A beloved New York fixture, Domonique Echeverria has become known in recent years as a fabulously dressed party host brimming with joie de vivre.
in 2014, she told me, "I'm an open book and I wear my heart on my sleeve," remarking that she's not a "f*g hag," but more of a queen—"a drag queen!" she said, laughing.
So it came as a shock when, last November, the vibrant Echeverria tried to kill herself on the Kosciuszko Street station of the J train. She miraculously survived, but lost an arm and a leg and suffered other body traumas that she's been having treated.
But in my exclusive interview with the glamour goddess last week about the experience and her healing process, it became clear that she's gained a lot of wisdom. Here's our chat.
Hello, my darling. I think of you often. How are you?
I'm doing well. I am in my first prosthetic leg and my body is healing and my mind is healing. I'm being very pro-active and responsible with my healing. I'm also training to be a healer. After my incident, my mom guilt tripped me into coming out to California for my recovery. I'm originally from San Francisco, but my mom moved to L.A. I'm working with doctors here at UCLA. I have a rough draft of a prosthetic leg, and it'll be upgraded next week. The insurance doesn't give you the good leg right away. You get a shitty leg, a couple of months pass, then you get an upgraded version, and so on. I was taking time to recover, but I started saying yes to projects recently. I'm thinking, "Who's an engineer and wants me to be their muse and build a really incredible prosthetic?"
What about your arm?
I had to go back into surgery because my bone in the amputated arm kept growing through the arm after the amputation. They had to redo everything and re-saw the bone down. I had to deal with that whole situation again, which fucked with me and threw me off balance, but I've kept myself in a strong healing routine. I'm just now going to be getting casted for my arm on Wednesday. But I don't really mind the one-arm thing. I've lived in this same body for 28 years. I was the only one who's a tall, voluptuous brunette. Now it's a dime a dozen. I'm looking at my body as another canvas of myself and styling myself differently. I just ordered all these amazing gloves. I want to find a really amazing glove maker. I'm embracing it from an artistic point of view. It's just another medium. I've always used myself as my own medium. Isn't that what we do as artists? Take all this fucking shit, because artists are insane, and go channel it somewhere. Of course my situations are a little more extreme.
Please tell me about your emotional crisis that triggered what happened.
I decided to become an adult and I was like, "I want to do work on myself." I started going to therapy and had a desire to evolve as a human and not let my past trauma or petty bullshit get in the way of my emotional regulation. I started going to a therapist. I had a series of unfortunate events, so they pushed medication on me about six months before the incident. I say "incident," not "accident"—I did throw myself in front of the train. Well, I was misdiagnosed as bipolar and was put on a hardcore mood stabilizer called Lamictal. I started the medication about the same time as I began a beautiful, healthy relationship. All the positive things I was getting from being in love, I was putting on this medication. They started me at 25 milligrams and every few weeks, they'd bump it up. I was up to 100 milligrams and thinking, "I'm not feeling this, I can't sleep, I have no appetite, no sex drive, I feel nothing, it's giving me anxiety." The therapist said, "This happens sometimes. You reach a plateau with the medication. That's your body saying you're ready to go on to the next dosage." Two months before I jumped in front of the train, they bumped me up to 150mg. When they did that, I am telling you I couldn't sleep or eat. I had anxiety where I couldn't leave my house or be around people. I'd be with my beautiful, magical boyfriend and three best friends I love. It's not that I didn't feel love or wasn't successful. But instead of my therapist helping me work through my trauma, I was pressured to take medication, and this chemical took over my body.
I did my research even before I went on medication. So many people say, "Medication changed my life." It all works differently, for different people. My brother can eat pizza all day long, but I'd get sick if I did. A week before the incident, I was losing my shit. I felt like a maniac. I told my therapist, "I want to get off the medication." He'd always say, "Now is not a good time because it's Fashion Week or you're going to be traveling or you just hurt your back or you're PMSing." Anything to find a reason to not get me off the medication.
I did the responsible thing -- I went to professionals to help me and they destroyed me. You know that I love life. I love to have fun. I care about the people around me more than about myself. Suicide is extremely selfish. For me to be in the mindset to not care about the people around me shows I was completely outside of myself.
I'd done coke and heroin and acid and I'll tell you, pharmaceuticals are the worst fucking drugs. They can make people sick. I guarantee you there's more people addicted to pharmaceuticals than street drugs.
What was the root of your problems?
I had some family issues that I had to work through. When I moved to New York, I didn't have any money because I spent most of it helping my family, so I became a live-in nanny. My dad all of a sudden stopped talking to me. He met this woman who convinced him to shut me out. Also, my mom had a stalker. He was threatening to kill me. And I had a bad relationship, so I started going to therapy. I had a great therapist. She changed my life to the point where I felt I didn't need her because my life was starting to pick up in New York, so I stopped going and I was working.
I was hosting for Susanne Bartsch and traveling to the Life Ball and everything was great, but I still had this deep sadness in me that my father didn't want to talk to me because he was so pussywhipped by this sociopath. Also, I got attacked while hosting a party, by a straight man who had been stalking me. [Not the same stalker who was previously mentioned.] Instead of it being this nice queer art community I've always existed in, some straight people started infiltrating, like shitty misogynistic women who were mean to the trans girls, and there were jock guys. That straight, arrogant, entitled cis fucking bullshit that these people started bringing to these parties. I decided to go back to therapy. It was some drunk, misogynistic, shitty man who thought, "Oh, that woman is mine. I will take her."
