Toronto
5 min

First, we take Toronto

What do the city's newcomers see in their future? Only good things

GIUSEPPE VALENTINI. Needed a change. Credit: Jan Becker

Toronto is Canada’s San Francisco and New York all rolled into one. This city attracts not only the ambitious, but those who just want to escape from where they were. It is the point zero, in both space and time, for many queers starting their gay lives.



Toronto, it turns out, is also Canada’s city of love. For every newcomer who is taking a step towards adventure, it seems there is a newcomer taking a step towards a particular object of affection.



Native and well-settled Torontonians get cynical, their perception of the city coloured with the mundane. But check out these eight people who have just got off the bus. The future is theirs.



GIUSEPPE VALENTINI, 27

Landed: September ’99

Coming from: Montreal

Occupied by: Bartending at Woody’s

Ambition in TO: Get a partner, save up, move to San Fran to set up a B&B



After living in Montreal for 27 years, you do want a change. I wanted to go down south, but I didn’t have a green card. I’d visited Toronto, knew a couple of people here. Over the years, gay life in Toronto has been booming. In Montreal it’s just stayed the same. I lived with my parents there. They knew I was gay, but I can be more open here. I arrived, I think, on Tuesday and had an interview at Woody’s on Thursday. I was working within the week. I stayed with one friend until I got my feet on the ground. It was a bit tight, so I’m staying with another friend with a two bedroom.



VERDICT: I have no regrets. I go shopping and buy things for the apartment, which says something.



MICHELLE RHODE, 26

Landed: March ’99

Coming from: Vancouver

Occupied by: Modern dance, massage therapy, working on the 8ft4 dance project this coming June

Ambition in TO: Make a living just dancing



I came to Toronto in 1998 for a workshop and was impressed by the funding that was here and the opportunities. I moved six months later. Three months ago, I wanted to be on the first plane home. I was homesick and I felt like a complete stranger. I had too much stock in my career early on; it was all I had. Now I’m working as a registered massage therapist and I’m meeting people. I left a three-year relationship in Vancouver. Now it’s all long distance, with phones and planes.



VERDICT: I can see myself being here for five or 10 years, but I still feel like a part of the west coast.



JEFF BRIGGS, 40

Landed: October ’99

Coming from: Raleigh, NC

Occupied by: Landscape architecture

Ambition in TO: Integrate myself into Toronto as a whole, not just the gay community



I’ve been with [my lover] Sean for three years and moved here to be with him. It took two years to immigrate from the time I started the process. Sean had a new work situation when I was moving, so I secured work before I moved. I love the ethnic diversity here and people are very welcoming. There’s something going on 24 hours a day, but it’s safe to be on the streets.



VERDICT: I’d like to say I’m home for good, emotionally and spiritually.



JOE WHALEN, 19

Landed: March ’99

Coming from: Calgary

Occupied by: Working at Subway, breaking into drag performance

Ambition in TO: Settle down and take life as it comes



I was viciously gaybashed in Alberta. Somebody tried to kill me. So I changed my name and went to stay with my aunt and uncle in Barrie. I came to the city, stayed in shelters and bounced between friends. I’ve had lots of problems with landlords, but I’m getting a new place in January; I’ve got everything else going for me except for a place to live. I feel like I’m ready to settle down. I’m too old – I have the mentality of a 40-year-old. I’m not a club person. I’ve had one serious relationship since I arrived. Gay life is fun; you just have to be careful of the bitter queens.



VERDICT: I always knew I’d live in Toronto.



ALI YILMAZ, 25

Landed: July ’99

Coming from: Istanbul, Turkey

Occupied by: Learning English

Ambition: Study social work

Special consideration: Ali Yilmaz is a pseudonym; Yilmaz is still waiting on his Turkish passport and fears discrimination



I met my partner, who is Canadian, in a gay group in Istanbul. It was four years ago. He was going to school here and teaching English. He couldn’t stay in Turkey, so I came to Canada. It took less than six months to immigrate. For gay life, Toronto is a great place. They’re really independent here. In Istanbul, you have to be careful everywhere. In Turkey, it’s too hard for me. I didn’t do military service [because I am gay.] To get a job, you need to show your report [of military service].



VERDICT: I’m trying, but I’m not sure. I don’t want to go back.



MELISSA LEVIN, 41

Landed: September ’98

Coming from: San Francisco by way of Chicago

Occupied by: Making videos, working with Inside Out and teaching

Ambition in TO: A house, to build long term friendships and to get a great job editing video



I moved here to be with Nina [Levitt, a Toronto artist and teacher]. We met in 1996, after I had just moved to Chicago to study. She stayed on an extra year where she was studying to wait for me and then she got a job here teaching at Ryerson. I got my Canadian landed immigrancy because Nina can’t immigrate to the US. Toronto has been so incredibly open. In San Francisco and Chicago, you had to pay your dues, know the right people and kiss some ass – and then maybe they’ll consider you. I’ve had a lot happen, just by word of mouth.



VERDICT: Right now I’m happy to be here, but I don’t rule anything out.



JASON MERLING, 23

Landed: August ’99

Coming from: Sault Ste Marie

Occupied by: Working on the call-before-you-dig line

Ambition in TO: Become a youth social worker, get a long term relationship, a condo on Church St



I came because of the gay community here. It’s the gay city. I knew only one person before I came. I met him once. I saved up my money. I didn’t care about a job. I’d work at McDonald’s in order to live in Toronto. Before I moved, I stayed here for three days. I had some doubts. I gave up a lot of friends and family and material possessions. Coming here has given me a sense of belonging. You go into a store and they’re not looking at you wondering if you’re weird or gay.



VERDICT: I love it here. I will never go back to the Sault.



ALEXIS VAUGHAN, 27

Landed: August ’99

Coming from: The Bay area by way of New York

Occupied by: Studying at Second City, performing in the band Queen Size SHAG, writing

Ambition in TO: Write and make films



I met the little lady at an asparagus parade in Mears, Michigan. She was wearing a polyester house coat thing with a safari print. We had a year of a long distance relationship. She’s doing a PhD at York and I was more flexible, so I came here. The arts scene is more hip and prolific here than in the US. I’m already in a band. I’ve performed at Strange Sisters and I’ve done stuff for Fireweed [magazine]. In New York, you’d have to work 10 times as hard.



VERDICT: I’m giving it a three year window. I love the US too.