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To the heart of the matter

Five Toronto couples talk about initial sparks, first dates and that growing sense of discovering a soul mate

Liz Marshall & Lorena Elke
Together 8 1/2 years

“It was like a drug,” says documentary filmmaker Liz Marshall, recalling the electric energy she felt when first meeting her partner, Lorena Elke, a medical educator at the University of Toronto. Liz and Lorena first met on the dancefloor one Friday night at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. “We were dancing to some rock song by some rock chick,” recalls Lorena, 49, a self-described “hippy anarchist” who loves gardening to rock ’n’ roll.

Liz was playing the scene back then and wasn’t available, so their first encounter didn’t go anywhere recalls Liz, now 43. And that was that, until six years later they met again, this time at a friend’s performance show at the Winchester bar in Cabbagetown. “I saw Lorena in the crowd and thought, ‘Okay, I’m going to kiss her,’” says Liz. “And I let her!” says Lorena. The couple now live in an art-deco-meets-vintage-gypsy-inspired home in East Riverdale.

Sharing common views on politics, animal rights and social issues are what brought this vegan duo together. “It was exciting to find a soul mate who could critique the system and see how dysfunctional it was,” says Liz, whose film career has taken her everywhere from Bangladesh and Mexico with singers Sam Roberts and Jully Black, for a piece on sweat-shop labour, to Africa to shoot a trilogy of documentaries about HIV/AIDS for the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

Lorena is a self-identified “crazy cat lady” who belongs to the Crazy Cat Collective (crazycatladycollective.com), a group that raises money and awareness around the plight of homeless cats. She also collaborates as a researcher for Liz’s films. The two are currently preparing Liz’s latest doc, The Ghosts in Our Machine (theghostsinourmachine.com), a film that illuminates the lives of individual animals living within and rescued from “the machine of our modern world,” for release this spring. “We have a Radiohead song in the film,” says Liz gleefully; she’s a big fan of the band. “We got the two thumbs up from Thom Yorke.”

Kelly Kyle & Sonja Scharf
Together 9 years

 “It took us nine months to move in together, which is long by lesbian standards,” says 52-year-old photographer Sonja Scharf. She says she was careful not to rush things after meeting her partner Kelly Kyle, 45. Nine years ago, Sonja was preparing a photo exhibit and needed some prints and framing done. The photo lab she usually went to was closing, so she went to a different one. “I walked in and saw Kelly on the phone behind the counter and was like, “Whoa. Who’s that?” says Sonja. Kelly, who led the lab’s framing department, was equally smitten. “I offered her a tour,” she says. “A tour that would normally take 15 minutes lasted more than an hour.”

After that, Sonja became a repeat customer in Kelly’s framing department. “She would only deal with me,” says Kelly. The only issue was that neither woman could figure out each other’s availability. “We both wore rings and we thought that meant something,” says Sonja, who eventually made a move and asked Kelly out on a date to Kalendar bistro in Little Italy where the pair spent the entire night holding hands on the patio talking about art and philosophy.

Today, they live in Cabbagetown with their dog Daquel and Cornish Rex cat Luna and operate Akasha Art Projects (akashaart.com), a custom framing business and photography gallery, which Sonja and Kelly curate, near Church and Wellesley. “Our friends can’t believe we’re together 24/7,” says Sonja. “Kelly and I are best friends.” At home, Sonja enjoys sewing and eating meals loaded with hot sauce (“I’ll have something with jalapeños and then put franks on top of it,” she admits). When it comes to repairs, Kelly is the hardware queen (“Any problem involving power tools, I’m there,” she says).

Kelly has travelled to rural Cambodia to photograph temples and build schools for young children, but her most memorable trip was going to Ottawa with Sonja last year. After a day touring the Caravaggio show at the National Gallery, the art enthusiasts grabbed a bite at the Milestones restaurant beside the Chateau Laurier, where Sonja popped the question and, like that, the best friends were engaged. “When you can be yourself with someone, you’re with the right person,” says Sonja. The pair plans to marry by the end of next year.

Alejandro Santiago & Brendan Healy
Together 1 1/2 years

“He had this Miami swagger, which I liked a lot,” says 37-year-old Brendan Healy, talking about the first time he met his boyfriend, Alejandro Santiago, 32. Brendan was judging a Toronto Pride vogueing event hosted by the House of Monroe, Toronto’s premier voguing house, last year
at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, where Brendan presides as artistic director. Alejandro, a photographer and graphic designer from South Beach, Miami, was in town for Pride and decided to scope out the event, where he instantly started chatting with Brendan. “He was cocky. He was adorable,” says Brendan of Alejandro’s beach boy attitude that night. “I was intrigued by the fact this guy from Miami was in Toronto. You don’t often see that.”

