The following excerpt – Their, There – is from Ivan Coyote’s 2014 book, Gender Failure, which Huron University College picked as its Huron1Read 2017-18 selection.
Based on their acclaimed 2012 live show, Gender Failure is a collection of autobiographical essays, lyrics and images personal documenting the personal journeys of Coyote and fellow author and musician Rae Spoon from gender failure to gender self-acceptance.
Coyote, Western’s 2012-13 Writer-in-Residence, returns to campus to deliver a public performance – Neither / Nor: Circumnavigating the Gender Binary in 7000 Easy Steps – followed by author Q&A and book signing, at 2 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 28, in the Kingsmill Room, Huron University College.
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I still use the pronoun she for my publicity materials, and for mainstream media stuff, for two reasons: the first is that I do a lot of work in public schools, and I want those young women and girls to see every kind of she there can be. I want them to see my biceps and my shorn hair and shirt and tie and for some of them to see me as a possibility. For the ones that need to see other possibilities to see me, and recognize a future for themselves. I want them to see me living outside of the boxes, because they might be asphyxiating in their own box and need to see there is air out here for them to breathe, that all they have to do is lift the lid a little.
The second reason is that for the most part I find the media to be lazy. Or maybe overworked, if I reach for the compassion ring. In any case, I find that the majority of reporters don’t really want, or are not provided the space or time or word count, to really understand their subject. That every person or event they write about or review must be reduced to talking points, a headline, and a pull-out quote. All too often this means I am reduced to a woman who looks like a man. Or a gender-blender or some other nonsensical and diminutive term. I am no longer an award-winning author of 10 books, or a musician, or a performer who has been touring the world for nearly 20 years, or a storyteller. I am reduced to a sideshow attraction. I once had a reporter ask me if I had had any surgeries. I told her yes. I had an ingrown toenail removed in Grade 5, and I had to have my wrist re-broken and set properly once when I fell out of a tree, but that I still had my appendix and my tonsils.
She told me she knew I was going to say something like that. She said, “Come on, you know what I mean.”
I told her to come right out and ask me what she was asking me.
So she asked if I still had my breasts, or if I was planning to have a breast augmentation, or if I wanted to have a penis constructed, or my penis removed.
It was only then that I realized she didn’t know what sex or gender I had been assigned at birth, so she couldn’t even be sure what I might want removed or added on to me, but still.
She had to know. She just had to ask.
“Beg your pardon,” I told her. “I thought you were interviewing me because my novel about a heterosexual mechanic just won a national literary award.”
There was a moment of silence. We finished the interview but gone was her conversational, easy, friendly demeanor. After that, she talked to me like I was the one being difficult. Like I was the one who had asked a rude question.
So here it is. My friends call me he, or they. The government and most of my family call me she. The media calls me she, because I don’t trust them enough to request that they do anything else. My lovers call me sweetheart. Or baby. Somewhere in all of that I find myself. These are all, after all, only words.