A Throwback to 90s Queer Storytelling: Boys Like Her, by the collective Taste This

Hello again, readers! I have been so impressed by how many people have visited the site since I just started it up three days ago. So a big thanks to you if this is your second visit to the Canadian lesbrary! I just started reading The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth today–not Canadian, for the record–and I am LOVING it! I’ve only read a few chapters and it is by far the best young adult lesbian fiction I’ve picked up.  The novel has been getting attention everywhere, and not just queer places, which is pretty exciting. Now I need to do some research and track down some queer Canadian authors writing for young adults. I have heard of very few; anybody familiar with some?  Boys Like Her, reviewed below, certainly isn’t YA, but it is about/by some familiar Canadian queers in their younger days–it’s the book version of a queer performance troupe’s tour that took place right smack dab in the middle of the 90s.

Boys Like Her: Transfictions (1998) is, above all, a collection concerned with border crossings, both literal and figurative.  In fact, what Boys Like Her really made me understand is that literal crossings are always figurative in some way and that, perhaps, figurative journeys can be understood in a unique way by thinking of them as literal.  The event that Boys Like Her begins with and keeps coming back to is the literal Canada-U.S. border crossing that the troupe Taste This (comprised of Anna Camilleri, Ivan E. Coyote, Zoë Eakle, and Lyndell Montgomery) undertakes on their multi-disciplinary performance tour.  This initial border crossing repeats and reinvents itself throughout the book, particularly in terms of gender and genre—word suspiciously similar, don’t you think?  The pieces, if I can call them that, in Boys Like Her are sometimes fiction, and sometimes not, although it is often hard to tell which is which.  Some are poetry.  Some of the entries are reflections on the performances themselves and on the artists’ relationships with each other—they are inevitably tangled romantically and otherwise as you might imagine a group of queer friends all living in Vancouver at the time would have been.  Other portions of the book are written transcriptions of stories told on stage: translations of live acts that have traces of the freshness and rawness of oral storytelling and performance art.  Perhaps the narratives are best described as “stories of life,” as I’ve heard Ivan describe her writing.

The written works are interspersed with some gorgeous photography, which at times serves as a counterpart to the words, and at others is the background over which the words are printed.   Magnified pieces of detail from certain photographs are often re-presented later in different contexts.  In addition to these stunning visual and linguistic elements, I wish there had been some way to translate Lyndell’s violin into the book, which seems to have been an integral part of the performances (she is still performing, as a visit to her cute garden-themed website confirms).  The tone of Boys Like Her varies a lot, dealing with some tough topics such as sexual, physical, and emotional abuse in the middle section; it also, however, has some hilarious stories—especially Ivan’s “No Bikini,” which has been adapted into an amazing short film—and some simmering erotica: Anna’s “Rush” that ushers in the end of the collection with the refrain

My body is a map.

I am the cartographer.

Desire, my language.

I find myself.

After genre, the central border crossing of Boys Like Her is, as the title suggests, one of gender.  The photographs especially convey this sense of open gender play: series of photographs either reveal or conceal breasts; Ivan stands with “not girl” and then “girl?” etched on her chest; Lyndell stretches her arms to facilitate binding her chest with saran wrap.  The writers freely use both feminine and masculine pronouns to refer to the same person, attribute “cocks” to woman partners in erotic pieces, and laugh at heteronormative folks’ misunderstandings of their genders—especially funny is when Zoë’s partner Jo is pulled onstage at a live sex show in Amsterdam, the performer initially reading her as a man.  Jo rejoices in having “gender-fucked a professional.”  Parallel to the blissful blurring of gender the members of Taste This engage in, the members of the group themselves began to blur in my mind as I travelled further into the collection, despite the fact that most of them were familiar to me before picking up the book.  I found myself confused between their voices and images: often a photo of one person would be the background for a story by another, and I would have to reference the biography section at the back of the book to reorient myself.  Sometimes in the midst of a piece, I would forget which member was the speaker/writer.  For example, all of their voices take up the same event of the cross-over back into Canada and the confrontation with customs—each section of the book begins with someone’s (re)telling of this event.  Anna, Ivan, Zoë, and Lyndell also often interrogate the same issues: queer sexuality, abuse, gender, and family.  I suppose arriving at this haze-like state of merging and blurring queers, genders, and genres is exactly the kind of transformative experience these Transfictions are trying to create—with great success.

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About CaseytheCanadianLesbrarian

Known in some internet circles as Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, Casey Stepaniuk is a writer and future librarian who holds an MA in English literature and is currently studying for an MLIS in the unceded territory of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations (Vancouver, BC). Topics and activities dear to her heart include cats, bisexuality, libraries, queer (Canadian) literature, running, and drinking tea. She runs the website Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, where you can find reviews of LGBTQ2IA+ Canadian books, archives of the book advice column Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian, and some other queer, bookish stuff. She also writes for Autostraddle, Book Riot and Inside Vancouver. Find her on Twitter: @canlesbrarian. Some of her old reviews, especially the non-Canadian variety, can be found at the Lesbrary.
This entry was posted in Anna Camilleri, Anthology, Canadian, Fiction, Ivan E. Coyote, Lesbian, Lyndell Montgomery, Non-Fiction, Queer, Trans, Trans Masculine, Transgender, Vancouver, Young Adult, Zoë Eakle and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to A Throwback to 90s Queer Storytelling: Boys Like Her, by the collective Taste This

  1. Pingback: Link Round Ups « The Lesbrary

  2. KellybphdKelly says:

    The first story I ever read by Ivan, and the first book I ever felt truly captured my own experience in a number of ways. Awesome choice! This one should be re-read and re-read again

  3. Pingback: Back to School: Ivan E. Coyote, Writer-in-Residence at Western U in London, ON | caseythecanadianlesbrarian

  4. Erica Gillingham says:

    Hey Casey!

    I found your blog through the Lesbrary and was super excited!! Excited because I’m working on a PhD project that is looking at LGBT YA published in English from around the world. I’ve got quite a list for the US and the UK, but wanting to expand to include Canada, Australia and New Zealand (and hope against hope, maybe even South Africa & Ireland, too). Have you gotten any further with collecting Canadian YA books? I wanted to email you (but couldn’t find an address) and saw your post on the 19th September with a few titles.

    I’d love to hear of any others you know of, and happy to share any queer lit knowledge in return!

    All the best from Erica (Californian, living in London, England)
    erica.gillingham[at]gmail[.]com

    • Hi Erica! Thanks for visiting my blog! I just sent you an email with the list that I’ve compiled so far for queer women’s YA lit in Canada. I’d love to hear about similar books from Australia, NZ, etc. if you’re able to track them down!

  5. Pingback: My Top Ten Favourite Authors: All Women, Mostly Queer, Some Canadian | caseythecanadianlesbrarian

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