Does my Trump-voting father need to know about my past sexual assaults?
November 26, 2016 2:41 AM   Subscribe

(CW: rape and sexual assault.) My dad admitted to voting for Trump at the Thanksgiving dinner table. I am devastated because not only did he fall victim to a charlatan, he supported a sexual predator for the highest office in the land. See, I have been sexually assaulted twice. I know I can't turn back time and his vote, but should I tell him about being raped to illustrate my dismay with his choice for President? If not, how do I get over this strange feeling of betrayal by my father?

Dad and I have had a complicated relationship. He's not a direct communicator unless he's angry or annoyed. It took me until I was in my teens to realize I wasn't just an annoyance to him.

Still, his party line was always that he cared deeply for my brother and I and we could come to him with anything. Today, I live in a neighboring state and Dad only seeks out communicating with me if he has a question about technology. Weeks or months can go by without a text or a call and our conversations are very superficial, about the newest problem with his phone or the latest exploits of our area sports teams. He relies on my mom to do the communicating for him.

My first assault came at the feet of a male classmate in 7th grade, when he ambushed me on the playground and repeatedly kicked me in the breasts and crotch. Everyone (classmates, school officials, my parents) whom I told about it brushed it off as "boys will be boys," until the therapists whom my family was seeing told my parents that what the classmate did was assault under Wisconsin law.

My mom (who voted for HRC, if you're wondering) asked me if I wanted to press charges at the time. I didn't because of all the mixed messages I received and fear that lawyering up would lead to more bad things by classmates down the road. Dad and I have never talked about this, and it's nearly 25 years later.

What my parents don't know is that I was raped while sleeping at 19. I didn't realize it was rape until a year later and by that time, I believed going to the legal system would be fruitless and my parents would not have been supportive, mainly due to archaic attitudes my mother expressed to me.

I've had years of therapy in the interim, which I had to leave a few months ago due to a new job not working with my clinician's schedule. I was able to realize with my awesome therapist that I wasn't crazy and that my Dad wasn't there for me growing up for whatever reason.

This leads me to today. I am pissed at my father for saying with his vote that racism/sexism/xenophobia/homophobia/etc. is okay by him on a macro level, but I feel such a sense of loss that he voted for a sexual predator when he probably remembers what happened to me in 1992. I keep on thinking that he was supposed to protect me; I know that's absurd for a woman in her late thirties to think, but there you go.

I want to tell him why his vote gutted me on such a personal level, but I'm scared that he would blame me for being raped or end all conversation about it. I know this conversation can't change his vote, but I just want him to understand why I'm so hurt.

If you don't think talking to him would be useful, what can I do to mourn the concept of the father I had in my head up until this point?
posted by princesspathos to Human Relations (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
[i wondered whether to hit post, because, well, what do i know? but maybe i know more about clueless angry men than you. so perhaps consider this a view from his side, so please forgive - or at least expect - anything that seems unsympathetic.]

i would expect (and sincerely hope) he would be shocked and upset that his own daughter had been raped. particularly since he probably has little understanding of how common assault against women is. but i am a lot less sure he will connect the dots to the point where he will disavow trump (or even understand you better). certainly not immediately.

you are hoping an emotional sledgehammer will have a precise, targeted effect. it's more likely that there will be unforeseen consequences.

as i get older, one of the things that drives me crazy is seeing so much of my parents in myself. so i am not singling you out when i wonder to what extent are you continuing his legacy of communicating only when angry or annoyed?

on the other hand, it's completely valid to be angry and annoyed. and god knows it's a joy to whack someone right back. at least in the heat of the moment.

there's some middle way between mourning a father and striking blindly. relationships change with time. you have been working on this one. you could work more, with the aim of "educating" him over time. but is that something you want to do? maybe there are better ways to spend your life?

if you were my sister i hope you'd come to me first. i would try to help.
posted by andrewcooke at 4:17 AM on November 26, 2016 [17 favorites]

I'm so sorry this happened to you. The assaults, the Trump voting father, all of it. Having said that (and my only experience is also dealing with clueless men) I would suspect your bombshell won't result in Dad focusing on the issue - voting for Trump - but will focus solely on what happened to you. If it were my daughter telling me she was raped, politics would be the last thing on my mind. So unless you are ok with that happening, I would find another avenue to reach him through.
posted by Jubey at 4:28 AM on November 26, 2016 [4 favorites]

My view on this is that discussions about what happened to you might need to occur separately from the dismay with him voting for Trump.

