Books

Exploring Gender in an Unexpected Package

"The Spiderboi Files: Volume I" by Jai Arun Ravine (all photos by the author)

Jai Arun Ravine’s The Spiderboi Files: Volume 1 is a careful, intentional work of book art with themes that reverberate delicately through the book’s physical structure. Its content rattles a cage of constructs: commercialism, California and gender identity.

Ravine is a trans-identified, multi-disciplinary writer, dancer, visual and performing artist of mixed race who has previously published and presented work under the names Alysha Wood and Woo Wood. I was mailed Ravine’s 1-inch by 2-inch book by a favorite mentor. “Love this,” she said. And I do.

The book is a sandwich of zigzagging brown paper pockets that are stuffed with glossy paper panels — five in all. The 5×11 paper panels are folded 15 times each to the size of small rectangles that slide in and out of the pockets. The whole composition itself resembles the fanning construction of a “Jacobs ladder” wooden toy. Opening a panel is the literal unfolding of story, the story of Spiderboi, a gender-riffic character that draws from the power of spiders and their web — a riff off Spiderman.

Spiderboi’s story is colorfully penned on the five panels in hand-drawn pictorial poems, not so much comics, as maps. One installment, “Rodent,” trails in a stream of consciousness through the storyline of superhuman involvement in mundane daily experiences: on the computer, on the train, hungry.

Ravine writes:
Miss Sir
Miss Sir
Mister
Angry
Angular
Achy
‘violent pariah of
death.’ Maybe even wanting to
get to know my environment.
A pull-out panel from "The Spiderboi Files: Volume I"

With four more panels to pick from, and five total pockets to put them in, the book is a play on “options.” Ravine created the Spiderboi Files to read in whatever order and form that the reader decides. “I wanted to explore the idea of “choice” in relation to gender (versus sexuality) by placing that choice in the hands of the reader in the exact places in which those choices were difficult for me,” writes Ravine on their website.

The Files were wrought from the work of celebrated transgender author Kari Edwards, a day in the life of p. and obedience, which Ravine physically cut up and spliced with old journal entries of theirs.

So, Spiderboi travels through frank day-to-day experiences and existential crisis among images of tiny scrawled genitals and an “x-marks-the-spot” map-like theme. “I was inspired by the idea of ‘files’ or case studies as segments of a larger whole (The X-Files and Max Wolf Valerio’s The Testosterone Files), as well as by the idea of documenting my ongoing confrontations with gender assumption,” Ravine writes. “I also wanted to expose and confuse my own trans-identification with consumer culture’s promise of providing the power to choose and create identity.”

Ravine’s character feels like a mall-rat and the work’s thematic overlay sometimes echos like a food court. But it’s purpose is cheeky and chiding and profound. The whole package of the Spiderboi Files is almost teenage — from it’s tiny size, to it’s scribbled phallic drawings, to the strewn Spiderman stickers — it’s a work of naked, hormonal vulnerability. Essentially, Ravine has jerked with the concept of  “book” and  “poem” and successfully illustrated the journey of a gender explorer in a perfectly unexpected package.

The Spiderboi Files: Volume 1 is a hand-bound book created by Jai Arun Ravine using found and recycled materials. The work includes 5 panel poems, [rodent, [freebox cunt, [THE EMBARCADERO, [add your difference and [anachronistic, and it is available for order at $7 each. To purchase, contact eucalyptusraven [at] gmail [dot] com.

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