[CW: assault, gun violence, rape]
for someone who’s all about cultivating A Sense of Occasion IRL, i always struggle to write when the occasion calls for it.
but i am aware that on this day, five years ago, a group of french criminals assaulted and robbed kim kardashian.
a circumstance which seems to demand some words.
having just yesterday been introduced to a new acquaintance as someone who “writes about kim kardashian,” i’m suddenly aware that in, having spent those five years since the assault/robbery working on an… essay?… book?… journal article?… thing that will only ever be 20 versions in microsoft word?… item of as yet to be determined form about the assault, i am now someone who quasi-officially writes about kim kardashian.
or at the very least, when people who know me and/or my work see kim kardashian, they now think of me.
i’m not actually sure that i do write about kim kardashian though.
which may sound stupid given that i obviously have and am. but that doesn’t seem to capture what is happening here.
because the relationship doesn’t feel so much like writing about a person as peering deep into cultural miasma and trying to wrench forth something for which language has not yet been invented.
i told you last time i have a john the baptist complex. i’m aware, that sentence right there probably makes it sound more like a god-complex. but, no, really. we’re working with what marilyn frye calls “the phallocratic semantic systems of language.”
people, there is no room for us there.
for me, the experience of writing about kim kardashian has been entirely unlike the experience of writing about jackie. there was/is a relationship there, with jackie. deeply one-sided given jackie’s dead and never knew me and has only ever like four times deigned to appear in my dreams, but a valuable parasocial relationship nonetheless. so powerful in its shaping of my life that i have excavated it again and again and again and again.
reading about jackie helped me navigate my own life through college. writing about jackie has freed me to live as i want—or, perhaps, more truthfully, as i am wont to. roving through ambiently unstable circumstances, ruthlessly alone, trying to locate some approximation of feeling through words.
i am not unaware that jackie’s is a story of trauma.
i don’t think i came to it for that… though maybe i did? i’ve written about this already, so let’s not go there now.
as i recalled last time i wrote here, i vividly remember the moment when i posited how hard it would be to write a biography of kim kardashian. which was not to say, at the time, that i particularly wanted that challenge. just that i noted it.
originally, this was just a conference paper on kardashian’s absence from social media after the assault.
then there was a paper on her jackie-themed photoshoot in W. then some years went by and i was bored of a tuesday afternoon and revisited some of that material and found a cfp for a journal issue on the theme of time and, for whatever reason, god help me, i linked the two and spent the fall of 2019 writing about kim kardashian and lost time.
and then and then and then and then, and now i am someone who is introduced to new people as someone who “also writes about kim kardashian.”
the thing is though, there is a similarity between the two.
in the early days of jackie, at conferences—back when it felt deeply political to say “jackie onassis” instead of “jackie kennedy”!— when i was introduced as someone who writes about jackie onassis, people would legit ROLL THEIR EYES.
and then they’d see my writing and see what i was doing and be like “oh, ok, maybe this woman’s life matters.”
writing that i realize this is my job description: i write about time and trauma and language and lives and the women we roll our eyes at.
when i was introduced as someone who “also writes about kim kardashian,” the person who i was being introduced to—who seems perfectly lovely, mind you—made a point of saying the kardshians are something she never got into.
which is well and good, and not to say that she’s not very often problematic, but what worries me is how, so often, that is worn as a badge of honor. because why?
dear people, i ask this as gently as possible. look into your heart: what cultural and identity work is disparaging her doing for you?
this post is going nowhere.
everything i write these days goes nowhere or, at least, lacks an ending.
i am without ending. i cannot conclude. because the words and the story are inconclusive. because we have literally and temporally not yet arrived at an ending. because i use my writing for working through.
here is what i know:
kim kardashian was assaulted and robbed in a hotel in paris, five years ago today, in the early morning hours of october 3rd, 2016.
in conversation with david letterman in 2020, here is what she said about that experience:
KK: … they grabbed me and I was wearing a robe and I wasn’t wearing anything under it… [whispers] I don’t wanna cry.
DL: Oh, no, no, no, no… We alright?
KK: [through tears] I don’t wanna ruin my makeup.
DL: It’s fine. The makeup is fine.
KK: Okay. [sniffs] And, um, he grabbed me and pulled me towards him. But I wasn’t wearing anything underneath, so I was like ‘Okay, this is like the time I’m gonna get raped. Like, just deal, like, it’s—This is—it’s gonna happen. You know, like. Just prepare yourself.’ So, I did, and then… I don’t know why I’m crying. I’ve talked about this before… Um… But then he tied me up with handcuffs, and then zip ties, and then duct tape. And then duct-taped my mouth and my eyes. And before he had my eyes, he had—I saw—I mean, before he duct-taped my eyes, ‘cause that was the last thing, he um… I saw he found my whole jewelry box, and, like held it up, like, ‘Aha!’ Like, ‘We got it.’ […] And then, um… [pause]… And then, I saw him have a gun out to me, and I was like, ‘Ok, this is it’” (“Kim Kardashian”).
here is an actual halloween costume that was advertised that same month:
yes, it was pulled in the face of general outcry.
but presumably it was internally vetted.
some people somewhere thought this was ok.
this is one thing but the things add up. if you’re a nobody watching the somebodies’ experiences of violence publicly demeaned, it doesn’t exactly embolden the heart.
i am deeply disheartened by how many things in american public life make me feel justified in my decision to never report to the authorities any of the harm done to me by men.
a few days ago, a friend asked me about the word “survivor” and whether i knew of any alternative. because, we were in agreement, the word “survivor” is awful. the word “survivor” does not work for us.
