Get Real! We Did Everything We Could to Make Things Go Just Right, But it Didn’t

Heather Corinna

Communication, consent, empathy, and sensitivity are critical to good sexual experiences, no matter your partner.

Hedo asks:

My girlfriend and I are both non-op transsexuals; (i.e., she’s MtF, I’m FtM, and we haven’t had “the surgery” and don’t intend to.) On a visit with her a little while ago, she and I were sitting in her car and talking about our feelings regarding sex. When our relationship started over a year ago she asked me to wait, which I was fine with, but didn’t know she had been open to what we considered “in between” kind of stuff like oral (she doesn’t want to go “all the way” because she was raped a little while before I met her and she feels like penetrating me is putting me in her position–it isn’t, but I’m not going to pressure her), and while we had been discussing it we realized we were both in the mood and I asked her if she wanted to find some place more private and explore, and she said “only if you want to.” I did.

Before we got started, I asked her if she still wanted to continue and if she had any other boundaries she wanted to set in place, and she said no. I reminded her that if she wanted me to stop at any time she could say so and I would stop everything.

While I was working with her and experimenting with what she liked I got a lot of positive feedback and encouragement. It was very clear that she was enjoying what I was doing, which felt amazing for me, too. But after we finished and cleaned up she got withdrawn and awkward, and we didn’t talk much on the way back to her friend’s apartment. What I could get out of her was that she felt guilty for being the only one who got off (part of why she didn’t reciprocate was her fear of getting me pregnant, and having trouble working with how fickle my body is, so it wasn’t an issue for me), and, just before we got back to the apartment, she confessed that she might not have been as ready as she felt. She kept apologizing until we each went to sleep, no matter how much I tried to convince her that it wasn’t her fault.

Appreciate our work?

Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:


Later that morning when we were able to talk it over more I kept reminding her that it’s hard to make good decisions in the heat of the moment and that it’s okay to feel regret, that I didn’t expect perfection, and that even under the best circumstances sex is complicated and I’m willing to wait again. But she still feels bad.

Is there anything more I can say and do to help her feel better now, or the next time we have a sexual experience, or should we put it away for a while and let her sort through some of her feelings, first? And is it wrong/unfair to her for me to think of how she climaxed and be as turned on by it as I am? Because when I do I can’t help but think I’m not respecting her feelings.

Heather Corinna replies:

I don’t think either of you made any major missteps, or said, did or felt anything that wasn’t okay or was in any way intentionally hurtful to one another or yourselves. I’m seeing excellent sexual communication (better than most people tend to have), phenomenal understanding, empathy and acceptance of differences in your sexual wants and readiness, clear and enthusiastic consent (and all the room in the world for easy nonconsent), and a whole lot of sensitivity and mutual care. I don’t think one can go about this any better than you both did. If there was an Oscar for sexual communication and negotiation, you two’d get it this year, no contest.

There seem to be two central issues here: her feeling like she was ready in advance of sex and then, afterwards, feeling like she may not have been and her feeling guilty or unhappy that she had an orgasm while you did not. There is also the issue of you feeling guilty because she feels conflicted about her decision to have sex, but you found her experiencing what she did with you sexy. Obviously, too, you want to figure out how to move forward from here. Most of what I have to say is going to be about pieces one or both of you may or may not have that you can talk about moving forward. You may have even talked about some of them already.

Let’s start with pleasure and orgasm. Orgasm isn’t necessarily an indication of pleasure or satisfaction, even though it often is. Orgasm also isn’t necessarily an indication that in a scenario where one person reaches orgasm and the other does not, the person who reached orgasm was more satisfied or had a more pleasurable experience than the other, even though that can and does certainly happen. What orgasm is, for the most part, is a whole-body reaction to nervous system stimulation, usually — but not always — expressly sexual stimulation, and usually — but not always — because we are having sexual feelings in our hearts and minds. The “not always” in both cases is important. For example, some people orgasm when they are sexually assaulted, some people do in their sleep, some people do via sensory stimulus they strongly feel is not sexual for them at all. As well, some people have good sexual experiences, even amazing ones, where they experienced pleasure and felt satisfied but did not reach orgasm, either by choice or because that’s just not what happened. You may need to remind your girlfriend of that, especially if her experience is different, where she may not feel satisfied without orgasm, or have yet had an experience where she felt satisfied without it to understand that.

