There are books that I read where the characters spring to life and take up a place in my mind and my heart. There are other books, where the message or meaning echo through my thoughts, causing me to reflect, imagine and wonder.
Then, every now and then, there is a book that truly grabs me by the soul and turns me inside out (in a good way). A book that reminds me that I am not alone and that it is ok to be me. This has been my experience with the most recent Ivan Coyote book that I have read. It is the reason why, this week in my blog, I am sending out a big pile of love to Ivan. Not in a romantic stalker kind of way, but in an oozing with admiration kind of way. If you asked me my favourite superhero today, Ivan Coyote would be my answer.
Now, I am not talking about batman or catwoman. I am not at all a fan of Marvel-style superheros. They are walking, talking stereotypes imbued with violence and reflecting back gender, race and body image norms that are limited and destructive. I would not want to lump anyone I admire into that category.
I’m talking about real life superheroes. You know, the ones who are super and that I can look up to because I believe they are working to make the world a better place (AKA a hero). Malala Yousafzai and Spencer West are examples of people who come to mind when I think of real life superheroes. They are here, they are real, and in my experience they rarely wear capes and never wear masks. The mask thing is important. Marvel characters wear masks to distance themselves from the common people. I’ve never heard of a real life superhero needing to conceal their identity. Superheroes aren’t hidden.
As a non-binary queer person with four kids in an interracial lesbian marriage, I understand why sometimes it’s easier to be hidden. It is exhausting to face everyday without a mask. Sometimes it’s easier not to think or talk about pronouns, not to come out and explain over and over and over again.
This is why Ivan is a superhero.
They are out there telling their stories where it really matters. By showing up and being present and authentic, they are advocating for kids (and grown ups) in small towns where the underdogs are kept under and the queer voice is small, quiet and often alone.
If you don’t already know, Ivan Coyote is an amazing Canadian storyteller. They have written a dozen books and I highly recommend all of them (even the ones that I haven’t had a chance to read yet.) I recommend them if you are queer, trans, non-binary and I doubly recommend them if you are not.
Reading Ivan’s work is a lesson in understanding, connection and the art of being human (a lot of it is also very funny or heart achingly sad). They are there, on the pages of their books trying to help us see that we are all human and we could all use this humanness as a basis for our connection instead of our discord. They share (unmasked) the realities of living in a binary world when you can’t fit yourself into your assigned box.
I just finished reading their book, The Tomboy Survival Guide and it reminded me that I had fallen back into the habit of wearing a mask. It has been an exhausting couple of years of battling mounting health issues and moving to a new house and new school. The Tomboy Survival Guide reminded me that I had kind of forgotten to be me. I told myself that I could fit back into that box, you know the one with the round head and the triangle shaped ass. I can pass for female, pretend that that box is mine.
Except that the box is uncomfortable for me.
It is too tight.
It is too restrictive.
It requires me to wear a mask most of the time. (Plus, does anyone actually have a triangle
Ivan touched my heart, sparked my mind, but most of all, reminded me that it’s ok that I don’t have all the answers. It’s ok that I don’t have all the words to explain my gender to you. You don’t have to know exactly why or how I don’t fit into those boxes. You don’t have to understand how my gender can be fluid. Your job is just to accept and make space. Acceptance and space (maybe with a little kindness and caring thrown in) is what we all need, isn’t it?
“I never related to the theory that being trans meant my body didn’t match my brain… it puts all the responsibility for change onto trans people and off the rest of society.” Ivan Coyote