Why Queer Yoga?

untitled65of89I’m sitting to write why I want to teach a specifically queer yoga class (which I am doing tomorrow for the first time *yay!*). I’ve been asked the question, and answered okay verbally. I also want to try to splash a few words on the surface here, too, about why I want to teach a queer yoga class. Why not just teach yoga (I’ve been teaching yoga for 10 years)? Why does it have to be queer yoga?

Yoga has lined up in a big way with mainstream media, and has been translated through this information vehicle as something to enhance thin, white, mostly female-assigned bodies projecting a feminine image of yoga, and when the model is assigned as male, it’s usually a more masculinized presentation of yoga-supported health. It is a reflection of an externally-sourced idea of who we are.

Queerness in my viewpoint has something to do with discovering identity apart from who we’ve been told we are. The way I see it, the issue of sexuality is not connected in a direct way to a self-identified queer identity. It doesn’t mean a person is necessarily “gay”, “poly”, “trans”, “promiscuous”, or even “sexual”. “Queer” means a person is self-determining (from knowledge coming from within self through trial and error and success in experiences), and the only way to get to know someone is to get to know them personally, without the assumptions that often can present themselves based on how a person looks or expresses themselves.

Yoga has the potential to be a space to explore the atmosphere of your self, including sensations and impressions, without assumptions about what kind of body you have, or are supposed to have. Hopefully in yoga we can be free to be ourselves and make choices about how we want to participate, or not.

Sadly, in my opinion, many yoga classes uphold the mainstream perception of yoga as a way to be a hotter female, with a tight butt, constant smile, flat abs, shapely legs, and scant upper-arm fat. This is not a safe or comfortable environment for many people. Sometimes it is just numbing. Sometimes we know we feel good afterwards (depending on the class), so those of us who are into yoga forgive or ignore some of those controlling directives about how we are “supposed to be” presenting in class, or acting in life beyond class.

Can we have yoga without the authoritarian class environment? Can we have yoga without the sexism and racism? This is at least part of what queering yoga means to me. Is there room to express and discover our selves in yoga with our movements, as a group and as individuals on mats? Is it okay to place a boundary on whether you’d like to be touched in a yoga pose for a posture adjustment, or whether you’d prefer to be left to your own solutions for this one?

These are some of the questions and ideas I will be going into Queer Community Yoga with tomorrow, prepared by 10 years of experience as a yoga teacher with all the requisite training, and also by healing I’ve experienced in intentionally queer spaces, including friendships, art events, parties, writing salons, rituals, presentations and trainings.

Aging in a Queer Utopia.

My age has always been a lie. The first time I remember it coming up, I was 7 years old and was being introduced to people at my father’s country club. I was wearing little girl clothes, and a woman in the group asked me if I was 15. I was tall, and still am. I also had experienced more change and moving around than many others my age, especially in the small town in Ohio where my father is from. I was considered “mature for my age.”

I think I really was older than “7”.

Chronologically I was 7: I had been on the earth for 7 revolutions around the sun. I was born on a certain date in a certain year, and so there is a mathematical logic that equals 7 at that time.

But I had also rationalized and normalized interactions with a mother struggling with her reality, and had figured out being okay with her gone from my life. I had lived in 3 different states with 3 different families (all a part of my extended family). The number was 4 families if you say that the family of my mother and father was different from the family of my father and stepmother. They were different.

So I was “older” than 7 in experience and handling skills when people read me that way, and even when they didn’t.

And these days I am often seen as younger than my “age” to many people I know. I also wonder—similar to the example from my childhood—if in some way I am actually “younger” than the number of times the earth has traveled around the sun with me on it, or possibly “younger” in comparison with what that is usually seen to mean in our culture.

Have the losses I’ve experienced, the radical letting go that I’ve done, or circumstances totally beyond my control actually lightened me in some way to receive life in a way that we usually associate with youth?

Part of the launch point for my current reality had something to do with turning 40.
40

Around this time, I finally took the pressure off of myself about what kind of life I thought I was supposed to live based on what I had been taught and started to explore available options in my life that appealed to me.

I went to my first queer performance because a coworker friend was involved.

I started to go to more because the images and words populated my mind and also spawned exciting and titillating new thoughts.

