How Therapy Helped Devery Jacobs Accept Her Queer Identity“We were considered sacred back in the day, and we’re just as sacred now.”
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Before Devery Jacobs built up an impressive resume in the entertainment industry, she studied to be a counselor, working at the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal with the hopes of going into social work. “In my mind, it was like, if I can't pursue my first love of film and TV, then I would love to be able to help Indigenous people,” she tells Wondermind.
Soon, she found her footing with her creative pursuits, but her passion for her community, for helping others, and for mental health never went away. “Even though I am now an actor and I'm not a counselor or a social worker, those similar values remain with me, and I carry them through all of the projects that I do,” she says. “I carry with me the activism that I am really passionate about—the Indigenous rights activism—which bleeds into environmentalism and protecting where we're from and how they’re all interwoven.”
Over the years, Jacobs’ commitment to mental health has pushed her to balance her individuality with her love of her community, and it opened the door for her to publicly embrace her identity as a queer Indigenous person and be an advocate for Indigenous youth who are part of the LGBTQ+ community.
Here, Jacobs talks trusting her gut, what six years in therapy has taught her, and more.
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WM: How’s your mental health lately?
Devery Jacobs: My mental health is fine. I think I'm hanging in there. I am doing all I can to take care of myself and make sure I'm also taking care of those around me. But yeah, it's fine. I wouldn't say over the moon, but it's not too bad. I'm hanging in there.
WM: When you reflect on your mental health journey, what stands out?
DJ: Going to therapy and what that's really provided for me. I grew up in my community in Kahnawà:ke, which is a Mohawk reserve just outside of Montreal. And for me, being in community was never an issue. It was something that I was so proud to be a part of, but what I found was sometimes I lost my own voice in the midst of it. I had a hard time distinguishing my own voice from everyone else's around me and my people-pleasing tendencies. Since getting to do therapy, which I've actively been in [for] six years now, I have really been able to find my own voice and trust that intuition. That's been the thing that's really guided me through what I need and made sure that I'm living by my newfound mantra of like, If I'm being honest with myself:____.
WM: What sorts of things do you feel make you an individual?
DJ: Even now, having conversations of me being an individual outside of my community is a hard concept to grasp because I feel like I'm Kanien’kehá:ka first and foremost. I'm a community member first and foremost. I won't speak for anyone else, but it's important for myself to be able to navigate and be in touch with what I want and who I am. And I do think that has, by virtue, made me more of an individual. Finding that balance of like keeping my community in mind has always been paramount for me.
I would say though, therapy and getting to be in touch with myself ended up resulting in me coming out as queer and being able to acknowledge who I am. Growing up on my reserve— though things are changing and are becoming more positive now—I don't know that it was necessarily the most queer-friendly of spaces. So I think through therapy and getting in touch with myself and focusing on my mental health, it meant acknowledging all parts of myself. I think that's a way that wasn't necessarily always encouraged by my upbringing.
WM: How did you find your therapist?
DJ: I had gotten some recommendations from friends to begin with, and it ended up being a fluke [that I found] my original therapist. Not everybody is so lucky in finding therapists because it’s obviously like dating and finding somebody who is compatible with you and what your needs are. But the first therapist I had I was put in touch with through friends, and it was because other people were not available. And I was like, I don't really wanna see a dude therapist. But he ended up being really incredible and turned out to be a trans man. And really when I was having conversations about queerness, he was able to help me navigate through those spaces. I’ve since moved on to another therapist, but now I have a list of local queer and trans therapists. It’s kind of like a guide that I'm always passing out to friends in case they're in need and especially in queer spaces and the queer community that I'm in in Toronto now.
WM: What do your therapy sessions tend to look like?
DJ: Before I had even gone to therapy, something that was really helpful for me was journaling because I had a really hard time expressing my feelings verbally. But the one place I was able to really be in touch with myself was through writing.
