Thursday, October 4
Pages on Kensington
Though transgender musician Rae Spoon now calls Montreal home, their heart still rests somewhere in the Alberta prairies. (Spoon prefers using “they” as a gender-neutral pronoun.) Spoon’s brand of country music (with a recent move to more electronic variety pop) often deals with what it’s like to live in a beautiful place that’s hostile to those who are queer, transgender or different in any way.
First Spring Grass Fire is Spoon’s first book, a collection of short tales tracing a young transgender person’s coming of age in Calgary. The unnamed narrator struggles — and succeeds — in finding a queer identity amidst both their family’s strict Pentecostal faith and a schizophrenic father whose behaviour becomes increasingly abusive and chaotic.
“I didn’t do a lot of writing until I was asked to do a couple of pieces as a musician,” says Spoon. “I didn’t intend to write a book, but it just developed — stories set in and inspired by Alberta.” They say the new skill didn’t come easy. “I’m used to writing songs and grants. Songs are a lot easier — they’re short, and you get a lot of help from the music. Writing felt like getting stabbed in the head, but it’s getting easier now,” they laugh.
Though Spoon points out that the collection of stories is fiction, they say it’s largely inspired by their similar experiences growing up in Calgary. “People say, ‘Write what you know,’ and I made a decision early to make it recognizably Calgary,” says Spoon. “Both fiction and non-fiction sway each other. It’s not too far out of the reach of my own experience, growing up queer and different in Calgary.”
First Spring Grass Fire isn’t the typical coming-out story readers might expect — in one chapter, the narrator pulls a few punches when dealing with their grandmother, a loving woman held close despite her homophobic beliefs. It’s something Spoon sees as diplomatic. “There’s this standing agreement — someone isn’t going to make you change, and someone isn’t going to make them,” says Spoon. “I think family is a complicated thing. I know a lot of people from those families — Mormon, Pentecostal — families that would not be accepting of queer people. And if you’re queer, often you don’t just come out — you break out. When people are that dogmatic, you have those clear moments when you just say, ‘Let’s run.’
“For people being read as a certain gender... they learn pretty fast that people assume a lot,” Spoon adds. “Like at the airport, I’ll get, ‘Here’s your passport ma’am.’ Whatever. It’s like with some relationships, too.”
Though the novel’s narrator is transgender, Spoon also writes for anyone who was nerdy or awkward as a kid, leaning on cigarettes, booze and a trip to the corner store to make it through the week. It’ll be all the more moving for those who had a similar experience growing up in Calgary. The city still remains a base for Spoon, where they recorded their last album, I Can’t Keep All of Our Secrets.
“I had a moment when I did leave, moving to the West Coast for six years,” they say. “I have rebuilt my relationship with Alberta, though it’s a hard place to be all the time.”
Spoon’s music career has made them a prominent member of the queer community, and though it wasn’t always the case, they’re comfortable talking about being transgender now.
“There was a time when I felt it was annoying to have to always talk about it,” says Spoon. “Now, I’m fine to talk about it, if it’s not a hateful discussion. I’m happy about the state my life is in.”
Spoon is also touring with author Ivan E. Coyote, performing a collaborative multimedia show focused on queer and trans issues called Gender Failure. For more information and show dates, visit raespoon.com.