I was welcomed into these intentional queer spaces. I made new friends. And went to more kinds of events like readings and trainings on trans awareness and disability justice.

A new life opened up for me. It was a gift of my aging process and personal choices that I dropped old fears and questioned my self and my life anew! I have now met people with values, attitudes and worldviews who I feel like I have been waiting to meet for my whole life.

I have evolved with Chicago queer culture. It has been one of the most satisfying experiences of my life.

And yet my age also seems to pose an issue in my new life. It is a crowd with many folks in their 20’s. I have been so afraid to destroy what I have enjoyed, and to face people’s possible ageism by saying that my age is 42.

How old am I?
How alive am I?
How creative am I?
How loving am I?
How curious am I?
How adventurous am I?
How well can I listen to and support others and my self?

What is important?

In my own work on queer time, I have shown that queer people do not follow the same logics of subcultural involvement as their heterosexual counterparts: they do not “outgrow” certain forms of cultural activity (like clubbing, punk, and so on.)…queer spaces tend to be multigenerational and do not subscribe to the notion of one generation always giving way to the next. Other theorists, such as Elizabeth Freeman, have elaborated more mobile notions of intergenerational exchange, arguing that the old does not always have to give way for the new, the new does not have to completely break with the old, and that these waves of influence need not be thought of always and only as parental.
~J. Jack Halberstam, ‘Gaga Feminism’

In queer culture there is a potential for continued engagement and creative expression. We are only limited by our imaginations.

Earlier this year a friend shared that they had lost 2 friends to suicide in the last year, and expressed an impression that some people in their 20’s can’t always see an interesting or fun future for themselves.

I remember feeling that there was a black hole in my imagination as I approached age 30. And in my 30’s I fell into it, and I also invented a new life for myself as a yoga teacher. Becoming helpful seemed a strategy for survival.

One reason I want to come out openly as someone over 40 years old is to share my enthusiasm and excitement about what I see in my self and my friends. In myself I see a hope for the future based on the activism and values of people in queer community, I also see a future for myself as an activist, artist, writer and yoga teacher. In my friends I see community leaders/organizers and amazing activists and artists.

Queering has to do with taking on one’s identity and stepping away from an inherited lineage of ableism, racism, sexism, homophobia, patriarchy, privilege, money focus, misogyny, ageism, sex-shaming, fat-shaming, objectification, coercion, bullying (…) and consciously being a person—even creating a self through chosen actions and expressions—that better reflects values of the heart with caring awareness of other people in community emphasizing inclusion of people (of a different race, body type, or gender presentation for example) helping to expand the understanding of the person reaching out as well as to reverse the effects of the old ways of domination, control and repression.
~from ‘Self-Determining Queer Pelvis

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The above photo illustration is from a project of mine that explores human morphology and gender assignment in yoga. photo credit: Mars

And if I ever seem to be glittering like a jukebox from the early 1970’s (reference to Sandra Beasley), well… That’s when I was born!

Yoga Heals My Trauma, But Never Takes It Away, And That’s Good.

Just attempting to write on the topic of trauma is incredibly triggering—at least partially in a good way. The good part of this triggering is that it is bringing more aspects of myself to the fore for healing. Another good part is that my anxiety is real. I feel it. I know it. I trust it. It is mine. I can breathe, focus, attend to it with my breath, and know I am okay. I can practice yoga, and claim for myself once again, my body, mind, and heart from the grip of terror.

What came up for healing just then were memories from childhood when people who loved me tried to control what I understood of my truth for me. This experience happened more than once and was incredibly traumatic, and ultimately had the effect of profound self-doubt and confusion on top of an already painful situation. They must have thought (the people I’m referring to have died and are not available to ask) that since I was a small child when my mother was removed from my life for mental illness that they could paint a picture of that time that would make me feel good. What would be the harm in that? A small child can hardly know what’s happening, right? Wrong. What they said conflicted with my sense of the situation, and with what I had heard from other people who were around at the time. I needed them to be my allies, and so I listened. It was not an easy time for people who were a part of it. Lie to the child and they will think they are normal and grow up to lead a happy life, right? Well, maybe—but not without some serious healing work if they’re anything like me.

