Community Spotlight: Cielo Sunsarae

Community Spotlight: Cielo Sunsarae

Today is Transgender Day of Visibility and now more than EVER, it is our duty to lift up the voices of those in the community. 

In a special Friday edition of our blog, I had the pleasure of talking to Cielo Sunsarae, who uses his platform to inspire millions.

​Tell us about yourself, who is Cielo?
Cielo Sunsarae (He/They), Executive Director & Founder - Cielo is a Non-Binary, Transgender & LGBTQ+ Activist, internationally recognized ACS Certified Sexuality Educator, and an established champion for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ equality. As the Founder and Executive Director of the Queer Trans Project, Cielo’s work includes organizational administration, program planning and evaluation, operations, managing volunteers and partnerships as well as fundraising and development. He employs an intersectional lens to advocacy work with his passion for the LGBTQ community, people of color, and people with disabilities. 
He also works as a Communications Associate at Equality Florida, the largest civil rights organization dedicated to securing full equality for Florida's LGBTQ community. Cielo has prior experience working as a LGBTQIA+ Housing & Care Coordinator at JASMYN, Inc. (Jacksonville Area Sexual Minority Youth Network), and an LGBTQIA+ Emerging Leader at the Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida.

He is a Fundraising & Development Subcommittee Member of the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) and a member of the American College of Sexologists (ACS). Cielo is a graduate of the University of North Florida and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology with a minor in Leadership. He has been named one of eighteen “influential LGBTQIA+ people of the Black diaspora” by the University of North Florida LGBTQ Center. He has received the Youth Voice For Equality Award in 2021, and is among the UNF Top 50 LGBTQ+ Leaders. Cielo is also a Content Creator and uses his platform (73K+ followers on TikTok) to shed light on issues impacting the Black, Trans, Fat, Queer, and Disabled communities. 

You have featured a lot of your journey on social media, how did that come about?
When I began to experience gender dysphoria a few years ago, there was no safe space for me to connect with others with a similar experience. Being a black, fat, and trans made finding a community so much harder. If I went into a trans community, it was heavily saturated with white folks. If I went into a black trans space, the majority of folks were skinny. If I went into a fat friendly space, odds are none of them were trans - at least openly. I wasn’t able to find ways to affirm by gender with people who could properly relate to me. For example, white folks would tell me to cut my hair when asked about changing my hair…I didn’t ask about cutting my hair. In black culture - and many BIPOC cultures - hair holds so much significance. Why would it be cut? No one thought to understand that and suggest getting my hair braided or shaped up. As a fat person, skinnier people would suggest I use tape instead of a binder…an entire roll of tape could hold up those 44JJs, let alone a binder. 

I decided to become the representation that I so often needed, and I know that others need as well. I began to document myself on TikTok even before I started any healthcare. But it really popped off once I started to get serious about showing others that this is possible if you’re fat, trans, and black - any combination. People started to follow me and comment about how they’ve never seen someone like them before and that it inspires them. That drives me. My transformation video from receiving top surgery has over 31 MILLION views. Being a voice for others and letting people know that anything is possible is what I strive to do and what I genuinely love to do. I am so blessed to have this platform.

How important has access to gender-affirming healthcare been to you?
Firstly, I want to clarify that “gender-affirming healthcare” is just healthcare for trans people. And I think she should move away from the former description and move towards the latter way of describing our care. The care that we receive can be gender-affirming to many people, cis people still receive gender-affirming care when they get hormones to correct imbalances, or even just getting their nails done or a haircut. Saying “gender-affirming care” as opposed to healthcare for trans people delineates and separates the two, making it easier for people to weaponize and demonize the healthcare we just need like everyone else. 

Receiving top surgery and being able to take my weekly testosterone is healthcare that I as a trans person take, and it’s completely changed my life. My confidence has skyrocketed since my first dose of T, and I can finally recognize myself in the mirror and smile - rather than actively avoid mirrors wherever I go - because I feel at HOME in my body. I no longer take 3 hours trying to find an outfit just to go to the corner store for some eggs, nor do I cry  in my bed and claw at my chest to be home. I feel free from the shackles that society has locked on the box of gender and gender expression and can express my truest feelings in fun and creative ways - in my way. 

What can allies do to better support the transgender community?
Allies of the transgender community must do three things to better support our transgender community: Educate. Advocate. Associate.

Educate - allies should seek to gain knowledge about our community. They should learn the challenges and also the joys of being trans. 
Advocate - allies must stand with us, not for us. They must be our sidekicks, working together with us as a team, rather than seeing us as a group of people that merely need to be hand-held. They need to stand WITH us especially in places where they have more privilege than us to help protect us. They must advocate for us by using  their knowledge to educate others in times in misinformation.
Associate - Allies must associate with us. One could read all of the research about us, but would never truly know our struggles, our joys, etc. without associating with us. Someone you know is trans. Take the time to know them as a person, separating their Trans identity because they are more than that. We are heavily demonized in the media and by our opponents, and not taking the time to just get to know someone before you judge them makes it that much easier to be persuaded by false negative rhetoric.

More information on the Queer Trans Project.
Follow Cielo on Instagram.
Follow Cielo on Tik Tok.