“I Wanted to Make the Connection and Then I Wanted to Take You to Cinnabon.” Ryka Aoki on Writing Trans Stories
In Conversation with Jordan Kisner on the Thresholds Podcast
This is Thresholds, a series of conversations with writers about experiences that completely turned them upside down, disoriented them in their lives, changed them, and changed how and why they wanted to write. Hosted by Jordan Kisner, author of the new essay collection, Thin Places, and brought to you by Lit Hub Radio.
In this episode, Jordan talks donuts, taking big leaps, and writing with/for/about pleasure with Ryka Aoki, author of Light from Uncommon Stars.
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From the episode:
Ryka Aoki: This world is not a good place sometimes. It can be a really rough place sometimes. But you know what, Jordan, it’s also a great place. It’s also a place full of compassion and love and noodles and ducks, and there’s always donuts. And that’s the paradox, isn’t it? Although I want to remember them and I love them dearly—part of me is so pissed at them, because why did you give all this up? It’s a great day today. Have you looked outside? No, you can’t, because you’re not here. I also didn’t want to just write a dirge. There’s a lot of people who ask me, I’m getting this a lot, they ask, how do you write trans characters? And I’m thinking, why? Why are you doing this? Why do you want to write a trans character?
And it’s usually because they want to tell your story. The story they want to tell is usually this kind of trauma porn about this microaggression or this transphobic thing or that transphobic thing. But you know what? That’s not always the most helpful thing for us. We know that life sucks. So when I was writing this, I wanted to write just enough about life to show, hey, I’m talking about you, but not so much that it would push you down, you being a trans or queer reader. I wanted to make the connection, and then I wanted to take you to Cinnabon. Then we’re going to Olive Garden. Then we’re going to have eggplant parmigiana. And I’m going to give you the best damn story, and I’m going to make you laugh because, you know what sister? You need it. You earned it, you deserve it. And I don’t know if I’m good enough, but I’m going to sure as heck try.
Jordan Kisner: There’s so much pleasure in this book, and so much sensual pleasure in this book. I was really admiring the way you wrote about food—not just donuts, but definitely donuts. There are so many wonderful donuts in this book, but there are so many beautiful meals. And I wanted to ask you about writing food and the role that food plays here.
Ryka Aoki: Twofold. One, going back to my experience in the MFA program where I could write about having rice for breakfast and suddenly it’s a political event. I wanted to really talk about food on my own terms. What I’ve noticed with a lot of American Western audiences is they got all puritanical. Everybody’s talking about food and having to justify, well, you know, it’s healthy.
Food can taste good, too. And maybe we should examine ourselves if we get puritan about every pleasure that we have. How can you tell somebody do what feels good when you can’t even have a donut and just say yummy, and have to go well, it’s vegan, or well, it’s got no gluten, or well, it’s got this or it’s got that. I’m not saying that these things are not important. What I’m saying is when you know you can eat the food and you know it’s all happy there, can you just kind of smile and say, holy shit, this is so good. And that’s what I wanted to give.
Ryka Aoki is a poet, composer, and teacher and author of Seasonal Velocities, He Mele a Hilo (A Hilo Song), Why Dust Shall Never Settle Upon This Soul and The Great Space Adventure. Her latest novel, Light from Uncommon Stars, is out now from Tor Books. Ryka is also a former national judo champion and the founder of the International Transgender Martial Arts Alliance. She is also a professor of English at Santa Monica College, a half-decent pianist, and is starting to learn to play the violin.