Review- Gender Failure

A review is not a precis- not an attempt to summarize all the material in a book, album or movie. Rather, it is an attempt to explain why you might want to (or perhaps, should) explore the material yourself. Which is good, as it it pretty much impossible to reduce the contents of this book, or the live stage event that it rises from, to a post on a website.

Gender Failure
© Copyright 2014 by Rae Spoon and Ivan E Coyote
Arsenal Pulp Press, Vancouver BC
978-1-55152-536-5

Adapted from their live multimedia show, the collection of stories, lyrics and pictures takes us on each one’s journey “from gender failure to gender self-acceptance.” Both have identified, at some point, as transgender. Rae has adopted, and actively promotes, the ability to choose to retire from gender. Ivan has not used that terminology, preferring instead to cross back and forth across the (socially constructed) gender line; “I escaped being called the wrong pronoun by never choosing one,“(pg.237). Ivan also presents an argument for using female pronouns for their publicity material; doing many events in public schools and wanting “girls to see every kind of she there can be,” (pg.222).

Both authors grew up in rural western (Rae) or northern (Ivan) Canada. While that inevitably impacted their youth, each has spent time living, and performing, in cities both in Canada and abroad. Ivan is a bit older; about 13 years according to the Internet. For queer folk, at least for much of the so-called Western World, that really is a generation. Ivan is about 11 years younger than I am and I see how different the world of his youth, beyond geography alone, was from mine.

Whether the focus reflects simply the choice of material included or the impact of those additional years, Ivan talks more about bathrooms. Rae certainly has such stories but we hear about more general social interactions, perhaps a reflection of the differences in physical size.

Ivan shares the heartbreak of knowing that a four year old has already “been taught that bathrooms were a problem, and that problem started with her, and was hers alone,“(pg.209). And of being made to feel that “I am other, somehow, that I don’t also need to feel safe. That somehow their safety trumps mine,“(pg.207)- with ‘their safety’ referring in this case to other queer folk. Ivan reminds us to focus on what we share, not what makes us different and does indeed embrace the label of gender failure (pg.235).

Over the length of the book we share Rae’s journey from viewing the concept of ‘gender spectrum’ as negating their experience [“a disregard for the gender binary felt like my experience was being taken from me“(pg.70)] to an understanding of “how sexist the rules of the gender binary really were“(pg.201) to realizing that “the gender binary is more of a comedy skit than a fact“(pg.217)

Of course there is so much more material- more stories, pictures, song lyrics- that fill 250 pages and give a taste of what must be an incredible theatre event.

Rae Spoon on the web or Facebook;
Ivan E Coyote on the web or Facebook.

* Federal Trade Commission rules require bloggers to clearly identify when they have or will receive compensation. I will receive a small affiliate commission should you make a purchase after following any of the Amazon links in this post.

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