Six Weeks of Boyhood

(Last Updated On: May 28, 2016)

“Six weeks of boyhood, six weeks of bliss,” is the parting sentiment in the short film No Bikini directed by Claudia Morgado Escanilla and based on a short story of the same name by Ivan Coyote. A reader made a comment about this film in a recent post so I decided it was time to do a quick review of this piece. The premise of the story is that a 7-year-old tomboy named Robin (Matreya Fedor), finding her bikini top too constricting, decides to pretend to be a boy and go topless in swim class.

Claudia Morgado Escanilla and Ivan Coyote - No Bikini (2007) (1)

Claudia Morgado Escanilla and Ivan Coyote – No Bikini (2007) (1)

We are introduced to the instructor, who has a driving personality and is prominently displaying a swim medal throughout the film. As she inspects her new students, there is some tension as we wonder if Robin will pull off this ruse. Instead of being outed, she is sharply advised to “straighten up”.

Claudia Morgado Escanilla and Ivan Coyote - No Bikini (2007) (2)

Claudia Morgado Escanilla and Ivan Coyote – No Bikini (2007) (2)

Apart from the usual trials and tribulations of swim class, Robin has a male rival, also hoping to win top honors in the class.

Claudia Morgado Escanilla and Ivan Coyote - No Bikini (2007) (3)

Claudia Morgado Escanilla and Ivan Coyote – No Bikini (2007) (3)

The conclusion is amusing as the mother reads the report stating how Robin—now proudly wearing the medal—should enroll in the advanced class with superlatives loaded with the conspicuous pronoun “he”.

Claudia Morgado Escanilla and Ivan Coyote - No Bikini (2007) (4)

Claudia Morgado Escanilla and Ivan Coyote – No Bikini (2007) (4)

To further accentuate the innocence of the girl, we are reminded that she did not actually lie to anyone. Everyone just made an assumption and she allowed them to believe it—also having the good fortune of an ambiguous name. The choice of casting Fedor is interesting. She is 7 years old instead of six as in Coyote’s story. I imagine the director had to find someone who would not be self-conscious about acting without a top and could not find a suitable six-year-old. As a result, the illusion of a gender neutral character is not particularly convincing.

Ivan E. Coyote was born and raised in Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory. He is an award-winning author of eight collections of short stories, a novel, three CDs, four short films and is a renowned performer. Coyote’s first love is live storytelling and he is an audience favorite at music, poetry, spoken word and writer’s festivals around the world. Coyote began performing in 1992 and in 1996 co-founded Taste This, a four person performance troupe that combined live music, storytelling and performance poetry to create a genre-busting collaboration. Taste This toured North America extensively and in 1998 published Boys Like Her, considered a substantive contribution in the dialogue about gender identity and sexuality. Coyote is fascinated by the intersection of storytelling and music and works with a number of well-established Canadian musicians. He is interested in collaborations where the text and the score are equal players, not just storytelling with musical accompaniment. In 2001, he landed a gig teaching short fiction at Capilano University in North Vancouver and discovered that he loves teaching creative writing. It was while teaching seniors that Coyote recognized their true calling; he strongly believes in listening to the stories of our elders and encouraging them to write about their lives. He continues to tour extensively throughout North America and Europe, telling stories not only to festival audiences, but to high school students, social justice activists, adult literacy students and senior citizens. Coyote believes in the transformative power of storytelling, and that collecting and remembering oral history not only preserves a vital part of our humanity, but that a good story can help inspire us to invent a better future.

10 thoughts on “Six Weeks of Boyhood

  1. I disagree that Robin would have been better-cast with short hair. Long hair on an androgynous child strikes me as actually more ambiguous than short hair, but stipulating long hair to be normatively feminine and short hair masculine: if Robin had short hair, that would suggest a more long-term commitment to passing/living as male, as opposed to the spontaneous exploration depicted here.

    For an example of the former, see the IMO vastly superior film Tomboy (hardly a fair comparison as Tomboy has 82 minutes to work with, but it has more urgency as well as narrative depth); I recommend it to anyone here who hasn’t seen it already.

    • The interesting point here is the differing motivations for wanting to be “one of the boys”. In the case of Coyote, it is a more primal gender identity–a man in a woman’s body, if you will. Therefore, there was this idea by the author of this being the first attempt of a long-term desire to live life as a male. However, the interesting thing is that this story was picked up by Escanilla, who may have been interested in boyhood in the sense of male entitlement–that is, the privileges and benefits that boys (and men) have in our society that girls don’t. I think this creates an intriguing tension between the two agendas motivating the film version of the story. I believe there is still much to be accounted for in the casting of Fedor as Robin.
      Regarding the film Tomboy, I did review that film in the context of tomboyism. -Ron

  2. Thanks for covering this beautiful movie “short”.

    One point that I would like to add is that in real life
    the length of her hair would probably have given her away.
    A girl with sort of short hair would have been more convincing
    as passing for a boy with sort of long hair.

    I even wonder if that issue might have come up, but maybe that
    child actress and/or her mother did not want her hair to be cut shorter, and so
    maybe it was decided to just allow for “suspension of disbelief” on the part of audiences.

      • It’s a memoir based on when the author was a child. In those days (mid ’70s) it was more common for boys to have long hair as well so she would have gotten away with it.
        p.s. another story from the same collection with kids rolling old tires down a hill at the dump was absolutely laugh-out-loud hilarious.

        • It does feel like a true-to-life story. But the author is a man, so perhaps this is something that happened to a friend of his, perhaps helping in the ruse or learning about it after the fact. Thank you.

          • No, the author is Trans, born a girl, but identifies as boy. You’re not the only one. Check out this story. Skip forward to the 8 min 20 sec mark and play to the end. Afterwards watch the whole thing and enjoy.

          • He’s a transman. Everyone in the troupe is trans; they are worth investigating further. The story is indeed autobiographical.

          • I would like to thank the both of you for clearing things up. I really appreciate this follow up information. I find there is always an interesting back story to something and it should not be a simple matter of watching the video and saying, “Oh, isn’t that cute?”. Thanks again, -Ron

          • His Wikipedia page links to http://www.writersfestival.org/blog/nipple-clamps-and-pot-holders-shifting-identities-with-ivan-e.-coyote-and-tagralik-partridge
            where it is said:
            The “E” in Ivan E. Coyote stands for Elizabeth. For those unfamiliar with the author, she looks and sounds like a man – specifically, a homey, appealing, charismatic man with a nifty retro hair cut. Like a northern Stuart MacLean. The “E” is an insider nod to her unclear gender identity – born a girl, she presents as a man and has spent her professional life exploring gender identity and sexuality through story-telling, writing, and music.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *