River Coello: a queer, trans multidisciplinary artist from Ecuador living in Chicago

Mon. September 2, 2019 4:18 PM by Ross Forman

river coello

River Coello is a two-spirit artist hailing from Guayaquil, Ecuador who has lived in Chicago for four years.

"I grew up in a multi-racial, interfaith family. In my journey as a queer and trans person, I have always been drawn to colorful storytelling that sheds light on the experiences of people in my various communities," said Coello. "My name, River, is a celebration of the duality of my gender, my two-spirit nature. It also honors my spiritual awakening and growing magic."

Coello's writing explores various liminalities of the human condition through a focus on Coello's own identities and experiences, grounded in a deeply spiritual perspective. As an actor, Coello has appeared on various stage productions, having trained at Acting Studio Chicago, Second City Training Center, and the University of Michigan.

Coello's writing is making news worldwide, not just locally.

The new book self/ser is Coello's compilation of deeply personal poems and portraits, exploring queer and trans existence and love. Written over a period of 10 years, in English and Spanish between the U.S. and Ecuador, the book questions and accepts, claims and sheds, important aspects of the self on the road to becoming. The 92-page book is printed in paperback format and published by Homie House Press.

"I wanted to immortalize all that came up—physically, mentally, and spiritually—during my journey to and through queerness and transness for others in similar journeys," Coello said. "As someone who craved these types of stories before transitioning, sharing this work feels very important. I know in my heart these stories will resonate with all sorts of people because, at the end of the day, I have never felt more human.

"I have written poetry since I was 12. Poetry has been an incredibly safe space for me to process my journey to and through my queerness and transness. Through magical realism especially, I have been able to imagine other worlds where life is fuller for queer and trans folks, especially those of us who are Indigenous or Black."

Coello said there definitely is pressure as a trans author – to be "perfectly" and "representatively" trans. 

"I recognize self/ser is my contribution to an incredibly small literary canon, but what I prioritize above all else is its honesty," Coello said. "The personal vulnerability with which this book has been constructed is my favorite thing about it. That also seems to be enough for people to connect to it, which makes me even prouder.

"Writing this book has been an incredibly challenging and rewarding process and, without a doubt, my proudest accomplishment to date. It has pushed me as an artist in ways I did not anticipate. It also feels like these poems immortalize my journey through my young adulthood I was not always sure I would survive."

A Kickstarter page was launched to help fund book project – and Kickstarter quickly took notice, tagging it as a "Project We Love."

"My friend Théo Münch released his own book, corporal, using this platform and recommended it to me. I found myself really loving the community Kickstarter has brought together and I also like that the campaigns supporting creative projects have specific, limited timeframes to bring momentum to these projects," Coello said.

Coello's book tour includes a stop at The Martin (2515 W. North Avenue) in Chicago, starting at 7 p.m. on Sept. 25.

Coello also is active in Chicago's queer nightlife, as a host of HIGHFEMME, a monthly party that celebrates queer and trans femmes. The next HIGHFEMME will be at Cerise Rooftop (203 N. Wabash Avenue) in Chicago, starting at 9 p.m. on Sept. 21. "My wife, Alex Jenny, and I also have our project, Alien Babes, through which we share multimedia stories about our experiences as individuals and a couple at the margins of society," Coello said. 

"At my core, I am a storyteller and am particularly interested in stories and spaces that make people feel represented and safe. I like to believe that is exactly the type of stories I will be telling in the future, whatever the medium: poetry, prose, photography, theater, film, television, and more."

Following River Coello

Instagram: @alienbabesinlove

Facebook: @alienbabesinlove and @rivercoello

Websites: alienbabesinlove.com and rivercoello.com

Book Kickstarter: www.kickstarter.com/projects/effee/self-an-exploration-of-queer-and-trans-existence-and-love