Living in upstate New York, I could count the number of trans writers I have met on one hand—one hand that is missing two fingers, in fact. Ryka Aoki is among the three. Although I hadn’t heard of her at the time, I have since come to consider her one of my favorite authors. You see, Ryka came to speak for Transgender Liberation Day/Asian Pacific Islander Month at Syracuse University last April. I remember her mentioning Trans-Genre Press briefly. When we got to the Q&A, my hand shot up immediately. “What is Trans-Genre Press?” As a struggling trans writer, it sounded too good to be true. This week, I got to ask Ryka more questions about writing, publishing, and performing.
Elliott: So, Ryka, first question. How did you begin working with Trans-Genre Press?
Ryka: Actually, I had a book deal with previous press, and was working on that when the project went dead. I got no notification; it just kind of stopped. I was horribly devastated by the news; I really had my hopes set on the book. But there was no way I wanted to pitch to yet another press; the emotions were too raw. I decided that I wanted to work with people I trusted, people with whom I could relate to and communicate with closely.
I also knew at the time that AJ Bryce was looking for ways to grow his Trans-Genre project. He’s like a brother to me; we have toured together and even contributed to each other’s writing and music. So I pitched not only the book, but the idea of expanding Trans-Genre into a press to him. He agreed immediately, and it’s been an amazing ride!
Elliott: What was the process involved in choosing which poems and essays went into Seasonal Velocities?
Ryka: Once I had AJ on board, I knew I had a special writer/publisher bond. I took my existing manuscript and put it aside. I decided I could make this a very trans-specific book. Also, although it is largely a nonfiction work, nonfiction can mean poetry as well as prose. Sometimes, mixed-genre books can seem like chaotic, so I used a basic theme, the seasons of the year, to reinforce the book’s overall cohesion. The title Seasonal Velocities, came to me in a dream and I think I still have the notepad scrawled it in somewhere. Within each chapter, I used the musical as a model. I mixed the poetry, plays, and essays the way a musical might arrange songs, and dance, and dramatic acting. I feel the essays help contextualize the poetry, and the poetry helps give the essays emotional range.
Elliott: When you say a “trans-specific” book- do you mean in the subject matter or the intended audience? Do you think you write for the trans community, the queer community, the human community…? Who do you hope to reach with your work?
Ryka: “Trans-specific” is an internal definition, for my own classification. It’s work that overtly addresses the trans part of my experiences. Good catch, and I should have clarified. As far as readership, Seasonal Velocities may have things to say to everyone. I consider it written by a trans folk for all folk. The book is for anyone who has, will have, or hopes to have an identity.
Elliott: I asked because I’ve noticed that different trans writers have very different feelings about their readership and their accessibility to cisgender people. In the essay “This House is Our House,” you talk about your experiences in the dyke community- which often excludes lesbian trans women. You express the opinion that instead of complaining on the internet when organizations or projects seem exclusive to cis people, trans people need to start their own projects (let me know if I’m putting words in your mouth!). Do you see Trans-Genre as such a project? Do you think the larger queer literary world still largely overlooks trans writers?
Ryka: There is no “trans-genre” without the “http://” and the “.net.” And for many people, for all sorts of reasons, the internet is the best place to come out and find community. Whether in the flesh or via the internet, I favor groups that focus on cultivating new work and ideas, and support efforts to build. Even when the world sucks and we’re complaining, I believe there is something good that can come out of it. For me, life is too short to not try to make things better.
The jury is out on trans writers; we’re a new bird. Writing requires a certain amount of time and privilege. Virginia Woolf spoke of “a room of one’s own.” Ernest Hemingway wrote of “a clean, well-lighted place.” Many trans people don’t have that kind of security or space, and I don’t take that for granted. So right now, I would rather just focus on fostering writing. There is a time in writing a new story where you are just finding your voice and ideas and worrying about editors is counterproductive. I feel trans writers, as a group, are in an analogous space right now. Let the world contextualize us as they will; I’ll worry about that later. For now I want to simply see more.
Elliott: Can you tell us about what projects you’re currently undertaking? Will there be another book in the future?
Ryka: Right now, I am getting ready to tour the Fully Functional Cabaret. I decided to do one more tour of that show before I move on. I am also creating a brand new piece for the National Queer Arts Festival in May. I love performing, but I also want to settle in and write.
As far as writing projects, I am marketing my novel, He Mele a Hilo. I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever written. It’s done, and people who have previewed it are excited—so my goal is find an agent and a good home for it soon. Right now, I am writing my next novel, set in my beloved LA. I am extremely eager to see how this goes; I’ve grown a lot as a writer and a person, and I want to see how this translates into my characters.
I’ve also been writing essays, which I plan to get to AJ for a new book with Trans-Genre in 2014. Often, the essays come from speaking to colleges or community groups. I am so honored whenever I get the chance to do so–it’s a gift to hear and see students learning and exploring. And one of these days, I swear, I am going to put together a book of poetry. And my friend Turner just sent out a call for a one-act play…
Gosh, there’s just so much to write, isn’t there?
Ryka Aoki is up for Lambda Literary Awards this year, one for Seasonal Velocities in the category of Transgender Nonfiction, and the other as a contributor to The Collection, in the category of Transgender Fiction. To stay up to date on this and other news, make sure to follow her on facebook and tumblr, and check back often with Trans-Genre.net!