Author Tags: Essentials 2010, Fiction, Humour, Literary Landmarks
LITERARY LOCATION: 3045 Victoria Drive, Vancouver.
Here Ivan E. Coyote lived for fourteen years in an attic apartment during the rise of their literary career. A devastating fire in the building forced them to vacate. Coyote recalls the rent was $316 per month. The electrical fire that destroyed their computer is described in Loose End (2006), a collection of Coyote's columns from Xtra West, a queer newspaper in Vancouver. The columns mainly described life in the East End of Vancouver. In 2009 Ivan Coyote was named writer in residence for the Vancouver Public Library. Ten years earlier that would likely be unthinkable for an outspoken LGBT author. Now Ivan Coyote is a mainstream headliner at events around North America.
QUICK REFERENCE ENTRY:
What is the future of B.C. writing? One answer is Ivan E. Coyote, as original and humorous as they come. While honing talents as an onstage comedian and spoken word recording artist, Coyote also keeps producing subversively comic and poignant stories of consistently high quality, leading to Coyote's sixth book in ten years, Missed Her (2010), another collection of gender-bending memoirs.
Born and raised in Whitehorse, Yukon, Ivan E. Coyote is the offspring of a welder and a government worker. “Although technically I fall into the biologically female category,” Coyote once wrote in an earlier story entitled “If I Was a Girl,” “I do lack most of the requirements for membership in the feminine realm.” A founding member of Taste This, a Vancouver performing group, Coyote released three collections of autobiographical writing prior to Missed Her. The Ottawa XPress has observed, “Coyote is to CanLit what k.d. lang is to country music: a beautifully odd fixture.”
“I had a sex change once,” Coyotoe wrote, “when I was six years old.” That summer Coyote's mother bought Coyote a bikini for a beginner’s swimming class for ages five to seven. Trouble was, the top easily slid over Coyote's flat chest. “I was an accomplished tomboy by that time,” Coyote says, “so I was used to hating my clothes.” Arriving at the pool, Coyote didn’t wear the top. When the swimming instructor, a human bellhorn, blew her silver whistle, aggressively dividing them into two camps along sexual lines, short-haired Ivan crossed over.
“It only got easier after that first day,” Coyote recalls in the story “No Bikini.” “I wore my trunks under my pants and changed in the boys’ room after that first day. The short form of the birth name my parents bestowed on me was androgynous enough to allow my charade to proceed through the entire six weeks of swimming lessons, six weeks of boyhood, six weeks of bliss.” When Coyote's parents received a glowing report card from the swimming camp, citing their son’s excellent performance—“He can tread water without a flotation device”—the ruse was discovered and Coyote's parents were upset. Since then Ivan has “crossed over” as an openly butch Lesbian who looks like a man and writes like an angel.
Coyote has the manners and wit to be accepted by the mainstream, while retaining integrity as an artist who can only survive on the fringe.
Coyote's debut novel Bow Grip (2006) received the ReLit Award for best novel from an independent Canadian publishing house in 2007 and was shortlisted for the Lambda Literary Award, the Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBT Fiction and the Vancouver Public Library’s “One Book, One Vancouver” competition.
“The question for Coyote’s fans was whether [Coyote] would have the staying power for a longer work,” wrote reviewer Grant Shilling. “The answer is a definite yes. Bow Grip is a heartfelt, amusing page turner with characters recognizable from the working class walk of life. It’s the story of a good-hearted, forty-something mechanic from Drumheller, Alberta, who was happily married to Alison. His buddy Mitch Sawyer runs an Esso station and his wife Kathleen is a quiet kindergarten teacher. Mitch and Joey played hockey together. Now they share some news; their wives have ran off with each other and—as is the case in a small town—everyone knows.”
In 2009, Ivan E. (Elizabeth) Coyote was the writer-in-residence for the Vancouver Public Library. Even ten years earlier, that would have been unthinkable.
[The Essentials 2011]
Born and raised in Whitehorse, Yukon, Ivan E. Coyote is the offspring of a welder and a government worker. "Although technically I fall into the biologically female category," Coyote wrote in a story entitled 'If I Was a Girl', "I do lack most of the requirements for membership in the feminine realm." Coyote's debut novel Bow Grip (Arsenal Pulp, 2006) received the ReLit Award for best novel from an independent Canadian publishing house in 2007 [See below]. It was also shortlisted for the Ferro-Grumley Prize for Women's Fiction and the Vancouver Public Library's "One Book, One Vancouver" program. Bow Grip was named a Stonewall Honor Book by the American Library Association.
A founding member of Taste This, a Vancouver performing group, Ivan E. Coyote collaborated on the gender-bending collection of stories Boys Like Her (Press Gang, 1998). Coyote has also released several collections of humourous and often autobiographical writing, Close to Spider Man (Arsenal, 2000), One Man’s Trash (Arsenal, 2002) and Loose End (Arsenal Pulp, 2005).
