As a bisexual woman and rape survivor, Evan Rachel Wood was understandably traumatised by the results of the 2016 election and she has plenty of company. After the Access Hollywood tape was released, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) reported a 33% increase in calls to their US helpline. On November 10, Vice reported that crisis hotlines were "flooded" with calls directly related to the election results.
It didn't wear off after a few days or a few weeks. Millions of us have spent the past year coping with PTSD setbacks as a result of the election. In a new Nylon essay titled "What Evan Rachel Wood Learned In The Year Since Trump Was Elected," the actress explains exactly why the past year has been so traumatic for millions.
"Every time someone called me a whore or closed a door in my face, I knew I was alone and that the world was not set up for victims to call out their abusers. I would have to play dead until they didn’t want me anymore and I could find a way out," Wood writes. "I tell you this because this is what half of America is going through right now. Half of America is traumatized and in an abusive relationship with this administration and people (especially women) are so triggered because it’s deja vu."
It's hard to explain or express how it feels to wake up every morning and see a man who brazenly bragged about sexually assaulting women as president. It's painful to understand how and why 63 million people cast their votes for him rather than the candidate with the private email server. And a lot of the time, I don't want to understand. To me, Trump's voters have represented all the people who doubted or bullied me when I told them I'd been raped. I've stubbornly said I don't want to find common ground with them.
But Wood's powerful essay points out that listening and finding common ground is the only way we can move forward. And I'm inclined to listen and take her advice because I know the election hurt her just as much as it hurt me. This hard-to-follow advice is compelling coming from Wood rather than a person who wasn't directly harmed by the election results.
"Violence, abuse, and oppression run rampant in the past of angry violent people. Remember this when you are calling a Trump supporter a fucking idiot and punishing them for being lost," Wood urges readers. "That’s what they are. They are lost. When a child does something bad or wrong, do you make them feel like a fucking idiot for it? Or do you try to guide them in the right direction? Do you get them help? Are you patient? Do you listen?"
She emphasises that she's not excusing "horrible behavior," but we need to try to understand it. "If we could take a step down off of our moral high horses for a moment and listen to each other, we can look deeply into someone and their situation to find out where these ideas and beliefs come from and why," Wood writes. "When you ask the right questions, you realise the 'why' is sometimes more important than the 'do.' The 'why's are what connect us, so ask questions of your enemy.'"
Wood isn't telling us to go out and become best friends with a Trump voter. Rather, she's calling on us to examine how our own behaviour could alienate voters who may genuinely want to understand where we're coming from. Of course, there are the conspiracy theorists who will never, ever listen — but they don't represent all of Trump's voters, many of whom regret casting their votes for the president. Our inclination may be to smirk and say "you got played!" but there's a real opportunity here to understand why they chose Trump, and why they'd change their vote if they could.
I'll be the first to admit that this isn't easy for me, but Wood's essay reminded me that our current social and political climate is far bigger than me. If we want to bring about change, we need to actively engage with the people who put Trump in office, either by voting for him or sitting out the election. As Wood says, compassion is definitely worth a try.