It’s fairly common for people to expect and want both people to reach orgasm in a sexual experience. However, I’d say that’s not as typical as a lot of folks imagine, and it is particularly uncommon when anyone is new to sex, or when any kind of sex is new in a given relationship. Often, it takes time for people to get comfortable enough to let go physically and emotionally so they can reach orgasm, and it can also take time for people to learn each others bodies (including our own) well enough for that to happen frequently. It’s safe to say that for people on the whole, all people involved in sex reaching orgasm every single time is the great exception, rather than the rule. It’s also typical for people to either not recognize, overlook or undervalue the fact that when we’re really into someone, our experience of pleasure isn’t usually just self-centered, but about what’s happening with our partner. In other words, you very clearly did enjoy yourself, and got a lot of pleasure and satisfaction from the pleasure she was experiencing. This is something you might want to talk about with her if you haven’t already.

One thing that can also amp all of this up is if we’re adding prototypical gender scripts to any of this stuff. A whole lot of women have the idea that guys are the ones who are always supposed to get off — and if they don’t, their partner must have done something wrong or been somehow lacking — while women may or may not. Scripts like that are so pervasive that few people are immune to them, especially in relationships in which there is one man and one woman. While people who either are not heterosexual and/or are not gendernormative can often be less impacted, I don’t think that someone is automatically immune to these scripts by virtue of being outside those groups. In some ways, I get the impression some trans people can feel even more impacted by ideals like that because of the high pressure put on you to conform more and more strictly to hegemonic gender scripts than cis gender people in order to “prove” your gender is authentic. So, that’s something else you two may want to check in on. This may be doubly loaded for her expressly because of her gender identity: both because she’s trans and because she’s a woman.

All the same, those gender scripts aren’t often correct or accurate for people, including cis gender people. While there are some broad commonalities we can claim, for the most part no one group of people — including the group that is all of us people — gets off on any one thing, in any one setting, in any one kind of partnership or dynamic. Just like we all have good days, bad days and meh-days in other areas of our lives, the same goes with the sexual part of our lives. Our experiences are going to tend to vary a lot from day to day and life-phase to life-phase. It might be helpful to check in on that, too, and also to do some more talking about the ways each of our experiences pleasure, what pleases you, what makes you feel satisfied. That way, you can both be sure that if you’re inclined to follow, intentionally or not, any scripts, the ones you’re following are your own, authentic to each of you as individuals, rather than being more about general expectations or cultural sexual ideals. This may be one of those talks that winds up happening because of something not-so-pleasant that turns into a great takeaway that’s beneficial for you both, one you might not have gotten to otherwise.

Let’s talk some about her readiness now, and her feeling in hindsight that she may not have been as ready as she felt before having her actual experience.

I used to teach kickboxing. Now and then, someone would come into my class who was clearly a big-time beginner, so I’d suggest they take things slow and easy. But then they’d get really into it, feel full of energy, strong and gutsy, and want to push themselves further. So long as it didn’t seem like they’d seriously injure themselves, I was not going to keep telling them to slow down because that would have been tremendously patronizing, and I needed to trust they knew themselves and their bodies better than I could. To treat them with respect, I needed to acknowledge that they were in a position to make their own choices about how much they wanted to push the envelope and let them decide how much, within reason. Sometimes those folks would do just fine and feel great during and after. Sometimes they’d feel great during, but come back next week and say their shoulders hurt like hell, and would say that this time, they were going to take it a little more easy. Sometimes they’d wind up running outside after a bunch of spinning kicks, toss their cookies on the sidewalk outside the gym and not even come back inside class at all that day, because they felt so embarrassed at having clearly done more than they were able to handle. There really was little I could do to forsee or control any of those outcomes beyond the basic warnings and gentle coaching I did already.