Loose End (2006) is a collection of Coyote's columns from Xtra West, a gay newspaper in Vancouver, mainly about life in the East End of Vancouver. The Ottawa X Press said "Coyote is to CanLit what k.d. lang is to country music: a beautifully odd fixture." A CD of music and spoken word with Coyote's band One Trick Rodeo is entitled You're a Nation. As Coyote hones talents as an on-stage comedian and spoken word artist, it has been followed by various recordings including You Are Here (Washboard Records, 2007) with Rae Spoon.
In 2005, Ivan E. Coyote moved to Squamish but returned to live in Vancouver in 2006. Coyote moved to Ottawa in 2007 for a stint as a writer-in-residence at Carleton University during which Coyote released a short story collection, The Slow Fix (Arsenal $18.95) in which a cousin’s stepdaughter helps the main character overcome a lifelong dread of buying tampons and who later tells a homophobe in the barber’s adjacent seat to shut up—among many of the subversively comic situations. Coyote became the writer-in-residence for the Vancouver Public Library in 2009.
After writing a wish-list of their favourite queer authors, Coyote and co-editor Zena Sharman assembled a collection of stories called Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme (Arsenal, 2011), which explores the concepts of femme and butch. “I grew up without a roadmap to myself,” writes Coyote. “Nobody taught me how to be butch; I didn’t even hear the word until I was twenty years old. I first became something I had no name for in solitude and only later discovered the word for what I was, and there were others like me.”
Ivan E. Coyote’s One In Every Crowd (Arsenal 2012) is Coyote's first collection of new and selected stories to be geared towards queer youth, but these humourous monologues about queer issues and relationships will appeal to readers of any age. Coyote’s outlook is cumulatively uplifting. Things are changing in terms of society’s willingness to accept people outside the traditional boy/girl divide.
Coyote is a firm believer in the transformative power of storytelling. When Coyote was invited to make a keynote speech, along with Arundhati Roy, to the BC Library Association's annual convention in 2014, the organizers wrote: "In 2001 Ivan landed a little gig teaching short fiction at Capilano College in North Vancouver. This little night school class led to an accidental discovery: Ivan loves to teach creative writing. [Ivan] continued to teach short fiction and classes and workshops, and in 2007 was invited to become Carleton University’s writer in residence. While in Ottawa [Coyote] taught a third year fiction class, and three memoir writing classes for senior citizens. It was while teaching seniors that Ivan realized [a] true calling. Ivan strongly believes in listening to the stories of our elders, and encouraging them to write down their lives. Not only did [Ivan's] memoir classes sell out, but several of [Ivan's] students continue to meet and workshop their writing together to this day. Ivan currently teaches memoir writing at the newly renamed Capilano University in North Vancouver."
Ivan Coyote has increasingly incorporated music into their public appearances and encouraged the use of the pronoun 'their' in place of the gender-specific 'her' or 'his.' As well, Coyote has become a community leader and role model for LGBTQ constituents, frequently providing heartfelt advice and counsel for younger people struggling to accept or express their 'middle-sex' identities, giving rise to Tomboy Survival Guide (Arsenal Pulp 2016).
Tomboy Survival Guide by Ivan Coyote was named a Stonewall Book Award Honor Book winner for non-fiction, presented by the American Library Association’s GLBT Round Table. The award was announced on January 22 at the ALA’s Midwinter Conference in Atlanta.
See review of Gender Failure (2014) BELOW.
[Photo by Laura Sawchuk]
Boys Like Her (Press Gang, 1998)
Close to Spider Man (Arsenal, 2000)
One Man’s Trash (Arsenal, 2002)
Loose End (Arsenal Pulp, 2005; Re-release: Arsenal 2014)
The Slow Fix (Arsenal 2008) 978-1-55152-247-0 : $18.95
Missed Her (Arsenal Pulp, 2010) 978-1-55152-371-2: $18.95
Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme (Arsenal, 2011; Re-release: Arsenal 2014) (978-1-55152-397-2) $21.95
One in Every Crowd (Arsenal 2012; Re-release: Arsenal 2014) 978-1-55152-459-7 $15.95)
Gender Failure (Arsenal 2014) $17.95 ISBN: 9781551525365 EPUB ISBN: 9781551525372 co-authored with Rae Spoon
Bow Grip (Re-release: Arsenal 2014) $19.95 978-1-55152-213-5
Tomboy Survival Guide (Arsenal Pulp 2016) $17.95 978-1-55152-656-0
One Man’s Trash (Arsenal $16.95)
Meet a heroic horse-riding aunt and a family of beaver-eating eccentrics in these stories from the road. Born in Whitehorse, Ivan Coyote lives in Vancouver with her dogs Deja and Goliath. She’s one of the five B.C. authors who were commissioned by CBC-TV for 5 on 50, an experimental anthology that presents five personal ‘essays’ to accompany visuals from a half-century’s worth of CBC archives. Produced by Kevin Teichroeb, 5 on 50 also included Clint Hutzulak, Betty Krawczyk, Wayde Compton and Nancy Lee. Evidently West Coast experimentalism is not dead. 1-55152-120-2
[Spring 2003 BCBW]
Boys Like Her (Press Gang $19.95)
“I had a sex change once,” writes Ivan Elizabeth Coyote in Boys Like Her (Press Gang $19.95), “when I was six years old.” That summer her mother bought her a bikini for a beginners’ swimming class, ages five to seven. Trouble was, the top easily slid over her flat chest.
