In her 2019 memoir, What Do We Need Men For?, E. Jean Carroll accused Donald Trump of rape, in a Bergdorf’s dressing room in the mid-1990s. After the president denied ever meeting her and dismissed her story as a Democratic plot, she sued him for defamation. Carroll was not, of course, the first woman to say that Trump had sexually harassed or assaulted her, but unlike so many other powerful men, the president has remained unscathed by the #MeToo reckoning. So in the run-up to the November 3 election, Carroll is interviewing other women who alleged that Trump suddenly and without consent “moved on” them, to cite his locution in the Access Hollywood tape. “I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them, it’s like a magnet ... And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy.”
Carroll’s lawsuit took a dramatic turn three weeks ago, when the Justice Department intervened in an attempt to take over the president’s defense, asserting that Trump was acting in his official capacity when he claimed not to know Carroll. Meanwhile, a White House spokesperson denied all of the women’s allegations, calling them “false statements” that had been “thoroughly litigated and rejected by the American people.” Read the previous installments here.
Just as there is an unofficial dress code for meeting the Queen of England, there is a style etiquette for meeting Donald J. Trump in a nightclub. So, from the onset, let me bring you news of our heroine’s wardrobe.
“Little Betsey Johnson miniskirt,” Kristin Anderson tells me.
“By ‘mini,’ Kristin,” I say, “do you mean halfway between your hip and your knee?”
“Oh! We’re nowhere near my knee!” Kristin replies. “We’re about an inch below my butt cheeks. And tight! Almost like I’m dipped in latex.”
What era are we talking about? Roughly, reader, the era between Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct giving the world a glimpse of what Gustave Courbet calls L’Origine du Monde and the opening night of Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues. The early 1990s, when tight dresses, short skirts, and spike-heeled puss-in-boots are worn by women in New York clubs, and 5-foot-9 Kristin Anderson is a born-again girl from Connecticut trying to make it as a dancer and model in the big city.
“What are you wearing underneath, Kristin?”
“A bodysuit. Low back, straps, and high cut on the hips because that’s the thing. I’d hike my bodysuit up on purpose to give a longer leg line. So I’m wearing a bodysuit, miniskirt, and heels.”
“And it’s not the snap-closure kind,” Kristin says. “It’s an actual bodysuit.” (Every woman knows Kristin is referring to that little bit of armor, two inches wide, between the leg holes.)
“And it’s 1992 or ’93?” I ask.
“Right in there.”
“And you remember it’s probably China Club?”
One night when I myself am heading to China Grill, I end up by mistake at China Club. But as it is only 10:30 p.m., and too early for the screaming, dancing, diddling, drinking, and gunfighting, I miss seeing Elton, Stevie, Sting, Madonna, Prince, the other Stevie, Eric, Iggy, Rod, Cher, Bowie, Warhol, Bruce, and Mick.
“China Club is huge,” Kristin says. “It has a balcony, it has couches—it’s so fun. People-watching. The fashion show! There’s a line around the block to get in.”
Whenever I Zoom with Kristin, I get the urge to race through a sprinkler. She’s a woman who gives off a lot of sunshine.
“So you’re in your early 20s, and you’re sitting on one of the couches. Leather? Or suede?”
“And you have no idea Trump is sitting next to you, because you’re turned toward your girlfriends, who are sitting on the other side of you?”
“We’re packed in like sardines,” Kristin says. “China Club doesn’t follow maximum-capacity guidelines.”
“You’re young and—” I am about to say “devastating.” But don’t take my word; here’s a photo of Kristin from the time we’re talking about.
“So I’m at the club. And I kind of think other people may see the short skirt and the happy, laughing girl and think, She’s game. I say that now,” says the raconteur of 50, a successful photographer who lives in Los Angeles, smiling back at her hot young self. “At the time, I was just out. I’m going dancing with my girls. I’m having a great time! I don’t see who is sitting next to me.”
Kristin’s dad is an engineer. He drives the Metro-North train on the New Haven–New York line. Her mom is an EMT volunteer and watches General Hospital religiously, and Kristin grows up in Clinton, Connecticut, hearing “Luke and Laura, forever” and giving tea parties for her stuffed animals. She begins ballet lessons at age 4. She wears princess costumes when she roller-skates to the Bee Gees under a disco ball in the basement.
“Playing any sports in school, Kristin?”
“I’m dancing, E. Jean. I’m not kicking any balls.” She is in the choir, the prayer group, the youth group, and is an acolyte at Holy Advent Episcopal Church; and, when these activities are not holy satisfying, Kristin asks her parents for permission and begins following the Pentecostal evangelist Grace ’N Vessels, who is “really, really dramatic—she’s got big flowers in her hair and long nails.” It is Kristin’s “first taste of a deeper spirituality,” and soon when she walks through the halls of Mercy High School, watch out. You don’t want to talk to old Kristin! Kristin will start praying over you about Jesus.
