Book Review: Rebent Sinner by Ivan Coyote

Rebent Sinner – Ivan Coyote (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2019)

I first heard of Ivan Coyote when they did a reading on my university campus near the beginning of my first year. Since then Coyote’s is a name that seems to come up frequently in CanLit circles. Rebent Sinner fits in well with the style and content that readers will have come to expect from Coyote. Funny, touching, and deeply personal. This is a memoir of sorts, as much of Coyote’s work is, but one made up more of anecdotes and ideas than a linear life story. There is something of an overarching theme of age as Coyote reaches 50-years-old and reflects on a lifetime of queer existence and gender fluidity. Most poignantly, Coyote reflects back on the queer and trans friends they came of age with and how few remain. Later, when discussing school tours and meeting young people, they offer a picture of a world that is slowly changing.

One of my favourite parts of the book is when Coyote discusses their experience of going viral online. After they intervene at a bus stop when a young woman is being harassed, Coyote goes home and writes a short blog post, a rant almost, beginning, “Dear dudes everywhere: just leave her alone.” Women everywhere identify with the experience of being harassed simply for being female in public. Media outlets seek Coyote’s opinion on being a feminist man.

I said sure, but I didn’t identify as a man. I was a non-binary trans person, I told them. “Oh,” they replied. “Then we are not interested.”

Ivan Coyote, Rebent Sinner

The story is only seen as interesting or newsworthy through the lens of a straight man.

Much of the book details the author’s experience as a trans person. The strange privilege of being viewed sometimes as a white male. The danger and fear that accompanies trans people everywhere. The difficulties of being a travelling trans artist and which bathroom to use. Coyote tells stories of going on tour in rural Alberta, speaking to audiences who didn’t realize they were a trans person, and the pressure of always being touted as speaking on “diversity” when they really just want to tell their own stories.

So, here’s the rub. Straight white male authors get to write about what they write about. They get to answer questions from journalists about the things that they write about. They get to be on panels talking about the things that they write about, and they get to be experts on the things that they research and think and write about. Nobody ever asks them to be a spokesman for all straight white men all over the world. The rest of us are expected to write about who we are.

Ivan Coyote, Rebent Sinner

12 thoughts on “Book Review: Rebent Sinner by Ivan Coyote”

  1. You keep reading these books I want to check out but can’t find in the States! I’m glad you’re finding unique works, such as this one and the self-published book by the indigenous woman.

    1. Ivan Coyote is pretty well known in CanLit circles but I wasn’t sure how well known they were outside of Canada. Definitely worth reading if you can get a copy!

  2. I’ve seen Ivan perform and they are amazing! It seems like they’re making a wonderful impact on children through school visits, we are so lucky to have Ivan as a part of our ‘canlit’ scene 🙂

    1. I agree! It’s great that they’re able to go into schools and encourage kids and it was really neat to read their perspective on that experience. They were supposed to be one of the authors at our Writers Festival this summer and I’m disappointed I won’t get to hear them speak again.

    2. That’s the one! The pavilion where they hold it and the gardens are beautiful – I actually got married right next to it and we took photos there. It’s also a nice size festival and always feels very intimate and friendly. You should definitely check it out some year!

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