“I was an accomplished tomboy by that time,” she says, “so I was used to hating my clothes.”
Arriving at the pool, she didn’t wear the top. When the swimming instructor, a human bellhorn, blew her silver whistle, aggressively dividing them into two camps along sexual lines, short-haired ‘Ivan’ crossed over.
“It only got easier after that first day,” she recalls in her story ‘No Bikini’. “I wore my trunks under my pants and changed in the boys’ room after that first day. The short form of the birth name my parents bestowed on me was androgynous enough to allow my charade to proceed through the entire six weeks of swimming lessons, six weeks of boyhood, six weeks of bliss.”
When her parents received a glowing report card from the swimming camp, citing their son’s excellent performance -- He can tread water without a flotation device -- the ruse was discovered and her parents were upset. Since then ‘Ivan’ has crossed over as an adult
Ivan Elizabeth Coyote is one of four performance artists, collectively called Taste This, who have transformed their gender-bending presentations from the stage to the page. The quartet credits artist and author Persimmon Blackbridge for initial encouragement.
The troupe, featuring Coyote, Anna Camilleri, Zoe Eakle and Lyndell Montgomery, got together by accident in November of 1995 to do one show in a small East Vancouver theatre. Lyndell was the musician, Anna the wordsmith, Ivan the storyteller and Zoe the actor. “When the lights came up,” they say, “we rubbed off on each other like paint in a car crash.”
Taste This’ narratives and illustrations of body-pierced encounters in Boys Like Her are at once confessional, bold, humorous, graphically sexual and definitely not recommended for the heterosexually squeamish. 0-88974-086-0
[BCBW WINTER 1998]
Bow Grip (Arsenal Pulp Press)
from Grant Shilling
In her new novel Bow Grip (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2006), storyteller, bon vivant and trickster Ivan E. Coyote writes a grimy gem complete with cigarettes, loneliness, run down motels, a lesbian love child and er, a cello.
Based in Vancouver’s East End Coyote is the author of three previous short story collections including the warm and plainspoken short tales found in Loose End (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2005). At the conclusion of that collection Coyote writes of a fire that destroyed the home she lived in for 12 years. In Bow Grip Coyote credits her cousin who pried the hard drive out of her melted computer after her house burned down saving the manuscript that is this, her first novel.
The question for Coyote’s fans was whether she would have the staying power for a longer work. The answer is a definite yes, Bow Grip is a heartfelt, amusing page turner with characters recognizable from the working class walk of life.
Joey Cooper is a good-hearted, forty-something mechanic from Drumheller, Alberta until recently happily married to Alison. His buddy Mitch Sawyer runs an Esso in town and his wife Kathleen is a quiet kindergarten teacher. Mitch and Joey played hockey together and share the occasional beer. Now they share some news; their wives ran off with each other –and as is the case in a small town –everybody knows. Mitch now spends his nights in the bar of the local hotel, lamenting to anyone who will listen about his wife running off with another woman to their “one-bedroom artist’s loft in Calgary”.
As Joey Cooper sees it: “Mitch Sawyer seems to feel that the fact that Kathleen left him for another woman is more binge-and-sympathy worthy than if she’d just run off with his brother or the postman, but I guess I don’t really see it that way. My wife of five years has left me, and I pretty much don’t care who she went with, all I know is that she’s gone, and it’s been about twelve and a half months now of looking like she isn’t coming back. Drinking doesn’t seem to help much either, so mostly I try and just avoid running into Mitch Sawyer. I like the Mohawk gas better anyways, higher octane, plus they got the video rental counter right there in the gas station. I’ve been watching a lot of movies lately.”
Coyote has a great ear for conversation and a keen understanding for those small moments that define who we are and offer glimpses of our humanity. Moments that are often punctuated with a dry, observant sense of humour.
When James, a stranger who lives in a bus on the edge of town, approaches Joey at the garage he works at they come to a Robert Johnson crossroads deal. Joey agrees to sell his beater Volvo in exchange for a beautiful handmade cello. Joey sees the cello as an opportunity to make some overdue changes in his life-considering his mother keeps insisting he needs a new hobby to get over his break up- and it is hard to argue with your mother.
The car breaks down shortly after Joey sells it to James. He takes a trip out to the bus where he lives and makes a dark discovery about the reasons for its purchase. Then moping about at home one evening Joey makes another startling finding, his wife had graduated from college while they were together without his knowledge. How could such a thing take place in a relationship?
“I had never sat down at Ally’s desk since I gave it to her, just like she would never have touched anything on my workbench in the garage, or opened mail with only my name on it. It was one of the things about Ally and me that I had always appreciated, that we still had private spaces and lives. No rules or hassles about it, we just fell into things that way. We were both just naturally private people. Not like some couples get. Until she popped the news to me about her and Kathleen Sawyer, of course. That was the first time that her privacy turned itself into a secret.”
With his suspicions now aroused, and with a strong desire to close the door on his failed marriage and return some furniture, Joey hits the road and travels to Calgary where he lands at a rundown hotel straight out of a Sam Shephard novel populated with mysterious drifters offering sage advice.
