Ottawa's Festival of Ideas Since 1997

Gender Failure with Rae Spoon & Ivan E. Coyote

Sometimes, I am a bit dim-witted. I am especially dim-witted on Fridays. In my state of aforementioned dim-wittedness, I failed to process that Rae and Ivan’s event at Writers Fest would be so much more than a reading and Q&A session. Gender Failure, a collaborative multi-media show that Rae and Ivan have toured across North America, was both heart-breaking and hilarious. It is no wonder that this event was not only sold out but also had a waitlist for tickets.


Throughout the course of the evening, Rae and Ivan alternated between sharing their personal narratives and experiences of gender, and performing songs. I was blown away by Rae Spoon’s phenomenal vocals, and by Rae and Ivan’s excellent grasp of how to tell a story.


Theirs is an excellent collaboration.


Not many musical experiences literally make me shiver. Perhaps that Basia Bulat show a few years ago at First Baptist Church, where she played a strange instrument in total darkness. Or maybe even the nostalgia-for-adolescence-in-the-90s flashback known as the Backstreet Boys 20th year tour. You can most certainly add Rae Spoon and Ivan Coyote’s performance to that very short (and diverse) list.


Gender Failure was both accessible and intimate. One minute, Rae and Ivan had the audience singing along to gender confused YouTube comments; the next, we were aching with the recognition that none of us feel fully attached to (and thus comfortable with) our physical bodies.


I’m certain that many of Rae and Ivan’s experiences were all too relatable. Perhaps some of us were heartlessly abandoned by our BFF Janine, whose breasts and interest in cheerleading appeared overnight. Or perhaps we experienced a middle school gymnastic dancing nightmare, during which we heard a mysterious voice that prompted us to flee from the gymnasium.


These are, of course, two of many heartfelt and humourous anecdotes shared during the evening, all of which allowed us a fascinating glimpse into Rae and Ivan’s lives.


It is clear to me that the collaborative work—both music and prose—between Rae and Ivan is not just entertaining but also extremely important: Gender Failure ultimately speaks to the desire to be known, and points out that a name is not the same thing as a person. And, as Ivan pointed out, he is a writer; he knows where words fail us.


I’d be hard pressed to single out one reading from all of Gender Failure that was most revelatory or influential, as the entire performance was such a cohesive yet diverse experience. Were last night’s event not the last on Rae and Ivan’s tour, I would be urging you to buy tickets to their next show immediately. Instead, I’m urging you to pick up a copy of their book, and to hope that the show tours again the future.