I haven’t slept in two days. Not for lack of trying; I’m tired, I get to bed at my normal hour, read for ten or fifteen minutes, and turn off the light. But when I close my eyes, instead of falling to sleep, I find my mind bombarded with flashbacks of the day’s news. Hours of nervous fidgeting follow, hours of turning over and over in my bed like a rotisserie chicken trying to get comfortable on a spit. When dawn comes, I get up, my heart jackhammering in my chest, and I want to puke. And I know what the problem is - I’m triggered.
Being "triggered" of course, is the psychological state of being exposed to discomfiting information or imagery that brings on a profound, upsetting emotional experience. The word is generally used to demean people who feel things. Having never been triggered before, I didn't fully understand it until now. And there's no other word to express my level of anxiety. I am full-on triggered.
The question I’ve been struggling to answer is: why? Why have the headlines of the last few days upset me so much? I’m no longer concerned about a Trump presidency. That monster will never get near the White House. But the damning tape from 2005 in which he and the “journalist” Billy Bush casually discuss Trump’s attempts to “fuck” Billy’s married co-worker and Trump’s assertion that he doesn’t ask permission from women to kiss them or “grab their pussies,” left me feeling sick.
To be clear, I’ve never been the victim of sexual assault, although I once sat too hard on my bicycle’s crossbar. But I have never experienced sexual trauma at the hands of another. So it’s not as if I’m being triggered because of something that happened to me. It’s more than that. It’s the culmination of a year and a half of the worst of humanity, in particular male humanity, given voice and legitimacy by tens of millions of my fellow citizens. It is the shrugging of the shoulders at hate speech directed at every conceivable minority in the nation, as well as women, who constitute the majority. It’s a year and a half of receiving thousands of anti-Semitic Twitter messages directed at me through Twitter. It’s watching the rise of the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to an American fascist and his sweaty band of sycophants defending his every stupid, fucking utterance. And the millions of people going along with them. It’s watching my country popping apart at seams I once thought were strong. I didn’t think it would get this far. I was wrong.
I didn’t think our country was so filled with sexual abuse. I was wrong about that, too.
Last Sunday night, as I prepared to watch the presidential debate, I read a few Twitter friends saying they’d be unable to watch because doing so might reawaken their own sexual traumas. My friend Kelly started a hashtag, #notokay, in which people shared details of their own sexual assaults. She got tens of thousands of responses. Last night, my thirteen-year-old and I were out together, and I explained sexual assault to her, and I told her that if anything like that should ever happen to her, to tell somebody – hopefully, to tell me – that she never feel like it’s ever fault or that she should feel ashamed. That we are here to help her, to be her advocates, to support her. And, as I told her all of this, walking through Manhattan, I worried what people would think of me walking arm in arm with a teenage girl. I don’t know if I told her the right things or not. Nobody tells you how to have that conversation.
I talked to my son, too. He’s fifteen and he wants a girlfriend. I told him, when he’s courting a girl, he needs to respect her boundaries and personal space, that no means no. I told him some girls find themselves attracted to guys who treat them like shit, but he should never make the mistake of becoming one of those guys, even if it means those girls only ever see him “as a friend.” Treat women with respect, I told him, and go slow. I don’t know if I told him the right things or not. Nobody tells you how to have that conversation, either.
And, of course, when I woke up this morning, my pulse was racing. I tried watching the news but could not. I tried reading the paper but could not. Because I’m triggered. And I welcome those who would mock me for being so. I welcome the hatred they will send me and the Pepe the Frog memes and the references to my being a “special snowflake” and the “safe space” I undoubtedly need. Because they are right. I am scared. Not for me. For my family, and for the culture. I don’t know what will happen when Donald Trump returns to destroying businesses, but I hope that we will all kind of shake ourselves awake after this long and sleepness night and realize we can do better. That we deserve better. That we are better.