LGBTQ+ Yogis on What We Need
Something I will preach forever from the highest of mountaintops is that yoga is for everyone. Yoga is healing and transformation, and it’s incredibly hard, but rewarding work. Within my own queer community, both online and in person, I’ve found these particular traits can be exceptionally beneficial and well sought after. You would think that yoga classes would be bursting with the most outward dykes, queens, and everything in between, but we remain outnumbered. Please don’t misread my words, as I want it to be clear that I do not want all white straight women to quit yoga, and I stand by my statement that yoga is for everyone. But they are the “norm”; they have found safety in a yoga class at a school. Queer people more often find comfort in the community they have found online, and practice yoga following online videos, sharing their success stories on instagram. This is what is empowering for so many! But imagine if the shala was a place queer people felt safe practicing their yoga; where they could learn safe alignment, practice better breathing techniques, and enhance their understanding of yoga. Everyone who is interested should be able to practice yoga and learn how to practice safely, effectively, and comfortably. This extends, quite obviously, to queer people as well.
In my personal experience, reading “all are welcome” on a yoga school’s website is much more promising of a positive experience than “LGBTQ Friendly!” Truly what all students want is to be treated normally and with respect, and I will repeat that many times in this article. If that’s all a reader gets from this, it’s a good start. But putting on a show about how LGBTQ positive your school is, is actually more uncomfortable than not saying anything at all. Seems counterintuitive almost, doesn’t it? But I can say with complete confidence that performative ally-ship will never make a queer person want to come to class, no matter how good your intentions are. In fact, it might just make that person want to talk poorly about said school to all their friends! A teacher’s first impression on a student, what that teacher is like and what beliefs they hold, is first realized through a student’s attempt to decipher their new yoga school’s website. Screaming from the rooftops about how much you love gay people is frankly startling and strange, and will send the gays running.
There are often a lot of gray areas in student-teacher relationships unfortunately, but at no time will it ever be appropriate to straight up ask an individual their pronouns. This puts someone in a very uncomfortable spot; some people aren’t sure, some people aren’t out, and some people think its none of your business! All of these are acceptable and respectable, and it is a teacher’s job to accommodate all of these. In my opinion, the smoothest way to navigate around uncertainty regarding pronouns is to present your own:
“Hi, welcome to class! My name is Xyz, my pronouns are he/him.”
This gives people a cue that you are safe and have at least some understanding of their identity. Note that using the term “pronouns” is more effective than saying that you identify as a male/female. Some people don’t identify with either of those things, and using vocabulary used in queer spaces shows that there’s some knowledge there; someone who is an active ally will use terminology that is well-educated and comfortable. Being asked to come out can feel like being forced to come out, which can make even the most open person uncomfortable, and it's frankly an exhausting exercise full of anxiety and uncharted waters. A person’s gender, what they identify as, and how they got there, can be a story of pain and perseverance, and is not always a story they want to relive. It may seem like all you want is an explanation of their pronouns, but how are they supposed to know what reaction, or assumptions are about to be made? Honestly, there’s always that question in the back of my mind: would it be dangerous to come out to this person?
However, a lot of times knowing an individual’s pronouns is not important, and certainly not right off the bat. For instance, in a class setting if there’s a new person, I wouldn’t recommend rushing them into all the personal questions; treating all students with respect is the most basic and best rule to follow. Something to keep in mind is to keep your crowd addressing terms gender neutral. Folks, friends, students, comrades, etc., are all going to be better received than guys, ladies, ladies and gentlemen, etc. These two seemingly small changes in behavior can make a world of difference in class: LGBTQ students truly just want respect, and to not be put on some strange pedestal where they feel their teacher is pandering to them.
Teachers who do research offer the safest place for students. Google is your friend, use it! Additionally, if you want to reach out towards a certain group of people to get them into yoga, hire someone like them to teach it. Nothing is more soothing than walking into a new environment, and realizing that the teacher has something major in common with you; they look like you, act like you, or come from the same cultural background as you. This not only brings in new students that otherwise might not have been comfortable enough to join before, but gives marginalized people in a white-cis-normative field a job they deserve. LGBTQ yogis don’t want much, and we definitely don’t want too much, but a little consideration and research go a long way to achieving the inclusivity and accessibility that yoga is supposed to invite.