Book Review: Gender Failure



Rae Spoon and Ivan E. Coyote, 256 pages, Arsenal Pulp Press, $17.95


Gender Failure is a collaborative effort between accomplished performer, educator, and author Ivan E. Coyote, and multigenre songwriter and musician Rae Spoon.  The book collects poignant essays, heartfelt lyrics, playful illustrations, and intimate performance photographs, and originated two years ago as a multimedia performance the authors took across Canada.

Coyote and Spoon—who both use the pronoun they—ruminate on their lifelong experiences of repeatedly failing to fit neatly into the gender binary and their attempts to move beyond its rigid confines. Their earnest reflections and complimentary writing styles give the collection great momentum. Those familiar with Coyote’s charming conversational storytelling will not be disappointed; moreover, a vulnerable side of Coyote not seen in prior works is revealed here.  Throughout the book, they bravely recount the very private experience of getting top surgery and detail the challenges and frustrations of being at the mercy of the Canadian medical system. In one essay, an excerpt from a psychiatric evaluation of gender is included for reference, and it is both mindboggling and infuriating for its circular logic and sexist stereotyping.

Fans of Spoon’s first published work, First Spring Grass Fire, will enjoy the artist’s second foray into memoir. Notably, Spoon explains the tough decision to retire from gender altogether after a period of identifying as transgender and male, ultimately choosing to relinquish gendered pronouns in favour of using they. Coyote and Spoon’s perspectives will be refreshing and thought provoking for both trans-and cisgender readers alike, pointing to the fact that the dominant two-gender system is deeply problematic and requires serious overhaul. This book is not to be missed. (Melissa Hergott)

Theatre Review: The Unplugging

SHARPENER_Unplugging Photo_Allegra Fulton and Diana Belshaw_The Unplugging_Akipari

Allegra Fulton and Diana Belshaw in The Unplugging. (photo credit: Akipari)

Imagine if your iPhone, laptop and Netflix all stopped working: would you survive?
That exact scenario is the backdrop for Factory Theatre’s new play The Unplugging, on stage until April 5. The world goes dark, throwing everything into chaos and people back to a time before technology made us so dependent.
Half a year after the lights went out, we meet Bernadette (Allegra Fulton ) and Elena (Diana Belshaw), two women trying to survive on their own after being kicked out of their community because they are no longer of a childbearing age. This renders them “useless” in the eyes of the people in charge.
Using skills learned from her grandmother, Elena provides for the duo, returning to the land, hunting and foraging.
Both Bern and Elena share a delightful bond, resulting in several humorous interactions. Although they are often bickering, it is evident that they both care for one another, each taking solace in the fact that they were outlawed for the same reason.
There are some powerful underlying themes here, including the role of women in society and the “value” that is reliant on their uteruses, and its resulting connection to ageism.
Directed by Factory Theatre artistic director Nina Lee Aquino and written by Yvette Nolan, The Unplugging is presented in partnership with Native Earth Performing Arts, Canada’s oldest professional Indigenous theatre company.
“[The Unplugging] has this mysterious but really gentle, still quality about it and I think that’s what intriguing a lot of people,” says Aquino, who praises Nolan as one of the best Aboriginal-Canadian playwrights to date.
Using a post-apocalyptic world as merely a catalyst, The Unplugging explores feminist themes such as the fact that a woman’s worth or value dwindles after a certain age.
Bernadette and Elena prove that wisdom is an essential tool that can only come with age and goes hand-in-hand with wrinkles. These things should be celebrated—not feared. (Carissa Ainslie)


Zine Review: Trust the Knife: Watch the Bubbles #8 and My Anxiety is My Lover: Watch the Bubbles #11



Joyce Hatton,, $4 and $2.25 USD


Trust the Knife is Joyce’s illustrated journal recounting her tribulations with breast cancer, mental illness, addiction, homelessness, and shitty boyfriends. She gets into the nitty-gritty of cancer treatment and trying to navigate the patchwork of programs available to the uninsured in the American health care system. It’s all so daunting and she can feel proud that she was able to come out the other side.

