Book Review: Gender Failure



Rae Spoon and Ivan E. Coyote, 256 pages, Arsenal Pulp Press, $17.95


Gender Failure is a collaborative effort between accomplished performer, educator, and author Ivan E. Coyote, and multigenre songwriter and musician Rae Spoon.  The book collects poignant essays, heartfelt lyrics, playful illustrations, and intimate performance photographs, and originated two years ago as a multimedia performance the authors took across Canada.

Coyote and Spoon—who both use the pronoun they—ruminate on their lifelong experiences of repeatedly failing to fit neatly into the gender binary and their attempts to move beyond its rigid confines. Their earnest reflections and complimentary writing styles give the collection great momentum. Those familiar with Coyote’s charming conversational storytelling will not be disappointed; moreover, a vulnerable side of Coyote not seen in prior works is revealed here.  Throughout the book, they bravely recount the very private experience of getting top surgery and detail the challenges and frustrations of being at the mercy of the Canadian medical system. In one essay, an excerpt from a psychiatric evaluation of gender is included for reference, and it is both mindboggling and infuriating for its circular logic and sexist stereotyping.

Fans of Spoon’s first published work, First Spring Grass Fire, will enjoy the artist’s second foray into memoir. Notably, Spoon explains the tough decision to retire from gender altogether after a period of identifying as transgender and male, ultimately choosing to relinquish gendered pronouns in favour of using they. Coyote and Spoon’s perspectives will be refreshing and thought provoking for both trans-and cisgender readers alike, pointing to the fact that the dominant two-gender system is deeply problematic and requires serious overhaul. This book is not to be missed. (Melissa Hergott)