It sounds hokey, but I write because I love people. I love listening to people, hearing new stories, learning from different experiences. However, unless I am discussing writing or things related to writing, I am often at a loss to reciprocate. I don’t know the latest movie or television series. I don’t follow sports or plays. So often I feel isolated.
When I write, this changes. Through writing, I can finally contribute to the stories and conversations that pass me by every day. For me, to write is not to stand out so much as it is to share, to express my thanks for being human. I wish my readers to partake of my stories thusly—much more than I wish them to study or analyze them. As a transgender author, I’ve found that writing about transgender issues almost always positions readers as critics or students. They analyze my work as a political and social artifact to glean my identity or my views on being transgender, rather than to enjoy my work simply as a story to be shared.
I want those who read my novel, He Mele a Hilo, to enter a world of fishing, hula, and some really tasty chicken, not to guess whether the author is trans or queer. When I close my eyes and think of Hilo, I think of bowling, fresh poi, fishing poles, and the smells of rainforests and mosquito repellent. This is the Hilo and the world I want to share. I know that there are many amazing transgender writers who write about transgender characters for transgender audiences. However, I find I do my best work when I let myself get a bit sentimental and imagine my reader not just as the trans person in search of role models but also as her mother, looking for a good read to take on vacation. And maybe—just maybe—my book can give them something good to talk about afterward.
I am a born writer; I can’t imagine doing anything else. Just as a trans pianist does not limit herself to trans composers, nor a trans doctor to trans patients, as a trans writer, I would rather not limit my stories, my imagination, and my craft. One of my writing professors had a favorite saying: “Writing is a public act.” I take this lesson seriously, prescriptively. In a world where queer, and especially trans people are dehumanized, I think we need more public acts, not merely as demonstrations but as affirmations that our stories, as different as they might be, are exquisitely human.
If a trans musician can make the audience cry by playing Chopin, how else, but as a human, can she be regarded? And if a book written by a queer trans Asian American can make you think of your own beaches, your own sunsets, or the dear departed grandmother you loved so much and even now find yourself speaking to, then what more powerful statement of our common humanity can there be?
Ryka Aoki’s novel He Mele a Hilo is published by Topside Signature Press.