Tomboy Survival Guide review

Ivan Coyote. Photo courtesy of CBC.
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Ivan Coyote wishes to sit in a room with you and have a conversation about gender, the roles we play, Canada, and where an LGBTQ+ individual fits in. Coyote wants to share their own struggles, and how they hope they can help you with yours.

As you read Coyote’s 11th book, Tomboy Survival Guide, you’ll hear Coyote’s trademark narrative voice throughout. Humor breaks tension, excitement builds within tales of childhood adventure, and emotion is on every page.

For an individual who identifies outside the gender binary, the term “tomboy” was an easy label to take in Coyote’s younger years. Coyote describes the feeling of never being able to be a girl, and the feeling of refuge in the term, as if it gave Coyote permission to stop pretending. This theme finds itself in almost every story Coyote shares; the idea of never being able to be female, and the implications this creates as Coyote grows in a gender binarized world. A section in the first chapter, “Not my Son,” establishes the theme well:

“I didn’t even really actively not want to be like the other girls. I just knew. I just always knew that I wasn’t. I couldn’t. I would never be.”

Playing with the ‘survival guide’ format, the book is filled with drawings of tools, spark plugs, rope knots, and visual instructions for various tasks that compliment Coyote’s stories of survival in a world still skeptical of trans and non-binary identities. Among these experiences: Coyote befriends two women who both like “the boy things,” but realizes this still isn’t the identity that fits. Coyote survives a sexual assault in the story “I Believe You.” A small piece, located between chapters, encourages the reader to find their “freak family”the people they connect with and who can help shape their identity.

Coyote also advises the reader use termslike tomboyto explore, until they no longer work, and then move on. It’s a powerful message for individuals struggling with their own identity, and comes with the assurance that they are allowed to piece things together and experiment until they find themselves.

The conversational tone that Coyote uses is their strongest tactic in making sure the reader absorbs what Coyote has to say. In a community that can be incredibly isolated, Coyote strives to connect through words and show that survival is possible; people who fit outside the gender binary are not alone. By sharing intimate stories and sly jokes, Coyote strives to forge a friendship with the reader, to become a sort of mentor. With ten other books that explore gender, community, and identity, and a band that performs similar themes, Coyote is becoming one of the loudest Canadian voices for those striving to understand their identity in this countrya conversation worth having.