Dr. Michael V. Smith has seen trans artists Rae Spoon and Ivan Coyote perform, and has seen audiences brought to tears by their stories and music. Thanks to the Jane Rule Endowment for the Study of Human Relationships, Spoon and Coyote’s newest production exploring gender fluidity was staged in the relatively small city of Kelowna – pop. 107,000.
Kelowna has changed significantly over the past 10 years, Dr. Smith says. But like many smaller cities, progressive change can be slower than it is in big cities.
The Jane Rule Endowment Chair Janice Stewart reached out to Michael Smith, saying that the Endowment could provide funds to try to increase queer awareness on the Okanagan campus of the University of British Columbia (UBC).
To forward that goal, Dr. Smith, an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing in the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies at the Okanagan campus of The University of British Columbia, worked with the Jane Rule Endowment to bring Spoon and Coyote’s production of Gender Failure to the BC Interior.
Funding a staging of their important recent production is just one of the successful outcomes of the Jane Rule Endowment.
The Endowment, launched from a $1.7 anonymous donation in the name of lesbian literary icon Jane Rule [link to Endowment page], formed Canada’s largest university endowment fund for the study of human relationships and sexuality.
The Jane Rule Endowment for the Study of Human Relationships supports programs related to the study of sexual orientation, race and gender, including new initiatives to foster positive dialogue among UBC students on topics of identity and empower future generations of teachers with the skills to guide these discussions. The endowment also provides support for UBC’s Critical Studies in Sexuality program, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) student groups, conferences and visiting lectures.
Gender Failure explores and exposes Spoon and Coyote’s failed attempts at fitting into the gender binary—and ultimately how the gender binary doesn’t add up. The show is described as equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking. The creators bring broad talent and prolific lists of credits:
Ivan Coyote was born and raised in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. She is an award-winning author of six collections of short stories, one novel, three CD’s, four short films and a renowned performer. Just a few of her credits include Taste This which toured North America, and five books. Ivan continues to be considered a notable Canadian contribution to the dialogue around gender identity and sexuality.
Rae Spoon is a transgender award-winning indie singer/songwriter, featured in a documentary that was a 2014 official selection at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival. This documentary about growing up and surviving in an evangelical Christian family premiered at the Vancouver International Film Festival, was released theatrically in Canada, and was nominated for a Canadian Screen Award for Best Feature Documentary. Spoon’s songs are real and raw – including those about death, coming out as queer during high school, and surviving abuse. The album My Prairie Home was released in August 2013 with shining reviews and wide media coverage in Canada.
Dr. Smith says that the event, with such a high-profile duo, would not have been possible without the Endowment, and that artists’ perspectives are much needed.
“I know trans people who’ve had jobs here who have feared for their safety if they were found out,” Dr. Smith says. “They were in the closet and were quite limited in their gender expression. Gender Failure opens up a great dialogue that’s really necessary here.
“It’s important in the Okanagan because issues of gender and sexuality are still… there’s still such a polarity in the genders. So it’s really nice to have shows like this that show a breadth and depth to gender expression.
Dr. Smith though is excited about the ways that Kelowna has been changing, and to be witnessing that change.
“We’re really fortunate in the Okanagan in this time and place that we have nice connections between community groups in the queer population in Kelowna and also on campus, and that includes allies. And these connections are fairly new, so this was an important event for us to build these connections.”
“I think this is a transformative show. I think it has the potential to transform people and attitudes, and I think it has the power to give other people permission to change themselves – to transform the people they could be. And that equally has the power to transform culture.”