I recently ended up on a talk radio show based in my hometown of Calgary. It was the kind of show that I used to hear being played in people's garages in the alley behind my house as they worked on their cars or re-stained their backyard decks. Most of the time I search online for background information for any media interviewing me, but I was tired from being away from home for a month and this one slipped past me.
I was getting a much-needed post-tour haircut that day, and the radio station called my phone just after the stylist finished. I didn't have time to go anywhere, so I paced the inside hallway of the building between my friend's hair salon and my other friend's vegan bakery.
"Is this Rae Spoon?" asked the interviewer.
"Yes, it is," I replied.
"We have Rae Spoon live here on talk radio, everyone. She's a Canadian musician. Rae, we're calling you on a Montreal number. You live there now?"
I wanted to correct my pronoun but instead just answered, "Yes. I've lived here for five and a half years."
"But you grew up in Calgary?" he asked.
"And you recently went to Sundance with a film about you growing up in Calgary?"
"Yes. It's called My Prairie Home and it's an NFB documentary musical directed by Chelsea McMullan. I just got back," I said, rubbing my eyes and refocusing on the display cake in front of me.
"What's it about?"
"It's about my relationship with the prairies. About growing up there queer in a Pentecostal family. Coming out in high school and playing music."
"And you are transgender, right?"
"Yes, I am."
"And we're supposed to use a different word for you?"
"Yes. I go by the singular 'they' pronoun."
"Oh, so you're a 'they gender'? How does that work?" He sounded confused.
"Well...I don't identify as male or female, so I prefer gender neutral pronouns," I explained.
"Interesting. Well, we've got to go to a commercial break. Can you stick around?"
"Sure," I said wishing I could think of an excuse to go.
"OK. Stay on your phone and we'll be right back!"
I heard a click and then some commercials started playing on my phone. I tore back into the salon where my partner was sitting, my hand pressed over the speaker of my phone. "Help me search this show," I said, and told her the name of the show. She didn't need Google, being a former resident of Calgary herself. She recognized the show immediately.
"I think they're a bit...conservative.," she said. "You know, they seem kind of liberal for Calgary, but I don't think they are going to be all that understanding."
"I thought as much. I just got called a 'they gender.'" She rolled her eyes. "And I have to go back on in five minutes."
"I'm so sorry," she said. She knew I was a bit on the tired side when it came to media, especially after the last month.
"At least I'm more prepared now," I said, and headed back out into the hallway, waiting for the show to start again.
"Hello, are you still there, Rae?" I heard him come back on.
"Yes, I am," I said.
"OK, I'm going to have to ask you this and I'm sorry if it embarrasses you. I was wondering over the commercial break. Who do you socialize with? Who do you have relationships with? Is it hard to find people?"
I paused. I forced myself to smile like I still thought it was a friendly conversation, and replied, "Who do I hang out with? I mean, anyone really. I make friends with lots of people. I try not to be prejudiced."
He laughed at that, but then asked, "You mean you can find people to date and stuff? It's not hard?"
"Well, no, not really. And I'm married now." I felt uncomfortable, as if I was blushing. His silence felt like he didn't believe me. Suddenly, I blurted out something I didn't really mean to say. "I have a book coming out this April. It's called Gender Failure and my part is a tell-all about my gender." I pictured this coming out of a radio in a garage near my grandmother's house and held my breath.
"A tell-all book. And that will be available this spring?" he asked.
"Yep." I said, relieved that I had seemed to have diverted the next barrage of questions.
"OK. We'll have to watch out for that. OK. I'm going to have to let you go. Rae Spoon from My Prairie Home everyone. A 'They Gender' with a tell-all book coming out."
And then I heard a click.
Why did I say that? I wondered to myself. I had never thought of Gender Failure as a 'tell-all' book before. In over 10 years, through the hundreds of interviews I'd done with people firing questions at me about being transgender, I had always tried to avoid answering the ones that sounded like they were something off of Jerry Springer. The ones like: "What surgeries have you had? Are you on hormones? How do you have sex?"
I kept thinking about it, and after some time I realized that, in some ways, my part of Gender Failure (which is co-authored by prominent Canadian storyteller Ivan E. Coyote) really is my 'tell-all' book. It afforded me space to be able to express my experience of gender without the expectant questions of uninformed journalists. I got to share my thoughts and feelings about gender through stories about my life instead of through quick soundbites, and I was able to choose the avenues through which I expressed all of these things.
If you get a chance to read the book, you might be disappointed if you're looking for a description of what all trans* people are (there isn't just one kind and I certainly don't speak for everyone), a description of my body, or a list of the people that I've slept with, but what you will find is how I learned to respect trans* people before I became one, and how my personal experience of gender has shifted during my life. I hope that trans* people are asked to represent themselves more often in this way: on their own terms, and in their own words. I feel like I got to write a tell-all on all of the things I wanted to say.
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