i’mma ask my therapist about this, but, currently, i have no alternatives, beyond the extremely clunky “people who have experienced sexual violence.”
in that conversation, i wondered aloud if my own rejection of the word lay in not wanting to be seen as a victim. but, later, i pondered the matter of accuracy.
i do not feel as though i have survived yet.
the story is not over.
it is still in the midst of becoming.
oline, be more concise!
it is ongoing…
on 3 october 2016, kim kardashian was assaulted and robbed in her hotel suite in paris. due to some invisible cultural compact that arose with astonishing haste, this incident was almost only ever after referred to as a robbery. or, lol, “the paris incident.”
full disclosure: i do not know kim kardashian. i am also not in her head. but, based on her own public statements, i don’t think kardashian sees this as an assault. she and letterman agreed that the word “robbery” didn’t do justice to what happened, but in public she has mostly expressed gratitude that it wasn’t rape. she is aware others have been through so much worse.
donald trump raped e. jean carroll in a dressing room at bergdorf’s in the 90s. on cnn, in june 2019, carroll described the rape and then refused to use that word for what she had described, expressing an awareness that others have been through so much worse.
for the longest time, i didn’t call what was done to me rape, in large part because it just felt like dating, but in other part because, as i knew, others had been through so much worse.
i was not held at gunpoint at the age of 20. i was not forced. i did not scream because i was afraid of waking his mother.
these are two photographs of my family at my college graduation two years later.
they were taken by that man. they were taken by him a month and a half after i managed to get myself away from him. and still he showed up at my graduation. still, he found me and said hello to my family.
i’m talking about different degrees of violation here as though they were one, compressing trump’s rape of carroll, two men’s raping of me, and the assault of kardashian in the hotel room. i’m not sure the separation of the degrees of violation even matters. it’s all violation. it’s all physical harm done by men.
but i also see them all as being part of the same story, existing on a spectrum where so many of us do not feel at home with where we are, not because we deny what has been done to us but because what was done did not occur at the most extreme end.
and because we fear the laughter.
indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter. the uproarious laughter…
and not just the laughter, but also the dismissal.
it was a woman who, in a discussion of a sexual harassment claim i tried and failed to file, told me she knew i was going through a lot personally. it was a woman who, with the very best of intentions, used a man raping me against me in my effort to hold another man accountable for asking to borrow my uterus.
it was a woman who did that, who said that out loud, but the awareness of that dynamic sits with me always.
i am quite certain the men in my professional life have no idea that every time i speak out critically, every time i say we need to include more women or we need to be aware of a toxic aggression that has entered the chat, i do so with the awareness of how easily i can be dismissed, how easily whatever i say can be brushed off as my oversensitivity resulting from my having been fairly open in the last year about men having raped me.
imagine for a moment, if you will, the threat of having the violence you experience wielded against you—consciously or unconsciously, out loud or internally— as a reason you shouldn’t be taken seriously in all other areas of your life.
it sits like a hand against the throat.
and yet, still, somehow, because it matters, we do speak.
i reject the word brave.
and yes, yes, i’ve been told it’s unrealistic– to expect people to be putting in the work of doing better, to demand change beyond the meager offering of sympathy and good intentions. the woman who held my own rapes against me also reminded me we have to be realistic.
but i’m a writer. i write other people’s lives. i dwell in possibility. how bleak—to be incapable of imagining a world with, if not no violence, at the very least, LESS.
what was done to kardashian was extreme, but it wasn’t rape. what was done to me was rape, but it didn’t feel extreme.
the language does not allow for those complexities. the language shuts out our lived realities.
the language cannot capture the feeling, the unceasing psychic trembling, the sensation that some ghostly part of your body is in constant, unrelenting preparation to run at any given moment.
“I don’t wanna cry,” kardashian told david letterman.
i hate that watching this interview on netflix, i cried at his response. for the fact that, in a room full of people, on camera, he demonstrated something approaching care.
“Oh, no, no, no, no…” letterman said, asking, “We alright?”
kardashian makes a joke and deflects with worry about her makeup. she seems genuinely surprised to be so impacted by the telling of this story of how she was recently tied up and held at gunpoint and thought she might die.
“I don’t know why I’m crying. I’ve talked about this before,” she says.
later in the interview, she says: “Besides that little cry session, I’m totally fine.”
when my therapist asks me how i am, at the times i don’t feel that i’m actively falling apart, i say, “pretty ok.” and she seems pleased by this. i’m not convinced that i’m pleased, whilst also not being sure i’ve ever inhabited a better state.
maybe this is it. maybe, at long last, i have arrived at the descriptor that is appropriate for how i actually am. pretty ok it is.
i am someone who writes about kim kardashian.
in doing that, i am writing about language and trauma and life and celebrity and grief and violence.
doing that hurts a hell of a lot, let’s be honest. but it’s helpful too.
writing being a way of inhabiting life, a way of putting your brain into life in a way that i’ve never quite been able to do in the actual living. and/or a way i have always preferred/found more bearable.
i do not feel like a survivor.
i am not grateful for what has been done to me.
what i am always grateful for is that i was born with a love of stories and that i was encouraged to tell them by all of my english teachers. so that, when i have needed the writing—at once a practice and a craft and a profession— to save me and reconstitute me as a human being, it has been there, at the ready.
i write about language and trauma and life and celebrity and grief and violence. in doing that, i write about kim kardashian.
all i ask is: please do not roll your eyes. please do not laugh at us.
this is such a clunky piece of writing and i’m displeased with it.
but points were made?
tl/dr: kim kardashian was assaulted and robbed five years ago today. violence is awful and trauma is real and the language was built for neither. be kind.