Holding Space For Survivors During Election Season

The negative ways that survivors of rape and abuse are treated is even more apparent in the media these days. As our election moves toward its completion, more and more survivors bravely present their truths to reporters, and are met with increasing disbelief and dehumanization by the man they speak out against. For too many of us, Donald Trump is a category of man represented in our personal lives. That man is charismatic and charming; he holds convictions, he convinces everyone around him easily, his response to arguments against his fiercely held beliefs are to claim “that problem does not exist.” It is increasingly hard not to feel the erasure leveled upon us by a man who wants to run our country, a man who will not under any circumstances validate the narratives of survivors, of anybody who is not a cisgendered white man. This invalidation hits home; all of us watching this presidential race feel the sharp alienation from so many citizens of our country as they exemplify the worst extremes of the culture of rape we carry with us daily. We watch the news, and we start to lose hope. Is this really how people in my workplace, my neighborhood, even my family really think of me? How do I not take this personally?

I dated a Donald Trump once. He won me over by making me feel noticed when I had felt overlooked. He spoke with such conviction about himself that I had to believe him. What reason did he have to lie to me? Donald Trump is all of my abusive ex-boyfriends — hearing him talk is like hearing their one-sided arguments, like listening to them convince me that my world hinged upon their presence in it. His reaction to the narratives of the people speaking out against him could be words straight out of my abuser’s mouth: “I couldn’t possibly have done that, because Ellery isn’t worth my time of day. Ellery is beneath me. Why would I waste my valuable effort on someone like Ellery? That never happened. That couldn’t have happened. Ellery’s perceived stories don’t even exist.”

How can the people in my life buy into this? How can people in my social circles, who know who I am and what I do, tell me that what I’m doing is admirable and simultaneously pull the rug out from under me? How can my parents not see the difference between me and the rest of the survivors coming forward? No matter how hard I try, I can’t reason with it — I can’t logic my way out of feeling slighted. I am stuck here. Don’t people understand their their vote is a vote against my identity, and a vote for the worst thing that ever happened to me? Don’t my classmates and coworkers know the massive impact of their allegiance on my safety and the safety of the people who attend support groups with me? Why does it seem like everyone’s talking about this, but no one’s getting it? How can I care for myself when staying informed is debilitating?

It’s unrealistic for me to think that I can seclude myself in a corner of the world where this culture doesn’t exist, where the president nominee represents all of my abusive ex-boyrfriends.  However, that doesn’t mean that I can’t reclaim safe spaces. My first experience with this was through FORCE, when I interned on the Monument Quilt. Working with a community, fighting for spaces to heal was the catalyst for the founding of my own on-campus organization, Campus Advocates, Survivors and Allies at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Two years ago, in the aftermath of severe mishandling of cases of sexual violence on campus, CASA was born out of a petition for change that gathered over 1,000 signatures and a protest on MICA’s campus that demanded the attention of administration. Since that time, MICA has seen massive progress with regards to policy change, and administration has become more receptive to hearing critiques from us students.  Throughout this process, FORCE has been a huge support for our organization, providing a strong community as CASA sought guidance in how to orchestrate our groups. FORCE directors Hannah Brancato and Rebecca Nagle became supports and mentors for the growth of our project, and now provide CASA a space to host weekly support groups open to the public in their studio on Sundays at noon.

To continue this work, CASA is seeking to elevate the voices of survivors through a visual and performing arts exhibition, “Holding Space.” This exhibition is an exploration of survivorship and intimacy through the lens of experiences that we did not ask for or deserve, and the interpersonal relearning that must occur in its aftermath. It is a place to process our truths and externalize our healing process. Through “Holding Space”, CASA hopes to call together this emerging community of survivors and their allies and provide another platform for the narratives exhibited in projects like the Monument Quilt.  The exhibition will be held in December at La Bodega Gallery. Artists may submit work for this juried exhibition by emailing work to wearecasamica@gmail.com by midnight on Friday November 4th, and applicants do not have to live in Baltimore or attend MICA to enter. “Holding Space” is an act of protest against the culture of rape we are surrounded by; it is our hope that by continuing to host support groups and community events, we can create spaces for survivors to coalesce, find community, and go back out into the world knowing that no matter how many Donald Trumps and his supporters are out there, you are never alone.

For more information, please visit https://www.facebook.com/events/1099619190061312/