Stories are powerful tools. They move and inspire. They challenge and disorient. They open up the listener to new experiences without begging, pleading or berating. Rae Spoon and Ivan Coyote's collection, Gender Failure, tells their own stories of understanding Gender that go beyond feeling good in the skin you’re in. They describe experiences salient to many, but so uncommonly found in the mainstream discourse that Gender Failure easily moves the reader into new territory—visually and emotionally.
Excerpt from the Gender Failure performance in London at the 27th London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival.
Gender Failure is an interesting experience of the written word. As both Spoon and Coyote are performers by nature and by trade, the voices in each chapter are so clear and the visual elements of this collection maintain the performative flow. Gender Failure drew me in with its honesty and its humour, and made it clear that it was not a memoir in any respect.
Both Spoon and Coyote are young, hot and clearly in love with their future as artists.
This collection reads like a folk tale. Both writers grow up, meet struggle, battle against forces bigger than themselves and have come out as victors, in their personal health and as strong role models for others. But the journey is not over for either, and that is very clear. There are still questions and growth—more dragons to slay and personal demons to quash.
Spoon grew up in Calgary, the city I myself grew up in. The analysis of their upbringings that Spoon and Coyote offer is such an important backdrop to their stories. Both the Prairies and the North are places that carry heavy visual and tactical memories for those of us that grew up or have lived in such parts of the country.
In one chapter Spoons writes, “However, when I’m standing up for myself, or laying low in order to survive as a trans person, I use skills that the women in my family taught me. I am not a woman, but I am fighting against the same elements for survival.” A personal reflection about gender identity and the way that dictates how one moves in and around spaces—a message that speaks to me as a cis woman, but also serves to shift perceptions of groupings. Spoon and Coyote remind the reader throughout that “Gender”, capitol G, is not binary and that in many ways most of “us” are gender failures; women with shaved heads and flat chests, men with makeup and skinny jeans. The identification of gender is the only thing binary about either description. Gender failure is pretty okay—if Rae Spoon and Ivan Coyote say that it is, than there is a small seed of hope for the many gender failures out there who only know how to live their lives as a square peg.
What is more, this book compliments the incredible careers both have as artists. It is a piece of literary and performance art, and while reading Gender Failure is a serious pleasure, these stories also belong on a stage.
You can find out more about Gender Failure and upcoming events here. Spoon will be touring Europe through May and June, but back in the good ol’ Canada for the Toronto Pride Fest. Find Coyote's previous written works and upcoming events at their website here.