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Gender Failure

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"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 expectations and assumptions around traditional gender roles fail us all.

Based on their acclaimed 2012 live show that toured across the United States and in Europe, Gender Failure is a poignant collection of autobiographical essays, lyrics, and images documenting Ivan and Rae's personal journeys from gender failure to gender enlightenment. Equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking, it's a book that will touch LGBTQ readers and others, revealing, with candor and insight, that gender comes in more than two sizes.

Ivan E. Coyote is the author of six story collections and the award-winning novel Bow Grip, and is co-editor of Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme. Ivan frequently performs at high schools, universities, and festivals across North America.

Rae Spoon is a transgender indie musician whose most recent CD is My Prairie Home, which is also the title of a new National Film Board of Canada documentary about them. Rae's first book, First Spring Grass Fire, was a Lambda Literary Award finalist in 2013.

256 pages, Paperback

First published March 31, 2014

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About the author

Ivan E. Coyote

16 books635 followers
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, die k.d. lang der kanadischen Literatur, stammt aus Whitehorse, Yukon, im äußersten Nordwesten Kanadas. Sie liebt Trucks, kleine Hunde, guten Kaffee, gescheite Frauen, Lederarbeiten, Tischlern, Geschichten erzählen, Angeln, Hockey, Knoten knüpfen, Kochen, auf Bäume klettern und ihren Mittagsschlaf. Heute lebt sie mit ihrer Partnerin in Vancouver. Ivan E. Coyote hat bereits fünf Erzählbände veröffentlicht und mit Als das Cello vom Himmel fiel ihren ersten Roman vorgelegt. Sie liebt es, Geschichten zu erzählen, und hat sich neben ihrem Schreiben auch als »Spoken Word«-Performerin einen Namen gemacht.

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5 stars
1,066 (49%)
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791 (36%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 234 reviews
Profile Image for Akiva Ѯ.
752 reviews47 followers
March 29, 2016
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 Failure" was published, and after years of desperate searching for people who had made a similar journey. I felt a peculiar kind of hollowness as I read Coyote's words about the decision and the process (both emotional and bureaucratic), knowing how much it would have meant to me six months before, and not quite feeling it.

It's also political: Spoon and Coyote are (like me) the kind of white masculine-presenting female-assigned people who get undue attention in trans (and queer) communities, who take up so much of the airtime that people of color, trans women, and transfeminine people can hardly get a word in edgewise. Coyote at least makes an effort to talk about the disparity. Spoon seems... oblivious. One more work of white transmasculine memoir doesn't literally take the place of the books that non-white, non-transmasc trans people are writing, but that doesn't exactly let them off the hook either.
Profile Image for CaseyTheCanadianLesbrarian.
1,132 reviews1,390 followers
May 31, 2015
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. The book really carries over the multi-media aspect of the performance and is genre-bustingly awesome. It’s interspersed with handwritten song lyrics, photographs, illustrations. I especially love the dress-up cut-out doll of Ivan! It’s no coincidence that gender and genre are only one letter off, and this book refuses to play by the rules of either.


In Rae Spoon’s intro, they describe themselves as a “gender-neutral (formerly trans masculine) person.” This immediately rubbed me the wrong way and I had to sit and think about why for a long time. Obviously, Spoon has full rights to identify their gender however they want and to use the pronoun they, that goes without saying. I mean, I hate that I even have to write that, because it sounds patronizing. But to refuse to admit they fall onto the trans masculine scale—as someone who identifies as trans, was female assigned at birth (FAAB), and has a relatively masculine gender presentation—just doesn’t feel right to me.

In particular, this disavowal of the trans masculine fails to acknowledge the privilege trans masculine folks have in contrast to trans feminine folks. This is something I’ve learnt from reading trans women writers, and it’s something that runs rampant in lesbian/queer women’s communities in particular. It’s not within someone’s right to self-identify to deny gender-based privilege where it exists, particularly in queer men’s and women’s communities where the privilege of masculinity—even of the trans variety—often goes unchecked. Rae does specify that they benefit from privilege “especially in queer communities,” which I appreciate. But they don’t address the fact that their very terms of identification—“gender-neutral (formerly trans masculine)”—erase and conflate the very real power imbalance between trans male/masculine and trans female/feminine people....

See my full review here: http://caseythecanadianlesbrarian.wor...
Profile Image for Rachel Kramer Bussel.
Author 104 books1,129 followers
January 19, 2015
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 language is so wonderfully succinct), means "big" topics like chest surgery and pronouns are broken down into smaller components, making for a rich reading experience.

