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LGBTQ awareness
for yoga teachers

An introduction

 

​Part of my intention in my work is to support teachers, practitioners, studios, and spiritual communities seeking to facilitate safer, braver spaces. In light of the current BLM movement and, specifically, the fact that so many Black trans women are harmed and murdered each year, and the fact that the media often focuses on the murder of Black men and/or even misgenders the Black trans women who are killed, I've prepared the following resources to offer some awareness facilitation around LGBTQ identity and language. This topic also feels timely because of the fact that the person inhabiting the role as President of this country is perpetuating this kind of harm with his actions, his speech, and his transphobic, racist policy (see his recent ruling, overturning discrimination protection for trans people in healthcare).⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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Throughout this webpage, I’ll explore why I believe awareness around LGBTQ identity and language is vital for creating a safer yoga space, why our spiritual liberation is tied to breaking down cis-hetero norms, and how yoga teachers and studios can work towards safer spaces.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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Before I dig in, I want to comment on my own identity: I identity as gender non-conforming. I use they/them pronouns. I identify as queer in terms of my gender, and in terms of my sexuality—I’m attracted to anyone on the gender spectrum (cis, trans, non-binary, etc.—I’ll define these terms in future posts).⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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The work of deconstructing heteronormativity is inherently tied to the work of deconstructing anti-Blackness—systems of oppression don’t function in isolation; they’re tied together, weaving an intricate web of colonial, white supremacist, patriarchal norms, informing racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and more. These are the conversations we must be having in order to heal.

Why it's important

 

Yoga is supposed to be a healing practice—many of us turn to yoga to recover from trauma. And if yoga is about healing, if it’s about reconnecting to ourselves and our bodies, if it’s about self-study and self-acceptance, then these are things that we want to speak to and support in a public yoga practice. And, if we’re speaking to all of this in a way that is heteronormative and heterosexist (because this is ingrained in dominant culture and hard to unlearn), then we’re inherently reinforcing cis-heterosexual privilege, and the trauma and otherness that queer people experience on a day to day basis. Which means that queer folx might not feel safe enough to be able to connect to the breath or the body. They may not be able to orient or feel secure enough to regulate their nervous system response. They might not want to return to a particular class, or even enter the public yoga space.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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When we enter a room and don’t see ourselves reflected in others, or we hear language that is in effect rooted in microaggression and harm, we are more likely to make ourselves small, to contract, repress, disconnect, or even flee. This is the opposite of what yoga is inviting.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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We can't guarantee safety in yoga spaces. What we can do is aim to create safer spaces and braver spaces (for more on this, study with Michelle C. Johnson).⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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You can’t just put “inclusive” on your door or in your marketing and then expect for folks to walk into your space and feel included. We have to do the work, build relationships, and engage in accountability—applicable for including the queer community, the BIPOC community, and anyone with a marginalized identity who is systemically disenfranchised, invisibilized, and harmed. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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This is important work. This is healing work—on an individual level, and for the collective. It appears many of us are more ready to have these conversations and to do this work. Now is the time. Now starts the yoga. atha yogānuśāsanam Patanjali 1:1

On language

 

Colonial white supremacist patriarchal norms have told us that biological sex and gender are inextricably tied—you’re either male or female based on the genitalia you’re born with. These norms have told us that appearance is everything—women are supposed to look, dress, behave, and carry themselves one way and that men are supposed to look, dress, behave, and carry themselves another way.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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Colonial white supremacist patriarchal norms are a fallacy. In spite of what these systems of oppression have raised us to believe, there’s a difference between sex and gender. Sex relates to biology (genitalia, hormones, etc.); gender relates to one’s identity—it’s an internal sense of who one is regardless of how they might appear.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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It’s important in exploring this conversation that we define some terms so as to break down the historical cis-hetero, transphobic narratives.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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▸ AFAB: assigned female at birth based on genitalia
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▸ AMAB: assigned male at birth based on genitalia


▸ Binary: Relating to, composed of, or involving only two things; commonly how gender has been historically regarded (i.e. male/female, directly correlating to man/woman)

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▸ Cis or Cis-gender: Cis is a latin word in origin, meaning “on the side of;” in this case, cis refers to being “on the side of” the gender spectrum you were assigned at birth

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▸ Trans or transgender: Trans is a latin word in origin, meaning “on the other side of.” Trans refers to not identifying with the sex you were assigned at birth; a person might be a trans man or trans woman

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▸ Non-binary, genderqueer, gender non-conforming, or gender fluid; these terms refer to identifying outside of the male-female binary. Some non-binary people also identify as trans—trans is often considered to be an “umbrella” term for both trans and non-binary identities.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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Pronouns are a linguistic tool that do not necessarily indicate a person’s gender (see below).

