British Columbia

Ivan Coyote memoir reflects on not living in a gender 'box'

“I had a gender identity, it just didn’t fit into a gender ‘box,’” author said. “I never really had words for things, but I never really identified as a girl, either.”

Tomboy Survival Guide reflects on not fitting into male or female gender neatly

Ivan Coyote is addressing the Vancouver Writers' Festival Friday. (Eric Nielson)

As a five-year-old, Ivan Coyote found a new freedom in pretending to be a boy.

In their new book, Tomboy Survival Guide, Coyote reflects on their childhood and the difficulty growing up while not fitting neatly into one of two gender boxes.

"I had a gender identity, it just didn't fit into a gender 'box,'" Coyote told On The Coast host Stephen Quinn. "I never really had words for things, but I never really identified as a girl, either."

Coyote — who goes by the gender-neutral pronouns "they" and "their" — is speaking tomorrow as part of the Vancouver Writers Festival, and says their experiences show why debates over issues like who can use public washrooms have real impacts on people.

'I knew I wasn't a girl'

Coyote says an important moment in making sense of their gender identity happened at age five, as they were opening the door for their mother and a man called them "a good boy."

"I really felt in some ways he could see something that my mum wasn't [seeing]," they said. "It wasn't so much that I wanted to be a boy, it was just that I knew I wasn't a girl."

But between that day and today, Coyote encountered ignorance and harassment.

In one incident, while taking electrician courses at BCIT, someone wrote "f--- off d---" on their locker in bold marker.

"The world was constantly making me deal with my gender," they said.

But at the same time, they had the support of their large Irish-Catholic family who "let me be who I was."

Coyote will be part of a panel tomorrow, as part of the Vancouver Writers Festival, called Learning From Life. It runs from 10-11:30 a.m. at the Granville Island Stage.

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast


To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Ivan Coyote memoir reflects on not living in a gender 'box'

now