People tend to rationalize their decisions about voting, especially in this particular election year where people were able to overlook a lot of terrible things, so if you use this opportunity to bring up a terrible, traumatic experience that you haven't brought up before in the past 25 years, and say "this is why I'm mad at you for voting for Trump," I worry that you won't get a reaction that you feel is helpful or positive to you, because I think he's more likely to double down to defend his vote rather than give you what you're seeking.

Consider playing out this scenario, and think what you think would be a satisfactory outcome if you were to bring this issue up. Is it simply the catharsis of being able to let loose? Or are you hoping for your Dad to say "what a terrible thing to have happened to you, now I'm mad and angry that occurred, and now I'm mad and angry that I voted for Trump, had I known I wouldn't have done that." I'd think about the likelihood of that occurring, given your past interactions with your father - based entirely what you've written here, I worry that at best, you'd get something along the lines of "I've forgotten about the 1992 issue, and I've never known about the most recent issue, so you can't blame me for that," or some variation about how what Trump said was simply locker room talk or that he apologized.

That being said, if you can bring up what occurred to you with your father without talking about politics, I think there might be something to explore there (with support from your therapist), and much more likely to get you a reaction that's helpful and supportive to you.
posted by Karaage at 4:30 AM on November 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I think you need to completely separate these two events in your mind. Trump is antifemenist in a broader sense than physical assult. The levels are disrespect leading up to that are also horrible. I think some men forget (even fathers and brothers) that our society consistently discriminates against women. I know my dad does. You can gently remind him of that with simple examples from your everyday life. It's small changes in everyone's daily behavior that will slowly decrease this (hopefully). A conversation about a Trump vote should center around this.

Being raped is a horrible act. It's not the subtle slight that a vote for Trump really displays. Please try to process your feelings around sharing this completelt separately. Will you feel supported and loved or at least relieved to share this with Dad? I'm worried you're setting yourself up for a multilevel disappointment here. He's not going to see the connection if you mix the two and he's likely to be overwhelmed and confused the more he's trying to process at once.
posted by Kalmya at 6:14 AM on November 26, 2016 [8 favorites]

I don't think it answers your question directly, but you might find this recent Ask Polly column of interest.
posted by Gin and Broadband at 8:07 AM on November 26, 2016

Hi, I just read this and it parallels so, so many things I think and feel in my life about my father / our relationship; the whole "he uses mom to communicate with us" thing and the only communicating when angry or whatever hits close to home. Also, I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse (friend's dad raped me when I was 13, and...onward) and I've been turning this EXACT question around in my mind about my relationship with my dad. A few years back I opened up a case and was eventually able to press charges against the man who raped me (10 years after the fact) and he went to prison. I am 27 now, and trying to figure out how to tell my dad...

I want to also say that, Trump is not just a misogynist who says disrespectful things, he IS a rapist; his ex-wife detailed this in her autobiography, and there's also THIS Snope's article, linking Trump to Jeff Epstein, the billionaire pedophile. Article is here.

Officially this person has withdrawn the charges, but I suspect it's much more complicated than, "I made it all up." I learned about this the day after the elections, yeah, even more weeping ensued.

So, this is different from what others have said, but, actually I think it's perfectly understandable to equate your dad voting for Trump with betraying you when you were a child vis a vis not protecting you in the 7th grade, and not being open, warm, and close enough to you when you were 19 to realize that something had happened to you which altered you detrimentally. That's just the thing- it seems to me that some men, like our dads, have opted to stick their head in the sand as opposed to confront their own probably misogyny, their feelings of powerlessness or inability to express vulnerability in a healthy way, etc etc etc. I guess I see the patriarchy everywhere. And I see ignoring the damage as being complicit. And your dad didn't just ignore the damage; he actively participated in voting for a dude who is a walking definition of male privilege, abuse, etc.

My questions to you:
1. Have you been wanting to talk to you dad about these things prior to this election, prior to hearing about his vote? If yes, then it's clearly been weighing on you...and I think that regardless of his response, it could be helpful to share your experience with him; barring a situation where you sharing this would put you at physical risk.
2. Drawing these parallels is totally fair. Do you think you can express this in a way to him that would not put him on the defense?
3. What is the "best case scenario", the "likely scenario", and the "worst case scenario" in terms of your father's response? Perhaps imagining his response can help guide you in how you frame this up.

I want to say- wow. You're incredibly brave, you're resilient, and I'm sorry you have had those experiences and are now stuck in this situation. I hope this was helpful.
posted by erattacorrige at 8:13 AM on November 26, 2016 [6 favorites]

My in-laws are otherwise wonderful people who voted for Donald Trump. I spent Thanksgiving with them, and leading up to the day I thought long and hard about what to say to them, and whether to say anything to them.