I now associate my trauma with that safe, healing space that I’ve learned to cultivate in my yoga practice and in community—no way could I do this alone! So when I began to focus to write about the process of healing trauma with yoga, some stuff came up, and good. I say this because I strongly believe that awareness is everything. If I have stuff coming up, I need to be there to witness and support the process as I can.

Most of the time yoga works gently, slowly and affirmingly to support awareness that provides a welcoming home for all memories and thoughts. There is a place in myself for everything in the foundation I build in yoga for my mind, emotions, body and spirit. There is enough room to process my pain, suffering and to hold my yearning, anger, jealousy, and lust.

It is essential to cultivate a psychological and physiological anchoring base in the body through an understanding and practice that can be learned in yoga. I found my body-based home in the study and exploration of pelvis. This practice also provides safe space for psychological and emotional aspects of healing.

OrangeP

Hara (self-energizing earth centre within the pelvic bowl) is the rock on which we build the temple of the body. Those who are centered in the chest have too much ego and those who are centered in the head have too much intellect. The chest and head must rest on and be stabilized in the center of gravity.
~Dona Holleman, ‘Centering Down’

Who defines trauma? Trauma exists as invisible wounds inside individuals. Each person defines what is trauma for their self. A yoga practitioner goes within to create the space for their own healing with the support of technique, experience with practice, and a trusted teacher (sometimes the teacher can be ones own body).

Who defines healing? This is also something a person can know for their self. When someone feels better, safer, more alive, and curious or motivated they may feel that they have had healing.

One common misconception about healing trauma that can be harmful is the idea that “healing” means that the effects of a situation are removed or taken away. To me “healing” means that something that used to block my vibrancy or joyful celebration of my life has shifted so that I can more fully love, accept and celebrate myself and trust my ongoing healing process.

I have survived difficulty. I have hurt people unwittingly as a result of my own wounding that other people can’t always see (and that I can’t always see). I can sit with, practice with, and live with the imperfections in my situation as I strive to see more, heal more and to love more people in my life!

So: no. I don’t strive to rid myself of trauma. It is false to do that. It would just serve to continue the repression and self-doubt that the situation with my well-meaning family members started (and that our culture encourages) that I described earlier in this piece. It would be like trying to erase part of my lived experience, or lying to myself about it. I see great dignity and value in welcoming my full self to my practice and life.

I am a rich resource of experience and healing that is continuous, loving, and caring.

Right to Love.

I have a right to the love inside myself, I’m thinking of it as “the love in my soul.” I have a right to that. It’s my birthright to access and tap that to make full use of this miraculous resource. I wish to free the water in my love dam! Let it flow!

What I don’t think I have a right to is love from a particular person. Some people are not going to like me at certain times, and others might blow me over with unexpected kindness, generosity or care. I don’t have jurisdiction over how another person shares or withholds love from me.

I think that I’ve heard that people have “a right to love and be loved.” I may have even written that somewhere at some time. I don’t agree at this time. I don’t have the right to be loved by any particular person. When someone loves me it is a beautiful miracle of life. I can’t predict how long such a blessing may last, or how it might fade in and out of my experience over time.

I do have a right to my love, and even a responsibility to myself to uphold the honor of my own love when it seems to be challenged by the judgments of others.

I cherish love and the incredible gift of feeling my heart open along with bliss and glowing wellness, and also to experience the horror and rage that can sometimes fly out of an opening heart. It is passion and truth. It is a big deal.

I can nurture the opportunities to cultivate love with another person when it is offered. And I can defend my right to love myself, even when another person’s actions and reactions evoke thoughts about how that they may have decided that I am not worthy of their love. It does not mean that I am unworthy of love.

I think that everybody is worthy of love. I just don’t think that anybody “deserves” it. The world just doesn’t seem to work like that. Things are desolate at times, and there are times when experience seems to burst with love, drip with love, just love!

Being loved in my experience isn’t reliable as if it were available in a well-stocked and well-maintained vending machine. Some people marry in the hopes that they can stabilize the flow of love, and make it reliable so it seems like it’s always there.