Joey’s eventual meeting with his ex and her new beau produces one more surprise for him, but not before he finds a cello teacher, a sympathetic shrink, insight into the furtive James and a new path for his life. The cello it seems is a conduit- the sound and the shape of the mystical musical note of life passing through us.
-by Grant Shilling
The Slow Fix (Arsenal $18.95)
Nice to think that Yukon-raised Ivan E. Coyote has got herself a respectable teaching gig at Carleton University these days after her novel Bow Grip won the ReLit Award, was shortlisted for the Ferro-Grumley Fiction Prize in the U.S and was named a Stonewall Honor Book by the American Library Association.
Now we’ll see how the mainstream responds to her new short story collection, The Slow Fix, in which a cousin’s stepdaughter helps her overcome her lifelong dread of buying tampons and she tells a homophobe in the barber’s seat next to her to shut up—among many of the subversively comic situations. In a less conservative country, Ivan E. Coyote would be famous by now.
Missed Her. Stories by Ivan E. Coyote (Arsenal Pulp Press $18.95)
from John Moore
A decade ago, the second most enjoyable aspect of an Ivan E. Coyote performance was listening to the whispers in the audience, the hissed arguments— “That’s a guy, right?”…“I dunno, that’s a girl voice, man”…“No way. That’s a young dude, dude”…“Well, he’s pretty damn cute for a guy, that’s all I’m saying”… Thanks to a solid rep built on four acclaimed story collections and a novel, those moments are rare now, but they were only sideshows anyway, quickly silenced by the compelling stage presence.
The best part was, and still is, watching Coyote work without a net; no notes, no fresh-from-the-printer book folded back with passages highlighted, no reading glasses perched on nose, no self-reverential Canlit delivery. She’d just start talking, like she was introducing the piece she meant to read, and before you knew it you’d been corralled into the story, saddled and ridden out the other side and still the only paper in sight was your bar tab.
Missed Her is the fifth round-up of Coyote’s quirky provocative short stories. Normally, you’d think a writer whose short works are almost exclusively autobiographical would get repetitive, even boring, but normal isn’t a word that gets much work in Coyote country. Neither is boring. The stories in Missed Her are as fresh and poignant as those in her previous four collections.
Growing up queer in the Canadian north was probably less fun than Coyote has made it seem in her early stories, but a strong sense of being different in some way is usually a big part of the core-programming of any artist.
Many of these new stories are about revisiting the north, no longer the young tomboy branded with a question-mark like an amateur tattoo, but as an established author, only to discover, among other family secrets, “that for all those years, in all those photographs of that little tomboy, there was only one member of my family wondering about me. And that was me.”
As always, she has a perfect-pitch ear for dialogue, especially the kitchen and coffee-counter talk that is humankind’s update of primate social grooming. While academic creative writing teachers solemnly instruct students about the importance of “finding your voice,” Coyote has learned that the real secret of good writing is to forget your own voice, try to fit in and listen to all the other voices around you.
At the family kitchen table, uncles clock in on the subject of her now published sexuality with unexpected and authentic flannel-shirt aplomb: Uncle John’s “Sorry, kiddo, but I can’t identify the moment we realized you’d gone to the dark side. We were just glad you weren’t stupid. There’s no cure for stupid,” leads up to Uncle Rob’s “Well…you can see why we wouldn’t have thought much about it. There’s lots of hetero butch chicks out there. Especially up here….Maybe a guy should have twigged due to your aversion to wearing a dress, but who cares anyway? I’ve always said, it’s your soap and your dick, and you can wash it as fast as you want.”
On the surface, most Coyote stories are riffs on the politics and perils of sexual diversity, but at a deeper level they are about the nature of difference itself and the inherent ironies of living in a culture that pays lip-service to Individuality as a concept while persecuting the genuine individual in practice:
“A little gesture, something about my voice, or my hips, or my lips, that makes them take that second, longer, closer look. Some people don’t care at all. Some ask if I am in a band, and are we playing in town this weekend. Some just don’t like me all that much. And then there are those very few that want to kill me. Whether this is for being an effeminate or homosexual man, or a masculine or queer woman, I am never quite sure.”
What is sure is that senses honed by an awareness of being different, sometimes dangerously so, are part of the essential tool-kit for a writer. The above quotes come from a very short story, “Straighten Up,” in which a chance meeting at a highway diner between a butch girl and a fortyish guy who was “probably handsome a few years ago” talking about their un-butch little lap-dogs, souvenirs of failed relationships, takes a turn that is as sad as it is sinister: “He smiles, looks down at my crotch, slowly slides his eyes up over my chest and back to my eyes. It begins to dawn on me just what he wants to show me back at the rig. It probably isn’t his Cockapoo.”
The misunderstandings and mixed signals of human communication aren’t always threatening. Often they’re just laugh-out- loud funny. In “Talking to Strangers,” coming off a tour, exhausted, she starts getting cross-examined by a Pakistani- immigrant cab driver about morality and family responsibilities and goes into defensive dyke mode, only to find at the end of the ride that what he means by you people isn’t quite what she assumed.
