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Gender Failure

I’ve set up a google alert for ‘transgender’ so I can keep abreast of transgender news and activity on the internet, since my favourite part of my new job is about transgender stuff.

So, on my first day with the new Google alert, I was google-alerted that Ivan Coyote and Rae Spoon were playing a FREE concert at Carleton U that very night. I’ve gone to a few Ivan Coyote events, and I’ve read most of her books, and she’s on my top five favourite Canadian celebrities list. She’s a storyteller, a writer, a teacher, a glockenspiel player, and she’s one of the Top Ten Hottest Butches in North America.

I was never really sure if she was transgender or not, since she seems a little elusive when it comes to labels. You can’t quite pin her down that way. She dresses like a guy and gets her hair cut by a barber and I think she drives a pickup truck and has her own tool belt and she’s got a hot wife and she does a couple of things anatomically to make herself look and feel more masculine. On the other hand, she refers to herself with female pronouns, doesn’t take hormones (although, as she points out, we’re ALL on hormones), and hasn’t had any sex realignment surgery…yet.

She and Rae Spoon, a singer-songwriter from Calgary (Rae uses the “their” pronoun as opposed to he or she), teamed up to create¬† a show called Gender Failure, which is about their failure to fit into the binary gender system. (Or maybe it’s about the binary gender system’s failure to accommodate them.)

There’s a whole spectrum of gender possibilities out there, and this show is about that. About what it means to be neither male nor female, or to be both, or to be the one that you’re not ‘supposed’ to be. It’s about the struggles of these two people, and of trans people in general, to live authentically and be themselves. It’s about growing up different, and the accompanying stigma, bullying, shame, pain, sadness, courage, friendship, humour, self-discovery and self-acceptance.

This is a powerful piece of performance art, with music, deeply personal stories and liberal amounts of humour. I love the way Ivan and Rae challenge each other to step beyond their own comfort zones and try new things. Ivan was singing and playing the guitar and Rae was telling stories…it was great. The whole show was entertaining and enlightening…I laughed really hard about Ivan’s breasts, and I cried about Rosie, who is probably dead.

If you get a chance to see Gender Failure, I can’t recommend it highly enough. They’ve played everywhere from New York City to Maynooth, Ontario, of all places. They’re in Toronto tonight. (Special note to Mudmama: they’re doing a house concert in Wolfville on December 5. Get tickets!)


4 comments to Gender Failure

  • future landfill

    Their show at Maynooth had a small but enthusiastic audience – a standing O when they finished. Most likely every alterno soul from 50 miles around was there and most everyone seemed to know everyone else. The folks at the library even had posters printed up for the event; I asked Rae and Ivan to sign one for my friend Abrah who’s a big Rae fan.

    It was a couple of days later that I got to thinking how much of a hassle it must have been for Ivan to use saran wrap to bind her bosom. I mean, where would you start? Wouldn’t it slide around till you had a couple of layers? If you dropped the roll part way through would you have to start over? No wonder she has such a good sense of humour.

    The down-east gigs are Rae solo shows, albeit with Tanya Davis, another excellent wordsmith. Ivan is heading back to Vancouver this week.

    • Thanks so much for setting me straight on the down-east gigs! I’ve been following Ivan’s progress via Facebook status updates as she drives westward, heading home to BC, and I would have been very confused if I thought she oughta be in Nova Scotia.

      And good for you for getting an autographed copy of the poster!

  • Ivan performed at a YSB event a while back with a female singer/songwriter named Lyndell Montgomery (I think that was her name anyway) and they were an INCREDIBLE duo. We were so lucky to have them there. Since then I’ve followed Ivan with interest, reading her articles in CapX (which are always EXCELLENT and hilarious) and listening to more of her performances.

    I’m so jealous you got to go!! What a great artist.

    PS Did you know that my brother is transgendered? It’s opened me up to a whole new world of learning and thinking and feeling… it’s been such a positive thing for my family. I suppose he’s lucky compared to some to have such an accepting family. We were more interested in what his new name would be than questioning him about his decision :) And now he’s doing exceptionally well. He’s also a fan of Ivan, of course…


    • Did I tell you that show was FREE? (Ivan and Rae got paid, but a couple of departments at the university footed the bill for the whole thing.)

      I did know your brother is transgender. You told me around the time he started transitioning. You said you weren’t sure which pronoun to use when talking about things that happened long before he transitioned, like when you were kids. (Glad to hear he’s doing so well, by the way.)