This is a lot like that. You’re not psychic and neither is she. She did her best to be self-aware and to communicate where she was at with you, you did the same. You each gave each other the respect around that people give each other who are partners, not parents. You two clearly felt you wanted the same things at the same time, which you both chose to pursue. You both enjoyed the experience at the time, but you left it feeling like it was the right thing at the right time for you, and she left it feeling like it wasn’t for her. That’s okay. You’re two different people, which means that often enough, you’re not going to have the exact same experience with things you experience together.

We can all prepare ourselves for something we have not yet experienced all we want, and that preparation is important. At the same time, there are some things we are going to tend to only find out once we are actually doing or have done that thing. There’s no shame in learning new or unexpected things about ourselves, no shame in making what we thought was a right call for us and finding out that maybe it wasn’t, no shame in discovering that we were not actually ready for something we thought we were. This is how, after all, most of us learn a whole lot of things in our lives, by trial and error.

I’d let her know that she doesn’t owe you any apologies: neither of you did anything wrong to each other here. I’d let her know that while however she’s feeling is okay, that she doesn’t need to feel ashamed or embarrassed about either her choice at the time or her feelings after-the-fact. It sounds like you’ve already let her know that you are 100% fine with how she’s feeling, and 100% fine with where she wants to go from here. Now you can just let her know that whatever conclusions she comes to? It’s also all good. You might also do some talking, after she’s had some time, to try and unpack together why she felt she was feeling so bad: that might also help her better clarify what she needs to really feel ready.

It may help to let her know that the myth of the “perfect” first time with a partner is often just that. Sex, like life, is most frequently imperfect, and that’s okay. First-time sex — heck, sex any time at all — with someone more often than not is not all floaty-awesome-flawless, but tends to carry complexities and uncomfortable vulnerabilities we may not forsee or anticipate, as you said. People are complicated, so expecting sex not to be, however common an expectation that is, doesn’t make a lot of sense. Part of what can make sex so incredible is that it can sometimes allow us to be very real and flawed with each other, even when we’re strongly vulnerable, so this experience being so real, and not the stuff of romance novels, is more good-thing than bad-thing in my book. Twenty years from now you’re much more likely to remember things like all the communication you had around this than to remember one orgasm you had.

You asked about if I think it’s be a good idea to step back from sex and give her some more time to sort through how she’s feeling. That does sound like a good plan to me, so I’d put that out there to her, reminding her that as you have been in the past, you’re just fine with waiting again. Perhaps obviously, if any of this felt triggering for her in terms of her past assault, if she’s working with anyone in counseling, supporting her in talking to her counselor about this, and getting an extra opinion on if this is a sound pace for her, would also be a good move.

Lastly, I don’t think you’re being disrespectful because you found her pleasure and/or orgasm arousing and exciting. In the moment, that’s what it was for both of you, and you can only really walk away with your own feelings, not with hers. You can hear, hold and understand hers, but you still had the experience you had, and it also sounds like the experience both of you had when you were having it was very positive. You can certainly talk this through with her if you both want to, but not only do I see nothing in how you’re feeling that disrespects her, I see nothing in the way you describe your relationship that suggests you are likely to be disrespectful.

This is one of those questions where, when I read it, what I see are two people being so excellent to each other who are probably each feeling bad about things they just don’t need to mostly because they so badly want to be excellent to each other.

There are limits to our interpersonal excellence. Even when we are interrelating magnificently, sometimes we or people we care for are still going to be disappointed, get their feelings hurt, or make missteps. There’s never any avoiding that completely, because we’re all only human and because we can get as close as possible to someone else, but we still can’t live in their heads and hearts. As well, as we go through life, we’re all in a neverending learning process to figure out what’s right for us and how to go through life making choices well. None of us are born savant in that respect: we all tend to gradually improve at it over time.

