There is a story in Ivan E. Coyote’s book One in Every Crowd called “Imagine a Pair of Boots.” She asks us to imagine that in our society, everyone is required to wear the same sturdy, functional pair of boots; yet, your feet are two sizes too big and do not fit comfortably into this state-issued, confining footwear. She writes, “When you mention your discomfort you are told that odd-sized pairs of boots are forbidden, because they cause confusion and excess paperwork.”
This analogy, perfect in its simplicity, hit hard. In fact, this analogy speaks to an even larger analogy that the book embodies. Written with LGBT youth in mind, the book straightforwardly presents a very complicated view of how people fit—or more likely don’t fit—into normalized categories of sexuality and identity. One in Every Crowd revolves around the importance of recognizing the discomfort created by this struggle, and complexity between how discomfort is created and who is burdened by it.
Coyote begins the book with multiple vignettes from her childhood in the Yukon in a section called “Kid I Was.” These stories reveal how Coyote came to understand her own sense of self and the funny, touching, and occasionally painful events that helped her to do so. This section is not only storytelling at its most engaging, it sets readers up for the 1-2 punch of the following chapters, which delve headfirst into the burning fire of full-blown discrimination.
There are stories of girls who dress like lumberjacks and boys who wear tube tops. There are stories of babies in the womb, dirty kids on their bikes, and teenagers who feel that their life would be better not lived. There are stories of people who get it, people who mean well, and people who are drowning in ignorance. One in Every Crowd lets many voices be heard, but only uplifts the voices that matter.
And the voice that matters most is Coyote’s own. It is honest; she admits that she is still terrified of entering high schools, even after all these years. And she doesn’t lie. She doesn’t smooth out the hard bits, nor does she attempt to drive the point home with over-theatricality. This is the kind of voice that is so desperately needed for our youth. A voice that shouts because settling for tolerance simply cannot be tolerated. A voice that shouts because lives depends on it, and a voice that is not only willing but driven to confront, challenge, and denounce society’s discomfort with fluid constructions of gender and identity. What she calls for is the end of apathy.
A story that Coyote tells regularly to high school students involves her cousin Chris and one Yukon summer when the family kids all scored second-hand roller skates from the Salvation Army. When Chris couldn’t fit into the skates, he was bought a brand new pair to accommodate the size and shape of his feet. The story she tells ends with Chris taking a colossal fall and getting a goose egg-sized purple lump on his bum. The real story ends with Chris committing suicide by shooting himself on Christmas Eve when he is twenty-one, because he can’t imagine a life in which he could be himself. All the stories in this book boldly work toward re-writing the future stories of people like Chris.