Coyote jokes about getting ‘dumped in with the poets’ on reading tours, particularly with slam-poets, who also rehearse their work like actors, performing from memory instead of reading. While this makes her unique enough among contemporary story-tellers to qualify for some kind of environmental award for saving paper, its more important effect has been to compel her to adopt an easily memorable, evocative but always clear and simple writing style, stripped of the tedious narrative pretensions of writers accustomed to finding their voices in the presumed silence of print.
So the next time you meet a clean-cut butch young fellow in a coffee shop or bar, check your presumptions and prejudices at the door, buy a round, put your boots up and swap lies for awhile. You might be talking to Ivan E. Coyote and you wouldn’t want to miss her. 9781551523712
Review by John Moore
One In Every Crowd by Ivan E. Coyote (Arsenal Pulp Press $17.95)
Ivan E. Coyote’s One In Every Crowd is her first collection of new and selected stories to be geared towards queer youth, but these humourous monologues about queer issues and relationships will appeal to readers of any age. Coyote’s outlook is cumulatively uplifting. Things are changing in terms of society’s willingness to accept people outside the traditional boy/girl divide.
The Rumpus Interview
The Rumpus Interview with Ivan Coyote
By Marie-Helene Westgate, August 1st, 2012
Ivan Coyote was born and raised in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, and is the award-winning author of six short story collections, one novel, three CDs, and four short films. Last year, Coyote and Zena Sharman co-edited the Lambda-award nominated collection Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme. In 2012 Coyote and folk-singer Rae Spoon began touring with Gender Failure, a traveling show where Rae and Ivan share the stage telling stories and playing music. So far, Gender Failure has made it to Montreal, Toronto, and New York.
In Gender Failure, Coyote and Spoon (a folk singer who hails from the Canadian prairies and now lives in Montreal) play the part of singer, of musician, and of storyteller. The show itself is a mixed-media performance parsing together songs and spoken word about growing up queer in the nether regions of Canada, trying to navigate the murky waters of identity, and failing to conform to gender norms.
In the show, Coyote shares funny, heartbreaking memories of being a child, and of eventually moving from the Yukon to Vancouver, where new dilemmas emerged as the queer community and life in the city opened up. In an intimate and highly original performance, Gender Failure transcends gender and sexuality. It entertains with impeccable musical numbers and surprises with stories rarely shared on large stages. In a performance that spans multiple genres, Coyote manages to intimate the brutal, complicated struggle of becoming yourself in a world where there isn’t a word yet for who you are.
The Rumpus: What can you tell me about Gender Failure?
Ivan Coyote: Rae and I both feel we don’t make very good women, obviously, and we’re also kind of, well – we’re gender failures. We don’t follow all the rules for being a proper trans dude either so that’s where the title came about.
When Rae and I got together it was like, we’re gonna push each other. We have been touring together and performing together and writing and doing shows together for about seven years. We had a project called You Are Here, which was a family-based show. It was an experiment for us: if two genderqueer or trans performers wrote a completely straight show about their grandmother, could it bust out into the mainstream? The answer is yes. But it was a different vibe, the two of us performing in front of a mainly straight theatre crowd. With Gender Failure, we decided to do something that was going to be more targeted toward the out community. We wanted to push that community’s boundaries in terms of trans issues because the queer community sometimes needs to brush up.
Rumpus: When your first book got published, what did you expect would change? And how did reality measure up to those expectations?
Coyote: I didn’t expect to publish a book. I was so young and it came so out of left wing, I mean – we never submitted a manuscript. We were approached by a publisher back in the Taste This days, so I can’t really say that I had any expectations. It was kind of like the golden egg that dropped in our laps. We had no idea what we were doing. I didn’t really know what was going to happen. I wasn’t even hanging around with that many published authors at the time so it’s not like I had someone to take me under their wing and tell me what would happen next; like the fact that after you publish a book, you have no control over who reads it – like your grandmother. That was a bit of a shock for me. I can’t really say I had expectations because I was sort of stunned.
Rumpus: You write a lot of stories about gender and identity. Can you speak to the pros and cons of writing stories that sometimes fall into categories like queer literature? How do those kinds of stories get perceived?
Coyote: Here’s what happened to me once when I was brought in to diversify the audience at a storytelling festival with a really straight, white-bread crowd: fourteen dykes drove up all the way from Michigan, like fucking fourteen hours, to come see me. And there’s a whole bunch of – literally – church ladies in the first ten rows, so I can’t serve the audience who actually came to see me. I can’t speak directly to them because I’m going to alienate half the little old ladies there who are already alienated anyway as soon as I walk on the stage, just because of what I look like.
I have no problems being put into a box as a queer author. That said, my work speaks to lots of different people and I get a lot of young queers who are like, I gave my book to my dad so he could understand my trans issues, or my parents are really evangelical Christians and my dad really liked it because he could relate to your dad, so there are many places where my work crosses over.
Overall I don’t really worry too much about who’s going to read my work and how they’re going to perceive it, especially right now when I’m in a real creative process. I’m really immersed in the material. I’m just enveloped in the creative act and enjoying myself and letting my instincts guide me as opposed to over-thinking this kind of stuff too much.