I’m trying to open myself to what I perceive as the very instability of love as it comes from outside of myself. It might be impossible, but I want to give it an honest thought. Because when someone opens my heart, I want to hold them tight. I want to control that resource that seems to be linked to this other person. It does seem so precious. Not everyone can open my heart. The door just seems to open for one person right now. And I want that experience. I want to nurture it on it’s own terms, not from the point of view of expectations.

But I can’t control my access to it or own anybody’s love. I am talking about another human being here with their own dreams and goals. Trying to control another person’s desires is a crime of the soul. Everybody has a right to explore and experience what they want.

Love. That’s all. I do it.
OrangeHeart

Self-Determining Queer Pelvis.

In understanding bodies there is often an implicit sense that “the pelvis tells us.” The pelvis tells us when it’s time to pee. The pelvis tells us when we gotta poop. Does the pelvis tell us when we are attracted to someone or an idea? We can tell the pelvis to hold the pee/poop/sex. The menstrual cycle just flows. Many people assume that the pelvis tells us a lot more than it actually might.

Does the pelvis determine identity? Does the pelvis determine gender? Many people assume it does—at least to a large extent. Having a perceived identity that includes the descriptor “female” does have an effect of determining the opportunities one has, or one thinks they have and what others will think is available for them. It also guides how a person might choose to express themselves in life. And some people find that the gender role assigned to them by others, or from the outside doesn’t work for them. Or perhaps those assumptions seem a bit off. It is different for different people.

My body is sexed as female. When I was born people said, “She’s a girl,” and confirmed that “fact” when they changed my diaper or saw me wear girl-appropriate clothing. People seemed to assume that I would eventually marry a man and have “his” children. A power dynamic was assumed for me before I could speak for myself. Many times these assumptions have seemed inappropriate, yet I, myself, also assumed (as soon as I could start assuming) that my life would follow the path laid out by my family/culture.

At some point the outer noise—which I was holding in myself—of what I “should” be doing started to quiet down, and I started to try doing things the way I thought I wanted to. And I tried to survive. The “me” in myself that is real awkwardly tried to emerge into this world. I gave up—with some sadness—the assumptions I had for my life including marriage. I don’t think I need a legal marriage with a male-bodied person to be whole. I am me right now. I’m done with waiting for a me that only exists in a fantasy—this rejects the living person I actually am.

I wrote an article last year called Queering My Sexuality about actively “being a sexual person whose wants and needs are self-defined.” Now I would extend that concept far beyond sexuality.

Queerness, then, is not an identity, but a position or stance. We can use “queer” as a verb instead of a noun. Queer is not someone or something to be treated. Queer is something we can do.
~Kimberly Springer

Queering has to do with taking on one’s identity and stepping away from an inherited lineage of ableism, racism, sexism, homophobia, patriarchy, privilege, money focus, misogyny, ageism, sex-shaming, fat-shaming, objectification, coercion, bullying (…) and consciously being a person—even creating a self through chosen actions and expressions—that better reflects values of the heart with caring awareness of other people in community emphasizing inclusion of people (of a different race, body type, or gender presentation for example) helping to expand the understanding of the person reaching out as well as to reverse the effects of the old ways of domination, control and repression.

Queering has to do with getting my needs met. Now I have the freedom to begin to understand my needs—which I have discovered—are different in some ways from the cultural recipe for success (marriage+money). The recipe for my fulfillment needs to be determined by me, otherwise I am just going through the motions of a life that doesn’t feel like mine. This creates a lot of anxiety.

Queering has to do with rejecting some of the things that are often assumed to be true. If I believed that I cannot exist as a whole person without a husband while also living unmarried, then clearly I am limiting my ability for self expression and happiness, and feeling less than this so called “ideal”.

Queering can have something to do with radical self-expression. I think queering can also be quieter, yet as it is better understood within a person it may also yearn for greater expression, visibility and celebration.

Queer community and books, conversations and art have offered me so much support and hope as I have discovered another sense of myself that is different than the old assumptions I learned.

If you were to ask me about my gender, in the right context (queer) I would tell you that my gender is orange. This color inspires me, as discovering myself and my desires also inspire me. And just the way a color is wide open in that it can appear on so many different things, I also feel that the way I might want to present myself and express myself may also prefer to embrace a range of possibilities.

orangebh

The Root of Unhappiness.

