“‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers/That perches in the soul –/And sings the tune without the words/And never stops – at all ,” Emily Dickinson said.
For millions of us watching the debacle surrounding Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination process, hope, if not completely stopped, is nearly at a standstill.
Even as we, queer and hetero, dared to believe that #MeToo was changing the culture, the events around Kavanagh’s nomination have led us to temper our hopes.
Who will ever forget what they ate for breakfast or when they stopped working to look at their phone that day, Sept. 27? When Christine Blasey Ford courageously, before the Senate Judiciary Committee and the world, testified that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her when they were teens. (Kavanaugh denies that he sexually assaulted or engaged in sexual misconduct with Ford or any of the other women who have accused him of sexual assault or sexual misconduct.)
One of the most telling moments for me was when Ford said that Kavanaugh and Mark Judge had laughed at her, “having fun at my expense.”
As I heard Ford’s story, like so many women, I recalled the times in my life when I’d experienced sexual harassment. Thankfully, I’ve never been raped or sexually assaulted. But there was the time when I was in an elevator between two men joking about rape. There was the day when I quickly got out of a cab at a stoplight because the driver began coming on to me.
I was in an airport days after Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose were fired because they had sexually harassed women they’d worked with. The news about their firings was on the airport TV. As I waited for my flight, a man said to me, “hey, you should give Matt Lauer your phone number! It would be great for you!”
As so often happens with survivors of sexual assault, Ford has been dogged by people (mostly men) wanting to know why she waited so long to tell anyone — her family or the police — about what happened to her. Only recently, with #MeToo, has it begun to be understood why women (and men) don’t immediately come forward when they’ve been sexually assaulted or harassed. Shame, fear of being blamed or of facing reprisals (if, for example, the sexual assault occurred in the workplace) can keep victims from coming forward.
So, sexual assault survivors often turn inward or to counseling. “I brought it up in therapy, which seemed an appropriate place to deal with the sequelae [aftereffect] of the assault,” Ford said at the hearing.
Kavanaugh’s demeanor was a brutal contrast to Ford’s brave honesty and vulnerability. Kavanaugh’s red-faced fury and partisan insults will be forever etched in our brains. “This whole two-week effort has been a calculated … political hit fueled with pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election,” Kavanaugh fumed, “revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups.”
The Senate could vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination late this week after the FBI conducts an investigation into the allegations against Kavanaugh. It’s hard to believe that the investigation will be fair or impartial.
The votes may not be there to keep Kavanaugh from being confirmed, and even if he isn’t, the Republicans would likely have the votes to confirm another conservative justice to the Supreme Court.
Yet, not all hope is lost. Queer women supported gay men during the height of the AIDS epidemic. Sexual violence is as vital an issue for LGBTQ people as marriage equality or employment discrimination. #MeToo is an opportunity for LGBTQ folk to support male, female and gender queer sexual assault survivors in our community and the wider culture. Do this so your sisters, spouses, children, friends and colleagues will still have Emily D’s “thing with feathers.”
Kathi Wolfe, a writer and a poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.