by Ivan Coyote
Published 2010 by Arsenal Pulp Press
Missed Her is a collection of short stories by Canadian storyteller Ivan Coyote that manages to both fill the void of queer storytelling and reach out to straight allies.
“Hats Off,” a love letter of sorts to femmes, struck me in a way that I haven’t felt since reading Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg. As a self-identified femme*, I found myself tearing up and feeling recognized in a way that rarely happens in queer books. I was overwhelmed by the feeling that she was talking to me, personally thanking me for doing things that, within contemporary queer writing, I feel are often ignored.
I know that sometimes you feel like nobody truly sees you. I want you to know that I see you. I see you on the street, on the bus, in the gym, in the park. I don’t know why I can tell that you are not straight, but I can. Maybe it is the way you look at me. Please don’t stop looking at me the way you do. All of my life I have been told that I am ugly, I am less than, I am not a man, I am unwanted. Until you came along, I believed them. Please do not ever stop looking at me the way you do. (pg. 81)
I think that with this essay and its uniquely poignant call out to femmes, Coyote has sealed this books fate as a future classic. There is an audience for this story that is under represented in both literature and non-fiction, and because of that I think that with this story Missed Her will be recognized as an important work.
There are two stand-out stories which speak uniquely to the butch experience. In “A Butch Roadmap,” Coyote gives advice to young butches as a way to provide the guidance that she felt was missing from her own experience as a young butch who felt alone and without role models. Later, in “Throwing in the Towel,” she discusses how when she was talking about her “brand new, fresh out of the laundry, white, pristine, and uber-fluffy” new towels on Facebook, the responses from butches called Coyote’s masculinity into question. The essay in turn defends the fact that butch is a multi-faceted identity, one that cannot be erased by one statement that isn’t traditionally considered masculine. While the entire book is written from a butch’s perspective (simply by the fact that it is written by Ivan, who identifies as a butch), these two essays stand out to me because they in turn advise and speak directly to the butch experience.
By pointing out these two important themes in the stories, it would be easy to simply label Coyote as a “queer writer for a queer audience.” I think that would be a great disservice to both Coyote’s talent and the accessibility of her work. There are several other stories included in this collection which will resonate with straight and queer audiences alike. In one such story, “Talking to Strangers,” Ivan recounts a discussion that she had with a cab driver. Her account illuminates the assumptions that a person can have when they are used to being victims of homophobia and assumptions of gender. They each think that they are having a specific type of conversation with the other, and it isn’t until the end that you realize that its easy to get wrapped up in what you think is the most pronounced characteristic of yourself. “Some of My Best Friends Are Rednecks,” in a similar vein, is both a plea and a reminder to assume someone is your ally until they prove they are not, instead of assuming they are your enemy based on their appearance. One of Coyote’s friends, a man who she describes as having “long brown hair and a kind of bushy beard. He is from a working-class coal mining town in the southern US. He looks a bit like a good old boy. Like a redneck straight white guy, to use his words…” (p. 90) was reading one of Coyote’s books on the bus when he was yelled at by a woman for reading the book, with the implied message that he was appropriating queer culture. Coyote makes clear that she believes straight people can be (and are) very important queer allies.
This collection captures a very important image of what it’s like to be a queer person in way that many GLBTQ novels have not been able to do because they so often focus on a sensationalized idea of what being a queer person means in a homophobic society. Missed Her speaks true to the experience I’ve had and the experiences of my friends. While the threat of violence and homophobia and discrimination based on gender presentation are acknowledged, they are not the focus; instead, the focus is pride and strength and genuine experience. The stories in this book speak true to an oft ignored truth for many of us who identify as queer, and for that I recommend this book highly to all readers interested in reading about queer life.
This book is eligible for the Independent Literary Awards. You can nominate it on the Indie Lit Award Website.
**People define femme many ways, but for me, it means a person who queers femininity.