When the phone rings, the voice on the other side could be either male or female. It’s actually somewhere on a continuum between the two and belongs to Smokii Sumac, a poet and scholar who was raised in the Columbia Valley.
“I’m Ktunaxa and I’m two-spirit and I’m trans masculine. I’m an uncle. I’m an auntie,” Smokii said, taking hold of their broad identity. “I’m proud of who I am and excited to share that with my hometown.”
Smokii hasn’t always been so comfortable in their skin. Assigned female at birth, Smokii said: “I didn’t fit in that check box of male / female.”
While at David Thompson Secondary School, Smokii was on the honour roll in public, and self-harming and nursing addictions in private.
While Smokii went to treatment in Grade 11, their addictions persisted for years.
“Part of my alcoholism and addiction was coping with not knowing… It was all about getting out of my body,” Smokii said, adding that suicide and addictions are alarmingly prevalent in the trans community.
Smokii couldn’t envision a future that stretched much beyond finishing high school.
“I didn’t even imagine 30,” Smokii said.
Now 30, working on their doctorate in Indigenous Studies in Ontario and promoting their first book of poetry, Smokii has dreams broad enough to fill an entire future: dreams to have a family, to return to Ktunaxa land, and to prove to others that there is hope.
You Are Enough: Love Poems For The End Of The World is filled with messages they wish their younger self had known, messages like: “know who you are/ here/ the mountains told me/ carry knowing in your body/ dream this knowing home.”
Growing up, Smokii didn’t know many locals who identified as members of the LGBTQ community and was 26 before meeting a trans man. Previously Smokii’s understanding of people who identified as trans came from popular culture and The Jerry Springer Show, which often offered less-than empathetic takes on those who rejected the pink or blue norms assigned to their sex.
Coming out “was really scary and also really exciting,” Smokii said.
It was also freeing. Since they came out, they’ve been able to get sober and have been clean for two years.
Smokii appreciates the Valley’s LGTBQ trailblazers who had the courage to be themselves and is pleased that Columbia Valley Pride has risen up.
“Our community can only benefit from embracing everyone on every spectrum,” Smokii said.
Now Smokii wants to be an example for others who are still finding their identities. They will return to the Valley for a book launch at the Invermere Public Library at 6 p.m. on Thursday, January 10th.