On Kavanaugh and Ford: Why I Threw Up During the Confirmation Hearing
by Max S. Gordon
About five minutes into the Kavanaugh judiciary hearing, and in anticipation of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, I threw up my breakfast. I’m assuming I ate something that didn’t agree with me, but I believe it was more than that — a feeling of excitement of what was to come mixed with a sense of dread. While I commented extensively throughout the almost nine hour hearing on Twitter and Facebook, throwing up was probably the most honest response to what followed than anything I wrote all day.
I was moved, close to tears many times, by Dr. Ford. I felt she presented herself with dignity and grace. I felt her fear. I too drink Coca-Cola when I’m frightened or sad. (And I’m still trying to give it up.) I loved that she asked for what she needed during the process, even when she didn’t get it. And I was very moved when I read her entire testimony out loud to my husband the night before. I understand the “second door” that she talked about in her story — I am an adult child that still hides behind second doors. Her honesty made me explore the terror still trapped in my body.
Dr. Ford speaking out to an invisible but omnipotent Trump, to the all white/all male/all “straight” GOP senators watching, to Judge Brett Kavanaugh waiting in the wings, and to an often belligerent public, felt like a David and Goliath moment. No matter what happens with the rest of the confirmation, I’ll walk a little taller from now on because of her showing up in that room, knowing that she risked so much to be there and that her life will never be the same.
Kavanaugh’s performance, on the other hand, triggered me in many ways, reminding me of painful times in high school, my community, and in my family. As I’ve written, Brett and I are only 5 years apart — minus a year he could have been an upperclassman whom I would have looked up to, an older brother of one of my classmates in 1984 when I started high school.
As I studied him, not only listening to his words but reading him psychically through the eyes of a child of an alcoholic, I saw the signs of a man out of control; overly sentimental in one moment and then completely shut down and raging in the next. I suspect that Trump watched his Fox News interview, and felt he portrayed himself too much as a victim: which is is why we got this bizarre, aggressive, lack-of-boundaries, macho performance. The problem is he’s not Donald Trump and he can’t carry the Trump bravado and shamelessness. So he came across as dissociated, petulant, beseeching, and — and to put it succinctly — a dick.
Whatever you think you about Kavanaugh, there is no professional excuse, no matter how angry or frustrated he was, for the way that he spoke to Senator Amy Klobuchar. He asked her twice if she’d ever drunk enough in her life to black out, after she admitted that her father was a recovering alcoholic. She’s not interviewing for the job, he is. I can’t think of a single interview on earth where you could speak to someone like that and not be led straight from the office onto the street. There was a lascivious, misogynistic tone of entitlement and privilege that clearly his team picked up because he apologized as soon as he returned from the break. But he showed his character and in that moment I knew exactly who he was. Their brief exchange was defined by violence.
I kept thinking of Arthur Miller if someone was inspired to write an updated adaptation of his classic and called it “Death Of A Frat Boy”. Everything in Kavanaugh’s hearing, including his wife’s mournful expression throughout, screamed: “Attention must be paid!” Lies on lies, shame on shame. When asked by Senator Whitehouse about the “Devil’s Triangle” section of his yearbook, Kavanaugh says it’s a reference to a drinking game, when he knows damn well that it is about three-way sex, usually between two men and a woman. When Dr. Ford testifies at one point that during the assault Mark Judge jumped on top of both of them twice, as a gay man a bell goes off in my head. It’s scary to contemplate the need these two may have had to push Christine into that room because perhaps they were terrified about the part of them that really wanted to go into the room alone with each other. In the macho world they exist in, better rapists than faggots.
And the world won’t understand that their attraction or curiosity isn’t about closeted gay men: it’s about homo-hatred, it’s about sexual confusion, it’s about two children who are male and white and “straight”, coming of age and taking their place in the pecking order of our society and learning about sexual dominance and power. Some may be gay and most will be straight, but what defines them all is sexual fear and rage, conquest and contempt. And because who they will become when they take their place in the world requires a lack of empathy, a shutting down of vulnerability, they must hate the women around them and the woman in themselves — which is the origin of rape. So, some boys rape or brag about rape to impress other boys, which is why Kavanuagh also lies to Whitehouse about the “Renate alumni”. A man prefers his act of rape witnessed, often by a gang of other men, as the acknowledgment that he has arrived at the table of power — his real confirmation hearing.
Kavanaugh is the boy that, in order not to be called a pussy by other boys, grabs one. What we saw play out yesterday was a classic example of rape culture: the man who violates a woman — a woman he claims he respects and likes — because another man told him to; in this case, our commander-in-chief. Kavanaugh violated Klobuchar publicly to prove to the other men watching that he is man enough for the job.
But of all the things that triggered me, I was most horrified by Lindsey Graham’s Good ol’ Dixie, old time slavey, cotton-gin, Stonewall Jackson, Kentucky Bourbon, faux-Mark Twain, corn-pone, grits with cheese, mint juleps on the plantation porch, southern gentleman theatrical, Broadway-Bound outburst. At one point my computer froze as Graham was in mid-rant, and he had that savage look seen by a black man or woman at another time and place, as a cross was burned on a lawn or eyes closed for a final time while the lynch mob swayed beneath.
Then I took a long look at Grassley. Maybe God has people die of old age because assholes simply refuse to change. Sometimes I feel done with hope. I’m sorry to say that I truly worry that with all we saw yesterday, we are still going to get Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. My prayer is that enough people were outraged by what we saw, want a paradigm change and will vote in the midterm elections to shift the balance of power.
What struck me the most, finally, was the lack of courtesy toward Dr. Ford. I know that the GOP made the decision to have prosecutor Rachel Mitchell ask their questions, but I wanted Senator Graham, and Senator Cruz, and Senator Hatch, all the republican big mouths, to say, “Dr. Ford, we’re glad you came here today. We’ve turned our questioning over to a special prosecutor, but we wanted to welcome you personally to our home.” But we didn’t get that. All I saw during her testimony were arms in suits, ties, cufflinks and male hands. No names, no faces. Just silence. And then Rachel Mitchell.
It’s incredible. The woman who was sexually assaulted, who technically should be drowning in shame while telling her story, stood there trembling and faced the entire world. Meanwhile, the men who believe that they have the right to rule over what women should do with their bodies, couldn’t even look one woman, the woman who mattered most in their lives yesterday, directly in the face.
If you don’t laugh at the irony, you could actually lose your mind. But I don’t want to go crazy. That’s why I’m looking for inspiration, for tools to cope right now.
I don’t know where we are in this cultural moment. I’m going to bed. But I’m going not with the image of Brett Kavanaugh’s puckered expressions of disapproval and bewilderment, a man who continues to protest about his innocence while the majority of his public record is still withheld from us, but rather with a lasting image of Dr. Ford. I want to remember how I felt when she was asked by Senator Durbin how sure she was that it was Brett Kavanaugh who assaulted her. And she replied, without even a moment’s hesitation or indecision, “One hundred percent.”
That’s self-love, that’s self-trust. That’s something I can use.
Max S. Gordon is a writer and activist. He has been published in the anthologies Inside Separate Worlds: Life Stories of Young Blacks, Jews and Latinos (University of Michigan Press, 1991), Go the Way Your Blood Beats: An Anthology of African-American Lesbian and Gay Fiction (Henry Holt, 1996). His work has also appeared on openDemocracy, Democratic Underground and Truthout, in Z Magazine, Gay Times, Sapience, and other progressive on-line and print magazines in the U.S. and internationally. His essays include “Bill Cosby, Himself, Fame, Narcissism and Sexual Violence”, “A Different World: Why We Owe The Cosby Accusers An Apology”, “Faggot as Footnote: On James Baldwin, ‘I Am Not Your Negro’, ‘Can I Get A Witness’ and ‘Moonlight’”, “Resist Trump: A Survival Guide”, “Family Feud: Jay-Z, Beyoncé and the Desecration of Black Art”