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Gender Failure

4.35  ·  Rating details ·  1,786 ratings  ·  193 reviews
"Being a girl was something that never really happened for me."—Rae Spoon

Ivan E. Coyote and Rae Spoon are accomplished, award-winning writers, musicians, and performers; they are also both admitted "gender failures." In their first collaborative book, Ivan and Rae explore and expose their failed attempts at fitting into the gender binary, and how ultimately our expectation
Paperback, 256 pages
Published April 8th 2014 by Arsenal Pulp Press (first published March 31st 2014)
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Average rating 4.35  · 
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 ·  1,786 ratings  ·  193 reviews

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I’ve been putting off writing a review of Ivan E. Coyote and Rae Spoon’s collaborative book Gender Failure since I read an advanced reading copy back in March. This is despite the fact that I had two type-written pages of notes that I’d made as I was reading the book. The thing is, this book started off on the wrong foot with me, and I was never able to quite shake it.

Let’s go back a step: Gender Failure is an adaptation of Ivan and Rae’s extremely successful performance tour of the same name. T
If I had to put the way I felt about Gender Failure in a couple of words, those words might be "behind the times." I would have been ecstatic to read this before about 2012 or 2013 (ask me why The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard marks a watershed in transgender fiction and memoir---but that's another review), but it was published in 2014.

That's partly for intensely personal reasons: my own butch-identified top surgery was in February 2014, two months before "Gender Failur
Rachel Kramer Bussel
Jan 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I can't say enough good things about this book. Firstly, it's written by two authors, who each have different lived experiences and approaches to gender. Though they both reject our culture's insistence on a gender binary system and both share many commonalities, having two writing styles and approaches makes for an interesting read that never gets complacent. Secondly, the short format, which Ivan Coyote has mastered (do go read everything else Coyote has written too, because the use of languag ...more
As a parent whose child has experienced many years and forms of bullying because of sexual orientation, I approached this very moving book hoping to gain understanding and to learn compassion. This book offers both to the reader with an open mind.

Ivan and Rae describe experiences shrouded in confusion, alienation, fear, frustration, and anger, and they also speak of courage, friendship, determination, growth, love, and evolution. In spite of the painful challenges along the way, each refuses to
Lisa Marie Gabriel
Gender retirement? What a wonderful idea! Everyone should read this beautifully written book, not just those affected by gender or sexuality. We have this whole ridiculous way of carrying on from birth to death that assigns our children with not only a genitally defined gender - which excludes intersex variations anyway - but along with that prescribes how we should behave – our jobs, interests, dress codes, hobbies and physical mannerisms. Ever stop to think how wrong this is? I have.

Avery (Book Deviant)
Oct 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I have read few books that have gotten my feelings about my gender correctly on the page. Gender has always been a stingy topic for me, just because I have so many confusing thoughts on it and some things people said weren’t even close to how I felt. But Gender Failure really hit my feelings on the nose. I couldn’t read this book in public because I had so many warring emotions about this book and the subject that I knew I would just break.

Read my full review on The Book Deviant!

