Part small-town/big-city memoir, part Intro to Gender Identity, Rae Spoon and Ivan Coyote’s latest collaboration, Gender Failure, offers another look, this time in portable form, into the lives of two people who never quite fit into the boxes set out for them.
In the book adaptation of their live show, the two trade off stories and, for those familiar with each performer’s style, the book is no great departure. Spoon (who uses the gender-neutral pronoun “they”) draws the thread through their career, from country singer to electronic artist to something in between, all while navigating through (and then altogether away from) the stark divide between man and woman and gay and straight.
In one story, “YouTube Gender,” Spoon learns about YouTube while living in Germany and posts an acoustic version of a new song. Viewers’ posted comments range from “boy or girl? :)” to “nice voice but what’s up with your hair?” to “HOLY SHIT DUDE YOU’RE A CHICK!!!!” and “WHAT GENDER ARE YOU?!?!?!?!”
Spoon appreciates the opportunity the book offered to reflect on these experiences. “It was nice to be able to address something that I deal with on a regular basis in my career.”
Coyote goes back to the very beginning to recount the shift from happy tomboy to confused teen to gender outsider, before settling into a more recent story: the decision to undergo top surgery.
Coyote shares the decades-long thought process that led to that decision, the hoop-jumping required to get approved for health coverage, and the courage to publicly discuss such a private process now. “I decided to share my experiences when I realized that by writing and performing these stories live, I could control my words and how they were delivered. And then, with the book, I knew from many years of working with Arsenal Pulp Press that I would have complete creative control over my work in the Gender Failure manuscript,” Coyote says. “So far, the response has been 100 percent positive and supportive.”
It’s the positive response the pair got touring their live show of Gender Failure that prompted them to turn it into a book.
“The challenge was to represent the live element of the work on the page,” Coyote notes.
“I hope to reach other gender failures,” Coyote says, “and to use the book to continue the discussions and to learn from the folks who read it as well, about their own experiences within or out of the gender binary.”