***Part I: Obstacles***
There are thoughts that always seem to spring up during my yoga practice:
“I bet I look ridiculous right now, like a monkey doing an arabesque”; “I was pretty good at basketball, and soccer. Tennis, too. Boy, those were the days”; “Why, oh why, is my right hip so tight? What is in there? Daddy, are you in there? I know you’re in there. Get out of my hip!”; “How thankful am I to have a body that works. Okay, fine, how thankful I should be to have this body. I am thankful for my body, right?”; “If only I was still with that last girl, or the one before that, then I could think about hot sex while stuck in this stupid room balancing on one foot with my legs and arms crossed”; “That second paragraph in chapter six, maybe I should use ‘patio’ instead of ‘deck.’ No, no, deck. Or patio. Deck. Fuck!”
I expected those thoughts and so was truly surprised when the one I hadn’t anticipated trumped them all, lodged itself into a huge ball in my forebrain: I am transgender. I am DIFFERENT.
I guess I don’t have to think about that as much in San Francisco, or in the Castro where even if I’m the only trans person in my yoga class, my ego is at least comforted by the knowledge that in the distance between my studio to my home, I have received both a girl’s phone number and a guy’s tongue in my mouth.
But the second I arrived in Guatemala, I felt my difference: I laughed uncomfortably when the hotel concierge said, “That’s not your real name right, you don’t strike me as a Nina,” and I quaked in my zip-off pants when a uniformed officer with a gun said, “Good afternoon, sir” while staring at my open passport with the big letter “F,” and I panicked for a moment at a bar in San Pedro when I was directed to the “bathroom,” a cement hole with only a bare bones partition blocking it off from the center of a crowded courtyard.
And the second I arrived on my retreat, I felt my difference: When I met my new roommate, who was upset to have been matched with a guy, me, I took on the burden of the situation, as if I had solely caused the problem, as if my being was an irreconcilable problem. And when I removed my shirt, I realized that even though top surgery was without a doubt the best thing that has ever happened to me, I still felt stigmatized, a tiny bit ugly, when my scars were acknowledged: The mom who asked, “Are you okay?”; The child who asked, “What are those lines?”; The massage therapist who asked, “Are those tribal markings?” And every time I heard someone address the woman named “Mina,” I felt my entire stomach drop before I’d realize that nobody knew my birth name, that the present incarnation of myself was safe.
At this point in my life, I find it easier to out myself instead of biting my tongue when I’m about to tell a girl I used to play sports against her all-girls school, or explicate that I played in the Sydney Gay Games as a dyke not a gay dude, even though I’m at least kinda gay-ish now. It’s also easy to out myself because I’m writing a transgender memoir and since writing is what I’m most passionate, it’s often the first thing I want to share with new friends.
Within the first few days, I’d told several folks I was trans (although I always said the full “transgender” and tried not to wonder if they had any sense of what I meant by a word that I believe holds a great deal of diversity). If I didn’t tell someone, I assumed they either heard or figured it out, and then, once everyone knew, I developed it into a new worry: I am only a Trans Person, that’s all I do, all I am, all I have to offer.
Different may have been the word I used to describe myself initially, but separation, isolation, and loneliness were the blocks that I turned it into inside my head.
*** Part II: Intention ***
On Tuesday, when I had settled into the retreat enough and still knew I’d have enough time to relax when done, I pulled out my manuscript. It took me a day-and-a-half to get through, and I read it as planned, in a hammock without a pen in my hand and without an eye towards revision. But I also read it with an intention I would not have considered had I not had a brief exchange at breakfast with my teacher who framed my upcoming task as a “nod to the work done.”
Four years of my life, a great deal of pain and triumph, and hundreds of hours writing, revising, writing and revising went into those pages. Some of those paragraphs had been sentences that became chapters that became words that moved from chapter 3 to chapter 5 before finally finding a home. I nodded in acknowledgment, in awe really, of the journey my words had taken. When I bumped into my teacher later, she said I looked clear. She wasn’t aware that I’d read my manuscript, and that after four years, I believed, for the very first time, that I may actually have a book on my hands.
But perhaps the clarity came from the experience of reading a story about a narrator who just happens to have been me, and the new perspective this gave me. For I’d just read a “book” that at its core is a queer coming out story about a person afraid of becoming an outsider, of not being “normal.” And there I was now, a person so comfortable in the Castro as a queer and outsider that “normal” people scared me. I couldn’t help but laugh at myself, at the circularity of my course.
***Part III: Yoga***
We practiced yoga every morning and every afternoon, except for the one morning when a few folks climbed a volcano, an adventure I didn’t even consider after focusing on this concept of intention and setting my own for the week: not to go anywhere or do anything; to banish “should” from my head, to let go of any notion of achieving anything.
Yoga can be a complicated endeavor. It can be about trying to get my leg behind my head (I’m not even close). It can be about learning that my pelvis has a floor and if I can just convince it to feel like its holding onto a tampon for dear life, I might be able to do a handstand. It can be about discovering that there are words like kapalabhati and uddiyana bandha that I cannot physically understand, nor even pronounce.
Yoga can also be profoundly simple. It can be about being compassion to oneself and being compassionate to others. It can be about learning what happens when a handful of people who do not know each other take off work, leave behind children and husbands, drop some cash, shed their defenses, and connect. It can be about discovering that my experiences, my story, may be different from that of others, but that a good story, a real story, is universal—that we all experience joy, worry, pain, sadness, anxiety, passion, loss, grief, pressure, fear, loneliness, and if we’re lucky, some gratitude.
In the end, I didn’t leave the retreat property for six days. I’d wanted to see what would happen if I stopped moving, what would move inside of me if I stayed still. I’m not sure when it happened, or how it did, but I visualized the change in a ritual, an image, my separation going up in flames, and in the experience of diving into the icy volcanic lake every morning and sloughing off my coat of isolation
What took its place shocked me: the words of a friend who said I seem “really happy” and another who said I’m “magnetic” and exude the sense of someone who knows it; a friend on the mat by my side, stabilizing me with her steady strong breath; the pale blue eyes of a friend locking her drishti onto my heart every time I opened my mouth; the ease of skinny-dipping in the womb-warm watsu pool under a swollen moon; the cohesiveness of a circle, undulating, and the flickers of light that powered us from our center.
***Part V: Return***
I went to yoga class on Monday night, the first day I was back. I’d told myself I didn’t *have* to go, but after practicing daily, it seemed easier to go than not to, to stick with a good habit rather than force myself into a bad one. And besides, it was less than a five minute walk to the studio from my house, only a few minutes longer than the walk from my retreat room to the yoga palapa. I’d just spent a week with people who flew to Guatemala from NY, Minnesota, and Colorado to practice with my teacher, and now, back in San Francisco, the distance to her seemed even shorter.
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that she was happy to see me, for she is human and not immune to the retreat withdrawal I was experiencing; she too had to let go of the community we’d created; she too had to acclimate back into the urban chaos.
After class, she was excited, telling me that she could see it, that my practice had shifted. Although I downplayed it, as I do, I would agree. I’m a little stronger, a little less self-conscious, a little more aware of my body, able to breath a little deeper. But it is off the the mat where I’ve noticed the shift the most. I waited for the panic to hit when my travel plans went awry after I left the retreat property, and I waited for my job annoyance to hit when I went back to work, and I waited for the overwhelm to hit when I got back to my manuscript and realized I have less than five months to finalize this book. But nothing hit, at least not as hard as it used to, not hard enough to knock me over.