Four Years Later; Unpublished, Open Letter to My Dad
Today is a joyous, historic day. Joyous because the people spoke. Hatred was voted out of the Oval Office. Historic because the people chose a woman of color to lead us as Vice President. We chose change and progress, love and acceptance, hope and perseverance. We chose to strive for better, to embrace diversity in this country, to trust a woman with an office we should have been represented in a long fucking time ago.
If I am being incredibly honest, it’s not joy I’m feeling today but relief. The depth of which is overwhelming because tomorrow, I will wake up not having to suffer through the quotidian knowledge that the vitriol spewing Donald Trump is President of the United States.
I am not living under the delusion that when I wake up, the world of tomorrow is brand new. No, it is the same world as today. The fight is not over; it has just begun. Biden and Harris will not miraculously change the hearts of every man and woman who voted for Trump, who has turned a blind eye to systemic racism, who has decided police brutality is acceptable, who thinks the immigration policies of the last four years are humane, who has believed women are inferior, who has perpetually chosen to hate. In a world where information is more readily available than ever before, it is a choice to be ignorant of the devastating reality rooted in history, policy, and the heart of America so many people live in on a daily basis.
This is the world we live in. 74 MILLION Americans voted for Trump. Not just men. Not just white women. People from all backgrounds voted for Trump. 74 million Americans will not disappear or change their hearts and minds by tomorrow morning. Nope. They are still here. They are still our friends, coworkers, neighbors, family, parents. They are all around us, and it is our mission to show them a better world.
I believe in love and kindness and peaceful protest. My activism is fueled by loving those akin to myself as much as those who have different beliefs. In my heart, I believe love and kindness is the only way to change the world, but that doesn’t mean I don’t fight, I don’t call out ignorance, I don’t push boundaries, I don’t stand up for what’s right. It means I do it from a place of love. I also believe in anger.
I am angry. I am furious that Trump was elected in 2016. It didn’t come as a surprise, but it crushed my soul. I have spoken up in the past four years, and I have marched. Mostly I have read and listened and learned. I educated myself more deeply in areas I have been passionate about but lacked information. On a personal level, I was deeply devastated by Trump’s election. I have not spoken about my life as a rape survivor, a domestic abuse survivor, as a sex worker outside of a brief mention here and there. None of these define me, but they are an integral part of my identity, my career, my activism, my existence. Trump’s election cut to the deepest corners of my pain as a broken woman. This man fueled by hatred was elected to the most powerful role in this country after he proved time and time again that he was unworthy. I am angry because people I love voted for him in 2016 and again in 2020. They’re not bad people; in fact, they’re great people, but they searched within themselves and were still able to support a despicable man.
On Friday, January 20, 2017, I woke up at 3:43 in the morning in tears. I was filled with the need to write a letter to the man I have loved and looked up to my entire life. A man who is kind and loving beyond words. A man who voted for Trump. A man I call Dad. I have no idea who he voted for in 2020, and frankly, I have no desire to. Even if he did vote for Biden, it wouldn’t change my hurt. This is a letter I never sent. Instead it is a letter to my father and every father who voted for Trump. It is a letter to every man and woman I love who voted for Trump. It is a letter for every Trump supporter. It is a letter that is unchanged, and yet I stand by every word exactly four years later. Biden may have won, but 74 million people voted to reelect Trump.
I didn’t need to ask who you voted for. I already knew, but I asked anyway. I couldn’t validate my feelings without knowing for sure. Maybe it was hope that kept me from asking for so long, or I was delaying the depression that I knew would set in the moment you answered: Trump.
It’s there now and always will be. In every hug, laugh, kiss, kind word. You love me, I don’t doubt that. But your vote tells me something else. Whether you realize it or not, your vote showed me where I stand. I am not worth the same as you. Your tiny act of filling out one tiny circle with your one tiny voice as one tiny vote in a sea of other tiny votes is not tiny to me.