Both grapple with being gender nonconforming, and explore how various alternative and mainstream communities react to them, their bodies and their gender (or non-gendered) presentations. I know my experience of using one will never be the same after reading Ivan Coyote on how hard it is to use public bathrooms (or washrooms). Coyote discussed many things I'd never considered before, including their genuine fear. This is a topic very much in the news of late, with Austin recently approving gender neutral bathrooms. While this book is certainly political, it is in the "personal is political" sense. Both authors evolve over the course of the book and, to my reading, want the reader to form their own conclusions as well. They both constantly confront their own stereotypes and beliefs around gender, packing and unpacking them, exploring why one gender choice or pronoun or practice works for them at one point in time, and doesn't in another. The only negative thing I can say about this book is that it made me which I'd caught the live acts, but these words are as alive as words on a page can be. Especially in the wake of Leelah Alcorn's death, this is an important book. No, not the only important book about gender, but one that illuminates many of the ways gender and gender roles are pushed on us from childhood and how that affects these authors as adults. Rae Spoon's experiments with YouTube take gender nonconformity into the world of music and online sharing and the results are sometimes heartening, sometimes sad. Whether or not you've ever thought about the meaning of gender before, this book is worth checking out. Also because the pieces are so short, you can read it all at once (I couldn't stop), or in smaller chunks.
Profile Image for Ollie.
28 reviews
March 3, 2017
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 experiences. At times I felt like Ivan's stories about Rosie in the beginning were just lip service to trans women, because sometimes Ivan would say something like, "I obviously don't look like a lady" which is something that comes off as quite transmisogynistic and counter to what Ivan said before about using the pronouns she/her when talking to kids so kids know that there are so many ways to be she (which, in some kids futures, might mean also being ladies). So again, some of these kinds of inconsistencies are simply the result of reading the collected works of people who write about something they are constantly thinking about and their perspectives are always shifting. I can relate.

I appreciated Rae's willingness to be vulnerable and share with us the times they fucked up pronouns or said something insensitive. It was also really fascinating to learn about rural Canadian cultures. I'm glad to know Rae did/does country/folk music because I'm a queer kid in Texas who wants something familiar.

I picked up this book right before my top surgery, and Ivan's experience about getting top surgery without hormones really resonated with me. I want Ivan to be my big sibling, honestly.

Overall, I liked it and I'll probably come back to it. There isn't really a problem with the book - it's just that personal perspectives about gender are so... personal; something is bound to rub you the wrong way or not resonate the way you'd hoped.
Profile Image for Sandy .
362 reviews10 followers
December 28, 2014
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 accept gender roles imposed by society but rather seeks to discover their own truth and - both gently and firmly - to define their daily life accordingly.

This book has left me with a jumble of emotions - humility; gratitude for the courage and honesty of the authors; hope for the future. I feel certain that I will ponder this book for years to come.
Profile Image for Lisa Marie Gabriel.
Author 37 books78 followers
November 7, 2016
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.

Physique for a start is something genetically determined, yes we can control our weight to some extent and we can work out to firm up or build up muscles, but height, shoulder width, body fat distribution, length of legs and arms relative to the torso are infinitely variable and actually immutable. I speak from experience here as a woman with broad shoulders, thick waist, narrow hips and short legs. Even long hair and a large bust does not prevent me being called “sir” occasionally in shops (even when wearing feminine clothes) or being given odd looks in public toilets from time to time. Those odd looks will accrue whether I am dressed in pants, shirt and coat (therefore butch or male) or wearing a pretty dress (obviously a guy in drag). People assume you are trans if you don’t fit the female norm which is small and has broad hips, slim waist, narrow shoulders, generous butt and long legs. For a guy to be slender, short, slim featured, broad hipped, narrow shouldered – that must make him effeminate, right? Wrong! It is just the way we are. It is a product of our genes.

When you reach my exalted age, you are largely gender retired anyway. Whether you are male or female people in shops start calling you "sweetheart", "darling" or "love" or offering you their seat on the bus. It is nice in a way, but in all honesty many women retire from gender because some men look only for young, fertile companions that fit that physical stereotype of what is desirable in a female. Fact.

