If you know about Katie Hill, you know about her nude photos.
You wouldn’t say, “Oh, Katie Hill, she’s the one who’s openly bisexual and was the first woman and the youngest person to hold her congressional seat, right?”
You wouldn’t say, “I remember Katie Hill! She flipped a deep red Republican district in California in her first ever race.” Or even, “Katie Hill—she's probably the only person to hold political office who can quote both Susan B. Anthony and Xena: Warrior Princess.”
You would say, “Yes, Katie Hill—the one who resigned after her pictures were leaked.”
If you know of Hill, you know a handful of the most traumatic and personal facts about her life. You don’t know that she identifies with a Tamora Pierce protagonist (Sir Alanna of Trebond, of course) or that she has endometriosis or that in a freshman class which included Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley, it was she who was elected to represent the group to leadership. You don’t know that she reports feeling terrified to leave her husband, whom she's said was abusive (through lawyers, Heslep has denied any abuse), that she was suicidal after her scandal, and that a few months after she resigned, her brother, who had struggled with opioid addiction, died.
Hill had a meteoric rise, and an even faster fall: She was a former community college student who became the leader of a major non-profit, then launched and won a seemingly impossible run for Congress in a deep red district by the time she was 31. In Congress, she shone for exactly one year. Then, a right-wing site published the photos, which promptly spread as only nude photos of a 29-year-old congresswoman can. Hill says the photos, some of which were taken without her knowledge, could have only come from her then-husband, who she says threatened to “ruin” her if she left him. He reportedly said that he was hacked. The pictures showed that Hill and her then-husband were involved in a relationship with a younger woman, an employee of Hill's campaign. She resigned, with a resounding last-stand of a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives.
The fact that Hill's private photos were published is a tremendous act of violation. But the injustice was complicated by the fact that Hill did have a relationship that she knows was outside the bounds of appropriate behavior. It didn't break congressional rules, but the relationship tainted Hill's image as a champion of the #MeToo movement. She apologized, but there was no taking it back. She was the boss. The relationship had been with a staffer. There should have been boundaries. There weren't. That whole whirlwind—the allegedly abusive partner, the violating pictures, the uneven power dynamic, the perceived sordidness of a non-monogamous relationship—was compressed into one world for the public: scandal.
Hill was shamed, blamed, and presumed to be out of politics forever. Not so fast, Hill says. The 31-year-old has a political PAC, called HER Time, that’s dedicated to electing women. She has a new book, She Will Rise, that reads like the best possible combination of Seventeen Magazine and feminist manifesto. She has a new podcast, cheekily named Naked Politics. And she has a plan to set women free—a legislative project to aid women and girls in demanding a kind of freedom she has never enjoyed. Glamour asked Hill about life after public shame.
In so many ways, your story and your narrative have been controlled by other people. What does it feel like to get the opportunity, with your book, to tell your story yourself?
It was this crucial time in my life, coming out of the trauma that happened with my ex-husband, and with the photos, and with resigning. And then right after, within two months of when I resigned, my brother passed away. So being able to just sit down and tell my story—it was really therapeutic. I feel like it’s something that I needed to do for myself anyway, even if I hadn’t been able to publish a book. I’m glad that writing the book kind of forced me to do that, because I don’t know if I would have been able to do that otherwise.
There’s this kind of cruel criticism of you, that you have a “story for everything.” Like, “Oh sure, Katie Hill has endometriosis on top of everything else, how convenient.” [In addition to endometriosis, Hill has spoken openly about her sexuality, her gun ownership, dealing with emergency medical expenses, the fact that she once considered abortion but then had a miscarriage, and her sexual assault and abuse experiences.]
Yes! It's almost too strange, there are these experiences that happen to so many people, but they’re all rolled into one with me. I don’t know why during your life you go through things—and I think there’s got to be a reason behind it, and that’s the only way I’ve been able to cope with it all. But I think part of my job to tell these stories and hope that some of them have an impact on people. There still aren’t very many people in high profile positions who talk about these things, so I kind of feel obliged to. I mean, I’ve got the scars from my surgery—it’s one of those weird things where it’s like, “How do I have to prove it to you that this happened?”
If you feel comfortable sharing, what’s your relationship to sex now—and to your sexuality—after having experienced something so violating?
To me, it feels like you have to be able to own it even more. It’s about taking ownership of your own body and your own choices and that’s hard! It’s a process for me to figure out—what are self-destructive behaviors that come in the wake of all this trauma, versus what are healthy coping ones? I don’t necessarily have a good sense of what a normal sex life for me should look like. I’m just trying to take my time with it, but I’m 100% in on sex positivity. I do get nervous about any BDSM stuff, because of my own experiences with it as it tied into an abusive relationship—but other people doing that in a healthy and safe way? That’s great for them.
Your book attempts to give women and allies lays out a blueprint for 4th-wave feminism. Can you give your elevator pitch for what that could look like?
I tried to put into words our mission as feminists, as warriors, as women, which is to ensure that women are really guaranteed a few basic things—consideration, autonomy, safety, equality, and power. We do need to achieve equal power for any of these things to happen, which means electing women and installing women into positions of power at every level—whether it’s in government, in media, in non-profits, in the corporate world. And there is a real legislative agenda that can move us in the right direction for all of this. What came out of the book was ten real legislative goals that have either been composed or passed at the House, or passed at certain state and local levels, but have been blocked at the national level by Republicans. I don’t even think this should be a partisan issue! But it is. With HER Time, the PAC that I started, the overarching goal is to be able to elect women and then push forward this agenda. And I’m hoping we can get that to become a movement.
It’s so unusual for a woman to be accused of misconduct, who apologizes for having an inappropriate relationship. Can you share any advice for women who may not have ever thought of themselves as potentially in that position of power?
The biggest thing I learned from it is that when I started to campaign it truly felt like a movement and these people were my friends. That shouldn’t have been the case, because I was paying them. I truly do believe that the #MeToo movement and everything related to the abuse of power is really driven by patriarchy and power over women, so I don’t think the case is the same. But I do think we all have to be taking stock of that, and it’s not something that I did. I didn’t think of myself that way, and that was a mistake. You have to set your clear boundaries from the beginning. More than anything it probably just boils down to: Don’t shit where you eat.
You had this wild success, and then a spectacular fall. What does that feel like to rebuild?
Starting three and a half years ago, when I entered the space of becoming a candidate, I really was skyrocketing. I just kept going and going and going up, and then I just fell, like, off a cliff. Now the rebuilding part is slower. It’s like you’re climbing out of a canyon and you’re trying to find the most efficient way out, and also knowing that there’s danger in coming out too fast, but also you’ve got this really strong desire to get out as fast as you can.
With the outside parties that were in play, and my ex, I think that I very much came from the mindset of, “I’m not just going to sit here and kind of stew in this and be quiet for any lengthy period of time, I have to get back on my feet.” I’ve been a horseback rider for basically my whole life, and when you fall, the number one thing you’re taught, that's just drilled into you, is that you have to get right back on. The reasoning behind that is that you get a fear, really quick, it gets instilled in you, and it kind of becomes unbreakable if you don’t immediately get back on. You have to know that you can do it. I think that’s kind of where I am right now—I got back on the horse. I might not ever be at the level where I was before, but I got back on.
Your run for office was called “the most millennial campaign ever.” I'd like to test that. Who's the best American girl doll?
Samantha and Felicity.
Acceptable. Who is the hottest: Blair, Serena, or Dan:
Oh, it’s Serena. Also I’ve definitely copied her hair.
Jenny Singer is a staff writer for Glamour. You can follow her on Twitter.
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