I can’t believe I ever called myself “Cuomosexual”
Last April, I took a picture of myself proudly wearing a “Cuomosexual” shirt and uploaded it to my Instagram Story. Cut to this week, when I typed the word “FINALLY!” In a text thread with friends as Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his resignation. After State Attorney General Letitia James found out that he had sexually harassed 11 women, it was undeniably clear that Cuomo was never worthy of the cult or power bestowed upon him.
Now that Cuomo’s transgressions, which allegedly includes fiddling with an employee in her office and kissing another former staff member without her consent, have been revealed, I am deeply embarrassed by how I fell for this fake savior of New York City. But I was certainly not the only one who saw her press conferences as a daily COVID church sermon or buying pro-Cuomo products, as so many other brilliant women around me and beyond were falling for exactly. under the same fate.
At first, the state’s COVID-19 quarantine quickly became all of Andrew, all the time. My apartment was located on the Brooklyn Hospital Ambulance Route, so the constant screaming of sirens never made me forget the threat right outside my doors. On the days my young daughter was with her dad, I would wake up, remember living in a hellish landscape and staggering towards the television for Cuomo’s morning briefing. While anxiously putting my kittens and ice cream puzzle together, I found solace in the strong Queens accent that promised “just the facts” in the form of a foam mountain and PowerPoint slides.
After all, Cuomo offered a seductive alternative to our then president, who routinely denied science and spat racist vitriol on social media whenever he got the chance. It suddenly became Lord of the Flies and we were all looking for a leader, so it was easy to think, “Look at this New Yorker! He shoots straight, calls the villain to the top and pleads for our well-being! And apparently a giant Navy ship is coming ?! ”
As I recently poured out the testimonies of the many women this man is accused of harming, I began to wonder why so many of us seek solace from someone so fundamentally flawed. It was no secret that he used intimidating tactics to achieve his ends, with a well-known propensity to yell and berate those around him. So why was I shocked that this selfish politician wielded his power over women in less influential positions? More importantly, why does our critical mind fly out the window so quickly when a dominant white man with an ego walks into the arena?
I have loved, worked for, and championed for more toxic men in my life than I can even begin to count. From press releases I wrote for a CEO of a nonprofit – before he was finally arrested for stealing from his own social service charity – to the abusive boyfriend I defended relentlessly for years, I have laid down at the feet of this type of man far too many times.
I thought my tolerance for toxic masculinity had been rejected by my love of credit loans and fad diets. After having my dignity shredded, I had learned the hard way and knew all the manipulative tactics and narcissistic character traits. I am in a loving relationship based on mutual respect and I work with women who defend me. I constantly remind my own daughter of her intrinsic worth and have analyzed the complicated relationship with my father for years in my therapist’s office. And yet, as a 36-year-old woman, I learned the name of the showboat governor’s dog (that’s the captain) and congratulated him on saving our town.
As the virus raged, I was only further taken by the former governor’s star power. Fresh off the trail of a Cuomo-themed Zoom happy hour with friends, I slipped into his DMs to send a message of gratitude (he never responded), while wearing a yellow Andrew tie. -esque. I still cringe at the thought that I once called him “Zaddy” in a conversation and read more than one salacious article dissecting his romantic turned platonic relationship with Sandra Lee.
Cuomo’s fall was a wake-up call that I had spent more time Google searching for rumors surrounding this elected official’s alleged nipple piercing than his work history. Until a few months ago, I knew very little about her sudden dismantling of the Moreland Commission in 2014 or his controversial Buffalo Billion project and human ties convicted of directing hundreds of millions of public funds to privileged companies or his alleged role in creating the Independent Democratic Caucus, a group of Democratic state senators who split from the party to form a coalition with the Republicans, effectively ceding control of the chamber to the GOP. It took his administration the horrible COVID retirement home scandal to finally get me out of my Cuomo Stockholm syndrome, as a writer Rebecca fishbein invented the phenomenon.
With the veneer around Cuomo starting to crack, I stopped letting him into my morning routine. When accusations of sexual misconduct surfaced against him, I realized how disillusioned I had become. As a sexual assault survivor, I know all too well the devastating effects of this type of abuse and the courage it takes to speak out. And so, my fanclub was immediately dismantled.
The idea that an elected official with a sordid past could save us from our own health crisis became absurd, and I ceremoniously ripped up the t-shirt I had proudly shared with the world and used it to stuff my pillow of bumpy ground. It seems that over the past year, some of us have stopped looking for a real superhero to end the pandemic and started to recognize reality.
The privilege that I hold, and the way it has influenced my actions, is undeniable. As a white woman, born in the United States to a middle class family, oppressive policies, systems and rulers did not affect me in the same way they have BIPOC communities. In retrospect, it was always the women of color around me who called Cuomo cult from the very beginning. They knew better because they probably always had to, and I’m ashamed I didn’t know better too.
I am in awe of the courage it took for these women to stand up against a force as powerful as the former governor. We owe it to them, and to all those who have fallen victim to corrupt and oppressive systems ruled by men intoxicated with power, to think more critically before saluting our next national hero. Cuomo was never the one to save us; he simply served as a distraction, turning our rage away from himself and the government of the state slow response to pandemic. Maybe next time we won’t be so easily fooled.
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