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 LGBTQ2S advocate and author. Now Ivan Coyote is a mainstream headliner at events around North America. The SFU Library nominated Coyote for an honorary doctorate that was conferred on October 5, 2017.


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 SFU Library nominated Coyote for an honorary doctorate that was conferred on October 5, 2017.

[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 'she/her' or 'he/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.

For an inveterate traveler and performer like Ivan Coyote, the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 initially proved to be confining. Coyote turned to their file of special letters and communiques they had saved over the years from readers and audience members including Facebook messages, emails and notes written-on-the-run. They began answering those letters & notes, eventually combining both the originals and their responses in Care of: Letters, Connections, and Cures (McClelland & Stewart $25). As a whole, the compilation reflects many of the central themes of Coyote’s past writing: compassion & empathy, family fragility and identity.

See review of Gender Failure (2014) BELOW.

[Photo by Laura Sawchuk]

Care Of: Letters, Connections and Cures
by Ivan Coyote (M&S $25.00)

Review by Caroline Woodward

Storytellers. We can’t help but keep hoping that there might be a happier ending in there, somewhere,” writes non-binary author Ivan Coyote to one of their fans, a lesbian from North Dakota whose parents will only see her and speak to her if she doesn’t talk about “that” and never brings any of “those” people into their home.

It’s one of many letter and email exchanges that Ivan Coyote has published in Care Of: Letters, Connections and Cures, which they wrote during the socially-distanced, early days of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ivan Coyote is a brave and tactful performer and writer who is as eloquent and entertaining in person as they are in print, leading to nearly three decades on the road as a performer in high demand. They have delivered at least 200 polished, powerful and often hilarious shows yearly. Then Covid-19 lowered the boom. No more tours to Australia, America, Hong Kong or hometown Whitehorse either. No more high school gyms packed with hundreds of teens and apprehensive or welcoming teachers, gathered to hear hard-won truths about growing up and being transgender. No more conferences for librarians or statisticians or labour activists or nurses, and among them, a few fearful adults ready to fire verbal arrows at the podium.

Coyote proves to be a brave and tactful writer. This is clear in a letter they wrote to a Christian ‘mostly closeted’ woman explaining how they put up with heckling and rude comments: “When a person has been taught, …to hate and revile me stands up to ask me a question, I must reach across that room and find my way past her fear and dogma and doctrine and into the good part of her heart…It is not important to me in those few seconds that everyone in the room agrees with me, but it is vital that they witness her allowing her heart to stretch open enough to make even the possibility of room for people like me.”

With all bookings cancelled, Ivan Coyote started answering the hundreds of letters and emails they have amassed from their audiences over the years. Now there was time to go deeper, to respond more thoughtfully with the wisdom gained from those years on the road.

One letter came from a closeted Muslim actress from Pakistan who discovered Coyote on social media. Her identity is protected because even though she moved to England, her family back home would be harassed about their gay daughter. Another exchange begins with a Canadian high school teacher who admits to being rather pleased with his own tolerance when his daughter announced in Grade 10 that she was gay. Fine, he thought, one of my brothers is gay, no big deal. Then his child springs the news that she wants to transition to male and, finally flummoxed, Dad turns to Coyote for guidance. This story has what storytellers hope for, that happier ending. A good many of the other letters are filled with despair and grief because fear of the unknown, not love, grips the wheel driving the bus, at school and at home, in the place of worship and in the workplace where some of the most toxic notions of masculinity are unleashed on those who are different.

Because Coyote’s performances are engaging and because books like Tomboy Survival Guide (Arsenal, 2016) and, for LGBTQ teens, One In Every Crowd (Arsenal, 2012) have thrown lifelines to struggling individuals and families around the world, the ensuing correspondence must surely fill a massive filing cabinet. They have carefully selected some of those communiques in Care Of, including letters from people of all ages living in this world as someone other than the gender assigned to them at birth. Or realizing, like the high school student from a traditional Indo-Canadian family, that he was gay “ever since he could remember” and his father would kill him, “for real” and his brother would probably beat him up first. Coyote fluently translated his body language and asked if he would carry the stand-up microphone to the parking lot and en route, about sixteen years of repression poured forth, the first time he’d ever confided to anyone. Ivan still thinks, and worries about that student.

There are heartbreaking letters like the one from a mother who lost her 21-year-old transgender daughter to suicide. Coyote’s own loving connection to a sprawling, raucous Yukon family, storytellers all, proves to be the key that breaks through resistance in other families.

Families are often simply afraid of losing their loved one. Parents fear what the world will do to their tomboy girl or their tender-hearted boy. Will surgery or any form of identity change mean losing their sister or their brother, their mother or their father? The loyal connection to family so well-portrayed on stage and in print by Coyote reassures parents and teens alike that the world will not end if the lifelong difference that is felt in every cell by one member of the family is acknowledged and future change is supported. This is not to say that the dark side, the snide and hurtful words and deeds dealt by some adults behind medical counters, or the usual suspects among hockey parents, for example, need to be tolerated. Thankfully there are people like the janitor at the Whitehorse Hockey Arena who created a locker room just for Coyote, at age 16 the only ‘girl’ still playing organized hockey with boys in the entire Yukon. He tacked up a poster of Wayne Gretzky too.

One of my favourite zingers in this tough, tender and life-affirming book now festooned with post-it notes and underlined passages, is the following: “This is why labels peel off in the water.”

9780771051722 BCBW 2021-22

Caroline Woodward is the author of nine books in five genres for adults and children She lives in New Denver.


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
Rebent Sinner (Arsenal 2019) $19.95 978-1-55152-773-4
Care of: Letters, Connections, and Cures (McClelland & Stewart, 2021) $25 978-0771051722

[BCBW 2021]