Thursday, July 18, 2024

Tomboy Survival Guide: Learn People Better

Last updated on November 23rd, 2017 at 01:26 pm

Today we’re bringing you a book excerpt from Ivan Coyote’s Tomboy Survival Guide. Published with permission from the author.


Some people like to call it eavesdropping. I prefer to think of it as following Woody Guthrie’s new year’s resolutions for 1942. Right between “Listen to Radio A Lot” and “Don’t Get Lonesome”, he promises to “Learn People Better.” So, some might call it eavesdropping, but me, I try to listen to everything anyone within my earshot says whenever I walk anywhere, just so I can learn people better.

The other day I was waiting at a stoplight close to a school. There was a girl talking to a boy, having a heated discussion. They were both about eleven years old. She was obviously pretty upset; he looked a little sheepish, dragging the toes of his running shoes along the sidewalk. “You just can’t treat me like this,  she told him, both hands on her hips. “I just won’t have it.” The boy looked down. Said nothing. Just nodded.

The other day I was walking behind two men, one in his mid-fifties, steel-toed boots, working man’s hands. The other in his early twenties, sneakers, headphones around his neck. New York City. The older guy says, “She’s mad because she thinks you’re telling her how to solve things. She doesn’t want you to solve it for her, she just wants you to listen to her. That is all most women want, is for you to just listen to them. Sooner you learn that the…” He pauses, looks sideways at the kid. “Jesus, man, you’re not even listening to me. What the f___?”

The kid hitches his stride a bit, sighs. “I was. I was listening.”

“Then what was I saying to you just now?”

Kid says nothing. Let’s out a long breath. Shakes his head.

The older guy stops walking. Smacks the kid’s shoulder with the backs of his fingertips. The kid shrugs, pulls his pants up by his belt.

“Well, if I listened to everything you told me every time you were talking to me, there would be no time left over for me to do any thinking.”

Last Sunday on my way into Templeton Pool for trans-inclusive family swim, I pass by two kids kicking a soccer ball around, both about eight years old. The kid in the red shirt is guarding the street hockey net, the kid in the striped shirt is taking shots. Striped shirt boots the ball really hard and nails red shirt right in the face with it.

“Owwwww.” Red shirt is trying not to let the tears escape his eyelids. “You fag. That hurt.”

The kid in the striped shirt traps the rebound under his toe and stands up straight, his face stark and solemn. “Dude. I’m sorry I hit you in the face but you can’t call people a fag anymore.”

“Why not?” Red shirt is still pissed, squinting into the sun.

“Because. Like I already told you. I’m pretty sure my mom is a fag.”

And then, today, came a chance to teach people better. Be better.

I’m on the phone with the credit card customer service woman:

“Royal Bank Visa, and how may I help you?”

“I have legally changed my name and I want to update my credit card,” I tell her.

“What is the reason for the name change?”

I pause for a minute, consider. “I’m transgender.”

“Okay!” she exclaims, like I just told her I had a baby or got married. “That’s excellent.”

“Most days it really is.”

“I learn something new here every day,” she says. I like the sound of her voice.

“Do you really?” I ask.

“Well, no, not really. But I’m going to today.”



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Ivan Coyote
Ivan Coyote
Ivan Coyote is the award-winning author of eleven books, the creator of four short films, and has released three albums that combine storytelling with music. Ivan is a seasoned stage performer and long-time road dog, and over the last twenty years has become an audience favourite at storytelling, writer’s, film, poetry, and folk music festivals from Anchorage to Amsterdam. The Globe and Mail newspaper called Coyote “a natural-born storyteller” and the Ottawa Xpress once said that “Coyote is to Canadian literature what kd lang is to country music: a beautifully odd fixture.” Ivan often grapples with the complex and intensely personal issues of gender identity in their work, as well as topics such as family, class, social justice and queer liberation, but always with a generous heart, a quick wit, and the nuanced and finely-honed timing of a gifted raconteur. Ivan’s stories remind of us of our own fallible and imperfect humanity while at the same time inspiring us to change the world.