My conclusion was that it would not be helpful or effective to try to convince them that Donald Trump is a horrible person. He is horrible in so many ways, and all of this was on full display during the long primary and general election. Anyone who voted for him has to have built up rationalizations and defenses: either that he's not really horrible, or that it doesn't matter. I just don't think that's a winning argument.

Instead, I think it will be more effective to engage people on actual policy issues. "Did you know that Donald Trump and the Republican Congress want to shut down Medicare and replace it with a voucher program that won't actually cover the cost of insurance? Will you call the White House and your Senators/Representatives and tell them not to do that?" "Do you want your grandchildren to be able to swim at the beach where you brought me every summer as a child? Come on, you know climate change is real. Please call the White House and Congress and tell them to stick with the Paris Accord and take the steps needed to meet our commitments."

Pick your issues, the ones that are most important to you and that you think will resonate with your father.

Politics has become far too tribal in the U.S. We have forgotten the issues, and instead gotten into a war of tribes, with each side saying the other's leader is Most Horrible. Hillary tried to win that war, and wasn't successful. We won't win by going down that path. We need to turn from the tribal battle of parties and personalities, and instead focus on the policies where we may be able to find common ground. This should be easier, because Donald Trump and the Republican Congress will be setting out to screw 99.9% of the world's population. If we can turn people's attention to that, it could help stop some near-term damage and help elect better leaders in the future.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 8:37 AM on November 26, 2016 [9 favorites]

I suspect it would help you a great deal to write a letter to your father and not send it, just to start processing some of your feelings. Please reach out for support (another therapist, your local sexual assault crisis line, supportive friends, etc.) if you find yourself getting emotionally overwhelmed in the process of doing that, and take good care of yourself.

After you do that, you might be a bit clearer on whether you want to talk to your father for real, and what you want to say.
posted by lazuli at 8:41 AM on November 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Firstly I am so sorry for all that you have been through.

To answer your question - YES, I think you should tell him. Sososo many women have been sexually assaulted. This means that a ridiculous amount of men assault or condone sexual assault or don't know what it is. Because of this our PEOTUS IS a fucking trigger warning. The way that people voted has real consequences and shielding them from those consequences feels wrong at this point.

I don't think the old rules about keeping silent have to apply anymore. If you are willing and able to discuss it with him then go for it. My plan is to also be open about having been assaulted. I don't plan to shout it everywhere I go but I will be discussing it when and where I can.
posted by mokeydraws at 9:25 AM on November 26, 2016 [8 favorites]

Whether you should tell him about your experience for personal reasons is not something I can address. It sounds like you guys aren't as close as you could be, and this is an important thing that happened to you. Maybe telling him more about you, and learning more about him, would be good.

I realize that if you try this, and he doesn't change his views, it could be painful for you. Maybe it would help you to separate the political ramifications from the personal. The rest of this is about whether telling him your experience will lead to his understanding politics differently.

I think this would only be helpful if you were able to clearly articulate, to a clueless person, the connection between A) dismissive language (which is documented in the elected party) and either B1) the kind of violence that you endured, or B2) a really awful quality of life for you and other women.

I think a lot of people just assume that the connection between A and B is "obvious" to everyone, or they sketch out a couple of articles they read or bring up one study and assume that it's enough to make the case.

However, a whole world of education -- both formal and informal -- comes before a study or well-written article can really have an impact. You have to know enough to know that a study is reliable or that it represents a pervasive effect; you have to understand a lot of references that an article author takes for granted because that author and most readers have been exposed to "The Scarlet Letter" and "The Handmaid's Tale" and a lot of other things and had a teacher talk through the implications (rather than just reading them for plot, which is quite possible).

These links in a chain need to be presented in order, too; can you imagine an average 12-year-old boy (or whatever age, kids around here all seem precocious to me) reading "The Handmaid's Tale" and knowing what it represents? Most adult men don't have insight beyond that, really. They don't take AP English, they don't take European Literature, Political History, Psychology 101, Statistics for Research, or even History of Civil Rights. All of those experiences build up a vocabulary of words and, more importantly, a vocabulary of ideas.

Bridging that gap of experience is difficult. That's why teaching is a profession, not something adults just do on a random volunteer basis. That's why there's a "communications" major in many universities (and it sometimes includes information transfer methods as complicated as theatrical pieces).