WarofArt

A good friend recently gave me a book, ‘The War of Art’ by Steven Pressfield.

Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands resistance.
~Steven Pressfield, ‘The War of Art’

It’s a book about the forces that block creative action, and also includes thoughts on the forces of creativity seeking expression. I do recommend the book, and found it helpful. I also found myself needing to adjust pronouns a bit as I read because the voice is largely male-centric even though there are a couple of sections that use ‘she’ and ‘her’. So many “him”s and “he”s distracted me from the message until I started doing my own substitution.

Resistance is the most toxic force on the planet. It is the root of more unhappiness than poverty, disease, and erectile dysfunction.

This is a quote from the beginning of the book that sets up resistance as an essential problem. The word “root” intrigues. Yet the quote also betrays a phallocentric viewpoint (that also carries throughout the book) by equating ‘erectile dysfunction’ (a male-bodied problem) with poverty and disease.

This problem of resistance the book pries apart and strategizes against is one that I deeply experience. A personal note I recently jotted said, “Resistance seems to be deeply wound with aspirations in my DNA.” I remember learning somewhere that within my living cells at any moment exist the very components that will facilitate rotting upon death. A law of cellular life is that death is enfolded within the life capsule, itself. And I’ve also heard that when someone takes on the joy and fulfillment of love with another person, they are also taking on (whether it is realized it or not) the pain of the love ending (whether through death or moving on). So maybe it shouldn’t surprise me that with dreams and aspirations towards making things better, there is a companion death wish energy that can interfere with good things ever happening or getting accomplished.

A root of unhappiness is this resistance if it is allowed to overshadow what we want to accomplish for the good of our selves and others. This kind of unhappiness might be viewed as a symptom of something being off, similar to the way we might see sniffles or sore throat as symptoms of a physical imbalance. Unhappiness could be seen as a symptom of a spiritual imbalance. Perhaps unexpressed dreams and aspirations are compromising our emotional wellness in some cases of sadness.

uncomfortable

One of the sections in the book I was drawn towards is called ‘How to be Miserable.’ A few months ago I wrote a personal note in my calendar that said, “Time to be uncomfortable.” And just a couple of days ago a friend described that he imagines the most horrific demise for himself before he gets on his bicycle because he feels that it will give him emotional presence if something happens to him on the road—he’s already prepared by imagining the worst.

And it’s so hard to move forward towards accomplishing good things when resistance has enthralled thinking. One solution: prepare to be miserable.

The Marine Corps teaches you how to be miserable.
This is invaluable for an artist.

The artist committing their* self to a calling has volunteered for hell, whether they* know it or not. They* will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation.
* Pronouns neutralized by me.

There is an idea in our culture that being comfortable is the best thing, when physical comfort in the absence of living truthfully can be really depressing or suffocating. I was taught to be comfortable. And at some point I’ve identified that perhaps that is not really the best thing. Having some comfort for ones self can be great, to be sure. But when comfort is chosen and this comfort hides consciousness enhancing revelations, or world transforming ideas, and prevents meaningful action, then “comfort” becomes a manifestation of resistance and prevents people from making awe-inspiring and healing contributions to help our world.

So perhaps it is good to identify a root of potential unhappiness, and to strategize in an effort to create something helpful for people and the planet. It is not so easy because resistance is good at hiding itself, but stakes are high. It is worthwhile to consider this subject and to put into action what makes sense for what you want to do. And do it.

Live the life you think about that would make the world the better place.

Accomplish a dream.

Steubenville Rape & Recurrent Dreams of Violated Space.

There is a big effort in recent articles to see potential positive effects in our culture because of revelations about teenage males allegedly sexually assaulting a teenage female at the end of last summer in Steubenville, OH. I read these articles with hope. I like to think that something good can come from anything. Maybe we can all have an awareness and change rape culture.

And I want to say that the sexual assault was not helpful or positive. It was ruthlessly harmful. A teen female went to party, probably anticipating a fun time with friends. She should have had the freedom to make her own choices with friends supporting her, and respecting her. It’s what I think.