You are my father. You gave me half of my existence. I see you in the mirror and in my mannerisms. I am yours. I carry your last name and my face is recognizably yours. You were with me every day of my life for nineteen years. You watched my first steps, heard my first words, changed my diapers. You woke me up early to breakfast together before work and put me back to bed. You taught me long division and gave me my first coffee. You showed me what perspective is in art and life. You were at every dance and piano recital with words of encouragement. You watched band concerts and sat through cold football games to watch me in the marching band at half time. You were there at high school graduation and the real reason I walked at my college graduation. You have held my hand and shed tears in a hospital room. You celebrated my successes, but bought me ice cream through my failures and missteps. You chose to support me when you didn’t want to. You have been a part of my entire life. You were not an absentee father. You knew me. You raised me. I am your first born. As birthdays passed, your role turned from caregiver to being the person I wanted to emulate more than anyone in the world. You have been the hero, the guiding light my entire life, and I don’t think I can say that today.
I am your daughter; the only you will ever have. On November 8, 2016, you silently told me I am less than you, less than your son. My future looks different than yours or your sons. Going into the world tomorrow, I will face challenges and obstacles you or my brother have never and will never have to face. Because I am a woman. It shouldn’t matter but it does. My genitals affect my existence in this world, and your vote made that existence even harder.
Anger is a part of my soul. I am angry for so many reasons. I am irrationally angry that you couldn’t save me from pain men have put me through. With time, I will forgive you for not saving me in the past. I am familiar with the reality that it isn’t your fault, but you are my father. You were there, and I have the human wish that you could have just known something was wrong, someone was hurting me. You didn’t see. I hoped you would look in my eyes and see the pain, the pleas for help, the need to be saved, the desire to be believed. People talk about a parent’s intuition, but you didn’t have it all those days I was silently dying. You never saw the subtle signs as the little girl you watched dance around the house disappeared every time a boy you shook hands hit and raped me. I wish you could have seen all of those things in my eyes because they are your eyes. I am your daughter. I was hiding inside a body that looks like a female version of yours. I forgive you all of these things because I know it was not your fault; just like it was not my fault. Something I will have to continue telling myself everyday until the day I die hoping to believe it myself. You are not culpable for that boy’s actions or any of the other boys who came after. Men have hurt me in ways, I’m sure, you once prayed would never happen. But I carry their actions with me everyday as a permanent part of my psyche and history.
You didn’t know then. You had no way of knowing. You know now. I have started making a career fighting against the kind of men who hurt me, the kind of man who is being inaugurated today. I speak out against violence against women by using my story to create positive change. You know now; yet, you do not believe me.
You voted for Trump. You invalidated my struggle as a woman and supported every man who has ever hurt me. You normalized violence in an instant. With your one tiny vote you gave power to predators by electing a predator, a rapist to the most powerful office in this country. You helped make him a role model to little boys and young men. They will say, “Well, the President did it.” and “I’m just quoting the President.” Your vote made it even harder for me to get out of bed everyday because I always wonder if today will be the day I’m going to get raped again. Your vote told me it’s fine for men to act like your president. A man who thinks it’s totally fine for men, like my ex-boyfriend, college best friend, childhood friend, friend from church-all men you welcomed into your home-to take me without my consent because they are men, I am a woman, and they wanted me.
By voting for Trump, you showed me I am not equal to my brother in your eyes or my country’s eyes. My brother who has just graduated college, who has a better job than I will have for years to come if ever because not only have I overcome being a woman, I have overcome so many obstacles he will never face because our genders differ. I have to worry about employers seeing this to only question if I am a viable candidate, someone who can be trusted to not make claims about sexual assault or cause problems in the workplace. I am shamed for overcoming and surviving repeated rapes and violence instead of being lauded for my vulnerability, transparency, and fight for equity because I am a woman, and this is my plight. My brother and I are not equals in your eyes; your vote told me that.
