The Next Chapter

Ivan Coyote's memoir is about survival — and about being true to yourself

The stage performer and author reflects on the family that shaped their memoir Tomboy Survival Guide.
Ivan Coyote is the author of Tomboy Survival Guide. (Robin Toma Photography/Arsenal Pulp Press)

In Ivan Coyote's memoir Tomboy Survival Guide is full of moving stories of growing up in Yukon, coming out and what it's like to live life in defiance of the gender cage. Coyote spoke to Shelagh Rogers from Whitehorse. This interview originally aired on Jan. 8, 2018.

Survival tips

"I get tired of having the same conversations over and over again. Anyone whose identity is part of their art and their work will have to keep having those conversations and pretending like it's a brand new thing. Try to bring your best self to those hard conversations. By no means do I ever fully succeed at that, but you just come around the next time and try to be better. Working with youth has really helped me, such as the work I do in schools. You also find your freak family — your misfit soldiers and their weirdo army."

Armed with a grandmother's gift

"Grandma Flo was a pretty incredible woman in her own quiet, resilient way. She was very nonjudgmental. But I think she knew that I was going to be different from a very early age. I have a very vivid memory of her hauling me up onto her scrawny, little lap when I was a kid and giving me a St. Jude medallion. St. Jude is the Catholic patron saint of hopeless causes — I don't think she meant it in a bad way. She told me that some people were given a harder path than others, but not to worry about it. I was going to be bestowed with gifts that would make it worth it. My job was to figure what these gifts were and to use them."

A book of one's own

"My Grandma Flo was a bookbinder — it was one of her many jobs. She had very strong ideas about writing in books: you don't write in books, you don't make notes in the margins and you definitely don't dog-ear the pages. She had a reverence for books. I can remember her teaching us to take brown paper bags and use them to make book covers. She wanted us to return our school textbooks in the exact same pristine condition we received them. I still have this moment when I sign a book that I'm doing something bad by writing in someone's crisp book. On the other hand, I love it when someone brings me a dogeared copy of a book that I've written — I feel that it becomes this new kind of ownership for them."

Ivan Coyote's comments have been edited and condensed.