Ivan Coyote is a Canadian author and spoken word performer who focuses on gender identity, and more specifically, what it means to be butch. Spoken word allows them to use their own butch and masculine identities to offer a very personal, linguistic perspective on female masculinity. A natural storyteller, they have also published eight collections of short stories and one novel. More recently, Coyote has explored the more challenging mediums of audio and film, producing three CD’s and four short films. Many of Coyote’s publications and performances have been collaborations, most notably with queer musician and performer Rae Spoon, who co-authored Gender Failure with Coyote and who toured with them extensively.
Ivan Coyote began performing in 1992 and has done numerous tours across North America since then. Many of these performances can be seen on YouTube, including pieces such as “To all of the kick ass, beautiful fierce femmes out there,” “Dear Younger Self,” “A Butch Roadmap,” and “Hair Today.” Within these pieces, Coyote considers how to navigate different elements of female masculinity, or butchness. These elements include their experience of (almost) passing as a man and how to find solidarity with other butch women. Coyote considers both how they see the world and how the world sees them, without losing any of their authenticity as a queer storyteller.
Essential to Coyote’s lived experiences and to their storytelling style is the concept of the Butch Roadmap, which they present in a performance aptly named “A Butch Roadmap.” This Roadmap, which they describe as “. . . directions so that I can be found, or followed,” serves as history, both personal and collective. Coyote must create this Roadmap because it does not exist. Their history has not been recorded, so they record the parts that they consider to be the most important. Coyote chooses to highlight the importance of solidarity, asking butch women to “Learn to recognize other butches for what they really are: your people.” To be butch is not to live in solitude. Butches must do things together, without belittling each other for having or doing feminine things.
Another performance that stands out is “Hair Today.” “Hair Today” also references the Roadmap of Coyote’s life, showing them the way to the barber’s chair, a place where, in this case, Coyote finds acceptance and comfort. Wary of the judgment of the surrounding world, Coyote knows that their acceptance or dismissal often depends on whether they pass as a man or not. Even in their self-identification as butch, Coyote often passes, at least initially, as a man, something that many butch women experience, as do trans men. Coyote’s storytelling in “Hair Today” also brings to mind Native American queer poetry, such as Paula Gunn Allen’s Some Like Indians Endure. Coyote’s stories, although different from this poem in medium, also carry a message of survival and solidarity.
In a world that often overlooks butch women, Coyote’s message is a simple one: be the best butch you can possibly be. As they remind us in “A Butch Roadmap,” this can be as simple as driving your grandmother to bingo or shoveling her driveway. For those of us who pass as men, it’s our job to be gentlemen who hold the door for big, burly men and little, old ladies alike. Accept yourself, be the best you can be, and never forget to find your family.