The Bravery of E. Jean Carroll

E. Jean Carroll is a hero and a fucking hurricane of a human being (in the best possible sense).  If you haven’t yet read the excerpt of her upcoming book, What Do We Need Men For?: A Modest Proposal, published in New York magazine this week, you should.  It captures her perfectly.  I could hear her in my head as I read.  Speaking as someone four decades E. Jean’s junior who had to run just to barely keep up with her on the streets of NYC:  the woman has boundless, irrepressible energy.  She lives life to the fullest.  She writes beautifully.  She is a hilarious and fascinating person.  She is endlessly generous, even to strangers.  She is blunt and honest almost to a fault (if I were willing to admit that such a goddess had any faults, which I adamantly am not).  She does not lie; she calls it as she sees it.

Also, it’s worth mentioning, if you haven’t heard already, that Donald Trump is a rapey rapist who raped her.

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Let’s note up front:  People will say I’m biased.  That is certainly true.  There would be no The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness book if not for E. Jean Carroll.  It would be arrogant of me to call E. Jean a friend, but certainly I consider her a mentor and the woman who singlehandedly provided me with my greatest opportunities.  E. Jean didn’t just respond to my letter in her column.  She offered me an internship.  She called me on the phone.  She arranged for me to come to NYC and spent days handholding and schlepping me, a very shy and dazed newbie, to TV and radio interviews.  She introduced me to a metric fuckton of literary agents (including the inimitable Chris Schelling, a longtime friend of hers who ultimately repped me) and advised me in detail about the pros and cons of each option and each next step I could possibly take.  She allowed me to list her on my résumé as a reference.  I watched her hand out bills to homeless people we passed on the streets.  Let’s be crystal clear; E. Jean personally got nothing out of this.  Zero.  She didn’t make a dime from helping me.  I was nobody – a literal nobody – my blog was anonymous at the time, very few people were reading it.  If she had ignored my letter, or just churned out a more generic rah-rah response and taken no further action, it would still have been kind of her, but nobody would have known or cared.  However, as self-described in her New York magazine excerpt, E. Jean Carroll is the consummate cheerleader, through-and-through.  I’m not sure she even thinks about it; she supports other women because that’s just who she is, to the core.

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I have written, much less eloquently than E. Jean Carroll has, about some of my own Hideous Men™ (see both my book and the very blog post preceding this one).  There are a fair number of them.  Just about every woman has a running mental list of shitty men stories.  There are some I haven’t even written about yet – the coworker who was fired for camping outside of our workplace and following my car home at midnight.  There are some whose names I don’t even know – men who groped me on the bus, strangers following me down the sidewalk yelling crudities.  The wedding guest who grabbed my ass in front of eight witnesses when I was a 16-year-old restaurant hostess, who refused to leave when confronted by the manager and had to be carried out by police, with his wife close behind screaming that I was a liar.

With one notable exception who had already publicized himself, I have left my Hideous Men™ nameless or used pseudonyms.  This includes my rapist.  To my knowledge, none of them are rich, famous, or particularly powerful at this time, yet I do not name them.  Not because I worry about ruining their lives or how it would make their families and friends feel.  Because to identify them publicly would risk bringing them back into my life, and I never want to see their faces or hear their voices again.  I don’t want to spend even more of my life being confronted and re-confronted with the shittier specimens of humanity I’ve known.  The very idea of interacting with these men again fills me with terror.  Makes it hard to breathe.

So of course, I can’t even imagine the courage required to knowingly invite Donald Trump (with his distinction as both the sentient pond scum of the Earth and also unfortunately the current most powerful man in the country) back into your life…along with all of his lawyers, his deplorables, his monstrous glutinous army of internet trolls and Russian bots and hate-filled Nazis and racists and misogynists.

There was no reason for E. Jean Carroll to help a nobody like me, except that it was a good and kind thing to do.  Helping others via unfathomable generosity of spirit and resources is what she does.

There is no reason for E. Jean Carroll, longtime and thriving journalist, SNL writer, author, beloved columnist, TV personality, beauty pageant winner, internet mogul, etc. etc. to light a match to her career and reputation.  There is no reason for heretofore scandal-free E. Jean Carroll to turn her storied career into an asterisk just for the opportunity to have a mass of thuggish slugs tear her to shreds.  There is no reason for E. Jean Carroll, noted success at literally everything she’s ever put her hand to, to swap decades of accolades for the honor of being known as “Trump sexual assault victim no. 22”.  Except, of course, for the reason:  It’s the truth, and it’s the right thing to do.

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E. Jean has said in interviews that she is not pursuing charges against Donald Trump, and the disingenuous hordes have characterized this as backpedaling, when it is anything but.  In her first interview, she (admittedly somewhat inelegantly) referenced the Trump administration’s victims at the border, locked in cages, several of them tortured/raped by his minions, as the reason it would feel “disrespectful” to her to conflate her experience with rape.  In another interview, she said that she has a hard time using the actual word “rape” for an experience that lasted three minutes at most, and feels she has moved past it.  Perhaps she feels more indignant at his rudeness, his sheer entitlement to seize what he wants from women, than hurt or ashamed.

Make no mistake:  The experience that E. Jean Carroll described was rape.  Donald Trump is a rapist.

