By Nick Krieger
In my early twenties, I discovered Eastern philosophy. I read books about Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, and I grew very attached to non-attachment. For a brief period, I spoke in universal “We” statements, as in, “Our fundamental problem is that we deny death.” Sometimes, I went by myself to Spirit Rock Meditation Center for daylong silent retreats for LGBT folks, after which I’d scan Craigslist Missed Connections to see if any girls thought I was cute.
I share this because, well, it’s funny to look back a decade and see my youthful seeking-self blundering onto this path. And also to recognize the three huge differences between my experience then and now: a teacher, a community, and a consistent practice. I found these by showing up at yoga classes.
After introducing you to yoga, or at least my understanding of it, in my last OP post, it is my hope that you’ll try to some classes. To this end, I thought I’d share five challenges I’ve encountered or heard about, as well as offer some ideas to overcome them. Please contribute your own experiences, thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section.
1. “My packer will fall out in class” – Personally, I’m afraid this might happen. Which is why I don’t pack in class. Truth be told, I rarely pack. But I do in situations where I’m acutely conscious of my crotch: on first/second dates, when I go out dancing, or if I’m wearing tight-ish jeans. Ideally, I’d like to pack in goddess pose, an open-legged squat that makes me painfully aware of my phantom dick.
At times, I can be a bit obsessed with the junk of other dudes in class. Through discussions I’ve discovered that I’m the only person on bulge lookout during bridge pose. But I’m probably also the only person who is repeatedly hit with confusion, sadness, and a palpable sense of emptiness downstairs. There is no solution here. Just a practice of breathing into my body and perhaps discovering a few fleeting moments of wholeness. I’m still working this. I’ll report back in a few years.
2. To Bind Or Not To Bind – My chest was a big issue for me when I started going to classes. I chose to wear a sports bra and a tanktop for ease of movement. Often, I’d drop into the flow of class and forgot about my discomfort. But catching my cleavage in the bathroom mirror would always startle and upset me. This was part of my experience. Much like life, yoga comes with the good and the bad, and if you stick around long enough, perhaps the opportunity to feel them as one and the same.
A friend recently asked if he should wait until he could have top surgery to start going to yoga. My answer was an unequivocal no. He started going to class and happily wears his binder. My advice is to dress in a manner that makes you feel comfortable — physically, mentally, and emotionally.
3. “I can’t touch my toes” – If I had a nickel for every time I heard this phrase, then I’d be able to buy you all yoga class passes, and we could ignore the next item on the list below. We could explore yoga together and discover that it is available to EVERYONE. There is a catch. Yoga does require us to start where we are, not where we think we should be. And the reality is some of us can’t bend over and touch our toes.
Let’s take a moment to think about this… Really, think about it. Who fucking cares? How small, insignificant, and irrelevant. So therein lies the practice, or my practice. Because you better believe I’ve expended a ton of energy beating myself up over what I can’t touch, reach, twist into, and balance upon. But experiencing what happens inside during these moments can transform the way you approach other obstacles, ones that matter more than picking toejam in a forward fold.
4. “Yoga is expensive” – Cost is an issue. And because I live in the yoga mecca of San Francisco, there are more reasonably-priced options available here than elsewhere. But here are some of my suggestions:
Gym yoga: If you already have a gym membership, why not check out a yoga class.
Donation-based yoga: As more people connect with the heart of yoga, more donation-based studios and classes are cropping up.
Community classes: Studios and other locations may offer slightly shorter, low-priced classes. In my experience, these are diverse, inclusive, non-competitive environments. In Brooklyn, Jacoby Ballard’s Queer and Trans yoga class at Third Root is screaming your name.
Yoga in semi-unexpected places: In my city, the Sports Basement store offers free yoga. I have one friend who loves to hear shoppers gabbing over running shoes while a teacher is guiding them through calming breath exercises. Transgender, LGBT, and Women’s Resource & Support Centers may offer yoga. Some areas have free yoga in the park. Some art galleries offer yoga classes.
5. Transphobia and Ignorance – I saved this one for last because it is deep and tough, and it reflects the difficulties in the greater world and those specific to a discipline that focuses on the body, attracts a heteronormative crowd, and is rooted in the philosophy that we are all perfect complete beings who do not need to “fix” anything. I’ve heard quite a few stories about yogis saying that if we trans people could just accept ourselves then we wouldn’t need to transition.
I prefer not to surround myself with people who express this attitude, but I’ve also learned that if I cut off everyone who spoke with a lack of trans awareness then very few people would be left. Some of my most challenging experiences on the yoga mat have come after my teacher has unintentionally said something that triggers my pain and sends me into a mental and emotional tailspin.
A couple times, I considered walking out of class and bailing for good. But the problem is that yoga is what I turn to when I’m caught in an eddy of anger, frustration, and hurt. It took me a long time to speak to my teacher and others in the community about [trans]gender issues in class. I wish I could say these were easy conversations with simple solutions. But I am learning what it really means to accept and love all people, even those who can be trans clueless. I am learning to take complete responsibility for my own emotional state. I am learning to speak up with more power and serenity, from a place rooted in compassion rather than rage.
A good teacher (in any arena) can make all the difference. I recently heard some quality advice on choosing one in yoga: Find a teacher whose “humanness” doesn’t get in the way. I’ll add in some of my own: Find an environment that may be challenging, but not detrimental. Go to class with a buddy. Build a support system.
I am talking about yoga here, but I’m also talking about living as trans people. The mat is really just a microcosm of the world, a safe space to explore that which occurs on a much grander scale off of it. This is why I invite you into this practice of yoga with me. So we can create change from the inside out.
Originally posted at http://www.originalplumbing.com – reposted with permission.
Nick Krieger is the author of the new memoir Nina Here Nor There: My Journey Beyond Gender. A native of New York, Krieger realized at the age of twenty-one that he’d been born on the wrong coast, a malady he corrected by transitioning to San Francisco.