The best we can do is to do our best at being honest with ourselves and honest with each other; at leaving room for each of us to be our own person; at communicating deeply, clearly and often, at setting and honoring boundaries and by being caring and loving, at making choices for ourselves that impact others with both of us in mind as much as possible. It appears you’ve both been doing all of those things beautifully. All of that will absolutely tend to limit how often you get or feel hurt or disappointed, and how deeply you do when it does happen. But it can’t eradicate the risk of either.

If and when hurt or bummed-out-ness does still happen — and it will — then what we can do is use all of those great skills and intentions to be there for each other, to support one another, and to make allowances and adjustments as needed for others nd also for ourselves. In the end, that probably doesn’t make anything perfect, but that’s okay, because few things in life are ever perfect. (Also? I think perfection is overrated, and I say this to you as a terminal perfectionist, no less.)

It’s clear you hate to see her feeling bad because you care about her, and you may also have some feelings of guilt of your own this. But sometimes, even when people do everything as right as they can, people are going to feel bad and will need to some time to work through that. I know that sucks and can make you feel precarious or insecure, and I also know it sucks do do everything as right as you can and have it not go as right as you want, especially with big deals. And yet, sometimes, that’s just what happens. You and she both may need to work through some of your bad or guilty feelings alone before coming back at them together.

I think if you keep communicating, and keep supporting her as well as you obviously do, giving her what time she needs to process her feelings and figure out what her own next best steps are. If she decides she needs to put sex or certain kinds of sex on hold, I don’t need to tell you the best response is to honor that: you already know that. If she comes back saying she still wants to pursue sex, I don’t see any reason to distrust her in that, either, especially so long as you two continue to relate as well as you have been. You, also, get to take what time you need to process this and you, also, get to decide to step things back or make adjustments if you need to.

What I’ll leave you with, besides my best wishes and a few extra links that I think may help, is just a reminder that you clearly have and have created the good stuff here, quite exceptionally. Having beautiful, marvelous relationships isn’t about every aspect of them being flawless, but about accepting, supporting and caring for each other even when — and maybe even especially when — things don’t go as we’d have liked or aren’t exactly as we wanted. And from what I can gather, you two need very little help in that department. :)

Analysis Politics

Anti-Choice Democrats Employ ‘Dangerous,’ Contradictory Strategies

Ally Boguhn & Christine Grimaldi

Democrats for Life of America leaders, politicians, and rank-and-file supporters often contradict each other, and sometimes themselves, exposing a lack of coherent strategy at a time when the Democratic Party's platform is newly committed to increasing abortion access for all.

The national organization for anti-choice Democrats last month brought a litany of arguments against abortion to the party’s convention. As a few dozen supporters gathered for an event honoring anti-choice Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D), the group ran into a consistent problem.

Democrats for Life of America (DFLA) leaders, politicians, and rank-and-file supporters often contradicted each other, and sometimes themselves, exposing a lack of coherent strategy at a time when the Democratic Party’s platform is newly committed to increasing access to abortion care for all.

DFLA leaders and politicians attempted to distance themselves from the traditionally Republican anti-choice movement, but repeatedly invoked conservative falsehoods and medically unsupported science to make their arguments against abortion. One state-level lawmaker said she routinely sought guidance from the National Right to Life, while another claimed the Republican-allied group left anti-choice Democrats in his state to fend for themselves.

Over the course of multiple interviews, Rewire discovered that while the organization demanded that Democrats “open the big tent” for anti-choice party members in order to win political office, especially in the South, it lacked a coordinated strategy for making that happen and accomplishing its policy goals.

Appreciate our work?

Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:


Take, for example, 20-week abortion bans, which the organization’s website lists as a key legislative issue. When asked about why the group backed cutting off abortion care at that point in a pregnancy, DFLA Executive Director Kristen Day admitted that she didn’t “know what the rationale was.”

Janet Robert, the president of the group’s executive board, was considerably more forthcoming.

“Well, the group of pro-life people who came up with the 20-week ban felt that at 20 weeks, it’s pretty well established that a child can feel pain,” Robert claimed during an interview with Rewire. Pointing to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade, which protected the right to legal abortion care before the point of fetal viability, Rogers suggested that “more and more we’re seeing that children, prenatal children, are viable around 20 to 22 weeks” of pregnancy.

Medical consensus, however, has found it “unlikely” that a fetus can feel pain until the third trimester, which begins around the 28th week of pregnancy. The doctors who testify otherwise in an effort to push through abortion restrictions are often discredited anti-choice activists. A 20-week fetus is “in no way shape or form” viable, according to Dr. Hal Lawrence, executive vice president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

When asked about scientific findings that fetuses do not feel pain at 20 weeks of pregnancy, Robert steadfastly claimed that “medical scientists do not agree on that issue.”

“There is clearly disagreement, and unfortunately, science has been manipulated by a lot of people to say one thing or another,” she continued.

While Robert parroted the very same medically unsupported fetal pain and viability lines often pushed by Republicans and anti-choice activists, she seemingly acknowledged that such restrictions were a way to work around the Supreme Court’s decision to make abortion legal.

“Now other legislatures are looking at 24 weeks—anything to get past the Supreme Court cut-off—because everybody know’s it’s a child … it’s all an arbitrary line,” she said, adding that “people use different rationales just to get around the stupid Supreme Court decision.”

Charles C. Camosy, a member of DFLA’s board, wrote in a May op-ed for the LA Times that a federal 20-week ban was “common-sense legislation.” Camosy encouraged Democratic lawmakers to help pass the abortion ban as “a carrot to get moderate Republicans on board” with paid family leave policies.

Robert also relied upon conservative talking points about fake clinics, also known as crisis pregnancy centers, which routinely lie to patients to persuade them not to have an abortion. Robert said DFLA doesn’t often interact with women facing unplanned pregnancies, but the group nonetheless views such organizations as “absolutely fabulous [be]cause they help the women.”

Those who say such fake clinics provide patients with misinformation and falsehoods about abortion care are relying on “propaganda by Planned Parenthood,” Robert claimed, adding that the reproductive health-care provider simply doesn’t want patients seeking care at fake clinics and wants to take away those clinics’ funding.

Politicians echoed similar themes at DFLA’s convention event. Edwards’ award acceptance speech revealed his approach to governing, which, to date, includes support for restrictive abortion laws that disproportionately hurt people with low incomes, even as he has expanded Medicaid in Louisiana.

Also present at the event was Louisiana state Rep. Katrina Jackson (D), responsible for a restrictive admitting privileges law that former Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) signed into law in 2014. Jackson readily admitted to Rewire that she takes her legislative cues from the National Right to Life. She also name-checked Dorinda Bordlee, senior counsel of the Bioethics Defense Fund, an allied organization of the Alliance Defending Freedom.

“They don’t just draft bills for me,” Jackson told Rewire in an interview. “What we do is sit down and talk before every session and see what the pressing issues are in the area of supporting life.”

Despite what Jackson described as a commitment to the constitutionality of her laws, the Supreme Court in March blocked admitting privileges from taking effect in Louisiana. Louisiana’s law is also nearly identical to the Texas version that the Court struck down in June’s Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt decision.

Jackson did not acknowledge the setback, speaking instead about how such measures protect the health of pregnant people and fetuses. She did not mention any legal strategy—only that she’s “very prayerful” that admitting privileges will remain law in her state.

Jackson said her “rewarding” work with National Right to Life encompasses issues beyond abortion care—in her words, “how you’re going to care for the baby from the time you choose life.”

She claimed she’s not the only Democrat to seek out the group’s guidance.

“I have a lot of Democratic colleagues in my state, in other states, who work closely with [National] Right to Life,” Jackson said. “I think the common misconception is, you see a lot of party leaders saying they’re pro-abortion, pro-choice, and you just generally assume that a lot of the state legislators are. And that’s not true. An overwhelming majority of the Democrat state legislators in our state and others are pro-life. But, we say it like this: We care about them from the womb to the tomb.”

The relationship between anti-choice Democrats and anti-choice groups couldn’t be more different in South Dakota, said state house Rep. Ray Ring (D), a Hillary Clinton supporter at DFLA’s convention event.

Ring said South Dakota is home to a “small, not terribly active” chapter of DFLA. The “very Republican, very conservative” South Dakota Right to Life drives most of the state’s anti-choice activity and doesn’t collaborate with anti-choice Democrats in the legislature, regardless of their voting records on abortion.

Democrats hold a dozen of the 70 seats in South Dakota’s house and eight of the 35 in the state senate. Five of the Democratic legislators had a mixed record on choice and ten had a pro-choice record in the most recent legislative session, according to NARAL Pro-Choice South Dakota Executive Director Samantha Spawn.

As a result, Ring and other anti-choice Democrats devote more of their legislative efforts toward policies such as Medicaid expansion, which they believe will reduce the number of pregnant people who seek abortion care. Ring acknowledged that restrictions on the procedure, such as a 20-week ban, “at best, make a very marginal difference”—a far cry not only from Republicans’ anti-choice playbook, but also DFLA’s position.

Ring and other anti-choice Democrats nevertheless tend to vote for Republican-sponsored abortion restrictions, falling in line with DFLA’s best practices. The group’s report, which it released at the event, implied that Democratic losses since 2008 are somehow tied to their party’s support for abortion rights, even though the turnover in state legislatures and the U.S. Congress can be attributed to a variety of factors, including gerrymandering to favor GOP victories.

Anecdotal evidence provides measured support for the inference.

Republican-leaning anti-choice groups targeted one of their own—Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC)—in her June primary for merely expressing concern that a congressional 20-week abortion ban would have required rape victims to formally report their assaults to the police in order to receive exemptions. Ellmers eventually voted last year for the U.S. House of Representatives’ “disgustingly cruel” ban, similarly onerous rape and incest exceptions included.

If anti-choice groups could prevail against such a consistent opponent of abortion rights, they could easily do the same against even vocal “Democrats for Life.”

Former Rep. Kathy Dalhkemper (D-PA) contends that’s what happened to her and other anti-choice Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections, which resulted in Republicans wresting control of the House.

“I believe that pro-life Democrats are the biggest threat to the Republicans, and that’s why we were targeted—and I’ll say harshly targeted—in 2010,” Dahlkemper said in an interview.

She alleged that anti-choice groups, often funded by Republicans, attacked her for supporting the Affordable Care Act. A 2010 Politico story describes how the Susan B. Anthony List funneled millions of dollars into equating the vote with support for abortion access, even though President Obama signed an executive order in the vein of the Hyde Amendment’s prohibition on federal funds for abortion care.

Dalhkemper advocated for perhaps the clearest strategy to counter the narrative that anti-choice Democrats somehow aren’t really opposed to abortion.

“What we need is support from our party at large, and we also need to band together, and we also need to continue to talk about that consistent life message that I think the vast majority of us believe in,” she said.

Self-described pro-choice Georgia House Minority Leader Rep. Stacey Abrams (D) rejected the narratives spun by DFLA to supporters. In an interview with Rewire at the convention, Abrams called the organization’s claim that Democrats should work to elect anti-choice politicians from within their ranks in order to win in places like the South a “dangerous” strategy that assumes “that the South is the same static place it was 50 or 100 years ago.”

“I think what they’re reacting to is … a very strong religious current that runs throughout the South,” that pushes people to discuss their values when it comes to abortion, Abrams said. “But we are capable of complexity. And that’s the problem I have. [Its strategy] assumes and reduces Democrats to a single issue, but more importantly, it reduces the decision to one that is a binary decision—yes or no.”

