I am filled with grief this morning for Melania Trump.
I watched her husband’s tasteless speech at the Al Smith charity dinner last night, in which he repeatedly and grotesquely insulted Hillary Clinton to her face. [Apparently this event has a longstanding tradition of both presidential candidates showing up to “roast” one another.] And I noted the ease with which Trump shifted into humiliating Melania as a tactic to garner audience support.
When the audience laughed—and laugh they did, breaking for a moment the tension of that excruciating speech—they laughed because for a moment his target felt like a safe one. What husband would say such a thing if his wife weren’t in on the joke, right? And maybe they laughed because they slipped into the same blurred distinctions as Donald, using his wife as a lightning rod for their discomfort with him just as he jabbed at her in a pretense of self-deprecating humor.
But a wife is not mere extension of the man she has married. Make no mistake: that was spousal abuse on display last night, as Trump commanded Melania to stand for the people laughing at him making fun of her. When he admitted that he had not warned her in advance of the humiliation he had planned, he used her own loyalty against her and cornered her into either immediately absolving him or making a scene at a hugely public event.
The evening started harmlessly enough, psyching myself up for the inevitable horror that will be the third and final presidential debate the way any normal gal does: drinking wine and tweeting quotes about tampons…
By the way, any of y’all who Twitter do follow@ESTBLSHMNT*, yes? Cuz if not, you wanna get on that PRONTO.
*The Establishment, as you may or may not know (but, like, TOTALLY WANNA KNOW), is an online women’s magazine and not“the establishment” that folks get so grumbly about, politically speaking. Though that hasn’t stopped some folks from grumbling at them on Twitter!
Exactly why is @ESTBLSHMNT the single greatest magazine twitter account out there, you may be asking?
After the Trump video released last Friday, writer Kelly Oxford tweeted about her own experience—at only 12 years old—of having a strange man grab her crotch. While she may not have expected more than a few friends to respond to her invitation to “tweet me you first assaults,” she has now received hundreds of thousands of stories (a million on Saturday night alone), and the tweets are still pouring in, under the hashtag #NotOkay.
I find myself among those unwilling to join this conversation openly. Not because I do not have such memories in my past, but these are encounters that I either have already shared or have reasons to hold private still. So I am thinking instead about the ubiquity of not only sexual violence in girlhood but also the threats of such violence—and how these twin forces shaped the early years of so many women I know, and continue to color our daughters’ experiences today.
With all that in mind (both the said and the unsaid), I decided to revisit and revamp this piece I wrote a few years ago:
My Body Is a Car Door
He and I are drinking coffee together, sitting
each in our own maturity and marveling the kids these days! when he says:
“I always thought puberty
was so much worse for girls. Breasts, menstruation—
like living inside an alien.
Boys have nothing that compares.”
I have no more interest in being “championed and revered” by my government than I have in being crotch-grabbed by it. 
“Hitting on a married woman” is not on par with sexual assault, not even close—a point easy to miss if your primary concern is with insults to “our wives and daughters” rather than to half the American citizenry. 
And when you express your concern as “No woman should ever be described in these terms or talked about in this manner”—then spend the rest of your weekend huddled in presidential debate-prep with the man who so described us—you confirm that window-dressing matters to you more than substance. That you are willing to see me as a p***y to be grabbed, just so long as that p***y-grab is not talked about. 
In sum: Do not revere us.
Do not pretend to own us.
Do not clean up your language in our presence.
Just stop pretending you are not an equal sh!tstain on our polity to your man who would be king.
not when as a nymph I emerge
from the underground where I have already lived years
but when I pull myself, vibrating and fragile,
from this shell already grown brittle
and too small.
Between my eyes, my body first splits open.
Unzips down my back like a cocktail dress
as I wriggle out my head. One desperate moment
as wing buds catch and (my heart in my mouth what if I never get free) I flex and arch for sky, four membranes suddenly blooming
from my shoulders.
Hollow legs cling at last to discarded exoskeleton.
A pause to catch my breath, soft flesh hardening
in first exposure to the sun.
Before I go, I will arrange my leftovers
carefully in a chair at the family table,
disguising my departure as long as possible.