The Elephant in the Yoga Room is not Ganesha
“So, do you have a lot of brothers?” It was an odd question, seemingly coming out of nowhere. We had just finished a quite small yoga class, and this is what the substitute teacher asked me, as I was re-layering to face the winter weather.
“No, just a sister.”
“Oh. No brothers? Did you spend a lot of time with your Dad or Uncles?” More odd, invasive questions.
“Well, no, I’m not close to my father, but I did have uncles around. Why?” Now I’m confused. And honestly, a bit irritated.
“I wanted to know why you are this way.” To this teacher, “this way” is clearly something she doesn’t have an understanding of. “This way”, by the way, is her referring to coming face to face with a female student with a masculine appearance, not celebrating a Lady Gaga song. A chubby, square jawed, men’s-clothes-wearing, tattooed (although, might I add, adorable) butch woman just spent an hour and a half folding, balancing, and back bending with a small pack of the more traditional feminine appearing women one might expect to find at an evening yoga class. And it scared the shit out of her.
I have noticed when I am in a yoga class and there are no men, I become the guy in the room by default. I am hyper aware that I am spoken to, adjusted, treated in partner yoga, and referenced (by default, my queerness is also quite clear) by my butchness and sexuality. If there is a spider in the room, it will be my job to hunt it down and ignore the yogic credo of non-violence (yes, this has happened more than once).
“That’s so gay. That is the gayest thing I’ve ever seen. Who would want to wear that? It’s disgusting. Ugh, gay.” This is coming from another student who is sitting across from me as we wait in the hallway to be let into a women only yoga class. After each “that’s so gay” repetition, she pauses and looks at me to see if she can engage me in an argument. This dredlocked, vegan, essential oil wearing, hyper-feminine yogini is already disgusted by my presence at the women only yoga class. I don’t bite. I’m not there to argue.
Later in that class, when we end up by random chance paired together for partner yoga, I do not drop her in her backbend, even though I really, really want to. I rallied up enough negative karma killing the spider.
During a weeklong yoga retreat with a well-known yoga teacher, I noticed halfway through that every conversation with said teacher ended with, “whew—you have a lot of masculinity!” The first time it was amusing. The second time confusing and forcing me to question just how butch and scary I am to the general population.
After the third time, we had afternoon workshop with a question and answer period. I had a question. During this time, my hand was up for over 30 minutes. People were picked who were not waiting so long, and eventually I was completely ignored and we had to cut off for time. Normally, my yogic-centered self would just think that we were out of time, and that I should appreciate the workshop itself, even if I didn’t get to ask a question. Not this time.
I spent a good 2 hours crying alone in a tent in the middle of a forrest-y nowhere because I think there is a possibility that I am being ignored because my appearance is so off-putting that I can’t be allowed to speak—or speak too much. Further, a group of teachers who I have spent years respecting, admiring, and dreaming of working with are ignoring me. Am I really this frightening presence that is so manly that it surprises people when I have a pretty looking vinyasa flow going? Is there a beard growing on here that I am unaware of? If there were, should that matter to them? I know it seems unlikely that I was not called on because of my queerness, and I now don’t believe that was the case, but after hearing all week about my “masculinity”, at the time it felt like I was out of place. At the time, it was a very real possibility that ripped out my core. I needed a hug, or at least to talk about it. At that point I was too ashamed of myself to ask even the friends I had made at the retreat. Who would want to hug this?
I am a part of the yoga community, yet a chunk of the yoga community can’t handle me. There are teachers and students who will preach acceptance and non-violence until their “OM” chanting faces turn blue, but my choice of wearing men’s athletic shorts instead of women’s can throw them off for the entire class. It’s disheartening. I want to teach yoga. Now I have to wonder, am I too masculine to be accepted as a teacher? What if this package turns off too many students? Should I maybe go back to wearing some earrings and hope this is some type of balance? How deep is my voice? Do I walk differently when I think I’m being watched?
I don’t have any answers right now. Suggestions are welcome. For now, I will continue the quest for the perfect arm balance, and I will do this in my sleeveless T-shirt from the men’s section that shows off my arms and tattoo. I will accept that right now I will be the focus of comments, but that the people that they are coming from need to see me being “this way”, and doing yoga just like they do. I will get on my mat, smile at them, and take practice. That’s my revolution.
© Tara Viceconte for Acceptance Revolution, 2012
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