There are mornings when I wake up and can’t seem to locate myself. I am in a different bedroom in a different house, on a couch, in the backseat of a car, hurtling through time and space. When I finally grab at the fraying edges of this, I crash into my humble apartment in East Vancouver that I share with my partner. In our bed I see they are peacefully sleeping, light snores filling the room. There is soft light spilling in from the blinds and I take comfort in knowing I am safe even though I know the cost of this.
Some mornings I wake up in a cool basement bedroom, my cocoon of warmth fading as I try and quietly get ready for school. I am fifteen again, in a foster home in Langley, listening to the same Regina Spektor song on repeat while trying to fathom surviving the day. It feels like yesterday and ten years ago all at the same time, memories fading quickly and returning in a blink. I am told this is Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, this constant reliving of the trauma I experienced. I am shamed in my emotional response to this stimuli, that my angry want for justice is ill fitting, instead I should let go of the hurt and move on.
Resilience has made me a villain. I survived and in this reflection I realize I survived many things that never should have occurred. The pain, turmoil and violence I endured in part was intentional, this forced removal and careless placing of my care led to years of neglect and abuse. Still, I wake up in a bed years away. In a messy apartment cluttered with too many clothes, small keepsakes and fear of letting go. Years of therapy tell me that I will never get the ending I so desperately want: vengeance. My Elders and teachers tell me I will never get an answer, that no matter how many times I ask why, there will never be anyone on the receiving end to my queries. They also tell me I will only ever get to tell them what they did. So I do.
There was a period of time where my silence was abundant, a precaution after too many times slighted with asking for help. A sickening sinking feeling of knowing how many times I had whispered my pleas into ears belonging to people who were supposed to help me, or so I was told. I must say, there is a level of extreme shame in not believing children in my opinion, in not protecting them, especially when they come to you because they have no one else to turn to. These betrayals led to a time of silence, a fear in the truth. How cataclysmic it was for myself to try and communicate that a great harm was being done unto me.
I was conditioned into silence, had it broke into me like I was some wild horse. By this older white woman in Langley who knew how to manipulate like no other. I saw what she was doing but didn’t have the language for it and so I began to mirror her. I watched and studied while making the mistakes a child makes: being caught in lies, acting irrationally, slipping up my own plans. I decided on a long game: make it out and prove her wrong while also somehow setting her up for the whole community to see since no one was believing me. I did not succeed and she buried me in a landslide of unbearable grief that nearly hospitalized me. This unsettling wave overwhelmed me entirely and I couldn’t make heads or tails of my situation, I just remember sitting in an ER with such an immense amount of pain I couldn’t breathe, heat rolling off of me and her sitting beside me, smiling.
Sometimes you do not survive, sometimes you only get to reckon with the ruin and the grief and forage a meager tomorrow out of it. Ultimately I was set up to falter and flail about, destined to be broken down in hopes of recycling. This is common due to the nature of funding within the child welfare system: more bodies means more money. It doesn’t matter if we don’t survive, our deaths are swept under the rug or thrown out of court, names of our murderers protected.
I recall a meeting with my social worker where I broke down blubbering in that small cafe in Langley, begging her to find me a new placement, that it isn’t a great fit. She doesn’t even smile when telling me no and I force myself to contain my tears so the women at the house didn’t know I cried. During the car ride back the social worker gives unsolicited advice on how I could make the situation better, placing the onus on me.
The only reason I got out was because this woman had resigned from being my caretaker, claiming I was too dangerous. After that, I never saw my social worker alone, they always came in pairs. When my social worker called telling me of the move I cried out in joy: I was getting out and quickly. I laughed loudly, freely and asked for boxes to begin to pack. Within the hour of the phone call I had packed the majority of my things. In one of our parting conversations, the woman said I should stay away from writing and that I only cause trouble because I was a liar.
It is on February 1st, 2011 that I sit in her vehicle for the very last time, but I remain under her influence for many years longer and do not write.
I had come to realize that I couldn’t trust many around me and that no matter what I say or do, it’ll be flipped and weaponized against me. A child, begging for reprieve, begging for safety and home while I watched many of my peers not having to fight for the same. I was a young Indigenous queer child who knew something was very wrong and no one was listening, so why bother?
This would remain the truth as I transitioned, for what truth comes out of a trans woman’s mouth? Don’t we all scream “transphobia!” at everything? Just another person crying wolf. I had friends, mentors and loved ones ask me if I was sure, if this is really what I wanted and if this was some attention grabbing stunt, that some things you can’t come back from. I listened for a long time, didn’t want to displease anyone in fear of them leaving me in case of this.
Resilience is a bitterness at times for me, a swelling sour filling my mouth, acid churning in my belly and I can feel my hair lifting at the base of my neck. This resentment pushing me onward perceived as overcoming but is it so if it was purely out of spite? And here I was, exhausted from being kept from basic needs and the ability to self actualize, kept from my own gender, culture and family. I began to respond in the ways I knew: with sharpened teeth and bone.
And oh how devastating the truth could be.
