Ryka Aoki's Seasonal Velocities

In the collection of poems, stories, and essays, Seasonal Velocities (Trans-Genre Press, 2012), Ryka Aoki offers an impassioned exploration of transgender identity, politics, and activism, with a strong focus on the importance of writing and creative expression for trans folks.


The essays in the collection, many of which were originally presentations, performance pieces, and keynote addresses at various venues (particularly the Day of Remembrance gatherings and other transgender rights conferences), were the most powerful pieces for me. In these essays, Aoki articulates her sense of activism for the trans community and transgender individuals, focusing often on the idea of a full humanity and reminding others in queer communities not to further oppress trans individuals. Aoki offers some thoughtful comments about the differences between trans politics and other queer politics which might be more entrenched in the idea and practice of sex and sexuality. Trans identity, linked more to non-normative gender identity than non-normative sexual identity, can seem illegible to queer folks who are otherwise cis-gendered (meaning those who identify with normative definitions of gender or at least with queer versions of gender identity such as butch lesbianism).

Aoki draws heavily on her own experiences, including abuse from her father (and negligence on the part of her mother) while she was a child, and her narration of these situations is raw and startling. This aspect of the writing--particularly in the essays and some of the poems--importantly entrenches more theoretical discussions of trans politics to her own lived experiences.

I would've liked to have read more (fictional) short stories in the collection. In these stories, Aoki creates characters who are vulnerable yet often still full of hope. A story at the end of the collection centers on a man who has worked at a pig slaughterhouse all his life, mixing with the muck of the pigs' waste, blood, and other refuse of the industry. He develops an illness from working in that environment, coughing up blood, and is let go by the company as a result. Furthermore, he is often shunned by people in town because he smells of pig shit despite constant cleaning. Despite all of this, he remains open to people and willing to see that their dismissal of him or even outright mistreatment of him likely stems from their own difficult lives (as migrant workers, for instance, or put-upon librarians in un-air conditioned libraries). In one encounter, he comes across an older Chinese woman in the hospital who, though at first startled by his appearance, gives him a golden paper crane that she had been folding. This gesture resonates for him profoundly and leads to the powerful ending scene of the story.

Seasonal Velocities is published by Trans-Genre Press, a publisher dedicated to promoting the work of trans artists. I'm not sure if they have other publications out yet, but I'd be interested in reading more of their list!
  • Current Mood: indescribable indescribable