That strategy also doesn’t take into account the intersectional identities of Southern voters and instead only focuses on appealing to the sensibilities of white men, noted Abrams.

“We are only successful when we acknowledge that I can be a Black woman who may be raised religiously pro-life but believe that other women have the right to make a choice,” she continued. “And the extent to which we think about ourselves only in terms of white men and trying to convince that very and increasingly narrow population to be our saviors in elections, that’s when we face the likelihood of being obsolete.”

Understanding that nuances exist among Southern voters—even those who are opposed to abortion personally—is instead the key to reaching them, Abrams said.

“Most of the women and most of the voters, we are used to having complex conversations about what happens,” she said. “And I do believe that it is both reductive and it’s self-defeating for us to say that you can only win if you’re a pro-life Democrat.”

To Abrams, being pro-choice means allowing people to “decide their path.”

“The use of reproductive choice is endemic to how we as women can be involved in society: how we can go to work, how we can raise families, make choices about who we are. And so while I am sympathetic to the concern that you have to … cut against the national narrative, being pro-choice means exactly that,” Abrams continued. “If their path is pro-life, fine. If their path is to decide to make other choices, to have an abortion, they can do so.”

“I’m a pro-choice woman who has strongly embraced the conversation and the option for women to choose whatever they want to choose,” Abrams said. “That is the best and, I think, most profound path we can take as legislators and as elected officials.”

Commentary Violence

When It Comes to Threats, Online or on the Campaign Trail, It’s Not Up to Women to ‘Suck It Up’

Lauren Rankin

Threats of violence toward women are commonplace on the internet for the same reason that they are increasingly common at Donald Trump rallies: They are effective at perpetuating violence against women as the norm.

Bizarre and inflammatory rhetoric is nothing new for this election. In fact, the Republican presidential candidate has made an entire campaign out of it. But during a rally last Tuesday, Donald Trump sunk to a new level. He lamented that if Hillary Clinton is elected president in November, there will be no way to stop her from making judicial nominations.

He said, “By the way, and if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”

For a candidate marred by offensive comment after offensive comment, this language represents a new low, because, as many immediately explained, Trump appears to be making a veiled threat against Clinton, whether he had intended to or not.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) called it a “death threat” and Dan Rather, former CBS Evening News host, called it a “direct threat of violence against a political rival.” Former President Ronald Reagan’s daughter Patti Davis said it was “horrifying,” and even the author of an NRA-linked blog initially tweeted, “That was a threat of violence. As a real supporter of the #2A it’s appalling to me,” before deleting the tweet as the NRA expressed support for Trump.

Appreciate our work?

Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:


This kind of language is violent in nature on its face, but it is also gendered, following in a long line of misogynistic rhetoric this election season. Chants of “kill the bitch” and “hang the bitch” have become common at Trump rallies. These aren’t solely examples of bitter political sniping; these are overt calls for violence.

When women speak out or assert ourselves, we are challenging long-held cultural norms about women’s place and role in society. Offensively gendered language represents an attempt to maintain the status quo. We’ve seen this violent rhetoric online as well. That isn’t an accident. When individuals throw pejorative terms at those of who refuse to be silenced, they are attempting to render public spaces, online or on the campaign trail, unsafe for us.

There is no shortage of examples demonstrating how individuals who feel threatened by subtle power shifts happening in our society have pushed back against those changes. The interactions happening online, on various social media platforms, offer the most vivid examples of the ways in which people are doing their best to try to make public spaces as uncomfortable as possible for marginalized populations.

Social media offers the opportunity for those whose voices are routinely ignored to hold power in a new way. It is a slow but real shift from old, more traditional structures of privileging certain voices to a more egalitarian megaphone, of sorts.

For marginalized populations, particularly women of color and transgender women, social media can provide an opportunity to be seen and heard in ways that didn’t exist before. But it also means coming up against a wall of opposition, often represented in a mundane but omnipresent flow of hatred, abuse, and violent threats from misogynist trolls.

