Artist, Writer, Activist
Orion “Ori Jay” Rodriguez (he/they) is a nonbinary transmasculine writer, artist, and activist. His writing has been published in Salon, Prism Reports, Lightspeed Magazine, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, Inhabitat, and other publications. Their visual art has appeared in group exhibitions in Chicago, Denver, New York City, and Portland. He is currently working on The Life and Times of Trans People for Microcosm Publishing, and pursuing his BFA in Art Practice at Portland State University.
I make art about identity. About what it means to be transgender, to be queer, to be mixed race. About what it means to be disabled and have a mental illness. About the power of emotions, and the place human beings occupy in the universe.
My art and activism are inseparable. They say “the personal is political.” But I also believe that art is unavoidably political, too. If your work doesn’t have a clear message about the world we live in, that’s not a neutral stance. Choosing to say nothing is a political decision. And because of that, I’ve made a conscious effort to engage directly with the politics that affect my own life in my work.
For too long, I’ve heard that only certain stories are worth elevating. That experiences outside of the cisgender, white, heterosexual, able-bodied norm are “unrelatable.” And while I hate to admit it, for years, part of me secretly believed that. I tried to make work with a broad appeal that didn’t stray too close to my personal traumas, obscuring my feelings in metaphor rather than depicting them directly.
As time has gone on, I’ve questioned that approach. Growing up, I never saw anyone like me reflected in the media I consumed. The truth is, I’ve always been forced to relate to experiences that have nothing to do with my life. And so, now I make art that flips the script: I want to force audiences to relate to my experiences instead.
In my nonprofit work and journalism, I’ve often been asked to create that relationship with words: through fundraising appeals, personal essays, and human-interest stories. While sometimes effective, these passive exercises usually position marginalized people as objects of fascination or pity. Reading an essay or looking at a painting can raise awareness, but building empathy is hard. By making my work interactive, it’s easier for my audience to understand the subject matter in a more personal way.
In recent years, I’ve made tabletop role-playing games, board and card games, and even interactive adventure games. These pieces allow me to combine my interest in illustration, film, animation, and code with my professional background in writing. I aim to challenge my players, so that they leave with a new appreciation for marginalized experiences. While much of my work aims to educate, it’s also true that there are no easy answers, and I try to reflect that in my narratives.
My games sometimes force players to confront topics that can be difficult to talk about, like living as a transgender person in a hostile country, or the impossible decisions a person has to make to survive as a victim of domestic violence. At other times, they welcome players in, giving them the tools they need to deal with topics that have traditionally been stigmatized, like mental illness. Ultimately, I want my audience to leave asking questions that never would have occurred to them before.