Register Thursday | June 20 | 2019

"I'm Glad that My Work Freaks You Out"

A talk with jack-of-all-trades Ivan E. Coyote

From the side of the road in Cache Creek, B.C., Ivan E. Coyote is on her cell phone. She’s giving one last interview before she revs the engine and disappears into the north for a month. “Can we wrap this up? I’m getting kind of hot, and I want to put some miles between me and Vancouver.” My heart quickens—there's so much I still want to know. With Coyote, the time flies by, because she speaks as she writes, candidly. In her most recent story collection, Loose End, Coyote describes how the cashier at Value Village mistakes her for a young single father (Coyote was with her nephew). “I was just a nice guy taking my boy out shopping for Mom. Maybe I was even one of those new-fangled stay-at-home dads” Coyote writes. In a disarmingly conversational tone, she explores gender and identity issues, and how they have affected her intimately. But Coyote is much more than a writer. She would describe herself as a storyteller, since that is what she does through performance, film, music, and print. On August 24, her film, The Love That Won’t Shut Up, will be screened in Vancouver as part of the 19th annual Vancouver Queer Film Festival. It features seven gay seniors who have lived and loved in Vancouver. Directed with Veda Hille, it marks the launch of the Queer History Project.

MM: Tell me about The Love That Won’t Shut Up.
IC: We were commissioned, so that’s why I did it. But then the interviews got started, and then the editing got started, and when the music came together—it was just like “Oh!” I realized just what we were making and how cool it was.

MM: Why is it so cool?
IC: Queer history is weird in that it’s never passed down from generation to generation. It has to be sought out by the new generation, but new generations don’t tend to seek out their history, so gay people, more than other minorities—for lack of a better word—we reinvent ourselves every generation, because we don’t get it passed down. We do the opposite. We hide it from our families. And so not only do we have the movie, but we have fourteen hours of interviews with gay elders, so people who see them movie can call up and watch the entire interviews with the subjects.

MM: I know you more through your writing, because I first saw your name attached to a short story in Geist.
IC: They always choose the shittiest stories of mine.

MM: Do you feel your writing is secondary to your spoken word performances?
IC: They’re intertwined. You can’t really have one without the other. I do do some ad lib storytelling, more and more, actually, but there’s nothing like a well-crafted story that you really take your time with—when you make the words sing—and then you memorize it painstakingly and perform it live. Is it part written? Is it part spoken? Who really fucking cares at that point. It’s about the story, right? So I don’t really distinguish between the two.

MM: The friend who showed me your most recent story collection, Loose End, said that reading the stories sometimes felt like listening to stand-up.
IC: Has she heard me read before? Because a lot of people who have heard me read say that. Plus, the first book, called Boys Like Her, is actually a translation of a stage show that never really existed on the page. It was stories that we memorized while we were writing them. They were only ever written down on napkins and shit like that. Then we were found by a woman who at the time was going out with the person who ran Press Gang, and they asked us to do a paid version of our originally staged show.

MM: What’s the best compliment you’ve ever gotten for your work?
IC: There’s different kind of compliments, right? I was on the streetcar in Toronto and this punk kid, about 22 years old, was kind of looking at me. I wasn’t sure—I thought he was kind of faggy-looking—but he was giving me this really weird look, like really checking me out. So he comes up, and he’s like, “I’m really sorry. I can see you’ve got your iPod in…but are you Ivan Coyote?” I said “Yeah,” and he just crumpled, like he almost cried.

MM: What was his story?
IC: About five years ago, he was living somewhere in Northern Ontario, like six hours outside of Toronto, north, some fucking redneck town, and he was in a high school. They didn’t even have a gay and lesbian club, but they had a minority club, where you could pray if you were Muslim or not get beaten up if you were gay. Someone gave him a copy of Boys Like Her. He read the whole thing that night. And that night, what he had been planning to do for several months—he had pills and everything—was kill himself. He thought he was the only guy…he thought he was the only freak like him. The book got him through that hump. It really meant a lot to him.

MM: What’s a great moment you’ve had recently?
IC: We just did a Sunday night, main stage, 25-minute set at the Vancouver Folk Festival, and got a standing ovation in front of 20,000 people. I almost dropped to me knees. I freaked out so bad that I forgot to say that we had a CD for sale. That probably cost Rae Spoon and I $1,000 each.

MM: What’s the worst review you’ve even gotten?
IC: Well, I’ve had guys yank their 12-year-old daughters out of the audience because they’re born-again Christians. They don’t even care what comes out of my mouth. I look like a boy and I’m not ashamed of myself. I don’t hide the fact that I’m gay, and for some people that’s really offensive. So I’ve had them leave the show, or take their kids and leave the show, but I don’t really take that as an insult. It’s more like, “Take your 15 bucks and never fucking come back. I’m glad that you can’t relate to my work, and that my work freaks you out, and that maybe you have to go away and think about it. I just feel sorry for your daughters.”

MM: What are you working on right now?
IC: I’m working on a video now called Sweet Rides, which is like a porn thing. So imagine porn music and then a bunch of shots of old trucks and rusted-out buildings. I’m also putting together another video called Goliath Goes North. I’ve been shooting over the years, but I’m going to put it together in the next couple of months. It’s my Pekingese-Pomeranian cross—he weighs 4.95 pounds—throwing himself at different livestock, like musk ox, bears, and caribou, and feral sheep.

MM: In your books, you seem to come at your gender identity through other people. It’s amazing how clearly you describe the way other people perceive you. Do you ever get tired of being so aware of how other people see you?
IC: All the time. I get tired of it all the time. It’s one of those things that’s always going to be there. It’s slowly changing, but you can’t live your life in this extended, tense moment, so I just try to deal with it with humour, but I get tired all the time. Sometimes I just want to take a piss. Sometimes my tampon’s leaking and I don’t want to fucking deal with the world. I just want to change my tampon before I wreck my new American Apparel turquoise blue briefs with the white piping.

MM: If you had to live in any other Canadian city than Vancouver
IC: Montreal, definitely.

Coyote is in northern BC until the screening of The Love That Won’t Shut Up. She’ll be in Montreal in October, and hopes to perform while she’s in town, perhaps at La Sala Rosa.

Related Articles: An interview with Rutu Modan Death by Lamb Chop