“Kids see me coming, and it’s like the parting of the Red Sea. ‘It’s Kristin! Everybody dodge her!’”
Reader, have you heard what Trump does to women? I mean what Trump does to women, really.
When people tell me they’re amazed that Trump is still president after so many women have accused him of groping, I reply: “That’s because nobody has told them what groping is.”
I mention this because we are at the point in Kristin’s story when Trump performs something the media call “reaching up her skirt.” Like “groping” and “grabbing” and “touching,” nobody knows what the heck Trump is actually doing, or to what part of the female body he is doing it. So the job of describing that falls to Kristin.
Don’t worry. Kristin can handle it. If you are squeamish, take heart. This is not live television. It is a brief exchange, and Kristin and I laugh most of the way through it. That is how painful it is.
“It’s gnarly,” Kristin says.
“Trump is sitting next to you,” I say. “You’re facing away from him, and he puts his hand on your leg? He reaches all the way up?”
Kristin makes a soft assenting noise.
“He feels your vulva?”
“He gets there.”
Silence. Kristin holds out her hand, turns it palm up, curves it slightly, and makes an upward motion with her fingers, as if patting the inside of a sandcastle.
“Does he pinch you?”
From pure tension, Kristin bursts into a peal of laughter.
“Yes! It’s like a squish.”
“Like cupping,” Kristin says. “Like a squeeze.”
“What feels worse than that,” I say.
You know those lights you clamp on your computer to illuminate your face on Zoom? The blaze coming from Kristin’s eyes is enough to light the entire state of Connecticut as she says: “I don’t know why anyone would do that. I remember seeing the [Access Hollywood] video my friend sends to me. And she is like, ‘Kristin, did you see this? Isn’t this what Trump did to you?’ I am like, ‘Oh my God! That’s exactly what Trump did to me. And he just admitted it. That’s crazy.’”
From Mercy High School, Kristin moves on to the University of Connecticut. From UConn she booms down to New York City nearly every weekend, thanks to her free pass on Metro-North. Before her freshman year is up, she leaves school and moves in with her new boyfriend, a modeling agent, and from her agent’s place in New Haven, she moves to a West 83rd Street flat with her friend Rosa. And so when Trump feels her up on that red-velvet couch, her reaction is: “Just to move.”
“I turn toward him,” Kristin says. “And I remember seeing the hair and the eyebrows. Trump has those crazy eyebrows in the 1990s that are like”—she points her fingers out from her own eyebrows like bike spokes. “My girlfriends are ready to dance. We have been sitting long enough, and when I get grabbed by Trump, I stand, push against my friends, and we all kind of nudge our way through the crowd, and once we’re free, I look back, and my girlfriend says, ‘That’s Donald Trump!’ And I’m like, ‘He just stuck his hand up my skirt and grabbed me!’”
Twenty or so years after Kristin encounters President Fingers, a young woman who looks like Kristin’s sister—a slim, 5-foot-10 blond dancer with an ear-to-ear grin and a corn-silk complexion—is working as a hostess at a New York Fashion Week event held at Trump Tower. Though the young woman has mentioned it on Facebook, this will be the first time the world hears her story.
“It’s the Jenner girls’ first runway show together,” she tells me. “So the Kardashians are there. Ryan Lochte [the Olympic swimmer] is Trump’s guest, as are Miss USA and Miss Teen USA.”
The young woman, a knockout, is full of pep when we Zoom. She tells me about the black sheath she is wearing that night—“three-quarter-length sleeve, lace on top”—and shows me a picture. “I’m covered all the way up to here!”
“Very dowdy,” I say. “The skirt is only four inches above your knee.”
Her job is seating the VIPs.
“I see Trump walking straight at me from across the room,” she says. “He comes up, puts his arm around my waist as if he’s known me all along, and his hand immediately glides down to my butt. He squeezes it, and shakes it like it’s a hand. He jiggles it and then gives it a little tap. And he says, ‘I’d like to be seated now.’”
“So Trump’s hand is on your—”
“On my right butt cheek, to be specific.”
“Like he’s plucking a honeydew?”
“No, a full grab. He goes like this—” she spreads out her hand and turns it palm down like Tamika Catchings ready to dribble—“like somebody palms a basketball. You know, palms it, shakes it, and then gives it a little pat.”
“It’s the little pat!” I exclaim.
