Politics of gender

reelout filmmaker challenges cultural binaries

Ivan E. Coyote wrote the short story that the film No Bikinis was based on, shown last weekend at reelout.
Ivan E. Coyote wrote the short story that the film No Bikinis was based on, shown last weekend at reelout.

In its simplest, most paltry form, gender identity is a social sense of identification that becomes amplified by a cultural demand for definition—a collective affiliation of ‘them’ and ‘us’, an individual distinction and a separation of the others. In its most complex guise, the gender question is something that stubbornly lingers, unwanted and unsolicited, over those who are beyond it.

Consider the story of Ivan E. Coyote: a Canadian live storyteller, poet and author of three well-received collections of short stories, a monthly columnist for Xtra West, a contributor to the National Post, the Georgia Straight, Nerve, Curve and an individual who has refused the labeling of “he,” “she” or “transgendered.” Ironically, the denial of definition has been a distinguishing part of Coyote’s career, causing an external, social fixation on the gender politics of Ivan’s work.

“I’m dying for the day when the first fucking question I’m asked is not about gender identity or gender politics,” Coyote said. “It’s about 298 on the list of things I find interesting about myself.

“It doesn’t interest me. I know that gender politics are [a] subtext to most of my work, and it’s not all about me, but I find that it’s a box, which is ironic for someone who has spent most of their life living outside the box. I wish that people could get the blinders off—it’s like we’re obsessed with gender.”

For someone who’s considering removing any mention of gender, including all personal pronouns, from the official Ivan E. Coyote website, the Yukon native is keen on drawing attention to broader, more accessible themes.

“I write a lot about family,” Coyote said. “The human condition is very fascinating and that’s one of my muses.”

As far as challenging cultural norms, Coyote thinks the answer is simple:

“I always think humour is the best tool for social change. It’s one of the best tools I’ve got in the arsenal.”

Humour that instigates social sensitivity is precisely what brought Coyote to Kingston last weekend for the screening of No Bikini at reelout—a heart-warming and comedic short film adapted from one of Ivan’s stories.

The film follows the story of a young girl who defies gender conventions at her summer swim school when she decides to part with her traditional bikini for a pair of boys’ shorts.

Coyote believes the film, which Ivan co-wrote and provided the voice-over for, is one that speaks to many people.

“As a kid, you don’t have power over very basic things like the clothes that you wear and the way you cut you hair, so for a kid who doesn’t conform to gender-empowering behaviour it can be very difficult.

“Gender indoctrination starts immediately at birth.”

However, Coyote still maintains that the appeal of the stories is from their raw, pedantic-free artistry and sheer entertainment value.

“I’m an entertainer and I don’t think that’s a bad word,” Coyote said.

“If I start to over think things then that human seed, which is what I know resonates with my audiences, is killed by over thinking, by putting critical thought before artistic instinct.

“I’m the opposite of an academic—if I were to answer all of these [critical] questions before I write, I would kill the kernel, I would kill the beautiful seed of what I was going to produce.”

Ivan’s notoriety within the CanLit and queer theory community is present and growing, but that exclusive niche won’t satisfy this burgeoning artist. To Coyote, reversing pervasive stigma is only possible through exposure to a broad and eclectic audience.

“You have to take non-mainstream ways of thought into standard culture,” Coyote said. “My first motivator is my heart and my guts, not my head—that resonates with people outside the urban LGBT community.

“I’m appealing to parts of their body other than just their brain. People like to be moved, they don’t like to be pushed.”

reelout film festival concludes this weekend with screenings tonight, Saturday and Sunday at Etherington Auditorium, followed by a wrap-up party at the Sleepless Goat Café, 91 Princess St., on Sunday night at 9 p.m.

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