Two nights later, they spotted each other on the dancefloor at the now-defunct Barn nightclub, where singer Lady Miss Kier was performing. They had what Alejandro calls “a hot-’n’-sweaty night.” Brendan was hooked. Post-Pride he flew to South Beach to visit his Miami crush. “It’s not my style to hop on a plane and see someone I don’t know,” says Brendan, who wound up spending three “romantic” days with Alejandro eating Cuban food, crashing art galleries, chasing alligators in the Everglades and watching the sun rise at The Standard Hotel.

Alejandro says he thought, “Anyone who comes on a plane to visit me has to be cool.” He now divides his time between his home in Miami and Brendan’s King Street West condo, which Brendan shares with his faithful foxhound Toby. The arrangement is domestic bliss. “We both get into high art things, but we can also watch shitty television and hang around in our underwear and eat pizza,” says Brendan.

When the artsy boys aren’t reading plays or jamming out to their favourite musicians, like Major Laser and Solange, they’re at Buddies theatre, Brendan’s second home, where he is currently knee-deep in rehearsals directing Arigato, Tokyo, a darkly poetic play by Daniel MacIvor opening this March. Alejandro, who stepped in as Buddies’ official event photographer at the theatre’s annual New Year’s Eve bash this year, is now part of the Buddies family. He wouldn’t want it any other way. “[Buddies] is a mecca for creativity,” Alejandro says.

Travoy Deer & Mykel Hall
Together 5 years

“He loves Janet, I love Beyonce,” says 26-year-old Travoy Deer, offering one example of how his tastes sometimes differ from those of his boyfriends, Mykel Hall, 41. While both men, who met online, may not always see eye-to-eye (Mykel, for example, believes owning one working gadget, like an iPhone, is enough, whereas Travoy requires two cellphones and an iPad at all times), they both, as Mykel puts it, have learned to “come out the other side on the same playing field.”

Over the years, says Travoy, “We have learned to understand each other’s perspective… though I tend to always be right.”

Happily working as entertainers is what keeps this couple confident and cool. Mykel, whose career as DJ Blackcat spans 21 years, is responsible for bringing his signature blend of house and hip-hop beats to some of Toronto’s hottest parties, including Go Hard, Sodom and Glitch at Club 120, College Night at Church on Church, and Big Primpin’ at Wrongbar.

Travoy, aka Travoy in the Flesh, is a performer who can sing, rap, speak, play instruments, produce, coach vocals, do drag and vogue in the House of Monroe, the Toronto-based vogueing troupe. “I wear many hats,” he says.

Despite their busy schedules, the couple always makes time for TV and video games. But not cooking. “He’s famous for his lasagna, which I don’t like. I’m known for my jerk chicken, which is too ‘spicy’ for him,” says Travoy.

One thing they can agree on is not to take life too seriously. “We laugh at everything,” says Mykel.

Andrew Edwards & Jason Yantha
Together 8 months
“He thought I was a fame whore,” says 25-year-old Andrew Edwards, referring to what he imagined his boyfriend, Jason Yantha, 27, first thought of him. Andrew and Jason met through MTV Canada’s talk show 1 Girl 5 Gays, where Jason works as a segment producer. Andrew, an outspoken cast member on the show, was participating in a special episode that profiled some of the cast members’ homes. Jason was producing. “When I found out Jason was involved I immediately stalked him on Facebook,” says Andrew.

It took a few run-ins at MTV studios, and on the Queen streetcar, before the boys truly bonded. “I didn’t want to date anyone who was on TV,” says Jason, clarifying that he never actually called Andrew a fame whore, but was merely learning from past “bad experiences” dating people on TV. After a successful first date over flavoured vodka slushies at Joey’s restaurant at Bay and Dundas, Jason discovered that Andrew — when he’s not dishing dirt on 1 Girl 5 Gays — works as a sales project manager for Empathica, a retail marketing and consulting firm, and wasn’t just some guy who only wanted to be on TV after all. Andrew got a green light.

“I knew it was working after we spent 72 hours together at Pride,” says Jason (“which can be traumatic for most gay couples,” adds Andrew). But the budding romance didn’t become official (at least online) until Andrew tweeted a photo of Jason under the caption “Isn’t my boy- friend gorgeous?” to his some 15,000 followers on Twitter.

The boys now cohabitate in a trendy Queen West loft, which they’ve pimped out with owl- printed cushions and framed prints of five of Lindsay Lohan’s mug shots on their living room wall. They have one spare room, which Andrew used to install a stripper pole. “I wanted an office, but Andrew won that battle,” says Jason. That’s not the only fights they have. “We sometimes play Mary-Kate and Ashley and we fight over who’s who,” says Andrew.

The boys aren’t far off from becoming a celebrity couple themselves. In similar fashion to how Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie became Bragelina, Jason and Andrew’s friends now call them Jandrew. “If Kim [Kardashian] and Kanye [West’s] unborn baby can have a fun name,” says Andrew, “I don’t see why we can’t.”