I don’t ever wanna have only a queer audience or speak the things that are only gonna be read or only gonna be understood by a queer audience. A good storyteller can cross those boundaries. That’s what stories are for. That’s our job: to talk across those boundaries that we put in between ourselves.
Rumpus: In February you wrote your last column for Xtra! [Canada’s gay and lesbian news publication]. How has life been since then?
Coyote: Xtra! was really great for fourteen, fifteen years. I spent four years freelancing and eleven years writing a monthly column; it was time to move on and do other things. I was worried about not having that regular deadline at first. I worried I wasn’t going to get something done every month. But I just wrote six thousand words last week, so it’s actually been the opposite. I feel creatively freed up by not having to worry about what I’m gonna write about that I haven’t written about ten thousand times before and making sure it’s one thousand words long and figuring out how to make it fit in a queer newspaper. It’s really taken a lot of pressure off. I’ve really freed up a lot of creative space in my head.
I’m also starting a new blog that’s got some of the crème de la crème of the queer literary scene in North America. We’re also approaching some European writers. It’s probably going to launch in September or October so keep posted for that. It’s radical sex and politics with moderated discussion. I’m interested in people discussing ideas. I’m not interested in a bunch of anonymous fuckheads having a troll war. One of the things that frustrated me about Xtra! was the un-moderated discussion.
Rumpus: The anthology you co-edited with Zena Sharman, Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme, is nominated for a Lambda award… but what I want to know is, how was it working with your wife?
Coyote: That book would not have happened if it weren’t for my wife. I thought I was familiar with publishing, having, at the time, like seven books out or something? Number nine is about to come out. Anyway I thought I was really familiar with the process. But I was just familiar with wrangling one author. Zena and I were wrangling forty-two authors. So it took Zena’s powers of spreadsheets to keep all that shit together and to keep a pretty tight production schedule.
It was a fantastic process. I would jump at the chance to work with my wife again. I don’t know that she would jump at the chance to work with me though. The last thing I’ll do is speak for her.
Rumpus: Are you not as skilled in making spreadsheets?
Coyote: It’s just not my thing.
Rumpus: What would you say your greatest obstacle is as an artist?
Coyote: Time: time off the road, extended periods of time. Right now for the kind of work that I’m doing, it’s extended time. I’m not working on the kind of creative projects that I can do in 4 days in between bouts on the road.
I’ve got a good portion of May totally home, a good portion of June totally at home, a good portion of July totally at home. And because I’ve been having a healthier practice on the road I’m not as fucking exhausted when I land, even though I’ve been going pretty full force since the end of February. I think I’ve spent maybe four or five nights at home. But I’m not as trashed as I used to be when I would come off of being on the road. I know I’ll be up and running and ready to go.
I’m really inspired right now so I’m very excited about the projects that we’re working on so. Really, really, really looking forward to that.
Rumpus: Is the transition easier now when you get home?
Coyote: It’s still exhausting. Zena always has to remind me why I’m so tired – which is because I took one hundred flights and did twenty-eight gigs in seventeen cities and four countries in the last sixty-eight days.
There’s a little fridge magnet that says: It’s okay to take a nap. Zena keeps threatening to embroider it onto a pillowcase for me.
Rumpus: You’re gonna to have to travel with it.
Coyote: Oh great, just what I need: more things to carry.
Rumpus: What would you tell young writers?
Coyote: Don’t go into debt. Or if you do, be very, very careful about it. It’s hard when you’re first starting out. There’s not a lot of money at first, but don’t believe the starving artist either. I make decent money now. I work like a fucking animal, but I make decent money.
You have to be smart and you have to be a good business-person. My best advice is that if you get your ass out of bed every day and iron your shirt for work and go to your shitty job that you hate and do it all day for forty hours a week or fifty hours a week. You’re never late and you pack your lunch and you show up and no matter if you feel like it or not you do your fucking job cause you have a good work ethic.
Take fifty percent of that work ethic and apply it to your own work. Get up and do it whether you feel like it or not. Bring your best self to it whether your feel like it or not.
Also, as quickly as you can get rid of people in your life who don’t support you and cannot celebrate your successes as quickly as you can do that, take a look inside yourself and learn to support your fellow artists. Find a way to rejoice in their successes too. Don’t be one of those guys who’s like oh, so and so got a grant how come I didn’t get a grant? We really need each other and we can’t afford to exist in little fucking vacuums.
It’s hard to work as hard as I have for as long as I have and have some other frustrated artist tell me how lucky I am when I know for a fact that they haven’t applied themselves as hard as I have and they haven’t tried as hard as I have.
Rumpus: And surely you do feel lucky but not because you didn’t have to work for it.
Coyote: I am lucky, I’m one of the luckiest fucking people I know. But life didn’t fucking knock on my door and say, Oh sorry you were napping but I wanted to hand you this book contract. Surprise! That’s not how it goes.
But really apply yourself. Use your same work ethic – if you have one, but let’s operate from the assumption you have a work ethic – but the same work ethic you would bring to your job that you didn’t like, bring half of that and you will find success.
