These Seven Torontonians Explain What It Means to be Queer
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These Seven Torontonians Explain What It Means to be Queer

It's unique for everyone.


Say the word “queer” and a few images come to mind for most: two white men holding hands and rainbow flags all about. But queerness is much bigger than that. It encompasses a diverse spectrum of people of different ethnicities, abilities, genders, and sexualities. And while there are many shared experiences, each queer-identifying person has their own unique narrative, their own instinctive feeling on what their queerness means.

This is what it means to seven Torontonians.

1 Ruben Cisneros


AGE: 23
OCCUPATION: Event planner
PRONOUNS: he/him

COMING OUT STORY: “…I was like ‘Mom, I’m gay,’ like, deal with it. So my mom started going crazy and we were having a family get together with my grandma and my cousins and stuff, so I was yelling at her and she was yelling at me and then everyone was so quiet and then we’re, like, arguing and my mom started crying and she’s like, ‘I can’t believe it, I would never guess,’ and then my grandma is like, ‘oh come on, what a surprise.’ She knew. Everybody knew.”

WHAT IT MEANS TO HIM TO BE QUEER: “To me, it’s just, I don’t know, like, be yourself…for me I try not to be labelled, you know, like, when it comes to, you know, ‘what are you? What do you like? You know I’m just like, ‘I like people.’”

2 Isabel Putz-Preyra


AGE: 20
OCCUPATION: Screenwriter, student of Ryerson University’s film program
PRONOUNS: she/her

COMING OUT STORY: “Obviously being a queer person you have to come out like everyday to everybody that you meet if you choose to. I feel like my biggest coming out challenge was coming out to my parents. I was terrified and I was crying, but they were obviously fine with it. So that was really good and I was happy about that.”

WHAT IT MEANS TO HER TO BE QUEER: “It’s big part of my identity. I feel like I’ve always known that I’ve been bi, but I didn’t really have a group of queer friends until university…having queer friends in university has been so great…before I didn’t have a feeling of this is wrong and I feel ashamed, but I feel so much more comfortable now that I have friends and that I’m more involved in community stuff. It just feels like, ah, this is my place. This is a comfortable place and a place for me to exist as a human which feels great.”

3 Cydney Jean Clark


AGE: 24
OCCUPATION: Department manager of U.S. immigration DNA testing
PRONOUNS: she/her or they/them

COMING OUT STORY: “I guess in terms of my coming out story, it wasn’t like other people’s where it was sort of this big event and something that they just like thought to do. It was just kind of a gradual process. I feel like people identified me as not straight before I self-identified. So I feel like people kind of eased me out of it, because my sexuality and gender expression was always kind of, you know, a topic of speculation amongst my family and other people.”

WHAT IT MEANS TO HER TO BE QUEER: “I think for me personally that queerness and my queer identity just means total autonomy, just like freeness to be who I am unapologetically. And you know, I mean a lot of people don’t necessarily connect their queer identity with their political identity, but I believe they go hand in hand.”

4 Caleb Milatovic


AGE: 20
PRONOUNS: he/him or they/them

COMING OUT STORY: “I like to say that I’ve come out enough times for an army. I’ve definitely done the whole “every part of spectrum” thing until I finally had a light bulb moment and was like ‘oh yeah!’ I jumped from being bi to being a lesbian and it was very back and forth and I couldn’t really figure where my stance was because I was still attracted to everybody, but in my head I was just like I have to be one or the other. I was with a friend at my high school and we were just in passing talking about identifying as queer or she was just like talking about it and I just had such an epiphany and I was like ‘oh wow, I’m an idiot, that makes so much sense to me’ and I’ve just identified as queer ever since.”

WHAT IT MEANS TO HIM TO BE QUEER: “It’s like gaining this newfound appreciation for patience if that makes any sense. It’s now, more than ever, opened so many doors for people who have been kind of put into a corner and haven’t had voices in the past and now things are starting to change. We’ve got a long way to go but I guess it’s just, you know, feeling grounded, really feeling at home. I can’t imagine not identifying as queer. It’s just the most welcoming feeling for me.”

5 Jaene Castrillon


AGE: 40
PRONOUNS: he/she/they

COMING OUT STORY: “I didn’t really necessarily ‘come out.’ Like I came, so I was born in Canada and I was raised in Hong Kong from eight to 16. Hong Kong doesn’t really have sex ed. It’s a very gendered environment. I went to a secretarial school and it was all girls and we learned things like etiquette and shorthand and typing and that kind of stuff, so I think for the first 16 years of my life I just never really understood that there was an option other than straight and yet there was a part of me that was kind of like, I don’t know, ’cause I had crushes on girls when I was younger and the experimentation with girls as well. I had a lot of people telling me that I was gay or I was straight, but nobody accepting that I was bi or pan[sexual] or queer. So it’s kind of like one of those things, it wasn’t a definitive coming out.”

WHAT IT MEANS TO THEM TO BE QUEER: “To be queer is to be a warrior, frankly, to survive despite the active eradication of my existence as a racialized queer disabled woman with a lot of trauma. And a queer, disabled, genderqueer person, like somebody that doesn’t fit those boxes in society, I’m still here.”

6 Jill Andrew


AGE: 38
OCCUPATION: Columnist, co-founder of Body Confidence Canada Awards and Fat In The City
PRONOUNS: she/her

COMING OUT STORY: “About a decade ago, I told my mum that I had feelings for a friend of mine, who was Aisha [Fairclough], and that’s when she found out…I think it was easier to just sort of live the life that you’re expected to live, within a very heterosexual paradigm. Growing up with a mom that was very God-fearing and very Christian, you just lived the life that you were supposed to live. But at a certain point in my life, I met Aisha, and I realized that I had a choice to make, a real choice. I could have maintained a life that I probably could have loved but that would’ve meant not getting to know another side of me that was piercing at me, and screaming ‘you have to see me!’ right? So I made the decision to sort of explore and be who I always kind of knew I was inside.”

WHAT IT MEANS TO HER TO BE QUEER: “For me it’s meant freedom, and I know that’s a provocative term considering for so many it doesn’t mean freedom, you know what I mean? It means shame [to some], but for me it’s meant freedom, because I am finally being myself. And I’m not having to answer to particular labels or particular titles. And even the word ‘queer’ to me is a conversation starter, it’s the ability to have a discussion around those gender boxes, and around these sexual constraints that we’re supposed to identify and check off boxes.”

7 Aisha Fairclough


AGE: 36
OCCUPATION: TV Producer and co-founder of Body Confidence Canada Awards and Fat in The City
PRONOUNS: she/her
HOW THEY IDENTIFY: Queer/lesbian

COMING OUT STORY: “I don’t have a coming out story—I was outed. It makes it so different when you’re not prepared. I was not ready to come out. I wasn’t sure about anything and long story short, I came home one day and they found out because I had a cousin who actually told his mother and then the mother told my parents. I’ve kind of blocked things out to be quite honest, because it was really traumatic, it was really difficult. I wasn’t prepared financially. I wasn’t prepared emotionally. I just wasn’t there. Pretty much like a nightmare. I had to leave.”

WHAT IT MEANS TO HER TO BE QUEER: “I think it means that you are strong. You’re the same as everybody else, but your story can be unique. I think being queer means having a voice, it means seeing people like yourself, it means that you want to see representation because representation matters.”