However, although I could go on and on in this review about my own pet hates and grumbles, and it is impossible to be cisgendered if society doesn’t accept the way you look as typically female or typically male, I am not going to. All I am going to say is PLEASE read this book and next time you are in a situation where you could misgender someone and hurt their feelings, think of them as “they” and avoid using “sir” or “madam” if uncertain. Don’t attack people in toilets or look at them sideways. You are part of the problem if you do that, not any form of solution. In my opinion, there is no such thing as gender failure, there is only people’s failure through childhood conditioning to respect their fellow human beings as individuals with a heart and soul, not binary gendered objects. Enough said?
Profile Image for Avery (Book Deviant).
372 reviews90 followers
November 5, 2019
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 2019: Enjoyed this book as much as I did the first time! Started listening to Rae's music and it's amazing.
Profile Image for Rick Brose.
842 reviews10 followers
August 5, 2020
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 same, I did not find an exact mirror of my process, but it helped to see a wider spectrum of experiences. I do not have all the answers to myself, but I have come to the conclusion that the binary idea of gender does not apply to who I am as a person. I have decided to identify as non-binary and switch my pronouns to "they/them". As my journey progresses, those labels and pronouns may too. The important part is that I am looking to be true to myself. I appreciate those who have come before me and been open about their own journey. And if anyone has any other book recommendations related to the topic, I would love to get them.

Gender Failure captures important stories related to the two authors and their journey to understand who they are when it comes to gender. The stories birth a wide range of emotions, and it is helpful to see other people as they have learned to understand who they are and how to define, or not define, that within the context of gender. Even for those who have never questioned their identity, the book is poignant and hopeful; a worthwhile read.
Profile Image for Kim Lockhart.
828 reviews100 followers
July 3, 2021
Gender Failure presents both the authors' personal stories, which led to the realization of their non-binary identities, as well as their thoughtful takes on the non-linear nature of the gender spectrum itself. I learned a LOT.
Profile Image for Huldra.
1 review2 followers
November 5, 2016
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 things you've been feeling all your life, and likewise identify outside of that binary, it breaks down the dam you never realised you'd built up in your heart, a torrent of emotions come flooding out, and you realise that, no, you weren't just making it up, and you're not alone.
The book is a collection of short stories, anecdotes and songs, written by the authors, Rae Spoon & Ivan Coyote, about their lives, their experiences with gender, and the struggle to understand your own identity. It came out of a show that the authors toured with across the US and Europe.

I'd recommend this to anyone who wants to understand what it is to be non binary, or to anyone who, like me, because of the pressures constantly put on us by our societies, has felt that their recognition of their own gender is "all in your head."
But then, where else would it be but in your head? That's where your fascination with 80's cartoons, or your preference for the colour green is. It's where all your hopes are, your plans for tomorrow's lunch date, your favourite risotto recipe. It's where everything that is truly you resides.
For those who have felt that this recognition is somehow fake then.
Profile Image for Ashley.
1,405 reviews19 followers
March 31, 2017
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 checked--I have found some of their stuff a bit essentialist and femme-objectifying in the past, but that wasn't present here at all.

I got the feeling that both writers cared about intersectionality, but obviously their experiences are quite white. Hopefully this book widens the market for more diverse discussions about complicated gender experiences.

I'd recommend this book to anyone airing the whole "losing butches to transition" complaint, or to anyone just getting into conversations about trans people. I'd say the audience is adult not because it has anything inappropriate for teens, but because I don't think it would hold much interest for younger readers who aren't avidly looking for trans non-fiction.
Profile Image for Sharon.
461 reviews29 followers
October 21, 2017
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 people take for granted inevitably intersect with the authors' experiences of gender. It's gripping and relatable and I want to pick it back up and immediately start reading it again.
Profile Image for Will Nelson.
214 reviews
March 26, 2017
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!
Profile Image for Ray.
190 reviews4 followers
December 5, 2020
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.
45 reviews22 followers
September 26, 2017
Profile Image for Keely.
791 reviews10 followers
January 28, 2020
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 people in the world.

Gender Failure really opened up my thinking about gender and the growing number of people opting to live outside of the whole construct. I learned a lot and found much that surprised me, too--for instance that trans and non-binary people often face as much discrimination in gay and lesbian spheres that still rigidly uphold the gender binary as they do in the larger cisgendered, hetero-normative world. I was also intrigued by the idea that none of us really manage to live up to the masculine or feminine gendered ideal we're told to aspire to. As a grownup tomboy, this really resonated with me.

