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Ivan E. Coyote latest story collection, Missed Her (Arsenal), clearly indicates that she wants to connect with readers. She wants to pull at your heartstrings and to educate you about all matters butch.
Her stories, all culled from her personal experience, yield a glimpse of a life not frequently spoken of in mainstream queer circles.
Coyote’s perspective on small town queer life resists what Judith Halberstam calls “metronormativity,” or the assumption that queer desire and community cannot exist fully outside of urban centers.
That is not to say that her life is not without wariness while walking by the three good old boys smoking outside the only open hotel in town or while getting a haircut from a new barber.
The cultural work Coyote does in stories like “Some of My Best Friends are Rednecks” is to make visible open minded self-identified redneck straight men and demonstrates the fear that drives some queer folks to be just as fanatical about identity boundaries as the rednecks they rally against.
Coyote’s middle age and gender variance, as well as her Canadian nationality, bring texture to her writing. She speaks at length on how others, straight and gay alike, perceive her; all the cues that are read and misread. “Throwing in the Towel” explores the boundaries of butch identity and her conflicts with feminine-marked objects, like fine fluffy towels, and deeper still, “[o]ur fear of our own inner girl” (101).
Despite Coyote’s desire to inspire and entertain, many of the stories in this collection read like journal entries that perhaps hold more significance for the author than for her audience. Rather than sharing Coyote’s laughter at a joke or tears during a touching moment, I felt distant from the emotions presented.
In “Gifted,” the narrative of providing solace to a cancer patient the author randomly encounters on the street takes a turn towards the improbable when the sick woman turns out to have a 19-year-old transgender son, whom Coyote can help out. These kinds of stories come off as a bit self-congratulatory.
All in all, while reading, I wished for further analysis and reflection into the issues brought up anecdotally. The collection’s strength lies in the pieces Coyote devotes to her family; her love for them is deep and fierce. In “Maiden Heart” and “All About Herman” she tells and retells their lives with sincerity and respect. Family support, whether through unconditional acceptance as in “the Good Old Days,” or strong role modeling, as in “She Shoots, She Scores,” has a clear influence on Coyote.
A queer who holds the strong bonds of family out to the reader—one who ends a book with the news that the “family is besides themselves” (142) with joy at the news of Coyote’s engagement to a woman—is a rarity in queer literature.
By Ivan E. Coyote
Arsenal Pulp Press
Paperback, 9781551523712, 160pp.