I first heard of Ivan Coyote when they did a reading on my university campus near the beginning of my first year. Since then Coyote’s is a name that seems to come up frequently in CanLit circles. Rebent Sinner fits in well with the style and content that readers will have come to expect from Coyote. Funny, touching, and deeply personal. This is a memoir of sorts, as much of Coyote’s work is, but one made up more of anecdotes and ideas than a linear life story. There is something of an overarching theme of age as Coyote reaches 50-years-old and reflects on a lifetime of queer existence and gender fluidity. Most poignantly, Coyote reflects back on the queer and trans friends they came of age with and how few remain. Later, when discussing school tours and meeting young people, they offer a picture of a world that is slowly changing.
One of my favourite parts of the book is when Coyote discusses their experience of going viral online. After they intervene at a bus stop when a young woman is being harassed, Coyote goes home and writes a short blog post, a rant almost, beginning, “Dear dudes everywhere: just leave her alone.” Women everywhere identify with the experience of being harassed simply for being female in public. Media outlets seek Coyote’s opinion on being a feminist man.
I said sure, but I didn’t identify as a man. I was a non-binary trans person, I told them. “Oh,” they replied. “Then we are not interested.”Ivan Coyote, Rebent Sinner
The story is only seen as interesting or newsworthy through the lens of a straight man.
Much of the book details the author’s experience as a trans person. The strange privilege of being viewed sometimes as a white male. The danger and fear that accompanies trans people everywhere. The difficulties of being a travelling trans artist and which bathroom to use. Coyote tells stories of going on tour in rural Alberta, speaking to audiences who didn’t realize they were a trans person, and the pressure of always being touted as speaking on “diversity” when they really just want to tell their own stories.
So, here’s the rub. Straight white male authors get to write about what they write about. They get to answer questions from journalists about the things that they write about. They get to be on panels talking about the things that they write about, and they get to be experts on the things that they research and think and write about. Nobody ever asks them to be a spokesman for all straight white men all over the world. The rest of us are expected to write about who we are.Ivan Coyote, Rebent Sinner