It’s not magical. I don’t have some like one-in-a-gabillion talent, you know. I’m good at this job because I do it. I practice. Yeah, I’m a good performer. I do 250 live performances a year. If I wasn’t getting better there’d be a serious problem.
So just keep at it.
[Marie-Hélène Westgate is the senior editor at Freerange Nonfiction. She earned her Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College’s MFA program, and is currently at work on a novel. Her work has appeared in One Cool Word, Lumina, and Freerange. Marie-Hélène lives with her partner in Brooklyn, where she spends as much time as possible locked alone in a room.]
Reprinted by permission of Marie-Hélène Westgate and Ivan E. Coyote, September, 2012
The success of Failure
“Being a girl was something that never really happened for me,” says Rae Spoon, co-author of Gender Failure (Arsenal $17.95), along with Ivan E. Coyote.
It sounds like a clever thing to say to grab attention. But one need only dip into any page of this mutual tell-all to understand how that statement has been true for both of these writer-performers who have grappled with the limitations of traditional gender roles.
Coyote’s straight-forward, sometimes amusing, yet difficult-to-share account of having breasts surgically removed is a breakthrough in candour even for Coyote. This is clear, honest and wisely non-propagandist reportage from the front lines of an ongoing battle to bring transgenderism into mainstream awareness.
In Dawson City, Yukon—almost home turf for Coyote, who was born in Whitehorse—the pair first co-wrote a 90-minute live performance show called You Are Here, mostly blending Spoon’s music with Coyote’s storytelling, adding some visuals. It was experimental for them both in a weirdly conventional way: to see if a butch comedic talespinner and a trans folk musician turned indie rock ‘n’ roller could NOT veer into content that was specifically emanating from their queer origins.
Five years of touring later, Gender Failure was conceived partly in Germany, partly in Spoon’s Montreal apartment, later adding collaboration from an animator named Clyde Peterson after they saw a version of the new show in New York. The second theatrical musical was another experiment in repositioning themselves: while Spoon forced herself to contribute her share of the storytelling, it was a coming-out-of-the-closet for Coyote as a fledgling musician.
“Equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking” is hard to surpass as promo slogan. Gender Failure is also pitched as “a poignant collection of autobiographical essays, lyrics, and images documenting Ivan and Rae's personal journeys from gender failure to gender enlightenment.”
Obviously the show couldn’t be called Gender Enlightenment, but that’s one of strongest elements of this collaboration. By having two people share their independently forged quasi-confessional monologues—and revealing the compelling commonality of their trajectories—a non-LGBT audience member or reader cannot help but be “enlightened” as to what it means to find oneself, on a daily basis, between the black & white zones of male & female.
Don’t expect a Transgender Olympics quite just yet, but social attitudes are changing quickly and Gender Failure hastens that change with wit and confessional charm.
Coyote is smart enough to eschew didacticism. Meanwhile Coyote and Spoon know full well how much leadership is entailed in their work, how much their work matters to the LGBT sector of society. For Coyote to continually walk the line between educator and entertainer with such an endearing, saucy and provocative intelligence—smartly retaining loyalty to an earnest and effective B.C. publisher—reaffirms Coyote’s position as one of the most important literary artists in Canada.
EPUB ISBN: 9781551525372
by Alan Twigg
“Being a girl was something that never really happened for me,” says Rae Spoon, co-author of Gender Failure (Arsenal $17.95), along with Ivan E. Coyote.
It sounds like a clever thing to say to grab attention. But one need only dip into any page of this mutual tell-all to understand how that statement has been true for both these writer-performers who have moved toward maleness in female bodies.
Coyote’s straight-forward, sometimes amusing, yet difficult-to-share account of having her breasts surgically removed is a breakthrough in candour even for Coyote. This is clear, honest and wisely non-propagandist reportage from the front lines of an ongoing battle to bring transgenderism into mainstream awareness.
In her books, Coyote is smart enough to eschew didacticism. Meanwhile Coyote and Spoon know full well how much leadership is entailed in their work, how much their work matters to the LGBT sector of society. For Coyote to continually walk the line between educator and entertainer with such an endearing, saucy and provocative intelligence—smartly retaining her loyalty to an earnest and effective B.C. publisher—reaffirms her position as one of the most important literary artists in Canada.
EPUB ISBN: 9781551525372
Reprinted with permission from Gender Failure by Rae Spoon and Ivan E. Coyote (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2014), the following is a candid account of preparing for cosmetic surgery.
Ivan E. Coyote
I was so nervous, the secretary at the reception desk looked at me with softening eyes and told me everything was going to be okay. I had barely spoken to her, but it was just that obvious, I guess.
First of all, it didn’t feel like there was any possible way this could really be happening. Nineteen years of binding my breasts, even more years trying not to hate them, a psychologist’s appointment, a psychiatrist’s appointment, a psychological assessment, two doctor’s appointments, several letters back and forth between doctors and shrinks and bureaucrats, phone calls, more phone calls, twenty months since I had actually cranked the whole machine into gear, and here I was. Meeting the surgeon. He was fourteen minutes late. But who was counting?
