As humans, we tend to gravitate toward people who have similar experiences as us, and when there is a teacher who students can relate to, they are more likely to feel welcome, comfortable, and – most importantly – safe. When studios or spaces offer yoga led by queer or trans teachers who are out, it is an affirmation of the existence of those communities. Our Executive Director April Morrison sat down to chat with Yoga Buzz teacher training graduate Dan Stewart about the importance of visibility for queer and trans yogis.
In celebration of Pride Month, check out the full 20 minute interview below! Here are a few excerpts from Dan:
It really was difficult at first when I was trying to understand my identity better prior to transitioning – knowing that something was up – and going into these yoga spaces that are particularly female-dominated. There’s a lot of gendered language, focusing on your femininity, and going to some classes where there was a focus on your hips – all these things that as a transgender individual, can be really triggering…
It can be really disheartening to go into a space to be vulnerable to open yourself up to yoga and the experience of being present to your body. But I felt called to come back, even when class wasn’t perfect or even when it was hard for me personally. It really was an affirming experience – especially going through yoga teacher training and I was able to learn how yoga can be and how to create this environment that’s for everyone, especially for members of my own community…
As a trans person, a lot of my energy prior to transitioning or pre-surgery/hormones, was focused in on what can I do to be seen how I want to be seen – really putting that on other people to affirm me. Where yoga kinda called me in to be present to myself, to see the beauty and the work that I would do working toward these physical poses, and recognizing the strength that I had. Then that could translate into strength in everyday life in navigating the world as a queer and trans person…
For me personally I knew I wanted to take the next step in deeping my practice and having a better understanding, but also I knew the benefit for myself and wanted to share that with my community. And not just the meditative aspect, but really, the asana the physical practice and what that means to really appreciate your body when you might struggle with that.
Advice for Queer & Trans Students
- Ask for recommendations from friends or others in your community
- Try a few different styles of yoga, teachers, and spaces. There are a lot of options out there, and just because one doesn’t feel like a fit doesn’t mean it’s because you’ve done anything wrong.
- If the studio/space isn’t working for you, recognize that you have every right to leave – even if it’s in the middle of class.
- If you feel comfortable doing so, advocate for yourself if something doesn’t feel right, and ask for what you need.
Advice for Yoga Teachers who want to make their spaces more inclusive for Queer & Trans yogis
- Take time to learn about the LGBTQ+ community through conversation, books, etc. Check out the PrideCenter, a community space in St. Louis that hosts events, workshops, and a library filled with several thousand books on LGBTQIA+, feminist, gender, and race topics cataloged for the public to borrow. PROMO (Missouri’s statewide LGBTQ group) also has a wealth of information, as well as hosts events across the state.
- Don’t make assumptions about the identity of your students. When you meet a student for the first time, consider introducing yourself and give your own preferred pronoun – i.e. “Hi, I’m Dan – I use him and his pronouns.” This will open an opportunity for the student to self-identify, if they choose.
- Integrate non-gendered language – use words like folks, friends, y’all. Avoiding words like ladies, guys, girls, etc.
- Check in with your students after class if it seems like they’re uncomfortable – ask what you can do to support them because you genuinely like to see them come back.
- Being open to receiving feedback – acknowledge that you may inadvertently offend someone, and take time to understand why.
- Offer gender neutral restrooms
A big thank you to our friends at Yoga and Body Image Coalition for partnering with us to share these important conversations Live on their Facebook! Tune in on Monday, June 4th at 12pm CST for a live chat with Dr. Anu French on building intergenerational resilience.
About Dan Stewart
Dan Stewart is SAGE (Services and Advocacy of GLBT Elders) Program Coordinator, leading education, organizing, outreach, and programmatic activities for SAGE of PROMO Fund. He is dedicated to building broad-based support for LGBT older adults and LGBT equality across targeted regions in Missouri. Dan regularly speaks to social workers and healthcare professionals about the importance of caring for the aging LGBT community. Additionally, he is an adjunct professor at St. Louis University.