By their own admission, Canadian Ivan Coyote was one of the lucky ones. If the Yukon born trans’ journey to tomboy wasn't always easy, they didn't experience the same level of danger or brutality that others experienced, and continue to. Indeed, those looking for a Boys Don't Cry style trans-tale won't find much to hang their hats on in “Tomboy Survival Guide.” For Coyote has not only survived, they’re learning how to thrive, having lived to tell the tale. And living is what it’s all about. For “Tomboy Survival Guide” wants to proclaim tomboy, or whatever you identify with, as an act of celebration. Indeed, “Tomboy Survival Guide” is itself an act of celebration. A tomboy gig full of anecdotes and wisdom, told with irresistible charm, ease and humour, by 'a handsome man with beautiful eyes' and a backing band.
Initially, “Tomboy Survival Guide,” feels like a gentle and inoffensive stand up routine. Having regaled the audience with autobiographical observations and stories, Coyote smoothly shifts to the more personal and confessional. Here, the role-model tomboys that gave the young Coyote something to identify with, and desire, are celebrated. Things get even more personal as Coyote begins to talk of the letters received from parents trying to understand their children, or people trying to understand and accept themselves. Suddenly the trans with no real advice to offer has to try and offer advice. Self-deprecating of their own insights, Coyote responds to the letters from the position of ‘this my best guess.’ As if playing darts blindfolded, but having an idea of where the board is, and hoping to hit the target. Indeed, Coyote hits the bullseye with striking regularity.
In “Tomboy Survival Guide,” trans, or tomboy, is not so much a state as a perpetual process of growth. Not a lifestyle choice, but a way of living and being. One that requires constant re-definition, re-engagement, and re-negotiation with the world, family, friends, and yourself. An ongoing process to accept, and be accepted for who you are, which often happens in increments. Perhaps one of the most pertinent insights in “Tomboy Survival Guide” is the one where Coyote acknowledges that if it took them over 40 years to accept themselves, then perhaps a little tolerance is needed for those family and friends who are learning to accept also. Even so, when it comes to change, the trans-person already knows all about that. If tolerance is needed to understand the difficulty of accepting and changing, it’s still up to the rest of the world to accept the changes needed in order to open up a space where trans can live freely, without fear of condemnation, or worse. Heralding a day when difference is the same and tolerance is something children only read about in history books.
A show of two mirrored halves, broken up by a tie tying contest and ending with a hymn, “Tomboy Survival Guide” sees stories and letters form a framework onto which to hang what is essentially a gig. Indeed, the campsite analogy is never really in evidence. Instead, “Tomboy Survival Guide” feels like a beatnik poetry reading, the type often lampooned as the epitome of cool, where a lone poet stands before the microphone, usually in sunglasses and beret, sharing words, wisdom, and insight as a trumpet, bass and drum rift on behind them. Except “Tomboy Survival Guide” is way cooler than that. As well as being way more fun, with way more heart, and with way more humanity and insight.
A universal joy packaged as a cult classic, “Tomboy Survival Guide” attempts to take the trans discussion to the next stage. Yet trans or not, likelihood is “Tomboy Survival Guide” will have something to say to you. Not just about understanding and accepting trans, but about understanding and accepting yourself, and others, better. As warm, sweet, and irresistible as Canadian maple syrup, “Tomboy Survival Guide” is a pleasure and a treat. Indulge yourself.
“Tomboy Survival Guide” by Ivan Coyote runs at The Peacock Stage of The Abbey Theatre as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2017 until September 23rd
For more information, visit Dublin Theatre Festival 2017 or The Abbey Theatre