Guest Lesbrarian Lindy Pratch reviews One in Every Crowd by Ivan E. Coyote

Ivan E. Coyote’s autobiographical stories are especially chosen for a teen audience in the collection One in Every Crowd. I was pleased to encounter many of my favourites from previous collections. In the same way that I like listening to some songs over and over, it’s nice to read a good story more than once. I don’t usually allow myself this pleasure, since I don’t often reread books. (Mostly because there are too many new books to get to.)

“No Bikini” — about not being trusted with a two-piece bathing suit as a child — is in here. So is “The Red Sock Circle Dance” — about a friend’s child who started crossdressing when he was still a toddler. There are also three more stories about this boy, Francis, and it’s nice to see him get older through Coyote’s eyes. In “Imagine a Pair of Boots,” Coyote talks about gender pronouns, saying she doesn’t have a preference because neither one fits her: “she pinches a little and he slips off me too easily.”

Coyote writes about her childhood in Whitehorse, Yukon, and about her current home in Vancouver. Many of the newer pieces are about Coyote’s storytelling performances in schools across Canada. Her anti-bullying message is so important, as she explains in “As Good as We Can Make It”:

Bullies grow up — their behaviour gets modified and sometimes their language gets slicked over with education — and they become the political, financial, and social arbiters of life as we know it. I bet you any money that Prime Minister Stephen Harper was a bully in school, and don’t we all wish now that someone had nipped him in the bud before it was too late for Canada.
(Yes, I certainly do.) Coyote speaks directly to young butches later on in the same essay. “Do not cave into the pressure from the queer community to fit in, either. Make your own decisions, and trust your own heart. Being butch is not just a bus stop on the highway to transitioning.”

Twenty years ago, I sang in Edmonton Vocal Minority, a gay and lesbian community choir. One of the other altos always wore a dress shirt and skinny tie. She was a little more than 5 feet tall and totally butch. During a break in rehearsal one day, when she complained that customers at the electronic store where she worked always called her “sir,” one of the other lesbians suggested that it might be because she wore men’s clothing. The petite butch was rightfully indignant: “They’re not men’s clothes, they are my clothes.”

Gender nonconformists are teachers, whether they choose that role or not. Coyote’s storytelling has an educational element, no matter what age her audience happens to be. Best of all, she is genuinely warm and funny, whether on the page or in person. I’m looking forward to hearing her again at the Vancouver Writers Fest in October 2012.

The young person illustrated on the cover of One in Every Crowd looks both tough and vulnerable against a background of school lockers; someone who is beginning to grow callouses from daily verbal abuse. Someone who may, or may not, live to survive high school. The art is by Elisha Lim, who also did the cover forPersistence: All Ways Butch and Femme (which is on my TBR pile). Lim obviously has a thing for butches; one of her recent creations is a graphic novel, 100 Butches. Images from 100 Butches can be viewed here, and isn’t it delightful?

Find more of Lindy Pratch’s reviews at her book blog, Lindy Reads and Reviews!