Book Review: Tomboy Survival Guide

tomboy survival guideTomboy Survival Guide
by Ivan Coyote
208 pages
Published 2016

This is the second book I read for my personal 24 in 48 challenge, and it was excellent. Ivan is a natural storyteller – each chapter flows seamlessly into the next, even though each is a separate vignette from their life, and they aren’t chronological. I was never confused about where in the timeline we were; it was just like they were sitting down telling stories about their life, and that naturally ebbs and flows as people are reminded of different things that have happened to them.

It’s not really fully clear whether Ivan is a transman, or simply non-binary, not that it should matter. They use they/them pronouns, and straddle the androgynous line enough that bathrooms and dressing rooms are a constant issue for them, one they touch on repeatedly through the book. Maybe if our bathrooms weren’t so binary-focused, it wouldn’t be as much of an issue when someone is gender-nonconforming!

The book moves between stories of Ivan’s childhood in small-town Canada, their realization they are attracted to women, their experiences in largely male-dominated career fields, and their actual career as an author and public speaker. They talk about how their own family has been supportive of their transition (mostly) and how other parents have written them letters asking how to be supportive of their non-cisgender children. There are scenes of strangers being supportive, and scenes of shocking discrimination and transphobia.

The book is, overall, excellent, and a good introductory look at the life of a non-binary person. Ivan has written several other books, and I definitely want to track down Gender Failure, which they co-wrote with another non-binary person about, well, gender failure!

Ivan Coyote is Canadian, making this one of my Read Canadian Challenge books.

My other Canadian reviews:
1. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth
2. The Red Winter Trilogy
3. Station Eleven
4. The Courier
5. The Last Neanderthal
6. American War
7. Next Year, For Sure
8. That Inevitable Victorian Thing
9. All The Rage
10. The Clothesline Swing
11. Saints and Misfits
12. this book!
13. The Wolves of Winter

From the cover of Tomboy Survival Guide:

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 difference—a “guide” to being true to one’s self.

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