Instead, according to at least one account she was drugged with a “date rape” intoxicant, probably passed to her by a “friend.” Her unconscious body was apparently carried from party to party and repeatedly sexually assaulted by more than one person and urinated on according to media sources including the New York Times.

There was nothing helpful or positive about this heinous evening of events. There is nothing good about sexual assault of a teen female being reportedly witnessed at more than one party, as well as worldwide through twitter and instagram.

I wonder how she is doing, and I hope that she can get the support that she needs. I would like to hear about her experience from her and offer support. I would like to hear from other female and male witnesses and offer support to try to help heal all who were harmed by this event. Every person who is now more afraid because of this story needs supportive friends, and possibly councilors or other trusted help. This includes those of us affected by learning and following this story.

This story is horrible. I’m sorry that people have had to experience this. It hurts us when someone is violated. It hurts.

The story has particularly affected me probably because I grew up from the ages of 7 to part of 17 in a small town in eastern Ohio about 25 miles north of Steubenville. I resisted watching the video of the teen male joking about the assault for at least a day, but finally watched it.

When I heard the accent of the speaker in the video, it brought some part of me rushing back. I knew boys who spoke like that. The jovial presentation of despicable words is an education. It reminds me and brings home the idea that people involved in horrible things don’t believe themselves to be horrible. He appears to think he is fine, but what he is enjoying saying is so beyond sick. I believe he needs help, he appears to be a very dangerous person who does not recognize that he has been involved in or at least seen something wrong: a crime that happened over several hours and hurt people. It hurt the teen female who was sexually assaulted. It hurt witnesses by seeing someone assaulted like that, perhaps cultivating fears that they could be next. It hurt family members and friends. And countless others learning of these events who are perhaps triggered into the pain of their own experiences of violence, or who fear for themselves or their friends and children.

This story affected me: I woke up last Saturday morning remembering a dream that I’ve had countless times.


My apartment had been trespassed. A door that I had locked was somehow opened without any evidence of violence. Someone had come in, not to steal things—I’m not sure why they were there. But they were in my house. They came in, perhaps to have a good time. Sometimes in this dream there is evidence of drinking: empty bottles. Or sometimes pizza boxes… There have been occurrences of the dream when I am there and can spy on the people in my house, not too closely, but I can hear parts of what is happening or see shadows or outlines. But usually I am in a place that is now empty with an open or unlocked door.

Remembering the dream with the Steubenville story still fresh in my mind forged a connection in my awareness. I was seeing something new about myself and my own fears bustling beneath the surface of a mental constitution that likes to remind me that “I’m okay.”

In other words, I was completely stirred up by the recent unfolding of released materials and protests around a Steubenville, Ohio gang rape. It seemed to jog something free. I made a connection. Could this dream be related to sexual violence? It definitely seems related to feeling insecure in my house, and even my body!

I believe myself to be triggered by this story, and particularly by the video of an 18 year old male joking about the violent events of the evening with buddies including a reference to the (still unconscious) victim nearby. It is truly sickening.

And so I am somewhat disgusted that I have been personally helped by knowing this story. The fact that it brought so much up for me (and I was ready to see what came) leaves me feeling humble. How do I accept this gift?

I saw myself as a teenage girl, and remembered a lot.

What I saw was that rather than learning about being a sexual person, or how to be a sexual person, or be sexual, what I was actually learning was how to be raped. It sounds harsh, but that’s what I think. The story I was learning wasn’t about me. It was about what men wanted to do to me, and threatened to do to me. If I liked him, I wouldn’t fight back.

The default notion that a female wants sex unless she fights back sufficiently (whatever amount that is), apparently allows people to think it’s okay to assault drunk/drugged people—people who can’t fight back. How sick is that?

People need to be educated, and educate themselves about consent (resource: Driver’s Ed for the Sexual Superhighway). Teens need to know where to learn about healthy sexuality. I recommend Scarleteen as a great web resource about sex for teens.

I feel like I’m educating my inner teenager about healthy, consensual sexuality now. I am currently working to create safety for myself to explore sexual pleasure that I can actively participate in, rather than it being something that just happens to me “because men can’t help it.”

And to make the world a better place I want to see people learn more as soon as possible so we do not continue to perpetuate abuse in our own sex lives.

I wish great healing for all of us.