I show up at an all-weekend Anatomy for Yogis class, and I’m a little nervous when I realize I’m the only participant who isn’t a yoga teacher. Within the first hour, a guy in the class is modeling his anatomy for us, something we’ll all do at some point in pairs. His shirt is off and now I am very, very nervous, too aware of what I’ll reveal when my shirt is off. My concern expands beyond my chest to my entire body. I am an anatomy complication. The potential disasters begin to swirl.
I pray that when the instructor talks about the tightness of a man’s hamstrings, or the small relative size of a man’s hips, I am not the model. I steel myself for the dozens of times he will exclude my body from the conversation. I hope I will be able to tell him that I have scars on my chest before he asks me to take off my shirt, something I’m fine doing, as long as he is aware of the situation.
At the end of class, I approach the instructor with my short speech, tell him I am transgender, take hormones, had surgery. I explain my body is female and male, male built upon female. His eyes are warm even as it takes him more than a few seconds to comprehend. I can tell that in my sharing, I have given him a gift, one that he has absolutely no clue what to do with. I have averted disaster, but I have not taught him any skills to improve the next few days for me.
On my walk home that night, I think about how I used to keep my shirt on because it was the only way I could remain comfortable, and now the only reason I ever keep my shirt on is to keep other people comfortable because that keeps me comfortable. I think about education and change and empowerment, and I know that keeping my shirt on tomorrow isn’t an option. I want to bail on the class by claiming it is too “advanced” for me, and even if it is, I know quitting is not an option. I want to cry, but I can’t.
The next day, I hope for a young and cute partner. Young means there’s the potential for trans awareness. Cute means there’s the potential she will flirt with me. Outing myself can be fun in the right crowd—I was once befriended/cruised in a yoga class by someone because she recognized my chest scars. Unfortunately, today I am stuck with an older woman who arrived in a BMW and is probably from Petaluma.
While my shirt is still around my neck, an “Oh My God, What Happened?” escapes from this woman’s mouth. I am prepared. I may be the only trans person she ever (knowingly) meets but what if there is a second. I must be an ambassador, even though I am not representative. My genes are not so great, my scars worse than most transfolk, I want to say to her. Do not pity us, I want to say. I have seen that look of shock, concern, and near-horror many times before. How I take this in is my choice. Do not pity yourself in her reflection, I think to myself.
“I am transgender,” I say calmly. “I had my breasts removed,” I add for complete clarity.
“I didn’t know. I don’t know,” she says defensively. I tell her it’s okay, mollify her discomfort, as it goes. Then she attempts to clarify, “Wait, you were a___ and now you’re a___?” I did just tell her I had breasts removed, but I realize I also threw her whole universe into a tizzy, and she is spinning. Despite spending the last four years writing a book about not being a woman or a man, I fill in her blanks, simplifying to an extent that feels untrue, because I know that learning has to begin with building blocks.
“You really do look like a man,” she says. She means it as a compliment, even though it hits about 100 miles off the mark, and she leaves me standing there in my shorts so she can inspect my posture. I try to stand tall, proud, even though she will inevitably say my shoulders roll in, that I shrink into myself, because I do.
I know that when I tell my friends about this incident later, the transfolk will crack jokes about this person’s ignorance, and the ire and rage will come from the women, the ex-lovers who protect me with fierce intensity. I know why some of us do not step outside of our queer ghetto, why I sometimes get funny looks when I invite friends to the yoga studio, and that even to those who practice, a retreat sounds like social torture. I also know that the yoga community is my home, the people I have met and continue to meet an ever-expanding family that extends well beyond the studio walls out and out and out. I know that ignorance is not intentional, that I was once ignorant about the things that I now embody.
My next partner is also an older woman, but I like her immediately because she is Italian and calls herself an “indie” yoga instructor which as we speak more, I come to think means she teaches stretching at an art school. While my shirt is off, she is at my back, watching the shape of my spine as I move from side to side. She is silent about my chest, and I am grateful.
When it’s her turn, I call the instructor over. After a day of evaluating and analyzing and failing to recognize someone’s *obvious* scoliosis, I feel like a bum partner and I want the instructor to help me so I can help my partner relieve some of her pain. He walks me through the exercise and soon my knuckles are pressing ever so slightly into the problem areas in her erector spinae muscles. It’s hard to believe I’m doing anything since the pressure on her back is minimal, but once I am done, she does her stretches and says she feels better, freer.
Then she starts to cry as she tells me that she went to the emergency room a few months ago. She thought she was having a heart attack, but the pain had come from her muscles, so extreme that it radiated from her back and wrapped around her side, her whole chest burning. The ER doctor told her she was not having a heart attack, but had only “worked out too hard.”
She is trying to laugh at herself as she speaks, and yet she cannot stop crying. She is now apologizing for crying, making excuses that are unnecessary, and I try to stay there with her even as I say little, as there is little to say. I think about what was barely mentioned explicitly in the course, but was underneath everything and known by all in the room: emotions are stored in the body.
When we come back together as a group, the instructor turns into a binary-spewing machine. He is addressing us directly, “Ladies, your body does this…” and “Men, your body does this…” He has no idea he’s discounting me completely, or even if he does, he has no idea how to speak about anatomy and separate it from his perception (or perhaps what he considers fact) of how this defines a person. His words are hammering away at me, and as much as it’s not what I want, not what I wish for, not what I’d choose if I felt that I had any strength left to make choices, I know I will not speak until this is all over, that I have gone numb.
At the very end, the Italian woman thanks me for sharing her emotional moment. She’s apologizing again for her tears, but I am jealous of them. I yearn for my own release, to heave and shake and sob and let out all that is trapped inside me. I must not be ready, and I wonder if I ever will be, or if I’m just building more scars on top of my scars, creating another layer of protection.