Tomorrow, I am going to meet Ivan Coyote. This is a huge thing for me and I am really pretty nervous. This guy has been my virtual big brother, the guy I turn to for answers. His books are the place I go to find companionship, brotherhood, belonging. I have never met him, seen him heard him. It's going be weird to meet someone who has been such a huge part of my life, such an important mentor, and he has no idea who I am. It's like I have grown up with him, hurt with him, celebrated, laughed, and shook my head and thought, "Oh Ivan," but that whole time I was invisible to him. He has no idea how I grew up, how much I admire him, how we met in a bookstore in 1998....
I grew up on the shiny buckle of Central Alberta's Bible belt, a place where there was never any mention of anything out of the ordinary; no gays, no lesbians, no queers, no bisexuals, no transvestites, no transgendered people, not even a whisper of their existence. There was just hard working, farming, church going straight people, searching out their perfect mate at church socials and community picnics to settle down, have kids, and begin the whole cycle again.
I came out when I was twenty-three, shacked up with my first girlfriend, and got a divorce. Coming out was without question the most liberating experience of my life but it was also one of the most difficult. My life at this time was sort of one Jerry Springer episode after another without the crowd or a helpful(?) bald Security guy named Steve. I spent a lot of time at the new big box bookstore reading and drinking coffee, avoiding arguments with the femme at home, and the realization that I had taken the easy way out of a bad situation.
Eventually, I learned that no matter what I think my powers are, there are some things I just can't control. Epiphanies are beautiful creatures but the sting of their wicked clawed slap can leave you tasting blood for years.
There used to be sections in my bookstore hideout: Gay and Lesbian Studies was tucked in neatly between Ethnic Studies and Women's Studies. It was there, I stumbled across a black and yellow book that changed my life. It was called Boys Like Her and I knew exactly what that meant. I was a boy like her, and finding that book meant I was no longer alone.
That was the first time I had ever read anything by Ivan Coyote and I had no idea how much his words would truly change my life. The story that has stuck with me the most is No Bikini. I could have been that kid. I desperately wanted to be that kid at six; topless, fearless, and anonymous. Our stories are nearly interchangeable except Ivan was way more brave than I. After Boys Like Her I was hooked, had a secret, and read everything he wrote.
Ivan was always there, a big brother I could count on, a brother who knew exactly what it was to be me. He knew how it felt to be different, what it was to be afraid, the awkwardness of ill-fitting pronouns, clothes, and washrooms. He understood the beauty and danger of femmes, the importance of good coffee, cold winters, and family. And the boy could write. I could open the pages of one of his books and be reassured, comforted, brought back to reality. He reminded me to laugh; life isn't perfect but it isn't tragic. It's precious, fleeting, and full of love, heartbreak, and amazing moments if only you stop long enough to appreciate them.
Thanks, Ivan. Thanks my brother.