As the title suggests, in My Anxiety is My Lover Joyce talks about her anxiety as the only constant presence in her life. It first arrived when she was three just as her father left and has been with her ever since. She knows indulging anxiety is not good for her, but it’s hard to break away from the familiarity it provides her. I felt voyeuristic reading both of these zines, especially because the text is handwritten in various shades of coloured ink, so it really does feel like I’m invading someone’s private diary. But the more I read, the more I thought about how brave Joyce is for sharing these intimate details of her life. (Mary Green)

Calls for Submissions

tumblr_nld2gqvMNV1upjrb0o1_1280Call for Submissions: Blank Hill

Can you upgrade this Hank Hill face? Show it off! Download the Blank Hill zine template here and shoot your submissions to by April 27th. Guys, this is hilarious. Do it.

Call for Submissions: Totally Radical Muslims 4

TRM is seeking submissions on the theme of rage! Or anger, discontent, frustration, resignation, overcoming, healing, unleashing, the edge. All self-identified muslims are encouraged to submit. Deadline is June 5, email submissions to

Call for Submissions: Complicating Veganism

A new zine exploring veganism, food justive and animal rights from perspectives that complicate these topics. Submissions could explore issues or problems within these movements, accessibility, intersections of veganism with race, class, colonialism, fat identitiy, gender, trauma, madness, disability and other social locations, connections with capitalism, and really anything else! Deadline is April 10th. Send submissions to

Call for Entries: 2015 bpNichol Chapbook Award

The grand prize for chapbook authors and makers, the author receives $4,000 and the publisher receives $500. Submissions must have been published in 2014, and the poet must be Canadian. The deadline for submissions is May 29, 2015. More information on the Meet the Presses website.

Book Review: Something You Were, Might Have Been, Or Have Come to Represent



Jay Winston Ritchie, 129 pages, Insomniac Press,, $19.95


Jay Winston Ritchie’s collection is made up of stories of young adults trying to find themselves. They search for themselves through music, travelling, work or relationships.

As you read, you find yourself identifying with at least one character, whether it is the young woman torn between reminiscing about her boyfriends in high school and doing the annual fish-stocking ritual she does with her father every year, the young woman whose creative process is stalled while she is on a European soul searching trip, or the call centre employee who grows frustrated with his job and quits.

Jay Winston Ritchie crafts a very real world in each of his stories. The imagery is strong, and resonates with you. “MMM Bop” makes tangible the sudden feeling of a young woman and her frustration when she is in the bathtub. A sense of urgency compels her to run, even though “running is no longer an option— she had already left home and she didn’t have a credit card.”

Ritchie crafts characters that are believable because of their familiar realism. Each story has you posing an inquiry into your own soul and wondering: “Am I doing everything I can to become who I want to be?”  The stories beg you to inquire how your identity changes and forms, and we come to understand the title’s message that no matter what we do, we cannot control every aspect of who we are. We just have to keep floating. (Christine Smith McFarlane)

Zine Review: The Lowbrow Reader of Lowbrow Comedy



Zine, Jay Ruttenberg, Issue 9, Summer 2014, PO Box 65, Cooper Station, New York, NY, 10276,, $4


Contrary to popular opinion, the word “lowbrow” need not exclude intellect, nor solely be a guilty pleasure. Case in point: The Lowbrow Reader. Created by editor Jay Ruttenberg, he and a series of contributors revel in the crass, dumb and tasteless side of comedy with essays, fandom pieces and other off-the-wall fragments.

The centerpiece of the issue is Ruttenberg’s own story, “Gilbert Gottfried, New York Punk,” a thoughtful analysis of Gottfried’s devotion to comedy and selfless service to “the laugh.” Ruttenberg recounts some of Gottfried’s famously detestable episodes (mocking survivors of the Holocaust and the Fukushima disaster) without condemning or apologizing for them. Rather, his purpose is to frame Gottfried as a quintessentially New York comedian, and trace artistry at work in Gottfried’s style and act, despite the tension posed against general senses of taste and propriety. Gottfried himself contributes two R. Crumb-esque illustrations.

Another notable story is “My Name is Julio: I’m So Bad, I Should Be In Detention,” by stand-up comic and character actor, Taylor Negron. It’s a well-written micro-memoir with Negron waxing existential vis-à-vis his role as Rodney Dangerfield’s son-in-law in the 1983 film, Easy Money.

Ruttenberg and company have made The Lowbrow Reader for over a decade, including a book-length anthology in 2012. This is a zine where smart people profile dumb comedy in a way that honours the lowbrow legacy while at the same time re-contextualizing it. Whether one is a fan of fart jokes or not, the work here is a great gateway to this part of comedy culture. (Joshua Barton)