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Social Science General

Rebent Sinner

by (author) Ivan Coyote

Arsenal Pulp Press
Initial publish date
Nov 2019
General, LGBT
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2019
    List Price
  • Downloadable audio file

    Publish Date
    Apr 2022
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Nov 2019
    List Price

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Ivan Coyote is one of North America’s preeminent storytellers and performers; they are the author, co-author, or co-editor of eleven previous books, and their TED talk has received over 1.6 million views online. Their most recent book, Tomboy Survival Guide, was shortlisted for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust of Canada Prize for Non-Fiction and was named an American Library Association Stonewall Honor Book.

In their latest, Ivan takes on the patriarchy and the political, as well as the intimate and the personal in these beguiling and revealing stories of what it means to be trans and non-binary today, at a time in their life when they must carry the burden of heartbreaking history with them, while combatting those who would misgender them or deny their very existence. These stories span thirty years of tackling TERFs, legislators, and bathroom police, sure, but there is joy and pleasure and triumph to be found here too, as Ivan pays homage to personal heroes like Leslie Feinberg and Ferron while gently guiding younger trans folk to prove to themselves that there is a way out of the darkness.

Rebent Sinner is the work of an accomplished artist whose plain truths about their experience will astound readers with their utter, breathtaking humanity.


This publication meets the EPUB Accessibility requirements and it also meets the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG-AA). It is screen-reader friendly and is accessible to persons with disabilities. A Simple book with few images, which is defined with accessible structural markup. This book contains various accessibility features such as alternative text for images, table of contents, page-list, landmark, reading order and semantic structure.

About the author

Ivan Coyote is the award-winning author, co-author or co-editor of eleven books, including Tomboy Survival Guide, shortlisted for the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Nonfiction Prize and an American Library Association Stonewall Honor Book. They are also the creator of four short films as well as three CDs that combine storytelling with music. Ivan is a seasoned stage performer and an audience favourite at storytelling, literary, film, and folk music festivals. Their latest book is Rebent Sinner. Ivan lives in Vancouver.

Ivan Coyote's profile page

Excerpt: Rebent Sinner (by (author) Ivan Coyote)

