What a queer couple of months! First Bruce ‘becomes’ Caitlyn and now this? The Supreme Court is all for ‘the gays‘ getting married? Whaaaaaat???? Watch out my straight friends. Shit’s getting really real. If I were you, I’d consider moving to Canada. No, wait, they liked ‘the gays‘ before we did. Crap! Pretty soon there will be decadent dance parties in offices along with well coiffed straight men, and more ugly neighborhoods turned beautiful. Can you stand it?
I mean, really, what is this country coming to? We, the queers, are coming for you with our glitter and butterfly wings… you are in danger of sweaty bear hugs and farting rainbows… ruuuuuuuuuuunnnnnn! You might actually start to feel, wait, is it- more joyful? No no, wait, what is it? What is this feeling? Could it possibly be that you feel… gaaaaayyyyyeeerrr?!? I’m serious, next thing you know you will want to marry someone of the same sex or date someone who is gender fluid. You get mad street creds like instantly. All the cool kids are doing it. And the rest of the world is, well…a little disoriented.
I was standing outside one of the studios at Pure Yoga, looking handsome, natch, just waiting for the last class to let out, when one of my students, who I happen to really like, sits down next to me and starts chatting me up. He looks down, noticing the studio copy of Vanity Fair with Caitlyn Jenner on the cover on the table next to me (which I’ve not yet read). I’m pretty sure it made him nervous. He turns to me and says, “Can you believe it?!” (I blankly stare at him waiting to see where this is going.) “This is the new normal, they’re saying! Where I work, some men wear full makeup. And people are ok with it!” I said, “You know, Jason (we’ll call him Jason), you did choose to live in New York City. At this point nothing should surprise you.”
Now, I am merely a yoga teacher. I don’t own the truth or claim to or want to. I’m not in the practice of micromanaging you and telling you how to live, I don’t have that kind of time. I prefer to help you on your way to living exactly how you want to live. To add to that, I admit I’ve taken only one masters women’s studies course (17 years ago) so I lack the currently correct words to properly speak to all of these issues. I know I will undoubtedly offend someone if not everyone by the end of this post, that is, if I haven’t already. Warning, people: the Latin immigrant is about to talk politically incorrectly about transgender. This should be good. Get your rotten tomatoes out, set the speed dial to 911- that way the handcuffs will be ready when you decide to blog about my blog.
I’ve kept quiet about my story because I don’t feel it is (mostly) any different from yours. We struggle similarly: at Whole Foods I wait in line while the confused person in front tries to figure out the number system even though we’ve done it this way for years; I wonder why people line up to get on an airplane when we all have assigned seats; I don’t understand why my dogs can’t go to the beach; and yes, like you, I fight with the stupid, oversized roll of toilet paper in the bathrooms to try to get a square (please, just one square!).
I, like you, was given a body at birth. And like you, I imagine, had no idea what to do with it for the first little while I had it. When I was an awkward teenager I found it overwhelming. Didn’t you? And parts of it where highly inconvenient. Doesn’t everybody feel that way? At least a little? Even now, bow pose might suck if you’ve got a little something extra down there and peacock might not feel that great if your something extra is up top. We all have to work with what we’ve got. You are a spirit dealing with your house -your body- and it takes a while to get to know it and learn how to love it properly.
One of my teachers, Raghunath, says, “I am not the body, I am not the mind, I am divine!” It’s one of the reasons I’ve been so deeply drawn to his work. I would come to his class and he would say it didn’t matter what gender you were or what car you drove or where you lived because ultimately you are a spirit. None of those other things define you. That touched me deeply. It made my being an ‘in-betweener’ okay. I belonged in his or any yoga class regardless along with everyone else. Simply for being a spirit.
When I say ‘in-betweener’ I’m talking about the fact that I don’t feel fully female and never have. Nor do I feel fully male. I call it ‘trans-ish’. So I say I’m a boi if people ask. As far as words go it seems the most accurate. One of my students was telling me he had learned a lot about the ‘in-between’ poses (poses that are not quite yoga poses but almost) from me. I told him it was probably because I am most at home in that space. Maybe it comes across the way a lot of bi people come across to gay people- like, chose a fucking side already. But I don’t want to choose! And I don’t feel like I should have to just because my straddling both sides makes you uncomfortable. It seems less intimidating when you can simply label someone, doesn’t it? Then at least you know what you’re getting into. I think it is scarier when we walk the line.
For some of us straddlers and choosers, changing the body is essential. The birth body feels like the wrong house. If that is your story, I am moved by your bravery, as I can imagine it’s a scary journey at times. For many years, it seemed like that might be my story, too. When I was little, I was told that if I prayed, I would get what I prayed for, so I would pray to wake up a boy. I never got my wish. This habit lasted many many many years. If you were to ask me why, I wouldn’t know what to say even now. It was just the way it was.
Over a decade of yoga has shifted that for me and made my exterior less crucial- it has brought me to love this house and shown me that I can still be me inside it. There is plenty to play with in my appearance with how I dress and wear my hair to ride the middle in a soft, sweet and masculine way. Yes, real men wear pink! Real men wear skirts and get manicures and do anything that they do because we are all real. Am I a real boi? See what happens if you try to poke your finger through me. Pinch me. But not hard, please, I’m ticklish.
Personally, I’ve finally stopped trying to eradicate my contradictions and am finding great joy and magical powers from leaning into them. Maybe your super hero lives in that zone. Try it for yourself. Celebrate it. There is a potent well of untapped energy in the parts of you which might seem most at odds. You might be shocked. But again, that’s not everyone’s story. It also doesn’t mean that someday I might not feel differently about myself, my body, my journey. I have the highest regard for all of our individual struggles, wherever you may be on any spectrum. I also have a high regard for those who chose to love us outliers and be our mates, for they fall into the middle by association and are incredible heart warriors on the daily.