[During this time,] my therapist wasn't available, so she recommended me to her cohort, who I didn't want to go to, but he seemed gay. I started going to him and he really pressured me to go on medication. He seemed a safe environment for me to test out medication. I was under so much emotional distress.
Dominique Echeverria getting ready at home for a 2014 shoot with Papermag.com. Photo by Rebecca Smeyne.
Are you still in the relationship with the boyfriend?
No, because my mother, who I've never had a good relationship with... I felt guilty for throwing myself in front of a train, so she convinced me to move here to L.A. to continue my recovery, so I did out of respect.
Did you actually end up on the train track?
Yes. I jumped and got shoved into the tracks. I turned my back and my ass saved my life because my booty sticks out, so I didn't die. But my arm got ripped off and my leg got crushed. I ruptured a lung. I woke up on the train tracks with people trying to revive me. I've always had a crazy rollercoaster of a life, which is why I'm in the artistic community, the queer community. We stay separate from the sheep in society and come together as a tribe.
But the medication made me feel stuck. I'd cry to my boyfriend, "I feel like I'm stuck." I don't let people know if I'm upset because I don't like to connect with people on negativity. I didn't even feel comfortable crying in front of my boyfriend. I'd go into the bathroom and cry.
Do you feel more comfortable with expressing your emotions now?
I've always been vocal, if someone's done something that bothered me. I've always been able to stand up for myself. But the medication made me feel like I couldn't talk or do anything. I couldn't even put together sentences to express myself. My great grandmother's Mayan and Guatemalan and my grandmother is Puerto Rican and Spanish. They were all clairvoyant and fortune tellers and brujas. If you do know me, you know that I'm fucking magical. There are some people who have light. People with dark energy are drawn to that and feed off you. I felt like I was getting more and more sensitive to the energy around me. I'd be walking down the street with my boyfriend. This blind man with a cane, holding onto a caretaker, was walking down the street. As we waked past him, he lunged at me and started yelling all this crazy shit in tongues. Crazy shit like that was happening all the time. My roommate was getting scared, saying, "Our house is haunted." My boyfriend started wearing a cross to bed. And I felt like that and the medication and issues with my family and getting attacked at work, I didn't have it in me to keep fighting. A few days before the incident, I couldn't sleep. I kicked my boyfriend out of the house a week before, feeling, "I think I'm losing my mind." I thought, "I don't feel I love you. I don't feel anything." Then I was like, "What the fuck did I do? I cut off the one person that holds me down so hard and is such a supportive partner. I need to get myself together." So I was going to yoga twice a day. I couldn't eat. By November 9 [the date of her incident], I was so sleep deprived. I was green under my eyes and so malnourished. I literally walked to the train station. I read articles that said I was pacing on the platform. I wasn't pacing. I waked straight to that station, sat, and as the train was coming, I went right to the front of the train and jumped.
The response to your incident was powerful in the community, no? Benefits and lots of love.
I love all of you guys, even the doctors. You start in the trauma center, then go to the next level, and I was healing so fucking fast that nobody believed it. The doctors were shocked, my mother was shocked, everyone was shocked. I wasn't shocked because now I fully embrace and recognize and respect the power of positive energy. Even if that's just me getting validation from the community and that's why I got better. One day I'd be on a breathing tube, the next day…I'm so grateful for everybody that stood by me. No one made me feel bad or guilty or embarrassed. A lot of people feel pain every day and have a lot of fucked up shit happening in their lives. We're all struggling, we all have our shit, and I'm very open about it, and people feel comfortable coming to me with their problems. People tell me I help them. People forget to be real. I'm real all the fucking time. I'm a horrible liar. I avoid people if I don't want to tell the truth. It's hard to find truth anywhere. I feel the anxiety going on in the world, the destruction of the earth, children becoming little robots because they're overstimulated by technology and their parents don't know how to create boundaries for them, I feel racial injustice. I'm a cis female, but I don't belong anywhere—I don't relate to other cis females. I'm not a gay man or trans, but I do much better with the queer community. I'm kind of a misfit, so I don't have a choice other than to be my own person and say my own shit and do my own thing.
Did you want to see people after your incident, or were you isolated?
For the first month, I didn't want anyone to see me or talk to anybody. I didn't want "my children" to come see me hooked up to a bunch of tubes. But my dad came back into the picture for the hospital. Now he's out of the picture again -- we don't even talk.
But you've come a long way. You were a virtual host for Bartsch's On Top party a few weeks ago, letting it all hang out?
People are always asking about the amputations, so I stripped down and showed my body! It was on a big screen! And [Bartsch comrade] Brandon Olson was running around with an iPad, telling people, "Domonique wants to say hello."
I'm glad you're with us.
Me too. There are still days where it's hard -- "This is my life." But it's been two weeks now that I'm off all this medication, and it's really nice to have my brain back. I'm also meditating every day.
Meditation, not medication?
Yes! I'm being healthy and proactive and doing research on holistic medicines. I have to have some momentum going, and I need a goal. That's why I want to help change the medical world by working with this holistic center in L.A. Also, being with people who make you laugh so hard you might pee your pants a little…that's very healing.
Splash photo by Ryan Burke