Of course, none of the book's more theoretical approach to gender would matter much if readers couldn't find a way to relate to Rae and Ivan, but luckily, they're both thoroughly engaging and likable, appealing for their humor, heart, vulnerability, and empathy. Some of my favorite words and moments from the book: the phrase "gender-retired," Ivan's use of they/them pronouns for God, Rae's identification with the toughness of the women in their family, Ivan's Grandma Pat's email response to news of their bilateral mastectomy, and Rae's found poem made up of comments on a YouTube video they posted in 2008.
Profile Image for Julianne.
207 reviews1 follower
March 8, 2019
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, looking over one's shoulder. A life of retirement from gender, as I understand it, is exhausting.

Ivan and Rae are wonderful storytellers. Ivan in particular writes with so much generosity, humor, and careful attention to detail. Damp hair soaking from a stolen swim, the gut punch of sitting across from an ignorant doctor who will decide their fate, their remembrance of beautiful Rosie.

I also appreciated the total absence of activist-speak/academic-ese pretension in this book.

Also! They are funny! The structure of the book is perfect for quick dips in and out. Short chapters with beautifully rendered scenes.
Profile Image for Nhung.
23 reviews10 followers
August 31, 2021
Couldn't put it down.

Ivan and Rae tell their stories about their gender journey with such honesty and authenticity - it makes you chuckle sometimes, tear up sometimes, and sometimes all of the above.

Being a cishet woman, I am in no position to put their experiences and any of mine side by side. However, I do believe that every one of us has felt lonely and out of place to some degree, in varying aspects.

In any case, whether you relate these experiences to your own or not, these incredibly humane and sensible stories feel like a warm hug that you wish to hold on to and reciprocate.

Truly touching and inspiring.
899 reviews27 followers
July 13, 2019
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.
47 reviews20 followers
January 3, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Michael Bryson.
Author 6 books14 followers
January 28, 2015
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 Spoon tell about how they moved through many different options. They each call themselves gender failures. Spoon writes powerfully about how they (meaning Spoon, who has adopted this pronoun) has retired from gender. Each repeatedly tells stories about how they were misidentified, misrepresented, left to explain themselves over and over, often giving up and going with the socially expected flow, simply to board an airplane, or complete any number of ordinary activities. Make a living.

For the reader, this constant misrepresentation is exhausting and deeply saddening. One can hardly imagine having to perpetually live it.

This book began as a multimedia show that Coyote and Spoon toured. It includes song lyrics and photographs from that show. As a book it works fine. The stories of the two run parallel and sometimes cross. Their voices are distinct, and they also amplify each other. Coyote tells the story of having breast removal surgery, after two decades of binding them. Spoon writes of the evolution of her musical career.

Evolutions, shifts and changes is the key here. How each captures the unfolding of their lives underscores the unknowingness of selves. We are never one thing, singular, locked down forever. The book is the stories of two trans, but it also reveals universals, if we care to listen. How to be a self, how to connect that self to others, how to overcome and protect oneself from other people's bullshit. The building blocks of life. Great book.
Profile Image for iltatee.
289 reviews29 followers
May 29, 2017
An excellent book, one of my favourite non-fiction ones, perhaps even my most favourite non-fiction book. The book is easy to read, consisting of short chapters, but it gives the reader so much to think about. I am used to reading theory about gender, so it is refresing and very important to also read individuals' thoughts, feelings and experiences.

This is one of those books when writing a review might get very personal very fast, and I don't feel comfortable enough continuing any deeper. Note, however, that I think that the books that have this effect on me are the very best.

I would LOVE to see the live show, having only seen about 10 minutes in YouTube, but I guess I would have to travel specially for it. Rae Spoon's music is amazing and I already ordered their first book (and I have high expectations for it!). I will also of course try to get my hands on Ivan Coyote's published works, and I'm waiting eagerly to see if these two will collaborate in the future, too.
34 reviews
February 19, 2017
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 something that transcends both.
Profile Image for Darlene Stericker.
155 reviews1 follower
May 22, 2018
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.
Profile Image for Jay.
12 reviews
July 4, 2020
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 people. I shared their pain in many ways as I read, and found myself nodding along to many passages. I feel so much more cemented in my own identity of non-binary, where I feel I exist far outside of the gender binary, living on my own little planet.

If you're wanting and needing to understand the transgender and nonbinary experience, I'd add this book to your list for sure. If you're already nonbinary and trans: hoo boy, I'd say this is required reading. It's a quick read too!
It just felt like such a great reminder that no matter how you present, what's going on inside and how you are able to rationalize your feelings and your identity matters very, very much, and can bring so much peace to your daily existence; even if the rest of the world is struggling to catch up with your notions of gender.

