Marvellous Grounds

Marvellous Grounds

Queer of Colour Formations in Toronto

Edited by Jin Haritaworn, Ghaida Moussa and Syrus Marcus Ware


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  • Ontario Legislative Assembly Speaker's Book Award, 2020 (Short-listed)

Toronto has long been a place that people of colour move to in order to join queer of colour communities. Yet the city’s rich history of activism by queer and trans Black, Indigenous, and racialized people (QTBIPOC) remains largely unwritten and unarchived. While QTBIPOC have a long and visible presence in the city, they always appear as newcomers in queer urban maps and archives in which white queers appear as the only historical subjects imaginable.

The first collection of its kind to feature the art, activism, and writings of QTBIPOC in Toronto, Marvellous Grounds tells the stories that have shaped Toronto’s landscape but are frequently forgotten or erased. Responding to an unmistakable desire in QTBIPOC communities for history and lineage, this rich volume allows us to imagine new ancestors and new futures.


“As the lead singer of the radical duo LAL and co-organizer of the DIY QT2S/BIPOC space, Unit 2, I am so happy to see this important book that highlights some of the amazing work and stories by QTBIPOC/friends in Toronto. More than half of the contributors have shared space or gathered at Unit 2, so this book resonates in my body and soul. Marvellous Grounds is a necessary piece of writing that documents and helps keep our stories alive, in a way that is for us by us. This book will share important perspectives with a new generation of QTBIPOCs and friends, while honouring the stories, people, and places that fought and fight for justice and freedom, in this amazing but complicated meeting place, Toronto.”

– Rosina Kazi, LAL / UNIT 2

Marvellous Grounds is a beautiful gathering of QTBIPOC artists, organizers, activists, and cultural workers that achieve the Morrisonian [Toni Morrison’s] task of creating a map outside of the mandates of conquest, specifically its homonormative archival practices. Speaking across time and space, the Marvellous Grounds collective lovingly curates visual art, prose, intimate conversations and tender caresses taking place on Toronto’s street corners that have the potential to heal both the ancestors and the generations yet to come. Creating marvelous ground in Toronto, this stunning collection resists inclusion into normative and homonationalist queer Canadian archives. It also refuses to help repair this archive. Instead, Marvellous Grounds beautifully disfigures the colonial project of archiving as it yearns and reaches for what the co-editors call ‘the something yet-to-be-done.’ Marvellous Grounds is a healing praxis that QTBIPOC communities can bask in as they soak up the sweet balm it tenders. This collection is a gift.”

– Tiffany King, Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Georgia State University

“More than simply a static archive, Marvellous Grounds is a call for QTBIPOC to step into a “permanent readiness for the marvellous,” a phrase the book borrows from Martinique-born scholar and activist Suzanne Césaire’s description of surrealism. This archive marvels not only at the love, generosity, and care between QTBIPOC folks of Tkaronto, but also on communal tears shed for lives lost at the hands of structural violence. As such, Marvellous Grounds is romantic, without romanticizing the struggle.”

– Briarpatch Magazine

“Marvellous Grounds seeks freedom through transformative and reparatory justice by making space to the de-historicized, de-spatialized subjects of queer of colors in Toronto. The coloniality of space and place are turned into Marvellous Grounds by spatializing intergenerational conversations among QTBIPOC and their practices of caretaking and solidarity. The intellectual tightness runs skin deep and unearths the colonial complicity of progressive movements while queer of colour formations dare to live their own decolonial life.”

– Noa K. Ha, research director, Center for Integration Studies, Technische Universität Dresden, Germany

“Upending white supremacist, neoliberal narratives of ‘gay progress,’ Marvellous Grounds shows us Toronto’s QTBIOC communities surviving and thriving in the midst of violent forces of erasure. The essays, dialogues, and creative interventions gathered here offer an invitation to remember and learn from rich and resplendent stories—of organizing and activism, of dance parties, reading groups, performances, and everyday life. This is the history we want and the history we need.”

– Craig Willse, author of The Value of Homelessness: Managing Surplus Life in the United States

“Marvellous Grounds makes visible a counter archive of QTBIPOC in Toronto. Through highlighting histographies of activism and alliances created against racism and classism, we see how QTBIPOC have contributed to shaping a strong community of artists and activists that are at the forefront of anti-colonial, black, and Queer/Trans movements in Toronto.”

– Sokari Ekine, visual scholar

“Marvellous Grounds is an incredibly important critical intervention into the ongoing creation and theorization of queer counter archives and their frequent whitewashing. The artists/activists/academics whose work is collected here offer a multilayered, sharp, original, and touching take on queer Toronto past and present that will be relevant to scholars and practitioners far beyond the local context.”

– Fatima El-Tayeb, professor of literature and ethnic studies, University of California, San Diego

“Marvellous Grounds is a stunning anthology - love letter after love letter to QTIPOCs to claim place, space, lineage. Amidst a dominant queer archive that deliberately whitens queer art, research and activism as an act of pinkwashing, this collection pierces through and rightfully places racialized queers not as diversity subjects but as the leading architects of queer political organizing and magic-makers of queer life in Toronto.”

– Harsha Walia, community organizer and author Undoing Border Imperialism

“Marvellous Grounds is a foundational book for gender, queer, postcolonial, and critical race scholarship. Archiving and reflecting on four decades of queer and trans Black, Indigenous and people of colour (QTBIPOC) historiography, collective organizing, cartographies of violence and building communities of care and healing in the city of Toronto, this inspiring book is a must read for activists, artists, and academics alike who radically question who the subject of queer history is and more importantly dare to ask ‘What kind of ancestor do I want to be?’”