Reread October 2
Mar 03, 2017 rated it liked it
I liked this book, but it wasn't AMAZING. Ivan's writing is clearly stronger than Rae's, so maybe that had something to do with it. There were a few things that were written that, as a 25-year-old also white afab nonbinary person, made me cringe because we're all very sure that the way we talk and think about gender is the correct way. Ivan and Rae struck me as a little more old school ("transgendered") but for me it was a good exercise in learning about the nuances of similar trans and queer ex ...more
Rick Brose
Aug 04, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Personal note:
In the last several months, I have started to explore my own gender identity. I have always felt like the idea of maleness, especially in our culture, does not fit who I am inside. It has not been until the last few years where I have seen that gender is not such a cut and dry concept. I have been reading articles and blogs recently, and a friend recommended that I try out this book. The book had helped them in their own genderqueer journey. Since no two people's journeys are the s
Nov 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: non binary people, people who want to understand what it means to be non binary
Recommended to Huldra by: non-binary book club
Shelves: favorites, gender
Almost every chapter of Gender Failure made me cry. It's incredibly easy, in a world obsessed with the idea that your genitals determine who you are at the most fundamental level, to feel that your own understanding of gender, and your own perception of self is faulty; that, at some level, you're just making it all up. So when two people you've never met, from the other side of the world, and assigned by society to the other side of the gender binary, write a book and express many of the same th ...more
Mar 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very interesting read. A lot of it was basic enough for new readers of any trans content, but well written enough to be worth reading as someone who already knows the lesson. Great discussions of complicated matters like discrimination within the LGBT community. I've read a lot of Ivan Coyote's writing, but none of Rae Spoon's (just listened to their music), and I was really impressed by Spoon's chapters. Even Ivan seemed to have had a lot more critical breakthroughs since the last time I checke ...more
Oct 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I can't stop thinking about this book. It's a collection of essays by two queer artists. The essays alternate between Coyote and Spoon's perspectives and are interspersed with photos, song lyrics, and anecdotes. The essays contain stories about medical transition (including surgery) and social transition (including pronouns and presentation). Many of those stories are also about pursuing an arts career, spending time with friends and neighbors, and so on. Those everyday experiences that cis peop ...more
Will Nelson
Mar 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book a lot, and even though neither of the authors' stories are exactly mine, there were parts that resonated with me, especially Rae's "My Body is a Spaceship" and Ivan's "The Rest of My Chest" but really the whole book was amazing. There were times I wanted to cry and times I wanted to cheer, and it was exactly what I needed in my current gender mood. I will definitely seek out more books and videos by both of them! ...more
Jan 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
In Gender Failure, the book, musician Rae Spoon and writer Ivan E. Coyote re-imagine their ground-breaking Gender Failure live show as a heartfelt collaborative memoir. In alternating chapters, the two of them explore the very different journeys they each took to arrive at a non-binary gender identity. For me, it was especially powerful to get their two stories simultaneously. This reinforced the book's central idea that there are as many individual paths and relationships to gender as there are ...more
Mar 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What would it mean to "retire from gender"? When I first read that phrase in this book it took me a moment to digest. But! Aha! If we are often performing our gender in one million ways big and small (even those of us who are cisgender. boys don't cry? girls, close your legs when you sit?), what would it mean to sit out that performance (and for some, that charade)?

Retiring, in that case, turns out to require actively resisting, pressing forward, swallowing pain, constantly extending compassion
Danni Green
Sometimes I read one of these books where people are writing about their gender(s) and it just makes me really really want to be friends with the writer(s). This was very much one of those times. Their trans experiences are so different from mine in so many ways, but there are so many overlaps too, and there's something powerful about reading these stories that feel like I'm receiving the transmitted wisdom of "my people" being passed down. ...more
Dec 04, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: own, lgbt, transgender
Lately I've been thinking about my gender, being transgender, being nonbinary. I particularly related to Ivan's conception of their gender. The reason I didn't rate this higher is because both authors do offer a very white and thin presentation of gender, an issue which I do appreciate them addressing in the book. At the same time, it's an unavoidable criticism. It has given me a lot to think about, though. ...more
Nov 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book literally MADE me who I am today
Jan 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
As an older trans person I really loved and appreciated the perspective of another older slow moving trans person feeling their story of gender failure. Ivan's writing is comforting to me in its pain and passion. I found Rae's writing interesting and their stories intriguing. They didn't resonates as deeply with me. ...more
Michael Bryson
Jan 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Michael by:
Shelves: memoir
I'm giving this five stars because I can't imagine how it could be different. It is pretty perfect in what it is and does.

Ivan E. Coyote and Rae Spoon alternate short chapters through the book, telling a range of stories about how they were born assigned female and then left that identity behind, or tried to.

The tried to part is, of course, dealing with other people, dealing with social expectations, getting caught in the gender binary, where you only have two options, M or F.

