opening testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday morning, I had a hard time focusing on the exact words she was saying.
I was distracted by the look of fear in her eyes, the way her voice quivered, the way she was intimately familiar with the story she was delivering, and yet so uneasy saying the words out loud. The way she was trying to stay composed while talking about the worst day in her life, as a way to put those who were watching more at ease.
My experiences weren’t perfectly mirrored in Dr. Ford’s story, but it didn’t matter. I recognized enough of myself in her delivery, and in the emotions she described, to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was telling the truth.
I doubt I’m alone. In the U.S., one in three women and one in six men are survivors of sexual violence. I am simply one of millions of survivors who saw themselves in Dr. Ford’s testimony, and who relived their own trauma alongside her.
I am one of millions who were overwhelmed by her bravery and composure. And yet, I didn’t take any comfort in it. Instead, I find myself more distressed than ever that this is the bar. Dr. Ford is a well-educated white woman from an upper-class background, who managed to stay collected, polite, and coherent during a malicious line of questioning on national television. And even though she handled it all better than could have been imagined — the Republicans’ most noteworthy “gotcha moments” were that she was able to overcome her fear of flying because of her patriotism, and that her lawyers paid for her polygraph test — many still don’t believe her.
To me, Dr. Ford is a hero. But she’s a hero we shouldn’t need.
I’m not here to go into excruciating detail about my own sexual assault. Unlike Dr. Ford, I don’t have the courage to make all of that public. And thankfully, unlike Dr. Ford, I’m not going to be forced to.
I can tell you that there are plenty of differences between my sexual assault and Dr. Ford’s.
First off, I don’t know much about my assaulter, but I know he was a poor, possibly mentally ill, middle-age minority, the type of person who doesn’t hold much power — politically or otherwise — in this country. I’m never going to see his face on a national news program, or have to worry about him being granted a lifetime appointment to the most powerful court in the nation. I didn’t know him before the attack, and I’ve never seen him again since.
I was 24, not 15, and I’d had far more than the one beer that Dr. Ford remembers drinking the day of her assault. My attacker didn’t push me into a room, pin me to a bed, and put his hand over my mouth to silence me, as Dr. Ford recalls Kavanaugh doing. He didn’t have to. I was unconscious for most of it. My memories of the night aren’t vague because it happened 36 years ago; they’re vague because they never existed in the first place.
But when Dr. Ford said, “[T]he details about that night … have been seared into my memory and have haunted me episodically as an adult,” I completely understood.
She remembers the music being turned up, the weight of Kavanaugh’s body, the way Kavanaugh and Mark Judge laughed during the assault, and how she escaped and hid into the bathroom, until she could eventually exit out the front door.
I remember the smell of his breath and the coarseness of his beard as I regained consciousness, and the way he tried to fill in my memory gaps by painting himself as a hero in my story, as someone who saved me. “I love you, Lindsay,” the stranger said to me, repeatedly.
When Dr. Ford said, “I was too afraid and ashamed to tell anyone these details,” I nodded along. I still haven’t talked to many close friends and family members about that night. I’m old enough to know, logically, that it’s not my fault. And yet, my feelings aren’t always on the same page.
When she talked about the struggles she had, academically, socially, and emotionally, in the four years that followed the assault, I thought of the years I spent finding every excuse to stay in my house, pushing friends and family away, and avoiding relationships at all costs. I thought of how many years it took me to be able to sit at a bar, alone, even just for a few minutes, while a friend went to the bathroom. How long it felt for my body to feel like my own again.
I almost fell apart when she said, “I convinced myself that because Brett did not rape me, I should just move on and just pretend that it didn’t happen.” Because so many times, I’ve dismissed my own trauma by telling myself, “It could have been worse. I’m one of the lucky ones.”
It was gutwrenching to watch Dr. Ford’s testimony, to be taken back to such a dark place. But watching the punditry about her testimony was much more difficult — and, I fear, tells us much more about where we are as a society.
Before the hearing, CNN host Wolf Blitzer compared it to the ‘showdown” between Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas in 1991. During a break in Dr. Ford’s testimony, Fox News host Chris Wallace said that the Republicans had failed to “lay a glove on the witness.” These colloquialisms might sound innocent, but to me, they’re a reminder that for so many people, this is not reality. Our trauma is their political theater.
In fact, President Trump confirmed this was all a game to him in his press conference on Wednesday night. “If the Republicans win tomorrow, I think you’re going to get some votes,” he said, implying that he believed some Democrats could still vote to confirm Kavanaugh, depending on how Thursday’s hearing went.
Pundits seemed to think that Dr. Ford’s testimony was effective. But things took a sharp turn toward the dark side when Kavanaugh began his testimony. He was as angry and unhinged as Dr. Ford was composed and polite. And, excruciatingly enough, it seemed to work. His performance got instant praise from conservative sources, inside and outside the White House.
Then, Lindsey Graham took the mic, and absolutely exploded, calling the hearing the “most unethical sham since I’ve been in politics.” His fear — the fear of many white, powerful, rich men — is that now, no man is ever going to be able to be elected or appointed to any position of influence, because a woman will come out of the woodwork with an unfounded sexual assault allegation, just for fun. These people don’t look at Dr. Ford and see a brave survivor who is putting herself and her family through hell just to tell her truth. They see her as a threat to the systemic power structures that have taken them to the top, a threat that must be destroyed at all costs.
Nobody “wins” in this situation. And, even if the #MeToo movement takes a small step forward in the national conversation due to Dr. Ford’s testimony, this shouldn’t have to be the price of progress.
I never like to speak for all survivors, but I think I can say with certainty that since Dr. Ford’s allegations against Kavanaugh surfaced, the news cycle has felt like a battlefield for us. I’ve been dreading the hearing for days, knowing what a big moment it would be for the public’s understanding of sexual violence, for women, and for survivors.
The weight of the world was on Dr. Ford’s shoulders, the unfair but unavoidable expectations of survivors like myself resting on whether or not she came off as “credible,” whatever that means. She did. I’m grateful beyond comprehension. And yet, her bravery might not matter. Kavanaugh might get confirmed anyway. That’s terrifying. I’m trying not to let it be defeating.
I’m sure that as the weeks and years go by, I’ll forget many details of what happened on Thursday. But, like the cold, callous touch of my attacker’s hands on my chest, there are certain things that are seared in my memory forever: Kavanaugh’s anger, Graham’s terror, and Dr. Ford’s incessant apologies, even though she was the only person that day who had nothing to be sorry for.
But, most of all, I know I’ll remember that familiar fear in her eyes, and the shakiness of her voice. And the fact that even though she didn’t want to be there, and shouldn’t have had to be there, she pressed forward. It was devastating. It was inspiring. It was survival.