Ivan Coyote is the author of two handfuls of books who lives and breathes politics in a way few of us bother to.
Ivan Coyote | Arsenal Pulp
$19.95, 221 pages
A collection of spare personal essays that speak volumes, Ivan Coyote’s Rebent Sinner touches on material the Vancouver-based author has been addressing in print since co-authoring Boys Like Her in 1998.
But, don’t misunderstand familiar subject-matter as a complaint. Oscar Wilde may have quipped “Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative,” but he clearly never met Coyote.
Opening with “Blood,” and closing 10 enthralling essays later with “Chest,” Rebent Sinner chews over topics that include evocative past experiences, both remote — “My gran used to smoke the cheap cigarettes. John Player Specials, Craven A mentors. Number 7s” — and less so — “When I was 23 I never spent a minute of any day hating my own body.”
There’s politics, too. From pronoun choice and queer visibility to gendered spaces like bathrooms, Coyote showcases the complexity of everyday experience.
As a prolific author of two handfuls of books and a self-described “travelling performer and storyteller” who is busy, Coyote lives and breathes politics in a way few of us bother to.
“My work schedule the last few years involves me being away from home an average of 220 days out of the calendar year,” the author writes.
Rebent Sinner, then, highlights the continued relevance of ‘the personal is political,’
And there are matters of substance throughout, whether Coyote’s clarifying a stance — “I’m not a man-hater, not by any stretch. I do hate the patriarchy, though, and I’m not afraid to use terms like ‘rape culture’ and ‘toxic masculinity’ and ‘cissexism’ and ‘white supremacy,’ and ‘genocide’” — or stating an intent — “I guess what I am really saying is I will continue to talk about being a non-binary person in a very gendered world until the beautiful, shiny day when people are only interested in my opinions or my characters or my prose and cease to wonder about my genitals or what my parents think about all of this or where I am going to pee after this event is over and how they feel about peeing in a stall right next to me. What a sweet, sweet day that will be.”
On all these topics, the expression is careful, deeply considered and suffused with compassion. Also, in every paragraph, Rebent Sinner exhibits tremendous precision of thought buoyed by an assured, conversational style that could be mistaken for simple, plainspoken language. If there’s one new development to mention in the essays, it’s a disheartening one.
More than once, Coyote observes the passing of a milestone birthday. Often, with the fiftieth surface questions of what’s been accomplished, along with awareness of the dwindling of years yet to come. Evidently, Coyote’s not immune to this.
Here and there Coyote notes the death of friends and mentors and openly wonders about what long years of activism have accomplished.
In “To and From,” a series of touching — and often tear-duct-activating — replies to letters received, Coyote hints at a personal toll of putting a “body under the spotlight to be perused and pondered and debated.”
One of the letters wraps up ambiguously: “I’m not angry. Well, not that angry. I’m hopeful and inspired and motivated and grateful. And really, really, tired.”
For the time being, I’ll focus on “hopeful and inspired and motivated and grateful” and regard “really, really, tired” as something a few recuperative weeks can solve. Coyote’s ongoing travels to school auditoriums, talks with parents and teachers, and regular publications benefit us all by encouraging people to reach for a “beautiful, shiny day” that will be of our own making.