– Onur Suzan Nobrega, Institute of Sociology, Goethe University, Frankfurt, Germany

“This exceptionally innovative book initiates a whole new era in QTBIPOC research, from the collaborative process of conceptualizing a research project across generations and across racialized and other positionalities, to its totally uncompromising critique of white queer erasures of QTIBIPOC theories, practices, and subjectivities, to its brilliant renderings of QTBIPOC historiographies including creative survival strategies, the construction of new relationalities, and political inventions, throughout. This is radically transformative scholarship at its very best.”

– Paola Bacchetta, professor of gender and women's studies, University of California, Berkeley and author of Co-Motion: On Feminist and Queer Alliances

“A vivid, bold, and inspiring celebration of what it means to love and struggle in difference and community. Written by those who walk their talk, this book evokes the joy and power of creative activism.”

– Honor Ford-Smith, professor of community arts practice, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University

“Marvellous Grounds is a compelling and transformative site of queer of colour creation and ongoing creativity, collectively confronting and refusing dominant white queer archives. Together, the essays build queer counter-archives as their own form, where writing and genealogies of thought emerge in collective organizing, art practices, abolitionist work, disability justice, poetics, healing justice, performance, anti-racism, and spirituality. In this long-awaited anthology, the authors make possible the kinds of depth and life that come from an effort to pause, and take hold of what emerges in our struggles to find new ways of being with one’s self and amongst others.”

– Lee Ann S. Wang, School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, University of Washington Bothell

“Marvellous Grounds describes a Toronto that makes sense and feels right. It doesn’t suffer from impossible racial homogeneity or glib hollow triumph. This gentle, trusting, personal collection lingers over homelessness, racial profiling, protest, worship, and the struggle of queers of colour starting families, and so is a Toronto origin story that feels real.”

– Elisha Lim, M.A., M.F.A., graphic novelist, author of 100 Crushes

“Marvellous Grounds’ pages will now forever be part of our beautiful, complicated, complex connective tissue. This is essential reading for conversations around QTBIPOC organizing, resistance and resilience strategies. It is a testament to an often-ignored history; a celebration of the often-misunderstood.”

– Catherine Hernandez, author of the critically acclaimed novel Scarborough

“Marvellous Grounds showcases the stunning array of queer and trans Black, Indigenous, and people of color (QTBIPOC) organizing, community building, and space making practices in the Toronto area since the 1970s. This collection will be a resource to QTBIPOC searching for their community, history, and culture; to activists and community-builders looking for effective and innovative organizing models; and to academics seeking of new archives of QTBIPOC activism and culture.”

– Kadji Amin, author of Disturbing Attachments: Genet, Modern Pederasty, and Queer History

“The authors, artists, and activists gathered in this extraordinary book invoke an insurgent and untameable queer and trans history, one which confronts both co-option and self-congratulation. Boldly making space for the silenced, criminalized, and displaced voices of queer and trans Black, Indigenous and people of colour (QTBIPOC), Marvellous Grounds disrupts queer nostalgia, complacency, and white fragility, and testifies to QTBIPOC resilience, resistance, and healing. Whether you come to this book in search of a radically transformative decolonial theory and praxis, or to reclaim a displaced queer/trans lineage, these stories are guaranteed to move, challenge, and inspire.”

– Julia Chinyere Oparah, provost, dean of the faculty, and professor of ethnic studies, Mills College and author of Birthing Justice, Battling Over Birth, Activist Scholarship, and Global Lockdown


List of figures
List of contributors
Introduction Marvellous Grounds
Jin Haritaworn and Ghaida Moussa, with Syrus Marcus Ware
Part One Counter-Archives
1 Organizing on the Corner: Trans Women of Colour and Sex Worker Activism in Toronto in the 1980s and 1990s
Syrus Marcus Ware, interview with Monica Forrester and Chanelle Gallant
2 It Was a Heterotopia: Four Decades of Queer of Colour Art and Activism in Toronto
Jin Haritaworn, interview with Richard Fung
3 Power in Community: Queer Asian Activism from the 1980s to the 2000s
Alan Li
4 Loud and Proud: The Story of a Brown Callaloo Dyke Coming Out in 1970s Toronto
LeZlie Lee Kam
5 Speaking Our Truths, Building Our Futures: Arts-Based Organizing in 2SQTBIPOC Communities in Toronto
Aemilius Ramirez
6 Time Capsules
Laureen Blu Waters
Part Two Cartographies of Violence
7 Cops off Campus!
Alexandria Williams
8 Migrant Sex Work Justice: A Justice-Based Approach to the Anti-Trafficking Movement
Tings Chak, Chanelle Gallant, Elene Lam, and Kate Zen
9 Queer and Trans Migration and Canadian Border Imperialism
Kusha Dadui
10 Queer Circuits of Belonging
Asam Ahmad
11 Collateral
Melisse Watson
Part Three Communities of Care and Healing
12 Toronto Crip City: A Not So Brief, Incomplete Personal History of Some Disabled QTPOC Cultural Activism in Toronto, 1997–2015
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
13 Healing Justice: A Conversation
nisha ahuja, Lamia Gibson, Pauline Sok Yin Hwang, and Danielle Smith
14 A Love Letter to These Marvellous Grounds: Living, Loving, and Growing in a City Called Toronto
Shaunga Tagore
15 Race, Faith, and the Queering of Spirituality in Toronto: Reflections from Sunset Service
David Lewis-Peart
16 Creating Community and Creating Family: Our QTBIPOC Parenting Group 196
Audrey Dwyer
17 The Mourning Dress: Creating Spaces of Healing for Black Freedom
Nadijah Robinson, with Amalia M. Duncan-Raphael