Tomboy Survival GuideeBook - 2016
Stonewall Book Award Honor Book winner; Hilary Weston Writers' Trust of Canada Prize for Non-Fiction finalist
Ivan Coyote is a celebrated storyteller and the author of ten previous books, including Gender Failure (with Rae Spoon) and One in Every Crowd, a collection for LGBT youth. Tomboy Survival Guide is a funny and moving memoir told in stories, in which Ivan recounts the pleasures and difficulties of growing up a tomboy in Canada’s Yukon, and how they learned to embrace their tomboy past while carving out a space for those of us who don’t fit neatly into boxes or identities or labels.
Ivan writes movingly about many firsts: the first time they were mistaken for a boy; the first time they purposely discarded their bikini top so they could join the boys at the local swimming pool; and the first time they were chastised for using the women’s washroom. Ivan also explores their years as a young butch, dealing with new infatuations and old baggage, and life as a gender-box-defying adult, in which they offer advice to young people while seeking guidance from others. (And for tomboys in training, there are even directions on building your very own unicorn trap.)
Tomboy Survival Guide warmly recounts Ivan’s adventures and mishaps as a diffident yet free-spirited tomboy, and maps their journey through treacherous gender landscapes and a maze of labels that don’t quite stick, to a place of self-acceptance and an authentic and personal strength. These heartfelt, funny, and moving stories are about the culture of differencea guide” to being true to one’s self.
From the critics
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Recently, I was in a reading slump of epic proportions. I didn’t want anything heavy; I couldn’t concentrate. I didn’t want anything light, either – I’d just been through something that made anything too frivolous seem almost an insult. But, I needed a book; otherwise I’d be insufferable waiting in line anywhere. Literally anyone could be my victim, stuck chatting about anything. Bemoaning this very specific librarian problem to a colleague, she made a brilliant recommendation: Ivan Coyote’s 2016 memoir, Tomboy Survival Guide.
The content is indeed weighty. The memoir follows Coyote’s life growing up in Yukon and BC. Structured almost as short stories, different chapters offer meditations on bullying, sexual assault and harassment, the fate of women in the trades, the death of a grandmother. Shot through them all is a common thread of Coyote coming to understand - and find joy in – their identity as a transgender person.
And finding joy is key for Coyote. While that list of topics sounds a touch grim for summer reading, Coyote is master of the light touch (as anyone who attended Coyote’s talk at the Stratford Writers’ Festival last year already knows). When Coyote is angry, it’s the kind of anger that makes you snort-laugh. When sad, it’s the kind of blue lit from inside with hope. Mostly, though, Coyote is just really, really funny in a wry, warmhearted way that’s lovely to spend time with.
Coyote’s voice is naturally lyrical and personal, and so wise you can sort of see the path to being a better person when you’re done reading. The structure makes it easy to dip in and out of anywhere you might be this summer, and it’s small enough to tuck into your bag and take with you. Tomboy Survival Guide is highly recommended to anyone who enjoys memoir and nonfiction.
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