Let’s Create Safe Spaces for Transgender and Nonbinary Yogis

For years, I stood behind the desk of a well-known yoga chain, watching as students hurried through the doors. They’d drop their canvas bags and jangling keys on the counter and exhale their names to me, eager as kids at a pool party to hop into class.

It was my job to tell new arrivals where the water fountain and studios were and direct them to the locker rooms—“men’s” or “women’s.” As a trans person and longtime yoga student and teacher, my stomach lurched each time someone was gendered. I asked one of my nonbinary (an umbrella term for genders other than male and female) students, Mel, to reflect on this experience: “I felt misunderstood and embarrassed,” they told me. “As an adult, I know how to find the correct locker room.”

The gender binary’s presence in contemporary yoga is based in the white, patriarchal norms of Colonial America. The more than 500 Indigenous nations in what is now known as North America varied greatly in their traditional expressions of gender, as
did the enslaved people forcefully moved here from Africa. Decolonial feminists, such as María Lugones and Gloria Anzaldúa, posit that enforcing the gender binary explicitly and implicitly subdued Indigenous practices like matrilineality, fertility affirmation, and nonbinary gender expressions—empowering white, cisgender (someone whose gender is exclusively the one they were assigned at birth) male landowners—and we can see the result in our yoga spaces today.

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