Ivan Coyote and Rae Spoon have both made a mark in Canada’s queer communities over the past decade in their own unique ways. Coyote has secured her place as a master storyteller, having produced an impressive volume of work that can be defined as “good old-fashioned kitchen table stories,” which ultimately serve as powerful narratives about everyday truths. Spoon, who just released their first collection of written stories, First Spring Grass Fire, has toured extensively throughout Canada and the world over the past decade, carving out a place as a talented songwriter who tackles subjects ranging from grief and loss, to their interactions with colonialism.
What could be considered both artists most significant contributions, however, is the way in which they engage with issues of gender and queerness through their creative work. With Coyote and Spoon’s most recent collaborative project, Gender Failure, the two Canadian artists bring together their writing, music, as well as the visual presentation of artist Clyde Peterson, to explore this side of their work and lives. Described as “an exploration and expose of their failed attempts at fitting into the gender binary, and ultimately, how the gender binary fails us all,” Gender Failure is an opportunity to see and hear how the artists negotiate gender and its limitations. The show includes commentary on subjects ranging from the frustrations of pronoun use and the difficulties of chest binding, to the exasperation and anger experienced when interacting with the medical establishment. And while each story and song shared by the two artists is highly personal and unique, they also possess many relatable, universal truths about lives lived outside the established norm.
“People have often treated my gender like there’s this truth behind it, and I’m not telling it, and they sort of re-roll the magic eight ball over and over when they keep getting answers that don’t measure up. And they want to know what genitals I have, and what sex I was assigned at birth, and what my name used to be, and…they want the truth. But the truth is, in all of the explaining why I was a man, I lost the plot. One day, when I was asking to be called ‘he,’ I realized I didn’t really even think I was a man anymore, because the absurdity of the struggle to be accepted had made gender feel more like a comedy than a fact. So I decided to retire from the gender binary altogether, and change my pronoun to the gender neutral ‘they.’” (Rae Spoon)
“I am a gender failure. You are free to call me trans, and I am proud to lift this name up and hold it right there in the sun, and you would not be wrong. But it still feels like I’m borrowing this word from someone else, but it’s not all the way mine, but my friend who lent it to me might need it back, or they might need it more than me, and really, these are all just words, and words are always imperfect, and words are just sounds we make with our mouths that point our minds to think of things that cannot be fully described in words anyway. I am a writer, so I know exactly where words fail us. And I know, that a name is not a person, it is just what we have agreed to call them.” (Ivan Coyote)
Gender Failure is currently on tour, and performance dates can be found here.
And you can watch a clip from the final act of Gender Failure below.
“Gender Failure,” British Film Institute (April 2013): https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/llgff/Online/gender-failure
“Biography,” Rae Spoon (April 2013): http://www.raespoon.com/?page_id=12
“Bio,” Ivan Coyote (April 2013): http://www.ivanecoyote.com/page/6/bio