Thursday, December 08, 2016

Tomboy Survival Guide

Tomboy Survival Guide / Ivan Coyote
Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, c2016.
239 p.

I was very eager to read this book after hearing Ivan Coyote speak -- or, perform -- at the inaugural Stratford Writers Festival this October. What a performer! Ivan's a regular on the storytelling circuit, even touring a multimedia show with fellow trans writer/performer Rae Spoon in 2013 (see a clip of them here).

Ivan's event was utterly engaging; family stories wonderfully told, with tears and laughter side by side. They read mostly from the latest book, this one, which I tried to buy afterward to get signed but it had already sold out by the time I got to the book table... I've made do with a library copy for now.

Anyhow, the book. It's a set of stories, brief anecdotes, essays, which all form a memoir of Ivan's years growing up in a Catholic family in Whitehorse, in the Yukon -- while of course coming out in a place and time that didn't make it so easy. 

The stories are about gender, and sexuality, and identity, and they are powerful. Their essay on bathroom use for trans people should be required reading for everyone; it clarifies and makes obvious the key issue that people should use the bathroom they are comfortable with and feel safe in, not one that someone else tells them to. And does it calmly and logically, kind of like the whole book does. Another essay on using a person's preferred pronoun is also extremely timely, and simplifies the issue to make it easy to grasp. Another recommended read. Ivan's pronoun of choice is "they" and while it's hard to accustom yourself to using "they" as a personal pronoun when you aren't used to it (ie: me) it becomes natural with repeated use. And it's respectful to the individual, so why wouldn't you work to accustom yourself?

I loved the stories of Ivan's grandmother, especially. She sounds amazing -- a tiny matriarch who clearly loved and supported all of her grandkids. There is so much love in these stories, but also so much humour. One of the stories that Ivan read during the show I was at was "Kraft Singles for Everyone". I think everyone in the audience was crying with laughter by the end, and as I read it again in the book, I could hear Ivan's voice telling it, and burst out laughing again alone in my reading chair. It's the story of their teen cousin having to have lunch at their grandma's house, the classic tomato soup and grilled cheese...with a twist.

Anyone, this is a fabulous read that I can't recommend enough. It's timely, illuminating, and also written so very, very well. Engaging, funny, touching, honest -- and sprinkled with classic black & white instructional images for everything from tatting to electrical wiring, in a nice touch. If you ever have a chance to see Ivan read in person -- do it! This is one of my top reads this year. Highly recommended.


  1. I just added this book to my library list yesterday after seeing a review of it at the LA review of books. It sounds so good and Coyote sounds like such an interesting person. How cool you got to see them! Now I am really looking forward to reading this book! Thanks!

    1. I'm so glad to hear that -- it was a good review/interview with Ivan. They are fantastic to hear live, I was so lucky to attend. I think you will really like this one.


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