Bring back empathy, dignity

Posted on 22 Apr 2016 at 8:05am

As the Oak Lawn community struggles to address violence from without, we must fight hatred from within

Michael DominguezThis is an article I’ve been meaning to write for some time. I sat for weeks mulling over exactly what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it. The fact is, there are so many issues that the Dallas community and the LGBTQ community at large needs to address that it’s difficult to pick a starting point — issues like racism, sexism, agism and our own internalized homophobia.

But the issue that seems to hit me and so many people that I have come to know the last few months the hardest is our community’s — specifically, the Dallas community’s — utter lack of empathy or human dignity in the face of tragedy.

When I moved here at the end of October 2014, I didn’t know anyone. Making friends and meeting people was difficult. The Dallas LGBTQ community doesn’t exactly have a reputation of being warm and fuzzy to new people.

I moved to Oak Lawn because I figured that I might have an easier time if I was in the middle of everything. I began going out, and as time went on, I slowly began forming a circle that I clicked with.

I visited Austin less and less and started spending more time with my new friends. Life seemed to begin to normalize, and I settled into a normal, boring routine. And I was quite happy with my obscurity.

Then on Oct. 2, 2015, a little more than two weeks from my one-year anniversary of living in Dallas, everything changed.

I left S4 at about 1 a.m. for the three-block walk back to my apartment. I remember being hit with something in the back of my head, and I remember feeling a wave of immense heat rush over me. Then I woke up in the trauma unit, with doctors crowded around me stitching up my face, my neck and my side. They told me I suffered a fractured skull and a fractured eye socket. My orbital wall was blown out, resulting in an orbital fracture,  and I had a laceration to my temple, and stab wounds to the left side of my neck, my left rib cage and my left arm.

I had not one single memory of being attacked.

I hadn’t really ever been in the spotlight of the media before. I never really had a desire to be front and center of anything, save for a few school plays growing up. So when this happened, it never really occurred to me that putting my face and my story out for the public to see would destroy that obscurity that I valued and thrust me into a position of public scrutiny.

I never imagined that there would be any negative repercussions to speaking truth to a situation and trying to get help from the community to fill in pieces of an event I had no recollection of.

Boy was I wrong.

Almost immediately my Facebook Messenger was inundated with messages from people I never met. My chat apps were blowing up with messages from guys who never had a single word to say to me.

In the beginning, the messages were polite well-wishes and condolences. It was overwhelming, but I was happy that the word was getting out to so many people.

A week and multiple news stories later, and there was still no word and no witnesses had come forward. I changed my profiles to a photo that the media was using and a brief description of what had happened in hopes that people would contact me directly with info. That’s when everything began to go south.

The well-wishes disappeared and were replaced with vitriol and accusations of showboating. I began to hear that maybe I got what I deserved because I was probably a “stuck-up faggot like everyone else in that neighborhood.” I was told that everyone was “tired of seeing my ugly face on TV” and I should “stop trying to get attention.”

More time passed. Ever the hard-headed Leo, I continued doing what I had been doing. I gave more interviews. My ugly face was on the TV many more times. I even helped co-found a nonprofit, Survivors Offering Support, which works with other survivors of violent crimes to help them navigate everything that happens after — including the media and potential fallout.

And boy, has there been fallout.

As more and more attacks happened and more of these brave men came forward, I was horrified to see that the hate and callous attitudes I had encountered in the privacy of chat apps were migrating to more public social media forums. Guys that I knew personally through our shared experiences were now having the validity of their accounts questioned, their character destroyed and their past mistakes brought to light and used as public fodder against them.

And all of it done by people in our own community, cowards hiding behind the safety of their computer screens, ill-informed and over-entitled. People who lacked empathy and human decency were spouting words and views with no regard to how they might actually be affecting survivors of violence, to how they were only adding fuel to the blaze that is fear of reporting, fear of humiliation, fear of being ostracized.

Local businesses also jumped on board the community idiot train. General managers of some gay bars poured more salt onto not-yet- healed wounds by proclaiming “the Oak Lawn community is safe. This is a media firestorm. If people make responsible decisions then they won’t have anything to worry about.”

Another posted on Facebook, “If people would just stop walking home drunk and watch their surroundings …” to suggest that the victims of these crimes were to blame for almost being murdered; that their own actions led to them being left on darkened streets and alleyways with their blood pouring onto the asphalt.

The victim shaming that came to light at a time when our community should have banded together was shocking and disgusting. At a time when survivors needed the support of their community, we were instead met with ridicule, doubt and shame.

For six months now, I have talked with local activists, friends and fellow survivors at great length about the issue of callousness in our community. When did this start?

Our community was built on the backs of trans women of color, fearless warriors who led the charge against police brutality in the Stonewall Riots. Yet we fast-forward nearly 50 years to today, and our community now disregards the plight of our trans brothers and sisters almost entirely. They’re ornamental, token girlfriends that we parade around on our arms at bars, but hardly anyone stands up and has honest conversations about how difficult it is for them to find employment, or have access to healthcare, or walk safely in public or have their murderers brought to justice.

We boast in our chat profiles that we have no interest in “blacks or Asians,” rationalizing that it’s “just a preference.” Or we fetishize minorities to the point where they are dehumanized and seen as nothing more than a sex toy that should be happy that they’re receiving attention.

The “I-don’t-really-date-black-guys-but-you’re-cute” line isn’t a compliment. When you tell me that “you absolutely love Latin guys,” what you’re telling me is that you have no interest in my personality, opinions or journey and are instead only basing my worth on the color of my skin.

It’s not a compliment; it’s an age-old form of systemic racial oppression, and our community, as an oppressed fringe group of society itself, should be fighting against it, not perpetuating it.

We are all entitled to our opinion. We all live in a country where we have the right to voice those opinions, to question things that we don’t believe or don’t understand. The issue here is whether or not it’s responsible to voice those opinions publicly during a time when we should be helping each other heal.

We have to endure so much idiocy and hatred and misunderstanding from a society that doesn’t understand us and has no desire to, why would we then want to turn around and continue that cycle of shame and bigotry?

At what point did we as a society reach the point that we would rather see someone succumb to circumstances than come out stronger and thriving. When did we become people that would choose to not only delight in, but also aid in their downfall?

For survivors of violent crimes, sexual assaults or domestic abuse, the overwhelming feeling of isolation that comes from not being able to find someone that understands what you’re going through further complicates our already fragile emotional state and for many leads to a life long battle with depression. Whispers around town used to hurt, but today a whisper is available for hundreds of people to see immediately.

I want to live in a world where violence, bigotry and hatred have no place. I want a community that holds its head high, that knows its history and is proud of its lineage. I want a community that stands together to fight any outside force that threaten its survival.

I want a community that doesn’t take its own and attempt to destroy them at their weakest moments. I want a community that is a community, one that takes care of itself, edifies and encourages, teaches and mentors.

We used to be a great community. We have unlimited potential in us. If we stopped tearing each other down and instead focused that on tearing down the walls of misinformation and fear and bigotry just imagine where we could be in 10 more years. Equality may actually mean something that point. And we can proudly say that we had a hand in bringing that ideal to reality.

Michael Dominguez violent crime survivor and co-founder of Survivors Offering Support.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 22, 2016.

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