A World Not Made for Me: Review of “Gender Failure”

At 5:00pm I began to read a book.

 Not because I was personally compelled, but because it was an assignment for a class I was taking; an elective class no less, optional. I began reading Gender Failure because I had a deadline the next morning. The class was supposed to discuss our chosen book with our peers, and it never looks good to show up knowing nothing. I chose the book itself because it seemed more relevant to me, a genderqueer individual, than the other book presented as an option. I thought I’d read some, maybe half, then get on with other projects that held my interest more firmly, but as it neared 8:30pm I had read every page cover to cover, stopping only to let one of the cats use my chest as a springboard to get onto the back of the couch.

The cover of “Gender Failure” by Rae Spoon and Ivan E. Coyote. Image and cover by Arsenal Pulp Press.

Gender Failure is hard to describe, but so easy to understand. Based on the live show of the same name created by Rae Spoon and Ivan E. Coyote, it’s a collection of small anecdotes. Small snippets of two individuals’ lives that are beautifully intimate and heart wrenching and relatable. Each short section, switching between the two authors, builds upon the last. They paint a picture that many people can relate to – the awkwardness of youth, the stabbing pain when friends change and act in ways that were previously unthinkable, the stumbles as they try to sort out their own identities.

 There’s more to Gender Failure than being just an autobiography. Each anecdote builds upon the last, not just to create understanding but to provoke thought. All of them have a point; they prod at preconceived notions of gender, question how something is or was, or brings to light things that I had never thought about before. It’s a book that grips you, and makes you think and feel uncomfortable in a comfortable way. It’s a story about their lives and identities, and the challenges they face. Each piece equally relevant and important to their twisting journey through gender. Through writing, Spoon and Coyote unapologetically tell their story, unfiltered and unmediated, as they navigate, discover, and eventually renounce the ideas of gender, gender roles, and gender performance.

Rae Spoon and Ivan E Coyote, two nonbinary individuals in suits in front of a blue background with shadows.
Rae Spoon and Ivan E. Coyote, the authors of “Gender Failure.” Photo by Andrew PW Smith.

 The last thought I would apply to Gender Failure is that it brings comfort. Comfort in the fact that I wasn’t the only one who wanted to lock myself in a bathroom stall when changing in the locker room. Comfort in the fact that I’m not the only one who felt awkward in the dance unit in gym class. Comfort in the fact that I’m not the only one to see every public bathroom as potential for disaster.

Gender Failure brings relief in knowing that I am not isolated in my feelings as I exist in a world not made for me.

Gender Failure was originally published by Arsenal Pulp Press in 2014, and it can be purchased wherever books are sold. 

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