The Next Chapter

Ivan Coyote and Rae Spoon on gender

The co-authors of Gender Failure talk about not fitting into conventional gender roles.
From the cover of Gender Failure by Rae Spoon and Ivan E. Coyote.

Appearances can be deceiving. What happens when society's reading of our body doesn't match with our true identity? When our gender assignment feels wrong?

Rae Spoon was born into an Evangelical Christian family in Calgary, and felt from childhood that life as a girl wasn't the right fit. Growing up a few years earlier in Whitehorse, Ivan Coyote experienced a similar sensation of feeling "square-peggish" about being identified as a girl. Both Rae and Ivan have experimented with various gender and sexual identities, and sometimes the outside world hasn't agreed with their choices. Their collaborative book, Gender Failure, begins with stories of childhood and then describes the transformations each of them has undergone to establish identities that feel like a better fit. The two spoke to Shelagh Rogers about making big decisions about gender, struggling with perceptions, the grammaticality of the pronoun "they" and non-gendered washrooms.


I thought my family was going to struggle more with [my breast removal surgery], because we had sort of talked/not talked about my gender non-status for many years. And this was a really concrete, irrevocable, visible decision that made it really hard not to talk about my trans status with my blue-collar Yukon family. And they were fantastic. I wrote a letter that I sent out to my family, and I included that in the book as well as some of their fantastic responses. The letter was terrifying to send, but I guess that's the great thing about honesty and truth when you put it out there finally — what it conjures up in people, especially the ones who love you. I'm one of the fortunate ones.


I was just writing my first country album when I was coming out as trans, and I always call it "the worst business plan ever." I would play in Red Deer because I have family there, and I had a co-identity of being from Alberta and being from a very working-class family and then being transgender, and I found a way to fit those together. But later on I was in Germany and I sort of got bored of the genre, because it felt strange to be writing country music in Germany, so I moved on to electronic music.