Even understanding that teaching and communicating is hard is not something to take for granted. I went to a college where the majority of my peers would utterly dismiss any course of study that didn't involve electrons. I'm sure most people's views have mellowed, but the residue of the idea that "anybody" can do most things, but "math people" are beyond that level, probably remains in many swathes of the popular discourse.

The kind of talk you are considering having with your Dad is an important type of discussion that needs to happen -- and it needs to happen thousands of times. I don't know his background, and I don't know your background, but if you feel ambitious enough to try, I suggest preparing well.

Some ideas:
  • If you're not the best communicator on your own (and you may be, I don't know), look for articles with clearly developed arguments that would speak to him, read them, and remember the approaches they take.  
  • Also find resources to help you be strong, before and after -- friends, things to read, movies or shows to watch.  
  • Prepare a multi-phased process, if that seems appropriate - presenting one idea at a time, because presenting the whole thing at once is probably too much for a human to absorb.  
  • Find the right times and places to talk.  
  • Do everything you can to be open to his perspective, because your arguments need to be as concise as possible, so the ones you choose need to speak precisely to his point of view.

Good luck. This is important. I hope you post a follow up.
posted by amtho at 9:40 AM on November 26, 2016 [5 favorites]

When I told [important blood relative] that I was upset he could consider voting Trump, he got extremely angry and defensive, told me that Clinton was just as bad and defended rapists etc etc.

The entire conversation was extremely ugly and upsetting.

You are going to go into this conversation with certain hopes about how it will proceed. I encourage you very strongly to think about the possibility it won't accomplish what you desperately crave.

Separately (but intertwined) with the political drama was a lot of other baggage in our relationship. I discussed [important blood relative] with [mutual relative] who helped me understand that part of adulthood is coming to peace with the possibility that my relationship with [important blood relative] was never going to be the relationship I wanted it to be. That I needed to be able to come to terms with the crushing feelings of disappointment, betrayal, hurt, guilt, etc etc that came with that realization.

Please prepare yourself emotionally, protect yourself emotionally, and don't build overly high expectations of where this is going to go.

Sometimes the people we love disappoint us terribly.

That doesn't mean these conversations don't need to happen (although sometimes, it does). But go into it with eyes wide open.
posted by Cozybee at 9:57 AM on November 26, 2016 [4 favorites]

I have no advice, but I support your decision, either way. There are many sexual assault hotlines you can call, too, who have experienced people on the line waiting to help you talk through this if you need.
posted by greermahoney at 11:38 PM on November 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

I unfortunately agree that talking to him about it might end very poorly. I saw a couple examples of people being confronted like this in the lead up to Election Day and sadly it seemed that the discussions ended with people further apart rather than closer together. Trump supporters either aren't willing to admit his flaws or justify his flaws with excuses that make no sense to the rest of us (like "it's just locker room talk, he didn't mean it" or "those women are just saying he raped them to get attention"). They also don't seem open to the idea that rape culture exists or that the actions and words of Trump could have any repercussions towards what might happen to people they know and love. It's similar to the way they do not understand the connection between Trump's words and actions and hate crimes or racist acts. I am sure you have seen people trying to share horrible racist incidents that have occurred in the past month - these have been brushed off by Trump supporters as being carried out by 'trolls' or 'paid protestors trying to make Trump look bad' and so forth.

If you bring up being raped, given your reference to your parents' archaic views, I fear you would be subject to a battery of questions about why you put yourself in a vulnerable situation or what you might have done to invite what happened, rather than any kind of appropriate level of concern or anger over what happened to you and the asshole who did that to you. The older generation did not learn about consent the way we did and that "the absence of a no means no" and so forth and a lot of them just do not get it. They think of rape as some stranger in an alley jumping on you with a knife, rather than the way it usually happens. And I suspect there would be nothing more infuriating than having your parent argue with you over the technicalities of what rape is.

All that aside, virtual hugs to you, both for what you went through, and for having parents who don't understand. I do think it's possible for people to change, but I think it usually happens on their own timeframe and not when we try to force them to change. Maybe there's hope for your dad yet. Don't feel like you have to be the one to try to change him though, that way lies madness.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:27 PM on November 28, 2016

Thanks for talking me down, MeFites.

I was a little emotional when I originally wrote the post, and after an unrelated situation where he let me down emotionally earlier this week, I decided I'm going to keep this part of my history quiet. I'm not going to tell him or my mom. Not because of my Dad's vote, but because I need to protect my heart from what my intuition (and you guys) tell me are dangerous waters.

Your input is appreciated.
posted by princesspathos at 6:36 PM on November 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

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