Indigiqueer Vancouver writer and poet jaye simpson breaks the silence about what life is like in government care

The nonbinary author's collection of poetry and prose, it was never going to be okay, has won widespread praise

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      On the Nightwood Editions website, nonbinary writer jaye simpson is described as “a Two-Spirit Oji-Cree person of the Buffalo Clan with roots in Sapotaweyak and Skownan Cree Nation”.

      But simpson, who prefers using the pronouns they and them, also loves the term Indigiqueer.

      “Indigiqueer allows folks to be Indigenous and queer without this expectation that there has to be some sort of ceremonial mysticism to it,” simpson told the Straight by phone.

      It’s been a remarkable year for the 26-year-old Vancouver author of the poetry and prose collection it was never going to be okay, which was a 2021 finalist for the Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBTQ2S+ Emerging Writers.

      Jury members Daniel Allen Cox, Eva Crocker, and Danny Ramadan described simpson’s poetry as “masterful, unpredictable, and artistically undeniable”.

      “You witness plenty of rage, yet bask in their care and celebrate their joy,” the jurors declared. “The love simpson’s poetry offers to their trans Indigenous kin is definite. They are a vital part of Canada’s literary future: when simpson speaks, you listen.”

      In addition, simpson won the 2021 Indigenous Voices Award for published poetry in English and was shortlisted for a 2021 ReLit Award.

      These are impressive achievements, given that simpson grew up in foster care, living in five different homes in B.C. They attended four high schools.

      As a child, simpson loved to read and write, telling people on several occasions that they wanted to become an author. In those days, simpson came to believe that bad things happen for a reason—and this meant that they were destined for greatness.

      “But then I quickly realized that, no, it doesn’t just get handed to you. It doesn’t fall onto you like some karmic, cosmic energy,” simpson said. “So I decided I wanted to take it and I wanted it to be mine.”

      Success has come through hard work, forging ahead even while couch-surfing.  And simpson’s writing often illuminates what it was like being Indigenous and queer in the child-welfare system.

      According to simpson, it wasn’t easy, because officials deemed their queerness to be a “liability”, according to their case file.

      “They had consulted with some lawyers about it when I was a young child,” simpson revealed. “I had a very restricted childhood when it came to seeing other people. I couldn’t go to sleepovers. I was kept from a lot of spaces for fear of my queerness.”

      In addition, simpson couldn’t engage in cultural activities. Plus, they had to sort through trauma from two earlier homes while living in a final foster home.

      “There was a lot of space given, and it was just something we didn’t talk about,” simpson said. “But we have a really good relationship now. We’ve had really beautiful conversations about that. It wasn’t particularly easy, and I am always wanting more space for queer Indigenous youth in care, because there are quite a few.”

      Other Indigiqueer writers inspire simpson

      For a while, simpson stopped making journal entries after foster parents in one home read them without consent. In university, simpson’s interest in writing was rekindled when a friend encouraged them to take a poetry class.

      “There was a spoken-word unit,” simpson recalled. “I found it really powerful. So I explored it and I actually came across a video of Jillian Christmas, who won the Dayne Ogilvie [award] this year.”

      At Thompson Rivers University and Nicola Valey Institute of Technology, simpson studied a wide variety of subjects, including English, social work, theatre, psychology, history, and human sexuality.

      Since then, simpson’s work has been performed at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word. In addition, simpson was named the Vancouver champion for the Women of the World Poetry Slam.

      Indigiqueer and two-spirit local writers like Billy-Ray Belcourt, Emily Riddle, Brandi Bird, and Arielle Twist inspire simpson, who sees writing as a way of “breaking the silence” and telling their side of the story.

      “I am working…on a second collection of poetry,” simpson said. “I’m working on a memoir. I’m working on a children’s book. And I just want to…create more literature so other folks can come across it and realize that they too can create.”

      Besides, simpson added, there aren’t many Indigiqueer or two-spirit children’s books in circulation to inspire the next generation.