Straying from the Gender Pack

Article excerpt

[Graph Not Transcribed]

Ivan E. Coyote is doing what she does best. She's telling a story and this one is about her experiences in public washrooms, the place where her gender is most often questioned.

"I've frightened women, I've been screamed at, I've been hit in the head with purses. Once in the Toronto airport, I got dragged out of the stall with my pants at my ankles. That security guy was lucky I had to make a connecting flight, otherwise I'd have had his job," she says. And from her tone, there's no doubt that she would have.

"I have been trying to define my gender my whole life, and I'm beyond it now," she says. "Ever since I can remember, people have been asking me if I'm a boy or a girl. I have neighbours who think I'm a guy and I don't think I'm lying to them--they see what they see. I don't care about labels or pronouns, I don't identify with 'he' or 'she.' But I don't really like the term 'transgendered' either; it sounds like you're moving from one state to another. I just am who I am.

Even the chosen name she writes under reflects her stance between genders. "Ivan" is the name of a character she played at a murder mystery party. Rumour has it that her performance was so memorable, the name stuck. She chose "Coyote" because it's the animal most commonly viewed as cross-gendered in many cultures and one that learns by making mistakes. "E" is her legal middle initial, which she uses to round out the name and make it sound similar to a certain popular cartoon character.

Does her gender identity affect her writing? "It's one thing, anyway. Everything affects your writing, everyone you meet, every book you read. If I were married and had kids, that would affect my writing too. So yes, my relation with my gender is one thing that drives my writing. But it's only one thing." It's this small-town candour, this ease with who she is, that makes the screaming women swinging their purses in the bathroom seem even more absurd.

A NATURAL-BORN STORYTELLER

"Kitchen table stories" is how Coyote defines her unique short fictions that deal with growing up in the Yukon and her experiences in her East Vancouver neighbourhood. "I'm still small-town enough to want to know my neighbours. I've lived in my neighbourhood for 11 years--that's a long time. I like the feeling that we all look out for each other."

Coyote grew up in a family of storytellers. She was born and raised in an Irish Catholic family just outside of Whitehorse. "I have 14 uncles and 16 aunts. I have 36 first cousins. And now they're all having kids as if they haven't figured out what causes it, and I just can't keep track of the numbers. I mean, I know the kids, just sometimes I forget who they belong to. But that's what we did, we'd tell stories. We would sit in the kitchen and drink black tea with canned evaporated milk and smoke Players Lights and tell each other stories. …