Toronto people are smug, and I am no exception. Even after almost a decade, even when I no longer jump out the car door to kiss the ground when I come home from travelling (okay, I only ever did that in my head), I am blessed by this city. Why? Because in a real way, not in that tired Canada-is-sooo-multicultural! way, Toronto is my queer-of-colour utopia. Or as close as it gets.
Everyone asks why I left New York for Toronto, especially when so many people are trying to do it the other way around. For me, the answer is a no-brainer: I came to visit and fell in love with the first queer-of-colour artistic and political community I'd ever found.
In 1997, Desh Pardesh, Funkasia and the South Asian Visual Arts Collective made Toronto the mecca for radical queer South Asian-ness. It's not in every city that a local >South Asian radio show, Masala Mix, is run by three out queer Desi girls who talk about domestic violence and brown trans folks on the show.
Sister Vision Press and Press Gang made me feel like when I was ready to publish my first book they'd be waiting to do it up right. Queer-of-colour spoken-word and DJ nights at the Red Spot, 52 Inc and the great Manhattan made me smug. Oh, you only have one crappy queer bar full of white girls with hockey hair? We sometimes have two or three queer POC nights every week. Poor you.
And the Toronto Women's Bookstore is the only North American feminist bookstore run mostly by women of colour, where the women-of-colour section isn't a shelf, it's a wall.
But a few years ago my love affair hit the long-term-relationship mark, when the beloved is totally familiar but no longer sexy, and going through some changes. Desh shut down. The building next to Manhattan collapsed and flattened it. The Red Spot became Papi's, did a major renovation and never became my home bar the way it had been.
Zahra Dhanani decided to stop doing Funkasia after an extraordinarily successful decade-long run. Sister Vision closed up shop along with Press Gang, and 52 Inc became a medieval-themed bar. I was in my late 20s. I was depressed. I started thinking about Brooklyn again. Hell, my rent there wouldn't be any higher.
I stay because, while Toronto is far from perfect, it's a place where I can breathe and where there's a little space, a space we keep pushing open harder, for queer and trans people of colour to make home, art, revolution and community to dream what we need into being.
I stay for d'bi young, trey anthony, A Is For Orange, Black Queer Youth, Salaam, Sri Lankan queer nights at Papi's, Nikki Red spinning anywhere. The homegirls I run into at the farmers market and eating roti at Ali's.
For Sweet at the Savannah Lounge, Kensington Market, queer Pinay organizing. For Nalo Hopkinson, Lengua Latina, queer/trans-of-colour bathhouses.
I stay because I'm old enough to see the flaws and appreciate the beauty anyway.
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha is a queer Sri Lankan writer (Consensual Genocide) and spoken word artist who runs the Browngirlworld queer people of colour spoken word series.