“I have never felt so dominated by a gesture,” the woman says. “I don’t know the right word for it. But I felt so small. And it wasn’t like ‘Oooh, I want to ravage you. Ooh, baby, baby.’ It was just he wanted to show that he could. And he did.”
People say Trump is prejudiced. He is not prejudiced in the least—he squeezes one tall white blond woman in the front and jiggles another tall white blond woman in the back. Both women come forward.
“A month before the 2016 election, I’m casually telling a co-worker about the time I met the Republican nominee for president,” says the hostess from the fashion event, who is now a Pilates instructor, “and my co-worker’s reaction is: ‘That’s assault!’ It’s the first time I realize anyone would care about the incident. So I write a Facebook post—four days before the Billy Bush [Access Hollywood] tape comes out. I honestly think it’s gonna be a few people from my high school seeing it, because the maximum number of Facebook ‘likes’ I get is 25. The first death threat comes from a friend of a friend. Really? You’re threatening the wrong person! Why are you threatening me? After about an hour, someone posts a picture of me in a bathing suit and says, ‘This is the whore that wrote that. Can you believe anything she says?’”
Because of these attacks on her private Facebook account, the young woman asks me not to name her in this article; the last thing she tells me breaks my heart. “As people start responding,” she says, “I have weird flashbacks. I relive the other not-so-fantastic things in my life—every dude who’s ever been a little shithead before.”
Coming forward drives the Pilates instructor to remember her past. Remembering her past drives Kristin to come forward.
“A man invites me out with him,” Kristin says. This is a year or so after China Club. “And I say, ‘Okay, sure!’” sounding like she’s not sure at all.
“He’s taking me to dinner. Of course, we stop off at his place first for a drink. This is common in New York. And he asks me: ‘Have you ever shotgunned a beer?’ I say, ‘No!’
“So he brings me a beer with a hole poked in the can, and I try it, but I spill it all over the place. We are out on his balcony. Up high. It’s on the Upper East Side. He’s like, ‘Try it again! Try it again!’ And then he hands me another beer, and I do like he tells me and put my mouth on the hole and tip my head back, and he pulls the tab, and I get the whole beer down. I’m like, ‘Oh my God! I can’t believe I did it!’ And maybe like 10 minutes later, I start to feel dizzy, and my body stops working. I am unable to stand. And the next thing I know I am lying on his couch. I can see and hear, but I can’t move my body.”
“You were roofied!”
“Yes. And you know what? He opens the door and lets in four of his friends. They take turns. And then they dump me in a taxi, and I don’t remember how I get into my apartment. You know what else? I never speak of it. For years.
“So when the women begin accusing Trump, I feel that if I can’t say something about a pussy grab—so trivial in comparison to what has happened to me in my life—I may never open the can of rape worms in order to heal. I know, deep down, I have to do it. It is just very scary to open that can.”
On October 14, 2016, The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty breaks Kristin’s story. “Crazy Republicans” showing up at Kristin’s house wanting to slit her throat; people sending her crime-scene photos of the naked, bloody bodies of women—this is perhaps not what Kristin had in mind when she says she came forward to heal. But I think that in a small, weird way, the grisly reactions helped. I text her that notion.
“Hell no!” shouts Kristin, her radiance pouring through the phone as she curses at me. She is driving and leaving me a voice text. “It was scary!”
I am thrilled. I have never heard Kristin swear before.
“I don’t want to be chopped up into little bits! But on the flip side, my skin is now much, much thicker. So maybe in a roundabout, backhanded way, along with the work I did on myself, yes, it helped.”
Indeed, when her photography studio goes on hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic, Kristin spends her time enjoying the beach with her 9-year-old son and creating a seven-module course for sexual-assault victims called “True Course: Reclaim Yourself and Reignite Your Life,” which is available online. Kristin is so effervescent, in fact, so full of fresh courage and humor, I feel that it’s time for us to go back to China Club.
“Kristin!” I say. “Picture the scene. The music is pounding. Your girlfriends are there. The crowds. The velvet sofa. You are wearing your Betsey Johnson miniskirt. Trump is next to you. Can you see his eyebrows? Now Trump runs his hand up your leg. He’s a street dog after a bone. What do you do?”
She is quiet for a moment. Then she lays out the moves.
Kristin: I slap Trump across the face!
E. Jean: What else?
Kristin: I call out to my girlfriends, and they come running.
E. Jean: Good! Good!
Kristin: And they come with zip ties, and we zip-tie Trump’s hands together.
E. Jean: Very tightly?
Kristin: Very! And one of the girls hands me a judge’s robe, and I put it on. It is a very sexy judge’s robe, slit up to here.
E. Jean: And who pronounces the verdict?
Kristin: Me! I say, “Donald Trump, you are guilty of grabbing my pussy.”