The internet has proven to be a hostile place for women. According to a report from the United Nations, almost three quarters of women online have been exposed to some form of cyber violence. As someone who has received threats of violence myself, I know what it feels like to have sharing your voice met with rage. There are women who experience this kind of violent rhetoric to an even greater degree than I could ever dream.

The list of women who have been inundated with threats of violence could go on for days. Women like Zerlina Maxwell, who was showered with rape threats after saying that we should teach men not to rape; Lindy West received hundreds upon hundreds of violent and threatening messages after she said that she didn’t think rape jokes were funny; Leslie Jones, star of Ghostbusters and Saturday Night Live, was driven off of Twitter after a coordinated attack of racist, sexist, and violent language against her.

And yet, rarely are such threats taken seriously by the broader community, including by those able to do something about it.

Many people remain woefully unaware of how cruel and outright scary it can be for women online, particularly women with prolific digital profiles. Some simply refuse to see it as a real issue, declaring that “It’s just the internet!” and therefore not indicative of potential physical violence. Law enforcement doesn’t even have a solution, often unwilling to take these threats seriously, as Amanda Hess found out.

This kind of response is reflected in those who are trying to defend Donald Trump after the seemingly indefensible. Despite the overwhelming criticism from many, including some renowned Republicans, we have also seen some Trump supporters try to diminish or outright erase the violent aspect of this clearly threatening rhetoric. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and former mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani have both said that they assumed Trump meant get rid of her “by voting.” Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) said that it “sounds like just a joke gone bad.”

The violent nature of Donald Trump’s comments seem apparent to almost everyone who heard him. To try to dismiss it as a “joke” or insist that it is those who are offended that are wrong is itself harmful. This is textbook gaslighting, a form of psychological abuse in which a victim’s reality is eroded by telling them that what they experienced isn’t true.

But gaslighting has played a major role in Donald Trump’s campaign, with some of his supporters insisting that it is his critics who are overreacting—that it is a culture of political correctness, rather than his inflammatory and oppressive rhetoric, that is the real problem.

This is exactly what women experience online nearly every day, and we are essentially told to just suck it up, that it’s just the internet, that it’s not real. But tell that to Jessica Valenti, who received a death and rape threat against her 5-year-old daughter. Tell that to Anita Sarkeesian, who had to cancel a speech at Utah State after receiving a death threat against her and the entire school. Tell that to Brianna Wu, a game developer who had to flee her home after death threats. Tell that to Hillary Clinton, who is trying to make history as the first woman president, only to have her life threatened by citizens, campaign advisers, and now through a dog whistle spoken by the Republican presidential candidate himself.

Threats of violence toward women are commonplace on the internet for the same reason that they are increasingly common at Donald Trump’s rallies: They are effective at perpetuating violence against women as the norm.

Language matters. When that language is cruel, aggressive, or outright violent, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and it doesn’t come without consequences. There is a reason that it is culturally unacceptable to say certain words like “cunt” and other derogatory terms; they have a history of harm and oppression, and they are often directly tied to acts of violence. When someone tweets a woman “I hope your boyfriend beats you,” it isn’t just a trolling comment; it reflects the fact that in the United States, more women are killed by intimate partners than by any other perpetrator, that three or more women die every day from intimate partner violence. When Donald Trump not only refuses to decry calls of violence and hate speech at his rallies but in fact comes across as threatening his female opponent, it isn’t just an inflammatory gaffe; it reflects the fact that one in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence.

Threats of violence have no place in presidential campaigns, but they also have no place online, either. Until we commit ourselves to rooting out violent language against women and to making public spaces safer and more accommodating for women and all marginalized people, Trump’s comments are just par for the course.


Vote for Rewire and Help Us Earn Money

Rewire is in the running for a CREDO Mobile grant. More votes for Rewire means more CREDO grant money to support our work. Please take a few seconds to help us out!


Thank you for supporting our work!