The Scarlet & Black

The Independent Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Circumventing the Gender Binary with Ivan Coyote

Sarah Race
Ivan Coyote, a Canadian LGBTQ storyteller, filmmaker, author and musician, will share stories from their own experience of growing up as transgender. Photo by Sarah Race Photography.

By Lily Böhlke

Ivan Coyote, storyteller, filmmaker, author and musician, will be coming to Grinnell on Wednesday, March 7 at 7 p.m. to give a performance titled “Neither/Nor: Circumventing the Gender Binary in 7,000 Easy Steps.” A friend of Director of Intercultural Affairs Maure Smith-Benanti and the author of stories being read in a class taught by Professor Leah Allen, gender, women’s and sexuality studies, Coyote is expected to give an excellent performance.

This year’s theme in the Office of Intercultural Affairs relates to stories and storytelling, and in this way, Coyote is a perfect fit for this academic year’s biggest intercultural affairs event. Other events under this theme have included Qurrat Ann Kadwani’s one-woman show, “They Call Me Q” and poet Wilson Okello’s convocation speech and workshop. 

“[Okello] does truth to power, so he helps people develop their stories in a way that is meaningful for them and just a meaningful story for the collective story of the world, and whether that’s through poetry, or prose or whatever it may be, helps people develop their stories,” said Katy Zart, Program Advisor for Intercultural Affairs. 

Some of the goals that intercultural affairs hopes to achieve through Coyote’s visit as well as the rest of the storytelling events held this year include representation and the breakdown of the gender binary. 

“Intercultural affairs [is interested in] the power of stories to influence social change and also to have an impact on the larger … collective story of the world currently. Ivan is a well-known Canadian storyteller who tackles LGBTQ issues, and so that was a perfect person to invite,” Zart said.

Coyote, next week, will be reading mostly from their 2016 book, “Tomboy Survival Guide,” a memoir about their childhood, growing up a tomboy in Yukon, Candada and straying away from a gender “box,” according to an article on CBC News in British Columbia. 

“I think I’m going to read a letter I wrote to the mother of a trans son, and a story about coming to accept myself in this body, and one about the first time a girl tried to kiss me when I was a closeted kid and a few short … pieces, which I call literary doritos,” Coyote wrote in an email to The S&B. 

Coyote started out by telling stories in front of audiences, in settings like open mics and cabarets. They began performing on stage in 1992, and since then, they have published numerous books, including “Close to Spider Man,” “The Slow Fix,” “One Man’s Trash” and “Loose End,” collections of short stories, and a full-length novel, “Bow Grip,” which won both a ReLit Award for Best Fiction and the Stonewall Honor Book Award in 2007.

According to their website,, “Ivan often grapples with the complex and intensely personal issues of gender identity in their work, as well as topics such as family, class, social justice and queer liberation, but always with a generous heart, a quick wit, and the nuanced and finely-honed timing of a gifted raconteur. Ivan’s stories remind of us of our own fallible and imperfect humanity while at the same time inspiring us to change the world.”

From just the title of their talk, “Neither/Nor: Circumventing the Binary in 7,000 Easy Steps,” Coyote’s sense of humor is already a part of the picture.

“I think humour is the very best tool we have for learning to cross the divides we draw, or society draws, between us, and opening up ourselves to listen,” they wrote.

By connecting with students through stories, Coyote hopes to motivate Grinnellians towards social justice, which has proven to be a strong value among the student body.

“I hope they laugh, wonder, ask questions, and learn something, and then leave motivated to change the world for all of us,” Coyote wrote. “Pretty much in that order.”

Ivan Coyote, a Canadian LGBTQ storyteller, filmmaker, author and musician, will share stories from their own experience of growing up as transgender. Photo by Sarah Race Photography.
Leave a Comment
More to Discover
Donate to The Scarlet & Black
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The Scarlet & Black Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *