Guest Review: ‘Gender Failure’ by Ivan E. Coyote and Rae Spoon

Guest Blogger Alex Inkley discusses their thoughts on Gender Failure by Ivan E. Coyote and Rae Spoon.

A follow on from the live performance piece of the same name, ‘Gender Failure’ is a collection of autobiographical essays by gender-retired indie musician Rae Spoon and butch writer and columnist heavyweight Ivan E. Coyote.

Gender Failure Book


Staggered between the essays are a series of photographs, lyrics, and sketches that add a multimedia aspect to the narrative, and serve to connect it to the live show. Having never seen the live show myself, I was stunned at how physically close I felt to both authors by the end of the book. The stunning literary craftsmanship and familiar tone of the stories will make you feel like an essential part of the whole thing, and I can guarantee that by the time you have read the last page you will have a different view of the world, and quite possibly of yourself as well.

Coyote and Spoon — both of whom identify as non-binary and use the pronoun “they” — are fantastic wordsmiths who relate hard moments of their lives with genuine humour, wit, and guile. From the beginning of the book, which starts in childhood and progresses chronologically, they navigate their way through ill-fitting gender roles, rules and assumptions. The book is always gripping, with twists and turns occurring frequently, but always with comforting conclusions of self-realisation and growth. It is empowering to learn about the different ways in which both authors refuse to accept pre-meditated gender roles and instead formulate their own unique ways of living and experiencing the world.

Their writing styles are very different which makes for a thoroughly provocative read. Ivan Coyote’s language is colourful and poetic but also concise, which helps in chapters about major topics such as chest surgery- they are easy to read, but also rich and beautiful. Spoon’s descriptions of the Canadian prairies, religious life in Calgary, and the idolisation of their cowboy uncles draw interesting comparisons between family history and the formulation of the self, but ultimately let the reader decide how reliant or independent one is from the other. Ultimately, the two writing styles compliment each other and highlight the key theme that everyone has a different experience of gender and self in society.
Yes, this book is about the instability of heteronormative gender, but it also reveals universal truths applicable to everyone in the journey of self-discovery. We live, we shift, we change, everyone evolves and nothing stays the same. And evolution is good, change is good. Coyote and Spoon’s stories are shining examples of this attitude, and offer heartfelt advice on how to connect to and protect others and the self, in the face of danger and self-doubt. Entertaining, compelling, and inspirational, this book has quickly become one of the closest to my heart.

Alex can be found blogging about travel at Inklusiveey and about cosplay over at Axel Macabre you can also check out their Instagram and Twitter.

You can also check out my tips for beginner cosplayers over on their blog here.

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