But as I learned how to express verbally how I was feeling, talk therapy was definitely something that I was interested in. But also, I'm really into sensory motor therapy and where [trauma] sits in your body. Being somebody who has experienced trauma, like many people, there are a lot of theories about how trauma is stored in the body. To be able to navigate that and physically feel where you're coming from or where you've been is something that's been really helpful for me, especially in that combination of things.
WM: In what ways has therapy surprised you?
DJ: I don't know when I'm not surprised. I'll be talking about things or be physically doing things and then all of a sudden this [realization] will appear and I'm like, Where did you come from? I didn't know I felt like this. But the thing that's most surprised me through healing and connecting with community and through all of my paths has been how far from the status quo I've ended up in my life.
I feel like I had a whole life laid out ahead of me of what I was supposed to do as a Mohawk woman living on my res. My life looks so different from that now in terms of who I love, in terms of where I live, in terms of what I do, in terms of being an artist. At points, I've had to stop and be like, Am I on my right path? 'Cause this looks so different than what I was supposed to do. But then realizing that I was following my intuition and checking in with myself every step of the way has just meant that I am on the right path—it just looks much different than what is laid out for people in my community.
And outside of talk therapy and Western therapy, there are also different things that I take part in that feel really meaningful to me because it's not only self-care for myself, it's also about community care that I think is so integral to humans. Especially in Western society, it feels like there's almost too much emphasis on the individual. That feels like it's only one part of the equation. I think there's so much more conversation to be had about being Onkwehón:we, being human, being in connection to your community. So, for me, doing that involves practices of burning tobacco and saying the Ohén:ton Karihwatéhkwen, which is giving thanks. Or it's connecting with other queer Indigenous folks or attending a ceremony or doing something fun and social, like going to powwows or socials. I feel like that's also so key in terms of my feeling connected and rooted to myself and to my community.
It feels like it's always black or white where you're either an individual or you're a community member. And there's so many shades of gray in between that end up making for such a more fulfilling experience.
WM: Are there any mental health misconceptions or stigmas that you hope to help tear down?
DJ: I wanna tear down the idea that focusing on mental health is selfish. I think that's one of the biggest roadblocks I've experienced. Also speaking with people—particularly women of older generations—they feel that being selfless means they need to give their all and abandon themselves and only focus on those around them in order to be a good woman or a good mother or what have you.
I just wanna stress how it's untrue. It's not true that it's selfish to focus on oneself. Actually, it's integral to making sure that we can have long lasting lives and are able to do a better job at sitting with people and and honoring ourselves. … It is so important and can be the greatest gift that one can give themself.
WM: If you could give yourself a pep talk right now, what would you say?
DJ: I would say maybe it's not a pep talk. Maybe it's like a deescalation talk. But I would just say, “Take the urgency out of the situation. You can get to it. Eat some good food. Take your time. Walk through life—don't sprint. Don't forget to stop and smell the roses.” It’s kind of like an anti-pep talk.
WM: What else would you like to share about the importance of mental health?
DJ: I am a pretty private person, so sometimes speaking about myself and my own mental health journey and my queerness can sometimes feel intimidating, but the reason I do it is because I think I needed to see that growing up. And honestly, I could still use seeing that now.
But one of the main reasons why I decided to go public when I came out was because of a study that I read from The Trevor Project, which talked about how Indigenous youth who are from the queer community actually die by suicide at the highest rates of any other queer youth of color. That was just honestly heartbreaking to me and really resonated with me. And you can see it in projects that I'm a part of. You see it in all of Indigenous communities. Suicide on our reserves and reservations—it's just rampant. And I think that by focusing on self-care, community care, therapy, and honoring yourself can be some of the most important work we can do.
Queer and trans and two-spirit youth deserve to be here and deserve to have beautiful lives. … Know that your queerness is traditional. You being queer is just as much a part of your history and being Onkwehón:we, as being Indigenous. We were considered sacred back in the day, and we're just as sacred now.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
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