I recently was asked to write a short piece for Yoga Samachar, the US Iyengar Yoga Magazine published by IYNAUS, which recently moved from print to be an online publication. The original piece was more rambling, so this reflects a lot of editing… but here it is: the final article. In the tender glow of Transgender Awareness Week, I thought I’d share it here. May it be of benefit. May our yoga practice spaces and community be truly inclusive spaces the uplift healing and liberation in the deepest broadest sense.
Uplifting Queer and Trans Folks in our Yoga Spaces
By Avery Kalapa
As a nonbinary queer, when I see another LGBTQIA person in a yoga space, a quiet recognition often takes place. This camaraderie recognizes the violence, erasure, disapproval and shame of a homophobic, transphobic society and provides a sweet connection and bit more space for us to fully arrive.
What most straight, cis people don’t realize is that queer and trans people bring brilliant, insightful magic to a space. Many precolonial cultures celebrated queer, trans, and nonbinary people as healers, leaders, and visionaries. Colonized society, with norms rooted in white supremacy, misogyny, and heteronormativity, has exploited, demonized, and tried to eradicate LGBTQIA people.
It’s important we do not replicate these harmful norms in our yoga spaces. Here are some things we can DO to be welcoming to our LGBTQIA Community Members:
• CREATE non gendered bathrooms and changing areas. Learn to recognize and confront any homo/transphobic behavior you observe, like staring at or avoiding LGBTQIA students.
• NORMALIZE asking for and sharing your pronouns. Ex: “Hi, Im Suzi. My pronouns are she, her. What are your pronouns?” Ask, don’t assume. Binary gender is exclusionary, harmful, and counter to our non-dualistic practice of yoga. By offering your pronouns, you affirm trans and nonbinary people. If you misgender someone, don’t make it all about you. Apologize and move on.
• BE AWARE how your discomfort effects the space. What arises in your body and thoughts when in the presence of someone who challenges your comfort zone about gender identity or sexual orientation? Notice the discomfort, get grounded, and then reconnect with the human being in front of you.
• STOP gendering bodies, body parts, and emotions. Anatomy does not determine gender. Embrace the opportunity to unpack bias about gender norms; after all this oppression harms us all. Ex: Instead of “ladies with periods” and “pregnant moms” try “people with periods” and “birth parents.” Women’s classes can be designed to include trans women; menstrual classes can include anyone with a uterus.
• UNDERSTAND intersectionality and privilege. Oppressions overlap and compound. For instance, the average life expectancy for a Black trans woman in the US is 35. Unpacking both where we have privilege and where we’re marginalized helps us orient, and find more satvic, balanced relationships with others. Embrace challenging your assumptions, language, and philosophies that uphold problematic norms as a healing practice.
•ALIGN intention and impact. “What’s cis mean?” If you don’t understand any of these terms google them. Read up. Marginalized people are often expected to bear the burden of educated others. Seek out, study with, and pay queer, trans and other underrepresented educators.
• CELEBRATE anti-assimilation. The movement for gay liberation, led by trans women of color, sought widespread change to uphold rights and protections for LGBTQIA people, especially the most marginalized. This movement was co-opted by affluent cisgender white gays pushing for respect through assimilation. Pressure to assimilate is strong in society and the yoga industry, including Iyengar Yoga. The cost of assimilation is high. Assimilation contradicts the vision for a more just, vibrant, expansive yoga community that is truly welcoming and affirming for all.
• UPLIFT LGBTQIA teachers. Include their unique wisdom and vital, much needed perspectives. Appreciate those who don’t fit your expectation of what a yoga practitioner or CIYT looks like. Be open to how they share in the common commitment to the method, transformation, and practice of yoga.
Thanks for reading. One more thing…!
I’m delighted about this exciting 6 month series I’ve been working on, which starts this month. Check it out: