Over the past, year or so, I've started giving MYSELF trigger warnings. You know, those warnings everyone's using now to signal that something disturbing is about to be shown/heard/discussed/written about. Since the last presidential election, I've actually stopped watching almost ALL news broadcasts, as I realized they were doing serious damage to my psyche. TRIGGER WARNING, Self: You're about to hear Voldemort's voice. You're about to hear another lie. You're about to hear the POTUS make another sexist/racist/inflammatory/idiotic remark/gesture/joke. STOP NOW.
I do listen to a little NPR and watch a bit of John Oliver and Stephen Colbert, just to keep abreast of headlines, and that's how I know what's going on with Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination and the accusations of Christine Blasey Ford. The story TRIGGERED a memory from my youth that put the Kavanaugh fiasco in perspective and made me instantly want to be braid Ford's hair and be her BFF.
When I was 13, I was invited to a "Hi-Y" girls' sleepover at our local Omaha YMCA. Hi-Y was the Y's community outreach program for young teens. I had permission from my mom to attend (my working single mom was probably thrilled to have one of her four kids safe and cared for somewhere else, for one blessed night). The sleepover would be chaperoned by an adult Y employee. We would be in lockdown starting at 8 p.m. There would be games, pizza, pop...a Petticoat Junction pajama party, right? Wrong. SO wrong.
I was a little surprised, when I showed up with my sleeping bag and duffel, to learn that the chaperone was a 21-year-old guy, Mark. All was well until dark. As soon as the sun set, Mark unlocked the door long enough to let in the guys and the beer. At first, it was kinda cool. I didn't drink, but we played Twister, listened to music, and danced. Then, as the alcohol kicked in, things got weird. Guys started coaxing, insisting, and trying to take girls off to darker corners of the Y. Some girls went along; some, like me, turned into trapped rabbits. No sign of Mark.
At one point, I found my way to the basement and hid, hunkered down in the corner of a big shower room. My plan was to hide there until morning, when Mark would unlock the front door. But some wandering teen boy I didn't know found me. There was only one way out of the shower room, and he blocked it. I tried to get past. He grabbed me, groped me, tried to shove me down onto the concrete floor. His hands went everywhere, and I was desperately trying to pull down my shirt, keep my pants up, push him off me, keep his slimy mouth away from my body, and get past him, all at the same time. I was screaming, panicked, convinced I'd be raped. I was 13, and I WAS TERRIFIED. Finally, thanks to the beer, I managed to swing around him and get out the door. I ran upstairs, went in the office, and called my mom to come and get me (TOTAL humiliation!). Then I CLIMBED THE PEPSI MACHINE and perched on top. I made myself stop crying and even tried to muffle my breathing, so I wouldn't be discovered. I backed against the wall and made myself as small as I could, until my mom showed up.
And here's my point: It was sexual assault because I was not a willing participant.
It doesn't matter what I was wearing, how I looked, walked, or tilted my pretty head. It doesn't matter that alcohol was involved, or that no actual intercourse happened. It doesn't matter that boys are different from girls. It doesn't matter that the kid turned out to be 16, or that we all know 16-year-old boys are walking T-bombs (testosterone), or that he came from a troubled home, or that he didn't have any strong male role models, or or or or.
This issue is way bigger than my little lower middle-class white girl bad memories. If Brett Kavanaugh turns out to have done this and then lied about doing it, and if he doesn't get that it's sexual assault and not "a little harmless fun," as some have suggested, and if he gets appointed to our highest judicial body in spite of having done this (if he did), then TRIGGER WARNING: The Supreme Court can no longer protect us.