I was in my last semester of undergrad when I discovered that the phrase “seeing red” is not just a figure of speech. This realization came on Thanksgiving 2009, about two months after the man I was going to marry – the man who raped me—had broken our engagement, saying “I can’t trust that you’ll be a submissive wife.” The breakup was his attempt to reassert control over our relationship after I had begun resisting the constant verbal abuse he bludgeoned me with. He was confident that after punishing me with his absence for a few weeks that I would be eager to take him back and be the compliant, biddable wife he felt he deserved.
Thankfully, it backfired. A month of freedom was all I needed to realize that I did not want to marry him.
So, on Thanksgiving, after he’d stalked me for weeks and persistently harassed me for several hours that day, I snapped. I was consumed with righteous rage and a sanguine cloud flooded my vision. I cannot recall exactly what I screamed at him, but I do vividly remember his face. He was shocked. To him, my rage was confusing and unnecessary, a hysterical overreaction.
It took three more years for me to begin the healing and recovery process, and it wasn’t until I was married and away from the toxic culture I’d been drowning in that I finally felt safe enough to gingerly open the box I had stuffed all the trauma into. The first thing I unpacked was rage. It burned bright and hot, a wildfire scorching away the disease and rot that had pervaded my life.
The rage I began expressing scared many of the people who knew me, who cared about me. They came from the same faith tradition I’d been brought up in, a tradition that teaches that “negative” emotions like rage, despair, sadness, anger, and bitterness have no place in a Christian’s life. My rage deeply concerned them, and I began receiving a consistent stream of worried messages, texts, emails and phone calls. They all tried to persuade me that I could only be healed if I let go of my rage, but I knew deep in my bones they were wrong. Rage was the only sensible path forward, the only roadmap I had to recovery.
I slowly came to understand that if I was going to remain a Christian, I needed to find a path that had room for the rage and grief I carried with me as a rape survivor. Rage is the only human and rational reaction to the trauma I’d experienced, and I could not smother my humanity in order to remain a Christian. It was around this time that I first read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. This past Tuesday, after we read Martin & Malcolm & America by James Cone, my seminary professor asked “what elements of Malcolm’s theology could contribute to Christian theology?” and my answer was immediate: holding space for rage.
Over the last few years, Malcolm — among others — have taught me how to handle and process rage. For me, there are two diverging roads I can take: one destructive, one constructive. Anger, grief, even despair, have been a constant companion during this administration but the last two weeks and the unwillingness to listen to Dr. Ford’s story, the lack of compassion, have brought rage to the forefront. Being a woman and a rape survivor feels a bit like being emotional and psychological cannon fodder for the political machinations of the far right, and on Sunday night a dam broke. I was so filled with rage I could have choked on it; I was in so much pain that continuing to exist as a suffering, breathing, feeling person was becoming intolerable. I could feel the familiar destructive impulses — wanting to climb out of my skin, digging my fingernails into my hands, arms, face, scalp… the sheer desperation just to make it all stop, as well as the desire to reach through the internet and strangle the rape apologists crawling out from under their rocks.
But my seminary work early this week reminded me that there is a constructive channel for rage — I could try to bottle up the rage and let it poison me, or I could use it to propel me toward action.
On Tuesday evening, I received a notice from the Women’s March and the Center for Popular Democracy: They were organizing to protest Kavanuagh’s nomination. Without hesitation I signed up to attend the training Wednesday night and the direct action on Thursday.
At the training, Women’s March founder Linda Sarsour spoke on rage, on using our rage to encourage ourselves and each other, on expressing the depths of our rage to those in power through non-violent civil disobedience. I drove into D.C., wanting to participate. In every previous protest I’ve attended, I remained compliant and biddable. I only engaged in marches that had permits, obeyed the instructions of officers, and always stayed within the bounds of D.C.’s statutes. As a disabled person and queer woman, was I willing to put my body on the line for this cause? Sarsour’s words echoed inside me with a resounding yes.
I stood in the Hart Senate Building in solidarity with Dr. Ford during her opening statement, and then marched with old friends and new to the steps of the Supreme Court. Sarsour repeated her words from the night before, and then I followed her into the street. Together, 59 of us knelt on the pavement and let the rain drench our hair and clothes. With one voice we poured out our rage in chants and protest songs. I closed my eyes and wept as I sang “Somebody’s hurting my sister / and it’s gone on far too long / and we won’t stay silent anymore.”
We obstructed traffic for nearly an hour until Capitol police arrived to arrest us, and during that time I reflected on everything that had brought me to my knees in the middle of a D.C. roadway. Rage brought me healing, but it has also cleansed and restored my faith. It transformed a passive detachment from the suffering of God’s beloved into doing everything I can to protect the orphan and widow. Rage was a balm for my wounded heart, and now it will continue to drive me to lay healing hands on a world filled with pain. No man and no faith tradition can take that from me, or from us.