He was handsome and tanned in January, and his assistant was tall, blonde, and wearing grey leather stiletto boots. Looked pretty much like what I thought a cosmetic surgeon and his assistant would look like, not that I had ever spent much time wondering. I have to fill out forms, of course, no I don’t smoke or have hemophilia, and no, my religion does not forbid me to have a blood transfusion. The letterhead on the forms is for a cosmetic surgery clinic. I am reminded that most people think that is what this is. Elective. Cosmetic. Unnecessary. My period is due today. My tits are at their biggest, and most tender. I can feel the binder pinching under my arms where it does.
Turns out the doctor and I both studied music at a small community college together in the late eighties. I do not remember him, and he would not recognize me. I ask him if he studied jazz piano just in case this whole cosmetic surgeon thing didn’t work out for him, you know, so he had something to fall back on. I make jokes like that sometimes when I am nervous.
He asks me a lot of questions. Why am I not on testosterone? Do I intend to go on testosterone in the future? What do I want my chest to look like when he is done? Do I care more about what my chest looks like, or whether or not I will be able to feel my nipples afterwards? I tell him a little of both. This surprises him. He tells me it is mostly only women who care about nipple sensation after surgery, and that most trans men only care that they have a masculine appearing chest after. He looks at his assistant, is she getting all of this down? And she nods back just a little, yes, she is.
Throughout this entire bureaucratic maze, I have wanted to not like the doctors, the psychiatrist, the surgeon. The gatekeepers. I have been waiting for one of them to be callous, or say something phobic or use the wrong pronoun, or write the wrong thing down on the wrong form. But everyone has been so … nice. Even though I still care about whether or not I can feel my nipples afterwards. I never quite feel like they truly understand me, but that doesn’t seem to get in the way of them completing the task at hand.
I have to strip my upper body and put on a blue gown. The surgeon measures my chest extensively. I haven’t worn a typical woman’s bra in my entire life, and I don’t mean there is any
such thing as a typical woman, let me be clear, what I mean is a bra-type article of clothing typically worn by a woman, anyway, I have never owned or worn one, ever since I was nineteen or so and they finally appeared on the scene uninvited, I have always tried to mash them down, disappear them, never
lift and separate, so I actually have no idea how big they really are. Turns out I have a forty-two-inch chest, a number that seems surreal to me, nearly impossible. I explain to the surgeon that they didn’t used to be this big, just since I hit my forties, my body is changing, and if he performed double hipectomies
I would be signing up for that, too. He is calling out measurements and observations to his assistant. My breast tissue is dense and firm, he states. She scribbles on her notepad. My nipples are big and will have to be removed completely from my body and resized and grafted back onto me. He remarks that my breasts exhibit very little ptosis, which is a medical term for sagging. This makes me feel oddly proud, considering I am here to have them removed. Kind of like waxing up your car so you can take it to the wrecker, or petting a puppy before you leave it out in the cold. Which, for the record, I would never do. I love puppies. But even talking aloud about it all felt kind of like that for me, like I was closing a door on a room I really loved, only because it was the one way I knew to keep going.
He pulls out a blue Sharpie and makes several marks on my chest, then stands back and surveys them. Like you would if you were trying to hang a picture level on a wall. Then he takes a camera out, snaps several pictures of me from the neck down, and then puts it away.
He explains to me that I will need a double incision/bi-lateral mastectomy, and that my nipples will be rendered insensate. He delivers this news deadpan, like he’s has had a lot of practice saying these words without any affectation or emotion whatsoever. Insensate. I looked it up after, later, when I got home. It has two meanings: 1: lacking physical sensation. And 2: lacking sympathy or compassion, unfeeling.
The surgeon narrows his eyes at my copious chest hair. “You have never taken testosterone?” he asks me again. I shake my head, no. “Well, there is something going on for you here, then,” he tells me.
“Positive thinking,” I tell him, and he smiles, like this can’t be true, even though I am pretty sure it is.
He measures my nipples from tip to tip, lets out a low whistle. “Wow,” he says, sounding impressed. “Thirteen inches.” His assistant raises her head, looks over at us, writes it down. I have no idea what this means, whether this number is impressive because it is so small, or so big.
“Yep,” I state. “That’s right. Thirteen inches, uncut.” We all crack up. My nipples are standing on their tiptoes now, maybe from the cool air in the examination room, maybe from brushing up against the measuring tape, maybe from fear. Hard to say.
I did and still do wonder why he wasn’t using the metric system of measurement. Thirty-three point zero two centimeters sounds way more accurate somehow, even though the metric system is decidedly less sexy. Maybe that is why the United States stubbornly holds on to the standard system of measurement. Its undeniable erotic potential. Thirteen inches seems impressive, especially when it is a body part of any sort. And ninety miles an hour sounds so much hotter and faster than one hundred and forty-four point eight four kilometers ever could.
The next morning, I looked long at myself in the mirror. Tried to imagine my new chest. Touched my exquisitely sensitive nipples. Imagined them small, and dull to touch, and stitched back on. I have done this a million times before. But this time there were two blue marks, in the soft crease there, dead centre below my nipples. I had scrubbed and scrubbed at them in the shower, but they wouldn’t come off, they had hardly even faded. The ink the surgeon had used had been very, very permanent.