Although I don’t find her logic on this particular point flawless, I can still understand where it’s coming from.  I honestly believe E. Jean when she says she’s a happy person.  I don’t think she’s spent every day of the past 23 years in a depression, reliving what was done to her.  (Neither do I.  A lot of victims don’t.)  As to whether she’s fully 100% moved past it or whether that’s wishful thinking…I guess people will forever debate that, especially given the last line of her New York magazine article, which more than hints at a moderate degree of lingering trauma.  But I believe that she doesn’t want to see herself as a victim.  On Friday, after I read the article, I texted my partner J and went home and felt sad and upset and enraged on her behalf.  Donald Trump does not deserve to exist on the same planet as E. Jean, much less put his hands on her.  J read (and loved) the article.  When he got home from work, we talked about it for a long time – which is to say, I mostly ranted and he listened.  At one point I said “I feel so presumptuous, feeling bad for her.  She would hate that.  She wouldn’t want me to feel bad for her.  She definitely would never pity herself.”

Whether or not she’s what she’d consider traumatized by her Hideous Men™ experiences, E. Jean Carroll would simply never frame herself that way – perhaps that developed at least partially as a coping mechanism, but at this stage in the game, it’s also who she is.  Purely speculating, to me the “women on the border” comment reflects some unconscious level of survivor’s guilt.  I speculate as such because I, too, felt and still feel something similar:  “Why were people interested in my story?  There are so many who have had it worse than me.  I had a trailer, some people only have park benches.  What if I’d been black instead of a white woman, when a police officer found me sleeping in my car?  Would I have been perceived as more of a threat, would it have escalated into something unthinkable?  Someone ended up listening to my voice; I got a book deal and a path out of homelessness – most homeless people never get that.  Overall, I’ve been so lucky compared to some!  Even my bad experiences aren’t comparatively that bad!”

Whenever I’m asked to speak about homelessness, I make an effort to call attention to those who have it worse, those who were never given a platform, and how lucky I ultimately was.  I don’t agree with E. Jean that she wasn’t raped, even as she views it as one of a few unpleasant blips in an otherwise rich and fulfilling life.  Donald Trump is a monster who deserves to be in prison.  But in her way, I think E. Jean was trying to express the same thing.

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I don’t necessarily think that’s the only reason that E. Jean doesn’t want to pursue charges, or even the main reason, but one of several.  For one, the statute of limitations in New York at the time would not allow for him to retroactively be charged, even though the statue of limitations has since been eliminated.  I’ve seen several journalists questioning whether there could be DNA evidence on E. Jean’s coat; it is seriously doubtful that such evidence would not degrade over 23 years.  Bergdorf Goodman of course would retain no security camera footage from 23 years ago; security camera footage generally cycles every week or month.  E. Jean’s story is corroborated by two extremely credible friends – journalists – she spoke to about the incident at the time, which should be more than enough to sway those who somehow still doubt her searing testimony.  She certainly had no idea when she told her friends at the time that in two decades he would become President of the United States.

To my knowledge, E. Jean Carroll lives in a remote, peaceful, beautiful location surrounded by approximately one million dogs and the work she loves.  (To me, this sure sounds like living the dream – if my partner isn’t still around, I hope that’s my life at 75.)  Does she want to spend what they call “your golden years” in and out of courts and hearings, reliving those three minutes of her life over and over?  Did she want those three minutes to be the defining minutes of her life?  I doubt it.  Donald Trump deserves to see justice, but the media and the courts have largely ignored or downplayed the accusations.  Why must E. Jean Carroll or any of the other accusers press charges in statutorily exempt cases before they can simply be believed?

E. Jean chose to come forward and tell her story because it was the right thing to do, and it was the right time for her to finally do it.  Her account is so specific and rings absolutely true.  She wasn’t obligated to speak out, and she will lose far more from speaking out against this powerful man than she will gain.  She did it for her readers and for the women everywhere she has spent decades cheerleading and supporting, expecting nothing in return.  She doesn’t want women to feel alone, or afraid to tell our stories.  E. Jean Carroll deserves to be believed, to be safe and protected from the internet mob now sending her death threats (and from the evil man emboldening and inviting them to).  E. Jean Carroll deserves to spend the rest of her life snuggling with her adored dogs and writing her big, generous heart out.

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I have E. Jean’s phone number.  I haven’t called her, imagining that she must currently be inundated with calls from family, loved ones, journalists, and busybodies.  Tweeting my support feels so banal, so inadequate, yet on the other hand I fear adding to what must be, even for a pro like her, an exhausting and overwhelming flood of commentary.  But I hope more than anything that the support drowns out the repugnant vitriol.  I hope it drowns out noted rapist and Hideous Man™ Donald Trump.  I’ve seen a remarkable number of morons question the “timing” of E. Jean speaking out, because she (a writer!!!) dared to write the truth down in (gasp!) a book, which is irrelevant.  Not to mention, actual authors are aware you don’t make millions off a book unless you’re Stephen King or George R.R. Martin.  But you know what?  I hope she does.  I hope her book does fucking sell millions of copies and makes her a bazillionaire.  I’ve done my little bit – I ordered my copy.  Go get ‘em, E. Jean, just like you always have.  Thank you for everything.

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