On pronouns

 

It’s important for people holding space for healing practices to do the work of questioning, learning, and undoing their biases. If we continue to ride the wave of our privileged identities, this will result in unconsciously or unintentionally harming and/or triggering students or clients when we’re holding healing space.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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I always recommend that yoga teachers and healers cultivate the following pronoun practice:⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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▸ State your pronouns whenever you introduce yourself⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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▸ Ask for students in small group settings (i.e. workshops, retreats, etc.) to state their pronouns in their own introductions⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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▸ Use “they” whenever you might be unsure of someone’s pronouns⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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▸ Add your pronouns to your website, email signature, social media bios, and your Zoom screen name ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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▸ Add a prompt for pronouns to any intake paperwork you offer to your students/clients⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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Note that pronouns are not a preference—conceptualizing of pronouns in this way ultimately undermines someone’s identity. Treat pronouns as you would someone’s name, honoring their spelling and pronunciation.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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Apart from stating your own pronouns, remember to ask for people’s pronouns if you’ve forgotten. Don’t assume that someone’s presentation is reflective of their gender identity. It can be a simple question: “Hey, I forgot which pronouns you use. Will you remind me?”⠀
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Any time you don’t state pronouns, or assume someone’s pronouns, you’re potentially other-ing those in the room who might identify as queer, non-binary, or transgender, you’re effectively reinforcing cis/hetero privilege, and you’re potentially causing harm.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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As more and more conversations evolve relating to the BLM uprising, attention to harm and accountability will be highlighted, providing us all with incredible opportunities to learn how to show up in solidarity. Let’s all do better.

On gendered language

 

Recently I heard a teacher explain, while breaking down a yoga pose, that “bodies with breasts” may have a particular experience in the shape. I personally felt more welcome—the teacher didn’t assume that all people with breasts inherently identify as women; they weren't operating according to the gender binary.

Using thoughtful language and not relying on gendered assumptions is as an invitation to be more fully aligned with ourselves, regardless of our identities. Gender stereotypes have kept us all in contracted states, whether we identify with the sex we were assigned at birth or not.

Ways we often hear gendered language in yoga:

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▸ Women are more flexible…
▸ Women’s breasts might get in the way of…
▸ Men may need to approach this pose differently because of their anatomy...
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Instead of cueing according to specific parts which might imply gender/sexualization, consider speaking more generally about the physical body.

Ultimately, in a yoga class or not, we all need to do better at refraining from gendering anything. We need to abstain from making generalizations based on gender binaries; we need to stop assuming every femme-presenting person in a room identifies as female and feels comfortable being lumped into phrases like “now for all you ladies…” and visa versa for those who are more masc-presenting.

This work is about undoing the narrative that men are inherently one thing, women are inherently another; it’s about questioning colonial white supremacist patriarchal norms that have led to misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and more forms of hate, internalized or explicit. As we continue to witness and take part in this movement-uprising, standing in solidarity with Black, Indigenous, and People and Color, it’s also time for us to stand in solidarity with members of the queer community who have been and continue to be marginalized, harmed, attacked, made invisible, othered, and murdered.

On fucking up

 

Colonial white supremacist patriarchal norms are so deeply entrenched in our culture and lives. As we engage in the process of unlearning, it’s inevitable that we will make mistakes. How we respond to these mistakes is part of the work. Here are some thoughts on navigating an error, whether it's in public or 1:1...⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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▸ Name and own responsibility for the mistake
▸ Don't make a big deal of it
▸ Do not center yourself
▸ If requested, apologize, genuinely*
▸ As you move forward, choose different actions⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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*Some people might not actually want an apology. An apology can put someone in the awkward (and potentially even more harmful) position of having to “accept” the apology with an “Oh, it’s okay,” or “No problem,” when in reality it might not be okay and it might very well be a problem. Consider your apology if you’re inclined to make one. You might choose to not apologize at all, and instead just correct yourself.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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Fact: Misgendering is harmful. It can trigger a wide range of embodied trauma reactions, and it’s important that we all learn how to own instances in which we misgender someone, and that we also learn how to intervene and name others' misgendering as much as possible—it’s exhausting for trans/non-binary people to have to correct others; what’s more, the process of correcting can often cause further harm.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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The nature of privilege is that it can keep us blind, unaware, and silent. Let's try to use our privileged identities to speak up, to name, to act, to challenge the norms that have held us all down, and to do better. And in case it’s not obvious, this goes for the queer community and the BIPOC community.