In the past decade, Dominique Storni has been a visible and well-known figure in Utah’s gay community, speaking at rallies, demonstrating against anti-gay legislation, or simply educating others about transgender issues.
But this month, Storni will turn her energy and volunteering spirit to a different venue: the Sundance Film Festival’s Queer Lounge — although her role may surprise those who are used to seeing her in front of a crowd of protesters.
“I’m a gopher,” she laughs.
Along with several volunteer friends, Storni spends the second half of January picking up groceries and alcohol for the Lounge, or shuttling the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender filmmakers who participate on its many panels to and from the airport. She has been “helping out where I can” at the Queer Lounge since its second year in 2005.
“They’re such good people and the cause is so brilliant that all of us [volunteers] just do it out of the love of our hearts,” she said of the Lounge. “What I saw that was so beautiful about the Queer Lounge was its mission … to bring queer filmmakers together so they can network and bring out more queer films. And some of the projects I’ve seen come through there are phenomenal,” she adds, naming the 2007 documentary on homosexuality and religion For the Bible Tells Me So and Transgeneration, an eight part documentary following the transitioning of four transgender college students as personal favorites.
“It’s not just queer film, but [way] the Lounge presents itself, and the panels [founder] Ellen [Huang] has been able to put together really have shed so much light on our community,” Storni continues.
It’s a goal that Storni can certainly identify with. For the past decade she has been trying to shed light on transgender issues for cisgender (non-transgender) people. Born in Ogden as a boy at the same hospital that delivered Donny and Marie Osmond, Storni spend much of her youth living in the Southwest United States and in Guadalajara, Mexico, where she took general education college classes while studying the country’s anthropology and history. She is still fluent in Spanish.
“I kind of moved around living with friends,” she says of that time. “A lot of the moving around I did was before I came out, when I was married. I was more trying to run away from the inevitable.” To explain what she means, Storni quotes her favorite author, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a 17th Century Mexican nun, poet and scholar who often felt constrained by the social limitations placed on her because of her sex.
“She talked about running away she wanted to become educated,” Storni explains. “She said, ‘I tried to run away, but in that effort I took with me my worst enemy, I took me with me.; What she said resonates so strongly with me. I think a lot of the moving around I did was trying to run away from myself and being afraid of who and what I was. I didn’t fit the Mormon mold that I was given growing up. I didn’t fit into society’s mould, you know.”
Finally, the pressures of trying to fit into society’s mould became too much and Storni attempted suicide in 1995. After her first attempt, she and her wife separated and divorced the following year. It was a dark time for Storni, who entered inpatient hospitalization after another attempt.
“I like to call it reparative therapy,” she says of the treatment she underwent at that time. “Even though it wasn’t necessarily defined as that, the actions taken in therapy were very reminiscent of that. I haven’t had shock therapy but I’ve had some things that are very similar, some aversion therapy tech that were very invasive.” At last, Storni accepted her identity as a transgender lesbian and decided “it was just time for me to live my truth.”
“But being a trans woman who identifies as a lesbian created a whole new conundrum I had no idea I would have to face,” Storni says, recalling the trouble she often had fitting in with the local lesbian community, or even getting other gay people to understand that gender identification and sexual orientation weren’t the same. Still, she made many “incredible lesbian” friends who “took me under their wing and were very supportive,” including local singer Mary Tebbs and lawyer Jane Marquardt.
At this time, Storni also found her calling: educating people (specifically gays, lesbians and bisexuals) about transgender issues. In November of 2001 and with the help and support of the Utah Pride Center she started Transgender Awareness Month at the Center, a month of panel discussions, film screenings and other events centered around the experience of being transgender and creating more visibility for transgender people in the broader queer community. Now seven years old, the event is a yearly feature on the Center’s calendar.
Storni says she is pleased to see how Transgender Awareness Month has grown, and thrilled to see a new generation of transgender activists stepping up.
“TransAction is a brilliant idea,” she said of the new group at the Utah Pride Center for organized and run by transgender youth (under 24) and their allies.
When not busy serving the community as an activist and educator (or chasing down lunches for hungry filmmakers at the Queer Lounge), Storni says she enjoys camping with a local lesbian singles group and is “kind of addicted to TV,” which she says can often help her unwind and recharge after speaking in front of a large crowd.
“When I go out and do my activism it really drains me emotionally, so I have to come and hide for awhile so I can recharge myself so I can do more,” explains Storni, adding that she has social anxiety disorder, a fact which she says may surprise people because of how outgoing and outspoken she can be.
She also likes spending time with the three sons and three daughters from her previous marriage. Although Storni says she is currently getting reacquainted with her daughters (who remained in Texas with her ex-wife after the divorce), her sons have been a major part of her life since her transitioning.
“It was really difficult for awhile [while I was transitioning], but now my sons are very supportive and gay affirming,” she says of them, noting that one son even founded a group to protest Proposition 8, the controversial measure that re-banned gay marriage in California in November. “If it wasn’t for my sons, I would be dead.”
Whether speaking out against Proposition 8, talking about transgender rights or helping to put Queer Lounge together, Storni says that she does her best to encourage people to work together regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, race, age, or any other quality that often divides individuals. Only when gay and transgender people can put aside “personality for principle” can they move forward, says Storni.
“We need to reach across the aisle to each other,” she says.