They vent their frustrations (especially Ivan) about bathroom issues and being assaulted in the women's room, being misgendered constantly, and how their gender has impacted their creative work and professional lives. They navigate the spaces of what it means to be trans, what it means to be "they" and be comfortable. They seem to be very proud in their status as gender failures and gender retirees. Over and over again, I found myself feeling very prideful along with them.
Profile Image for Brynn.
106 reviews
May 16, 2016
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 until actually seeing them live before I properly appreciated the strength of their quiet, unassuming presence and their talent. Note that Rae performed that entire concert by themself, with instrumentals on back-up speakers and no microphone - and it was excellent. As someone who has also performed live (in a few local restaurants for open mics, anyway) I am, I think, probably unfairly critical of people's performances a lot of the time, having smugly realized that I'm also capable of doing it and that it isn't "that hard"; but it IS hard, it's a genuinely difficult thing to do. The ease with which Rae performed that day impresses me and makes me just a little bit jealous, too.
What I like most about Rae Spoon is how much they remind me of myself, and I won't dance around trying to deny that that's inherently self-centered of me. It really is a case of me needing to find affirmation, somewhere in this great dark mess we call the world, and finding it in some unassuming musician from Alberta that I chanced to meet at someone's house concert for five minutes that I didn't appreciate until almost a year after the fact. If I could return to that meeting I'd tell them... I'd tell them something about them being my affirmation in the great dark mess of the world. Or at least, one part of it.

I had previously had no real inkling of who Ivan Coyote was, beyond whatever vague references I'd seen on the internet or in queer pamphlets or wherever else. At first I was a little put off by Ivan's direct style - especially in contrast to Rae's more passive style - but as I read on I liked Ivan's chapters more and more. The contrast helps the book remain exceedingly colorful and interesting; it's not unusual for one writer's voice to get a little tiresome after a while, but by switching between their voices nothing of the kind was ever in danger of happening. I want to say that I enjoyed Rae's chapters more but I don't think I honestly did. I'm pretty sure I enjoyed both of their writing just as much, if in very different, possibly incomparable ways. They are both remarkable people - the kind of people I tell myself I'm like, that I sincerely hope I'm like.

Sometimes there is an inclination to give queer media, whether it's non-fiction memoirs, movies, music, or whatever, a bit of a free pass - for the main reason that the community endures so much in the first place and the last thing you want to do is go out there and say "Yeah, that book by [famous queer person A] was terrible, I'm sorry I read it" - even if it really was terrible. Even if it really was terrible and everyone knows it. It's probably a bit of a banding-together for strength thing - dissension in the ranks is bad news and we don't need more issues in a community that's already fraught with them. As much as I want to like the video of the dancing drag queen troupe who performed on one of the nameless talent shows, my heart's not in it; I actually didn't enjoy their performance, but not because I don't like drag queens. And that's the thing. If I say "I hated [queer person B]'s arthouse film, it was pretentious garbage" I am immediately worried about seeming bigoted, though obviously in my life I do my absolute best to not be. (Seeing as I'm transgender myself, it would be unnecessarily difficult on myself if I was a raging bigot.)
That whole long point and I'm not even going to directly use it, because both Rae Spoon and Ivan Coyote are excellent writers, and Rae Spoon especially is in my opinion a very talented musician. What I was trying to say, I think, is that if this book had been badly-written, or not interesting, or whatever, I might've been afraid to say so; but it's none of those things, it's fantastic and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it... so... let's awkwardly move on to my conclusion then.

As I've written about before (to myself), humankind currently seems to be expanding our model of reality to allow for the existence of people like me and Rae Spoon and Ivan Coyote. What's interesting (and it's also mentioned in the book) is that even WE, the queers, the non-binary people, even WE have to struggle to allow for our own existences. When you grow up in a reality of constructs, all there to supposedly ease our time here in the universe, it takes a lot - more than some people apparently have - to shirk away the constructs and emerge out the other side, confident that reality isn't some static unchangeable series of certainties, but rather a lab experiment guessing game that we play out like slightly embarrassed middle school actors on a stage; forever trying to feel happy, or at least to teach ourselves how to exist. And that, I believe, is what to take from this book, and from the entire non-binary movement - that it isn't about anything less simple and straightforward than existing, and hopefully, having that fact be acknowledged and understood.
Profile Image for Squirrel.
272 reviews8 followers
August 1, 2019
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.
Profile Image for PJ.
283 reviews8 followers
October 22, 2018
They speak frankly about what it's like being gender-neutral. I will alter my behavior to accommodate and include them.
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