I am not unaware of the reputation my name has accrued to date. I know the whispers and understand the language directed my way, my reputation preceding me. Destruction follows wherever this one goes. I have fought many battles because I saw many problems, folks abusing their power or the system. I turned my resentment into fuel and went toe to toe with social workers, Members of Parliament, Department Heads and police. If me speaking out could threaten the very fabric of an institution then why does that institution get to exist?
In this I saw so many like myself, Indigenous foster kids being ignored, their stories and experiences invalidated by social workers and team leaders alike. So I used my resilience to fight, to snarl and snap, gnash my teeth and show them the beast they made of me. Anything to protect the kids.
I got used to fighting, even within my interpersonal relationships. Saw the pattern of transmisogyny and refused to be gaslit into complacency. So many tried to educate me on why their violence was justified, chastising me for my shout, never realizing it was a yelp. I recognize the ways my emotional response to violence is turned on me, it’s been happening since I was a child. With the very fuel they tried to gaslight me with, I used to burn the bridges so we both could walk away from it. In a way, they got away with what they did because I remain silent to this day.
This wasn’t the same “resilience” I am told I have because I graduated high school and attended post secondary, or when I got a job in the big city or spoke on a panel. No. This was animalistic and I knew how I would be perceived. You wanted a villain? Well here is the backstory.
While attending University, one of my friends convinced me to attend a poetry class, where I could slowly return to a form that held my truth but also was such a large part of my destruction. A great journey lay before me. I began to transition while studying poetry, discovered new genders and forms in tandem, changed expressions and tones, began to truly shapeshift.
That is how I came to dance among the poets, storytellers and clowns, greedily witnessing them. Surrounded myself with playwrights, painters and architects. I would build myself up, push onwards and have so many rue the day they carved up my flesh to feast upon. I took the slam poetry stages by storm, collecting wins and titles with abundant fervor. I was all passion and rage, fed on my own emotions and acted rashly.
I saw something I wanted desperately: validation and an audience. People who would listen, know the ache, know which parts were bruised and tender. It was in the wreckage of my own flesh on the stage when I realized that much of this wasn’t for me. Some stages had been forged on excising trauma in exchange for a rudimentary score on a placard in hopes for recognition. I was surrounded by brilliant talent still, stories vast and abundant in layers, experiences and nuances.
I thank those who helped me return to writing and to a place where I could tell my story in a way that kept me safe, and no matter what protected my audience. If I was going to bring them to hell, I was going to bring them back. I would balance my performances according to the line up, if things needed to be said: I said them. I would say the uncomfortable thing because I wasn’t scared of my own voice anymore and someone had to hear it. I found a way to not be sharp teeth and bones, a way to be gentle and ferocious all in one.
It was with this energy and understanding that I finally returned to a childhood dream: to become an author, and this time it was fuelled by aspirations and spite. I was going to prove as many people wrong.
I was going to thrive. Find joy. Surround myself in love, laughter and healing. I broke down the bits of me that I couldn’t fully comprehend, slowly let them play out, came to understand the many trauma responses that I had, filled to the brim with vilified experiences.
I saw the ways I experienced transmisogyny, the many times I was gaslit into submission or defeat. How much of my story remained untold, how much pain I had to endure and in silence for so long. I invested in myself, building relationships with others based in communication and problem solving. It was with this kinship web that I began to weave the fibres necessary for this tapestry.
There are days I wake up in the bed I share with my partner in the apartment we share and I am comforted at the love I am surrounded with. Found family, folks who fought alongside me, sat with me on the long nights, folks I showed up for, celebrated and admired. Regardless of the insurmountable grief I wade through, I find myself in a grove of kinship, this burden no longer just mine to bare. I have survived when so many haven’t and that guilt doesn’t ever go away, but that doesn’t mean I get to not experience joy, love and healing.
I beg that this never be perceived as resilience, I don’t get to experience joy because I am resilient, I get to bask in the glow of it and bathe in it because I get to. Everyone is deserving of such and no one needs to survive a great deal in order to “come on top”. It’s also not lost on me how I am perceived and the insidious narrative of transmisogyny even in me celebrating where I am now. To be an Indigenous trans woman is to betray the very nature of white coloniality. Folks tend to forget I survive out of spite and like to tell my stories now.
We know all the truth I could tell.
jaye simpson is an Oji-Cree Saulteaux Indigiqueer from the Sapotaweyak Cree Nation. simpson is a writer, advocate and activist sharing their knowledge and lived experiences in hope of creating utopia.
they are published in several magazines including Poetry Is Dead, This Magazine, PRISM international, SAD Magazine: Green, GUTS Magazine, SubTerrain, Grain and Room. They are in two anthologies: Hustling Verse (2019) and Love After the End (2020). it was never going to be okay (Nightwood Ed.) is their first book of poetry, published October 2020.
they are a displaced Indigenous person resisting, ruminating and residing on xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), səl̓ilwəta?ɬ (Tsleil-waututh), and skwxwœ7mesh (Squamish) First Nations territories, colonially known as Vancouver.