I shifted my nickname from ‘Mila’ to ‘Miles’ a few years ago because that part of me was needing some room. For the most part, everyone, was very sweet about it and most of you rolled with it. I figure you knew me well enough that you had learned to expect the unexpected. I did, however, meet a wall of resistance from two of my dearest people: my best friend from childhood and my girlfriend at the time. When I’ve met resistance people say it is because I’ve changed, I’ve ‘become’ something different or ‘am becoming’ something different that they are finding hard to relate to. THIS is not true. I have not changed. I have been this way always.
Maybe you had an alternate plan for me, you wanted things to be different, or you failed to see what had been there all along. Maybe you are scared of where the end is, if there is one. But look at pictures of me when I was three- you will see the same spirit looking up at you. Nothing has changed. I have not ‘become’ anything I have not ‘been’ this whole time. It’s just that more of what was originally there is visible. I have blossomed.
Resistance is your disappointment.
This is certainly true in yoga, as we move through the asanas, and encounter our judgments. I cannot think of a time this is not true in my life. The extent to which we suffer is directly proportionate to the ferocity with which we hold onto what was supposed to happen.
Aside from these pithy tidbits, it’s has been very fucking painful to mourn these losses. But life is full of crossroads and souls chose when to part. I can’t not shine my light or betray my truth for fear that it will be too much for you. I am moved by these lines from a poem by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, “It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself; if you can bear accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul; if you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.” I figure if you can’t see me, or bear to see me, if my being who I am destabilizes who you are when I show you the truest, sweetest and in some odd ways most feminine, tender-hearted part of myself, there is nothing I can do. This is part of my gift. I cannot betray it. It is my dharma.
It is clear that Caitlyn Jenner’s ‘coming out’, her big reveal, was highly produced and is deliberately attached to the business of her reality show. Ok. However, the first picture in the Vanity Fair spread reads, “Annie Leibovitz shoots the first portraits of Caitlyn, the person Bruce has become.” That made me sad. (I couldn’t bring myself to read the article). I would argue she has been Caitlyn all along, but what do I know about how she feels?
There has been a huge outpouring in her favor, and still it has been vulnerable and painful to read all the articles and controversy around it. I got into it with a student for posting an insensitive joke about her on Facebook. And then I really struggled with a New York Times op-ed that was floating around called “What Makes a Woman?” by Elinor Burkett, which I found to be not only lacking in compassion but honestly completely out of line.
In the article, she accuses Caitlyn of robbing years of the feminist struggle by showing herself as a ‘culturally’ hot woman and by saying she was looking forward to having her nails painted. Now I am not saying that this specific portrayal of trans gender is not infinitely problematic. Especially because most trans people out there don’t have access or health coverage for surgeries and may not have the means to transition as glamorously as Caitlyn has. But, you know what? If that was the biggest longing for the little girl inside that 3 year old boy’s body for all those years, why you gotta be a hater? Get thee to a nail salon! Whip out the push up bra! For the love of Krishna, we are not idiots, we know it takes more than painting your nails and looking good in a corset to make a woman. We know, Elinor.
And by we, I’m not just implying women, I’m including many of our men who are now die hard feminists as well. Maybe Bruce didn’t know what it was like to walk as scared as a woman might in a parking lot at night. But he sure knew that if he let too much show he could get beaten up in the locker room, lose his children, lose his career, lose everything. And he and many others like us walk scared not just in parking lots, but everywhere, all the time.
I have news: Caitlyn existing does not make you less of a woman or less of a man. And it does not invalidate the feminist movement. This is not a competition to see who is the most marginalized. Grow up. That is exactly like saying that gays getting married puts straight marriage in jeopardy, or that me being gay will make you gay. None of these things are true, and they are also not mutually exclusive. They can all exist. Even in harmony. As our Supreme Court has noted by making it legal on a Federal level for everyone to marry. Go love! or, Go! Love! Please!
I don’t envy Caitlyn being in the public eye where she will have to endure sometimes really ignorant people, scrutinizing her every word and her every move. Obviously it was a very purposeful finely orchestrated personal and career choice on her part. But no matter what, putting herself out there on such a large scope is paving the way for all of us small fish so that we may have an easier time in public restrooms and maybe someday not be scared when we hold our beloved’s hand- so that we have a fighting chance. She’s also giving young kids who might feel inadequate in their bodies hope.
She’s not perfect, she’s not the spokesperson for a gigantic and very varied group of humans, but she is challenging and opening new spaces. For that I am eternally grateful to her. So if she wants to paint her fucking nails and have girl’s nights, please go right ahead. I’ll send the prosecco…
I, for my part, am a warrior every day, walking my walk and shining the best part of myself onto the world. Hopefully I inspire you to do the same. When dealing with these issues or with the people in your life who might be a bit off the beaten path, I can offer a small piece of advice: ask and listen. It is the only way you will have a clue what’s happening.
Life is full of magical creatures and just because you might fit the status quo or not, doesn’t mean you aren’t one of them. Someone having a different view of the world than you doesn’t mean you have to hate them. You can disagree and still find a loving space. If you can stay receptive and open, you never know the gifts that might come your way for letting your own fears and boundaries crumble.
The best part of life occurs in the ‘in-between’ spaces. Be brave. Don’t give over your magic. To anyone. In Indian lore, that ‘in-between’ space is where we meet our godliness, it it the highest part of ourselves. So shine on with your Divinity. Like RiRi (Rihanna) says, “Shine bright like a diamond!”