12 March 2014

How People Like Him Get Away With It

More years ago than I'll admit, I taught in an Orthodox Jewish school.  In those days, I was still living as male and it was an all-boys' school so, of course, I would not be allowed to teach there today.  In fact, the only female there (unless you count me) was the secretary.  She was the head rabbi's mother.

Anyway, I mention it because not long after I was hired, the head rabbi told me something I hadn't expected to hear--from him, anyway.  "Orthodox famiies have all the same problems as other families," he said.  "We have substance abuse, domestic violence, you name it."

A long silence.  Then, as if he'd read the question in my mind, he continued:  "The problem is, for too long, we've swept it under the rug."

"I guess when you're a minority, you have to, " I responded.

His eyes widened.  "Yes!  We try so hard to present a united front, a clean image, that at times we hide all of the things for which we need help, whether from within our own community or outside."

I mention that experience because in the early part of my transition, I heard nothing about domestic violence--or any other kind of abuse--in LGBT relationships.  In fact, even though I was involved with the LGBT Community Center in New York as well as other organizations and projects involving the community, I never heard about abusive relationships in the LGBT community.

That is, until the issue hit home.  Literally.

You see, I didn't know it at the time, but someone knew that as happy as I was about starting my new life, I was also very, very vulnerable.  No matter how good an experience you have of "coming out", no matter how well your transition goes, you are going to be extra- (sometimes too) sensitive in some areas.  And people like the one I've mentioned can always figure out where your sensitivities are.

Early in my transition, I had also just come to terms with having beat up--with the help of two classmates--a gay man (or, at least, a man we thought was gay) when I was a teenager.  And I was also dealing with some of my own experiences of having been bullied.

The person I mentioned knew how to play on those things--and the fact that my parents were clearly making an effort to understand what I was experiencing.  He figured, correctly, he could use my relative good fortune to make me feel sympathy for him because he'd grown up in an extremely dysfunctional family.

About his family, he wasn't lying:  I saw the home in which he'd grown up, and in which he was still living, firsthand.  And he also figured out pretty quickly that although I'm not the most sensitive or caring person in the world, I am capable of a pretty fair amount of sympathy, if I do say so myself.

Little did I know I was walking into a trap. I've since learned that countless others--in and out of the LGBT community, some much more intelligent and sensitive than I am--have walked into the very same trap, in much the way I did.  

He also knew that he could exploit an old stereotype--the trans person as sexual predator--to his advantage.  Whenever I said "no" to him, stories would circulate about my having sex with students or others.  I have never done, and never would do, such a thing; in fact, I never did or would even before my transition.  

Just last spring, a year after I last heard from Dominick, I learned that his behaviors are typical of abusers in relationships with trans people, especially with trans people having their first relationships since starting their transitions.  Vicki, a counselor at the Anti-Violence Project, clued me into those patterns of behavior as we did other work on the aftermath of my realtionship with Dominick.  He never struck me with his hands or used any other physical violence.  However, he used various threats, including ones to make my life "so miserable that" I'd  "think living in a cardboard box is good" and to tell people "who'd believe me and not you," in his words, that I am a racist, sexual predator (Yes, he used that term!) and criminal.  

Probably the one "silver lining" in all of this is that he was stupid enough to write such threats in e-mails and text messages.  So, when I had to move out of an apartment and lost a job over "anonymous" complaints, guess who was the most likely suspect?  Even so, I had to go three times to the 114th Precinct, and to two courts, before anyone would take action against him.

Still, that's better luck than I had with LGBT organizations--including ones in which I volunteered--or individual people in the community I knew at the time.  One of those organizations is set up to provide legal assistance to trans people, but its founder/director thought my case was "too controversial."  And, of course, none of this city's gay publications wanted to run my story, or even to investigate it.

They were doing, it seems, exactly what the head rabbi of my old school described so many years ago.  I get the feeling that the directors of LGBT organizations didn't want to give homophobes ammunition.  And my old landlord and employer didn't want to risk the "controversy" of having someone who was even suspected--even though there was plenty of evidence to the contrary--of living up to the worst stereotypes (which they, deep down, still believed) in their midst.

Dominick knew people would act and react that way.  That's why he got away with what he did for so long.  And nobody who meets him would ever suspect he could behave that way--just as I didn't when I first met him. Finally, he knew--still knows, I'm sure--that just as he can bully someone else as he bullied me, he can count on at least a few people in the community to sweep his behavior under the rug--and would throw his victim under the bus, as they did with me.

As a post-script, I want to say that I've since met other gay men, lesbians and trans people who've been far more sympathetic and helpful.  Some are part of the Anti-Violence Project; others are part of the church (say what you will about it!) I now attend.

Post-post script:  The last time I wrote about my experiences with Dominick, he sent me a threatening text message that began with "It has come to my attention that..."   In other words, he couldn't even admit that he was trolling this blog!

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