Torie Dominguez is a Charlottean born and raised, who left the city to pursue dreams of diplomacy, but returned upon realizing that being close to family meant more to her than she might once have imagined. She shared with us her insights into life, work and the importance of presenting yourself honestly to the world.
Where are you from originally (if not Charlotte, N.C.)?
I was born and raised here; my parents still live in the house where I celebrated my fourth birthday. They’re city folk, though — my mom spent most of her childhood in New Orleans, and my dad’s from the Bronx — so I’m possibly the biggest Yankee ever to be raised south of the Mason-Dixon line.
How did you end up coming back to Charlotte?
My ending up back in Charlotte is more of a story than how I got here in the first place. I moved to New York after high school to study international politics at New York University, which I absolutely loved. My dream was to be a diplomat, learn a million languages, travel the world leaving peace and awesomeness in my wake. My hometown wasn’t part of the plan. But as I’ve gotten older, being near my family has become, perhaps ironically, much closer to essential than it was when I was 17.
I understand you are involved in social justice activism. How did you get involved in that work, and what does that look like?
I actually don’t take part in as much formal activism as I’d like to. On a daily basis, though, I make a conscious, concerted effort not to take part in the tacit denial of self that the legal scholar Kenji Yoshino discusses in his book “Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights,” a text passed on to me by a close friend who also happens to be my very favorite delightfully offbeat academic. To cover is to downplay the aspects of our identity that others might find objectionable or simply odd; it’s not lying, but it’s not telling the whole truth, and it’s so ingrained in us that we may not even notice we’re doing it.
I cover when I elect not to mention my Cuban heritage, lest anyone deem my skin too pale, or my Spanish too stilted, for me to be really Hispanic. Most often, though, covering has meant identifying myself as bisexual rather than pansexual. To state my orientation with complete honesty can require not only defining the word for those who aren’t aware of it, but opening the big gay can of worms that is my contempt for the gender binary. But here’s the problem: those are things people need to hear. Ignorance breeds fear, and fear breeds anger.
Telling the truth, refusing to participate in the quiet devaluation of the identity of my gender nonbinary friends, refusing to endorse even tacitly a social construct I believe to be profoundly damaging — it may not sound like activism, and maybe it isn’t, but I’ve found it to be both more frightening and more powerful than I could have imagined.
If you could change one thing about Charlotte, what would it be?
I’m told Charlotte drivers are terrible, but I’ve never driven anywhere else, so I wouldn’t really know. I do miss the rules of the road in Manhattan, though — things are much simpler when everyone’s on the same page about the giant game of Frogger in which we are all taking part.
What do you like to do on a lazy Sunday?
Step 1: Place a stack of at least half a dozen books within arm’s reach, so that when I get bored mid-sentence I can switch volumes like changing channels on TV when you’ve got a hundred options and nothing to watch.
Step 2: Place my laptop within equally easy reach, for when I drop the pretense of having an attention span.
Step 3: Confirm that my tummy is available for kneading by any sweet orange cat who should happen by.
There is no step 4.
What’s something even people who know you pretty well would be surprised to learn about you?
It always blows my mind to discover that someone who spends a fair amount of time in my company thinks of me as an extrovert. Upon reflection, I suppose [I] can understand how that misconception would come about — if I had to guess, I’d say it has something to do with the fact that I never stop talking — but I consider any presentation of myself as a social creature to be a sort of open-ended improvisational theater. It’s conceivable that it draws on a genuine aspect of my personality, but the reality is that it’s my one foray into the world of performance art.
What is something you have learned by working at White Rabbit?
I’ve been delighted to discover the extent to which my ridiculous middle and high school education (if you don’t know what the International Baccalaureate program is, congratulations on all the mental breakdowns that didn’t dominate your adolescence) can be applied to the sale of men’s underwear, vintage magazines and anything and everything that can possibly be made rainbow. However, with my arrival at the illustrious Rabbit came the realization that it is no longer appropriate to pull all-nighters, no matter how acute the distress caused by my inability to organize said underwear/periodicals/rainbows in a way that radiates a deep, undeniable spiritual perfection. The struggle is very, very real.
What’s your favorite food?
Asian food is great for me because it offers a lot of vegetarian options. There’s a little Vietnamese place near my house whose rice noodles with tofu and vegetables I doubt I’ll ever get sick of. It’s been a dozen years since I ate meat, and it definitely doesn’t feel like a sacrifice.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
Does telekinesis count? As a kid I wanted very much to be Matilda, from the Roald Dahl book, although if I had to choose between her psychic ability and her intellect, I’d go with the intellect. Unfortunately, my short-sighted parents insisted on being all kind and loving all the time, so I was never properly motivated to develop my powers.