Both Coyote and Spo
Feb 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book should be mandatory for all to read. It not only reminded me of the injustices that transgendered people suffer, but it helped me to realize that we shouldn't try to categorize everyone as either male or female. Although most people do fit squarely into one or the other gender, there are those who simply aren't truly one or the other. The authors create a good argument for creating language that includes all people, regardless of whether or not they consider themselves male, female or ...more
Darlene Stericker
May 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is my second book by Ivan Coyote. He is such a compassionate and eloquent writer. I embraced the idea (of Rae Spoon's) of gender retirement. The back and forth of the two authors was great! This was a compelling book. I have reserved two more books of Ivan Coyote's. I want to read everything that I can by him. ...more
Jul 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites, lgbt
I enthusiastically described this as Chicken Soup for my Nonbinary Transgender Soul in my Instagram stories. I'm so pleased with how both Ivan and Rae wrote about their journey through the gender binary and just found it wasn't for them.

I mean: me too, thanks.

Like Ivan and Rae, I was assigned female at birth and, as I grew up, found myself thinking and feeling that label never fit me. It felt so excellent to read two perspectives that overlapped, yet still branch out on their own as individual p
Jan 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult-faves
Thank you Ivan and Rae! The two author shared their personal journeys from childhood to present day as they navigated societal expectations around gender while trying to live their lives and be seen as they felt inside. It was wrenching at times to hear how the larger world rejected or judged them, and warming to hear about surprising instances when they found the love and acceptance that should be theirs all the time. It was a very moving and personal look into how our needs and how we view our ...more
May 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I met Rae Spoon very briefly at an impromptu sort of concert they were giving at someone's house in Ottawa about a year ago. At the time I was aware of them as being a well-known musician (in the gentle back gardens of queer Canadiana, anyway, if not in the 'mainstream', whatever the mainstream is), but I didn't know much else about them. My mom, as ever a champion of queer visibility and good music, pointed me toward Rae's Youtube videos, and at first I wasn't sure what I thought; it took me un ...more
Jul 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Books that make me cry get 5 stars.
This is the book I wish I had read back in 2014 when it came out. Hell, it's the book I had read in 2011 or 2008. This book summarizes so many of the things I've gone through as a genderqueer person who is bad at gender too.
I think this is going on my recommended reading for cis people who want to know more.
Oct 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: gender, lgbt
They speak frankly about what it's like being gender-neutral. I will alter my behavior to accommodate and include them. ...more
Aug 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I want to buy this and underline bits, which is not something I usually do in books. But wow, how refreshing to feel seen and understood
Apr 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is amazing amazing amazing.
I really love Ivan Coyote. Rae Spoon was a new writer for me and not too bad either.

I get misgendered at least five times a day and more to the point, I anticipate it every second of every day and that's really the hardest part, way harder than the actual misgendering. So reading this was a trip. I could never be as forgiving and kind as Coyote and Spoon are. But I am grateful that there are people out there who can.

3-3,5 stars. I'll round it up.

Sep 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: every human being
Recommended to Joanne-in-Canada by: The Next Chapter CBC
Raw, honest, direct, eloquent descriptions by two people whose lives and ideas differ from traditional perspectives on binary gender. Essential reading for every member of the human race.
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Ivan Coyote was born and raised in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. An award-winning author of six collections of short stories, one novel, three CD’s, four short films and a renowned performer, Ivan’s first love is live storytelling, and over the last thirteen years they have become an audience favourite at music, poetry, spoken word and writer’s festivals from Anchorage to Amsterdam.

Ivan E. Coyote,

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“I realize that the English language is sadly devoid of names for people like me. I try to cut the world some slack for this every day. All day. And the day after that, too. But the truth is that every time I am misgendered, a tiny little sliver of me disappears, A tiny little sliver of me is reminded that I do not fit ... I remember that the truth of me is invisible, and a tiny little sliver of me disappears. Just a sliver, razored from the surface of my very thick skin most days, but other times right from my soul, sometimes felt so deep and other days simply shrugged off, but still. All those slivers add up to something much harder to pretend around.” 7 likes
“Gender-neutral fashion does not start and end with the masculine for me.” 4 likes
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