Stories of how women prevent rape and assault circulate constantly when men should jut not be raping. I do not walk in fear to my car with keys entwined between my fingers. I do not call friends to chat on the phone so I don’t look vulnerable. I do not ask a friend who is both trusted and male to walk me home. I do not wear pants instead of skirts. I do not back down when men intimidate me. I do not stay in well lit areas. I do none of these things because I am not scared of the worst thing that could happen to a woman. I am not scared because I have already been gang raped. What else could be worse for me? It happening again? It already has happened on repeat for years. I am not scared of men because they cannot bring worse. And being murdered sounds like the most uninterrupted sleep I’ve had in over a decade. You do not know these things because you are a man, and you don’t live them. You could know them, but you don’t believe me when I tell you. Instead you choose to label me a liar, troubled, in need of help. All I need is a world that believes I deserve to be treated like a human.
Your vote says everything to me because of who you voted for. Even if I agreed with all of his policies (which I absolutely do not), I cannot overlook his humanity. Or lack thereof. You voted for a man who treats women worse than the dirt he walks on. He says it is his right to grab me by the pussy. Well, someone did.
Someone did for years, and several men after him did too. Some stopped at just grabbing, but others took it further. I have been harassed and groped by male “friends” in a bar while I was sober wearing a turtleneck. But it was fine because they were friends, and I was inexcusably in a bar. A liberal, Black president was in his second term, at the time. A man who believes women are equal and deserve respect and have the right to autonomy. Yet, you voted someone into office who has done what those men have done to me. What kind of world do you think he will create for me? If I was already living in hell? What will this man lead us to? For women, for minorities, for immigrants. I cannot imagine, and I am not looking forward to seeing what plays out. I just pray that we elect someone better in 2020.
You helped make a man President, and he will be the “role model” for every man, son, brother, father, and everything male in between in this culture that surrounds me, your daughter, who has to live next to these men. I have survived in a world where this has not been the male “role model,” but yet all of these struggles have still been my reality. If this has been my world, what will it look like with this President leading us? Your President believes it’s fair to take me because I am pretty and female. Well, at least, I’m pretty because that means I’m worth being seen. Being a woman is not an asset with this President, who you helped elect.
How do I move forward? I have always been proud to be your daughter. I have always worked to earn your approval. As your daughter, since the beginning of my time on this earth, I have never wanted to distance myself from you because I had always been proud to be your daughter. I don’t know how to feel now. I’m not proud of you.
I will never again hug you the way I once did because this stands firmly between us. How do I pretend things are fine when you have helped institutionalize discrimination based on the one thing I will never be able to change: my sex?
I love you less because of this. Just admitting that causes me more pain than you or anyone else will ever know because I have loved you intensely, loyally, blindly, and to a fault my entire life. You have been who I have idolized most. In my heart, I have always defined myself as your daughter. Not because you are my genetic benefactor or because we share the same name or because society and culture tell me I have to for patriarchal reasons, but because you are a good, kind, intelligent human.
I can forgive everyone else their vote. Friends, family, acquaintances, etc. because it is their right in this country to vote for whomever they believe most fit. I can forgive them, though I will never agree. I can’t forgive you this.
At 25, I now know where you believe I belong as a woman. This will not cripple my future. Your vote showed me I am less than. I cannot forgive you. Even though it is your right to cast your ballot as you see fit, it is still your obligation to protect me as a father. You took on this role willingly not at conception but when you decided to parent me. Parenting never ends. Not when I left for college or when you stopped financially supporting me or when I began a career or moved cross country. You are and always will be a father, and it is and always will be your obligation to protect me. You did not protect me when you voted for Donald Trump. What happens during his presidency lays squarely on your shoulders. It is your fault and every other person’s who voted him into office.
You failed me.
My heart aches, but I still love you.
Originally published at https://onthebl.org on January 20, 2021.