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Rebent Sinner

by Ivan Coyote

Ivan Coyote’s 12th book is a memoir in vignettes capturing the author’s recent experiences on the road. The work is a charming and nuanced contribution to the genre; the writing has a springy, playful quality that is highly sensory. The light tone notwithstanding, Coyote shares their ordeals and the dread that can follow them while navigating spaces as a non-binary person and performer. The prose throughout is thick with grief and tenderness.

Coyote brilliantly nestles kindred moments together and makes the ordinary magical. The structure is evocative: it begins with visceral scenes of personal mourning compounded by major societal moments. The book opens with the loss of a grandmother; shortly after, Coyote muses about their last memories with a deceased dog, followed by an emotional conversation with their father the day after the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in 2016. Here and elsewhere, they capture how grief and grace can affect us simultaneously and on multiple levels.

The various pieces in the book hold sweet moments with loved ones and strangers alongside vitriol directed at Coyote.  The juxtaposition rings true: this dissonance is especially prominent in various examples culled from Coyote’s social media presence. One chapter includes a screenshot of a Facebook post they made denouncing street harassment that went viral. Overwhelmingly, the responses misgendered Coyote by reading them as a man. In another case, Coyote expresses frustration when a woman approaches them after a show and denies their existence to their face: “I didn’t even know what to say, other than, of course, the ninety minute show where I had just poured my heart out about my time in the gender trenches.”

Coyote shows how fluidly we interpret gender and how contextual it is. They capture the insidiousness of contemporary transphobia in Canada as manifested by trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs), nosy and at times violent strangers in public bathrooms, anonymous online trolls, and others.

Their writing has a generous quality to it in the way it appeals to everyone’s common humanity while still firmly advocating for equity, compassion, understanding, and safety for LGBTQ2S+ people, especially trans and/or gender non-conforming youth.

Coyote refers to themselves as a “heart-born storyteller,” in the vein of the late Richard Wagamese, a friend and contemporary. Reading their work resembles exactly that: a salve for a tired heart.