Ryka Aoki's Reading

Ryka Aoki's Reading

Ryka Aoki reads at WIU.
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Rika Aoki visited WIU students this last Thursday, and it was quite the treat. Ryka Aoki is an influential writer who is known for her support of LGBTQ rights. She did a number of reads from her books, Seasonal Velocities, He Mele a Hilo: A Hilo Song, and Why Dust Shall Never Settle Upon This Soul. Ryka talked about love, life, and growing up transgender. Ryka uses her writing as a way of building the transgender community. She speaks to them and successfully spreads the message, “You are not alone.” This is a very important message for the LQBTQ movement as they now face one of their biggest hurdles.

In North Carolina, Republicans in the state legislature overturned the LGBTQ discrimination bans. This prevents any local governments from passing any non-discrimination ordinances. This means that students in state schools will be forced to use the restroom corresponding with the gender on their birth certificate. Many like Ryka believe this is a huge step back in LGBTQ rights.

Ryka’s books give LGBTQ individuals a voice; a chance to speak up over their oppression. Ryka’s ability to articulate her inner feelings shows an in-depth mastery over the written word. The enthusiasm with which she reads suggest a passion for the topics she writes about. There were moments within her readings where members of her audience were moved to tears. There were other moments in which they laughed out loud. In just one hour, Ryka Aoki managed to command the attention of everyone in the room. No one was checking their cell phones. No one was looking at their watch. For a full hour, a room full of college students was fully engaged. This is quite an accomplishment in today’s world.

Here I want to give a special thanks to Dr. Merrill Cole and the other members of the English department, and all those at WIU that made this reading possible. All of those who were in attendance, who got to listen to such an amazing writer share her passion with us, are eternally grateful. And a thank you to Ryka Aoki, for being one of the most influential writers of our time.

Cover Image Credit: Hali Pace

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I'm A Christian And I Have A Tattoo

Stop judging me for it.
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Like most people, I turned 18 years old during the course of my senior year of high school. I’ll never forget the months prior to my birthday, though, because I spent hours making a decision that would be with me forever, the decision of where I would go to get my first tattoo and where that tattoo would go, and of course I spent a lot of time deciding on the font, the colors, and all of the other aspects of the tattoo I wanted. Throughout this time, two things stood firm 1) the fact that I was going to get a tattoo, and 2) the six letter name that it would consist of.

Now, three years later, I’m 21 years old and I still get the occasional dirty look at church on Sunday or in line at Walmart, and more often than not this look is accompanied by the following words: “Why would you do that to your body when God says not to?” A few weeks ago at a new church, a woman came up to me and said, “How can you consider yourself a Christian when you have that blasphemous thing on your foot?”, I simply smiled at her and said: “God bless you, have a good week.” I let it roll off of my back, I’ve spent the past three years letting it “roll off of my back”… but I think it’s time that I speak up.

When I was 8 years old, I lost my sister. She passed away, after suffering from Childhood Cancer for a great deal of my childhood. Growing up, she had always been my best friend, and going through life after she passed was hard because I felt like even though I knew she was with me, I didn’t have something to visually tribute to her – a way to memorialize her. I, being a Christian and believing in Heaven, wanted to show my sister who was looking down on me that even though she was gone – she could still walk with me every day. I wanted it for me, for her. I wanted to have that connection, for her to always be a part of who I am on the outside – just as much as she is a part of who I am on the inside.

After getting my tattoo, I faced a lot of negativity. I would have Leviticus 19:28 thrown in my face more times than I cared to mention. I would be frowned on by various friends, and even some family. I was told a few times that markings on my body would send me to hell – that was my personal favorite.

You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks on you: I am the LORD.
Leviticus 19:28

The more I heard these things, the more I wanted to scream. I didn’t though. I didn’t let the harsh things said about me and my choice change the love I have for the Lord, for my sister, or for the new precious memento on my left foot. I began to study my Bible more, and when I came to the verse that had been thrown in my face many times before – I came to a realization. Reading the verses surrounding verse 28, I realized that God was speaking to the covenant people of Israel. He was warning them to stay away from the religious ways of the people surrounding them. Verse 28 wasn’t directed to what we, in today’s society, see as tattoos – it was meant in the context of the cultic practice of marking one’s self in the realm of cultic worship.

26 "You shall not eat anything with the blood, nor practice divination or soothsaying. 27 You shall not round off the side-growth of your heads nor harm the edges of your beard. 28 ‘You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the LORD. 29 ‘Do not profane your daughter by making her a harlot, so that the land will not fall to harlotry and the land become full of lewdness. 30 ‘You shall keep My sabbaths and revere My sanctuary; I am the LORD. 31 ‘Do not turn to mediums or spiritists; do not seek them out to be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God."
Leviticus 19:26–31

The more I have studied my Bible over the past few years, the more I pity those who rely on one verse in the Old Testament to judge and degrade those, like myself, who made the decision to get a tattoo for whatever reason they may have for doing so. This is because, you see, in the New Testament it is said that believers are not bound by the laws of the Old Testament – if we were, there would be no shellfish or pork on the menus of various Christian homes. While some see tattoos as a modification of God’s creation, it could also be argued that pierced ears, haircuts, braces, or even fixing a cleft lip are no different.

24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor."
Galatians 3:24-25

In Galatians, we read that the Old Testament law was created to lead people to Jesus. However, we know that Jesus has come and died on the cross for our sins. He has saved us, therefore we are no longer held to this law in order to have a relationship with the Lord. Our relationship with Him comes from believing that Jesus came to Earth to die on a cross for our sins, and repenting of our sins – accepting Jesus as our Savior.

I am a Christian, I have a relationship with the Lord that is stronger than it has ever been, and - I HAVE A TATTOO.

I have a beautiful memento on my left foot that reminds me that my sister walks with me through every day of my life. She walked with me down the red carpet at my senior prom, she walked with me across the stage the day I graduated from high school, and she continues to be with me throughout every important moment of my life.

My tattoo is beautiful. My tattoo reminds me that I am never alone. My tattoo is perfect.

Stop judging me for it.

Cover Image Credit: Courtney Johnson

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Yes, Asexual People Like Me Are In The LGBTQ+ Community And DO Belong At Pride

The "A" in LGBTQIA stands for asexual, not ally. So why do some not include asexuals in Pride celebrations?

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The Asexual Visibility and Education Network defines asexuality as follows: "someone who does not experience sexual attraction. Unlike celibacy, which people choose, asexuality is an intrinsic part of who [a person is]." Asexual people, the organization states, are as capable as anyone else of forming close bonds with others; they just do not feel any need to introduce a a sexual element to that bond.

And, before you dismiss asexuality, numerous academic studies and articles, some from top-level universities, have already legitimized asexuality's existence.

So, enough with the plant jokes already. Asexuality is a real thing.

The fact that I even need to explain and validate this sexuality should give those underneath the "ace" (asexual) umbrella a place at Pride festivals and parades. But there are those within the LGBTQ community that say that asexual people do not belong there--Megan Hoins goes into the ugly side of that exclusionist attitude in an article from last year. Usually, this "ace discourse" manifests online, but, as we all know, the Internet does not exist in some sort of vacuum, and what we say has very real consequences, no matter where our voices are heard.

I'm a lesbian but not ace. Maybe that's a little TMI, but I wanted to let you know where my perspective comes from before I launched into my argument: yes, asexual people are part of the LGBTQ community, and they do belong at Pride festivals, parades and anywhere else considered a safe space for members of the LGBTQ community. I want and value their presence there, so long as they want and value mine.

Why do I feel this way? I could write a whole essay on all of the reasons; unfortunately, an online article is a bit too short to cover them all. I'll stick with something that research cannot discuss: my own coming-out experience. I have a lot more in common with an asexual person in this respect than I do a heterosexual person.

As a lesbian, I dealt with compulsory heterosexuality--in fact, I wrote a whole article on it. Basically, it is the societal assumption that, as a woman, I am obligated to like men. It took me years to convince both myself and others that my identity and feelings were real.

Asexual people deal with a similar hurdle: compulsory sexuality. They deal with this weird, Westernized hypersexualization: of boobs being shoved in their faces in every single magazine ad, of men with sexy six-pack abs in commercials. Viewing sexualized images when there are no sexual feelings present feels to the asexual very similar to how I felt with everyone telling me that I was supposed to like men: everyone saying, "He's so cute and so into you, go talk to him!" and one of my parents not accepting the fact that I don't like men for months after I came out, stuff like that.

By no means am I trying to lump the asexual and lesbian experience together; they are two unique things, but they bear remarkable similarities. The fact of the matter is, though, that heterosexual people never have to go through anything like this. They never have to defend their right to love who they love, to feel about who they feel about. Society just rolls with it, because it's the norm.

If I, a lesbian, belong to the LGBTQ community because I do not fit societal norms of what is expected of my attractions, then why don't asexual people?

Cover Image Credit:

Flickr

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