Departure Gate

After twenty-five years of mostly road, you get familiar with airports. There’s a waitress in the breakfast place in Ottawa who has outlasted three different name changes on the restaurant where she works the early morning shift. Her name is Naz and she knows I’m going to have black coffee and scrambled eggs and no toast, and I know she has three daughters and gets up at 3:45 am every weekday to come to this job, so she can be home at 3 pm when her kids get off school. Her middle daughter is a gymnast, and her youngest loves to read and her oldest is obsessed with a white boy two years older than her who Naz has nicknamed Not Good Enough.
I know never to connect in Chicago in the winter months and to avoid the shrimp at the Thai place in the international terminal in Toronto. Airports are the only place I ever see my friend the cello player and my friend the famous apocalyptic young adult fiction author.
I never forget my phone charger or my kobo or my reusable water bottle because my shoulders know the feel of what my backpack weighs with everything in it.
Anyhow. A couple of weeks ago I was at the gate right next to the Starbucks in the domestic terminal of YVR when I spotted another queer in the crowd, tapping on her iPhone with a chewed-up forefinger. I had met her several times in Toronto, we have many friends in common. I flipped through the rolodex of names and faces in my head. Ella? No. Eli. Her name was Eli.
She nodded hello and dragged her backpack off the seat next to where she was sitting and deposited it between her Blundstones to make room for me to sit.
So I did.
We got to talking. She was just coming back from Salt Spring Island, she tells me, from seeing her terminally ill friend, probably for the last time. She was kind of like a surrogate matriarch for her, a chosen mother, and Eli was going to miss her, she said, but it had been so good to get to say a proper and intentional goodbye.
She is kind of an elder to me, she said, and looked down at her boots, suddenly quiet for a beat. I modelled myself after many bits of what she taught me, even though she was straight and vanilla and not an artist.
Who are your queer elders? I asked her. I kind of blurted it out, this half-formed question that had been rattling around in my own head and chest so much lately.
“My queer elders?” Eli said slowly, her forehead showing its lines all of a sudden. “I don’t think I have any. Not really. I’m forty-six. Aren’t I too old now to have queer elders?”
My eyes met hers. Hers were full of tears, and it was contagious.
We talked until they boarded our giant Toronto bound airplane. She told me that she never really felt like she had a queer elder she could fully relate to, because she wasn’t a butch, but she never felt connected much to the word femme, either.
I told her most of my queer male elders were dead, and that many of my lesbian elders turned out to be TERFs so I had to turf them. We talked about me turning fifty, and her just turned forty-four now and how somehow all of a sudden there we were, looking around, and we were the oldest ones on the bill, the oldest ones with paintings on the wall in the gallery. How we would probably be the oldest ones at the dyke bar now, if there was still such a thing as a dyke bar and if we were to ever actually go out to a bar anymore. We talked about how could we possibly turn into elders without help from actual elders, what would that even look like, how could we provide any wisdom at all without guidance?
Then they called for us to board, but we were in different boarding zones, and she was swallowed up by strangers. I didn’t see her again when we landed in Toronto.
I revisited our conversation over and over in my head for days after though, like my lips and teeth returning to a hangnail. Chewed it until it began to bleed a little.
I ran through the remaining butches and trans men and non-binary people I had ever known who were older than me, or wiser than me, or had come out before me, or transitioned longer ago than I did.
Mary had three heart attacks and moved to the Sunshine Coast. The woman she sold her pet store to screwed her out of a bunch of money and she works part-time in a shop in the ferry terminal to make ends meet.
Bet used to work at the longest running lesbian centre in North America (thirty years, but who is counting, I am counting) until she was ousted from her position in the late 90s and slandered in the queer media by the much younger women who took over the centre and ran it into the ground and closed its imperfect doors forever less than a year later. Turns out those old dykes knew a thing or two about getting shit done that we forgot to learn from them before we discarded them for newer models. Bet also moved to the Sunshine Coast and does home renovations to pay the bills. It took her ten years to recover from east Vancouver’s queer community politics and begin to do any political activism again. She works now mostly with water protectors fighting the pipelines and rural voter registration. She is seventy-five years old and just had her heart broken again by an Australian woman whose affections faded somewhere between the first three-week fuck-fest and the second nineteen-hour plane ride back to Canada, Bet tells me on the phone when I called her out of the blue to catch up.
I am secretly thrilled when she tells me that she just turned seventy-five and is still having three-week summer fuck-fests with international strangers, but I don’t say so because I didn’t want to seem insensitive given the latest developments in that relationship.
It was one very long and awkward fourteen-day kayak trip let me tell you, Bet says, and we both laugh.
I am also impressed that she is seventy-five and still going on fourteen-day kayak trips. I am turning fifty and wouldn’t plan a fourteen-hour kayak trip but I don’t say so because I didn’t want to seem ageist, or lazy.
I hung up and looked at my list again. Catherine. Plane crash. I used to be able to talk to her about anything. And I do mean anything. She worked at Three Bridges Health Clinic and I once went to her for medical advice about a tragic anal tear situation that I was asking about for a friend. “Tell your friend to take a laxative and take it easy for a couple of days.” She laughed at me with those eyes and that laugh. “Tell your friend not to put more on their plate than they can eat in one sitting.”
Then I thought about Bear. The other Bear. Heart attack. Then there was Star. Suicide. Frances. Alzheimer’s.
Most of my American queer elders are dead now because poverty and no queer marriage so no benefits so no health care and that catches up to a person. Except Jack. Jack is still around. Jack is a few months older than my mom, he’s turning seventy this December. He’s had two heart attacks and lives in a rented basement suite in the suburbs of Seattle with his two fat cats. He makes custom made corsets and costumes for theatre and movies. He created all the dresses for all the female characters on that TV series Deadwood. He is really proud of the fact that all of the prostitutes’ fancy dresses were made authentic and true to their time period. No zippers back then, he told me once. So not zippers now. Eyelets and lace and hooks. No plastic invented yet so that is real whale bone in those corsets, he bragged. He calls me Boyo and I call him Da, in honor of our mutual Irish blood. We usually talk a couple of times a year, on Father’s Day, and Mother’s Day, on his birthday and on the anniversary of the death of his only son, who was the only person on the planet who ever ever called him mom.
I forgot Kate. The writer. Two battles with cancer now, or has it been three? She once bought me a suit from a thrift store in Eugene for twenty-five bucks that fit me perfect without any tailoring at all. We were roommates at a writer’s retreat in a cedar and glass lodge on the Oregon coast, and when I came out of the bathroom wearing my new-to-me suit she screamed and clapped her hands and told me I looked like Brad Pitt and said it was the best twenty-five bucks she had ever spent. We both marvelled at our good fortune to find a suit of such quality that fit a twenty-four-year-old me. We wondered who it had originally belonged to. I found an envelope in the inside left jacket pocket with a faded card inside of it that said, “Congratulations Jacob on your Bar Mitzvah, love Aunt Felice and Uncle Stanley.” Kate laughed until her mascara ran when I read the card out loud to her and told me that my suit was even more perfect now.
Kate was the first trans person I ever saw naked that wasn’t me. This turned out to be a much more important milestone than I was capable yet of realizing at the time.
Jim Deva used to be my dirty rotten scoundrel role model until he fell off a ladder trimming a hedge on his lunch hour and broke his neck and died. It’s been four years now and I’m still mad at him for that, even though one day I hope to die quickly doing something stupid that everyone told me I was too old to be doing for myself anymore.
I guess my only other elder was Leslie Feinberg, only we never met. S/he never friended me on Facebook and I never read hir Tweets or saw hir Instagrammed breakfast photographs.
But I read and then re-read Stone Butch Blues in 1992, and found bits of myself in those words. Even though they were written by a big-city American butch about a world I would not even be born into for twenty more years, I recognized myself for the very first time in someone else’s story.
I recognized myself and picked up a pen again and now it’s twenty-seven years later and I have not put it down.


I was never really all that pretty. I pretty much knew that my whole life. Not pretty. Good at other stuff though, I would tell myself, way back when that was the most. important. thing. a girl was supposed to be, was pretty. and then I kissed a girl on Friday the 13th, 1988 when I was eighteen, and realized maybe I was something else not pretty but still, maybe something. Then I switched to trying on handsome. I’m not pretty, but I could be handsome, I thought. Maybe that would feel less ugly, I thought.

So now it’s three years later and I see my friend on Instagram and she is changing genders, yes, but more importantly this morning she changed her lipstick color dramatically, going from an everyday no-nonsense red to a delicious dark purple with an even darker, most immaculate liner, and under very bold eyeshadow too, and the lashes I mean she had fait une effort and she looked ... divine would be one word. Off the planet halfway to Jupiter hot.
Several months ago my friend David A. Robertson began to grow his hair. Like, I’m talking the man has some luscious hair. He’s Cree and over six feet tall and has fathered five children even though he’s a vegan so I’m well aware that I’m not ever going to sport a mane like that motherfucking David A Robertson, but.
I’m turning fifty years old and suffice it to say that I am capable can we say of growing a lot more hair than a lot of dudes my age are. In fact my trans buddy around my age (which in my head can now mean ten years younger than me) even said to me once several years back, after I had just had another every-three-week-millimeter-long barber shop fade “man, if I still had any hair I would grow Justin Bieber dude shit would be in my eyes I would learn to flick my bangs I swear maybe a topknot whatever I’d grow it.”
So I started growing my hair out, about two months ago now.
I was in Tokyo last month on tour and there is a line at the end of a story I wrote called “Shouldn’t I Feel Pretty” and it goes I am lucky I can now afford a well-cut shirt and a real silk tie and a fancy jacket with those cool elbow patches and a good haircut once a month…”
And the first hand that shot up was this young woman from Laos, just learning Japanese, and English, but from what I heard later from her, and then later, at lunch from her teachers, is that she is a real thinker, a rebel, a writer, a philosophizer, but I didn’t know any of that about her yet. It was day two of my Asia tour and hers was one of the first hands up and she said:
“You have not had a good haircut in over one month.”
And everybody cracked up. Later during that same question-and-answer session she put her hand up again and told me, again, not asked me, in English, and then told a teacher a little more in Japanese, who translated for us, but from what I could pick up, she said that I was like a Buddhist story she had studied about a sunflower plant that once grew very tall but did not bloom or flower, or thus make seeds, but in the end was still beautiful, just in a different way from all of the other plainer but gloriously blooming and seeding sunflowers. I sent a message to her via her prof that my nickname for her was now Sunflower Girl and she reported back that she loves this nickname and is keeping it. Or so says the translator.
This morning when I saw that picture of the dark purple lipstick, and I thought of all of the lipstick I have loved, in all of its many ways, on her lips on his lips on their lips on my cheek on my neck on my chest on my dick on her lips on her fingertips on the light switch on the doorframe on the coffee cup on the spoon on the sheets on the pillowcase oops in the washer uh oh in the dryer lipstick. In her stocking. On her teeth. On my teeth. On my dick.
I have loved lipstick all of my life, but I have never learned to love it on my own lips except for Halloween a zombie a vampire a wolfman-woman and once, when I was thirteen on Halloween, a fancy lady. Even at thirteen, I knew that pretending to be a woman was going to be a costume for me.
But I’ve been changing. Uncovering. Unwrapping myself lately. Shedding.
Returning. Undoing. Unbecoming. My new middle name is Shed. I changed it finally four years ago and my legal middle name is now Shed. As in get rid of, or a place to store or do or build, and inspired by Out in the Shed the character from Tom Spanbauer’s book The Man Who Fell in Love With the Moon. Shed for short.
My old surname, the one I shed, was Cumming. C U M M I N G. There it is I said it. Unbecoming.
I fought pretty. All my life. I bucked the dresses and ribbons and pink and the ladylike and demure and quiet and polite and graceful. I fought make-up and frills. I fought lipstick. For myself, anyway. I was going to be something else, not better just different.
But it turns out the gender binary fucks us coming, and going.

Editorial Reviews

"Coyote describes the burdens of representation that saddle LGBTQ writers and performers, and ponders the legacy of their own generation of trans artists. Audiences interested in the conversation on trans identities will welcome Coyote's direct style and compassionate voice." —Publishers Weekly

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