Queer Yogi empowers others through inclusivity, love

Elliot, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky

What does the word Queer mean to you?

I think to me, queer means unique, not limited to the rules of mainstream society. it’s the freedom to be different from what’s expected.

What do you identify as, or do you identify at all?

I’m a fat, white, atheist, pansexual, agender spoonie. (The Spoon Theory)

WHO ARE YOU?! What are you up to in this world and talk about your business.

Ha! Who am I? I’d love it if someone else could answer that for me. I feel like I’m just starting to figure that out. For so much of my life, I’ve lived to make other people happy & tried to meet their expectations. When I got together with my current girlfriend, she asked me what I wanted out of a relationship. I told her that I had no idea because no one had ever asked me that before. The thought that I could just be me & people could accept me or not & even if they didn’t, that was ok hadn’t ever occurred to me.

I was constantly trying to fit myself into what other people expected I should be. Now, I’m trying to figure out who I am & then just be that person.

In my yoga life, I started change.yoga. I teach a few group classes that I work to make accessible to anyone & everyone. I like to say that I teach to people who, for whatever reason, don’t feel comfortable going to a ‘regular’ class or studio. I also do skillshares, that I call Yoga Confidence, for people who are hesitant to try yoga. They may be intimidated by the Sanskrit or the religious statues & imagery, or the usual ‘I’m not flexible enough,’ whatever the reason, I try to give them info so they can pick the classes & studio that’s right for them (or to start a home practice). And then I do skillshares for teachers that I call, “Stretching Diversity.” I do them for people who are already teachers but I’m also trying to work with as many teacher training programs to help educate new teachers before they even start. When I’m not doing yoga, I’m a freelance marketing consultant & my business is called frankHYPE. Lately I’ve been mixing the two worlds & many of my clients are yoga (or other wellness professionals). They’re also individuals or small businesses who assume that marketing support would be too expensive for them. So I work to give them a few hours of support a month at reasonable rates. I can’t take on all of their marketing needs but I can work with them to help craft a strategy that works for them & then implement a lot of the routine needs that can often bog down micropreneurs.

How did you start your yoga journey?

In college I took a world religions class & yoga was mentioned. I didn’t really know what it was but i knew it was this ‘new’ thing (at least in my world) people were doing to get in shape so I wanted to try it out. My first class was in a school gym after class. I don’t really remember much about the class other than I liked it. After that I did yoga off & on for about 15 years. I always really liked it but life would get in the way & I’d stop practicing. I eventually started going several times a week to studio classes & started learning about the 8 limbs, meditation, pranayama & all the other stuff that makes up yoga that you don’t see in the magazines. I started noticing how much it was helping me mentally & physically & was actually pretty mad.

I’d gone to countless doctors & therapists over the years for my different chronic conditions & no one had ever suggested doing asana or meditation.

It’s a little better now but still extremely undervalued. So I just wanted to shout it out to everyone. I didn’t expect to become a teacher but that’s where I’ve ended up, for now anyway, so I’m just hoping that I can help people avoid some of the struggles & pain that I experienced.

What inspired you to lean into all-inclusive yoga?

Well, I didn’t really have a choice. with my body & my life, if I was going to do yoga, it had to be all-inclusive. and I realized if I needed this, there were probably a bunch of other people who needed it too.

What do you believe the consequences are of teaching yoga without awarenss of privledge?

I think we risk doing real harm to people when we don’t try to address our privilege. We’re never going to be perfect & that stops a lot of people from trying, we feel too afraid or paralyzed.

But if we don’t put the work in to try to break down barriers that are exclusive we’re just reinforcing the marginalization that occurs in our larger society.

Often we want to think of our mats as automatically neutral spaces but they’re not. That doesn’t happen automatically. We have to do the work. If we’re going to create these spaces & invite people to them, we have the responsibility to do it as safely as possible. Otherwise, people come to us and the spaces we’ve created with their guard down, expecting to be safe, because that’s what we’ve told them, only to find themselves experiencing the same microaggressions, prejudice, & trauma they experience off the mat.

How did you come into your queerness and do you feel like a stronger person because of your journey? Why or why not?

Oh, that’s a long complicated story. I first came out to a few people 20-ish years ago in high school. I came out to a few other people over the years but it’s only been in the past few years that I’ve come out completely to my family & everyone. I kind of went in the other direction & just put everything out there publicly. I knew my queerness would be a problem for lots of people, that I would make lots of people who were close to me uncomfortable.

That’s a hard place to be. So, both consciously & unconsciously I kept it a secret. Eventually hiding who I was just simply became too much & I couldn’t keep the secret anymore. I couldn’t keep pretending I was someone else. It was a hard transition and a lot of what I was afraid of did happen. But it’s been worth it. I’ve found a community that’s been supportive more than I could have imagined. I’ve never experienced acceptance like this from anyone before. That’s not to say everything’s perfect but it’s so much better than before.

If you could tell anyone struggling to come in their identity, what would it be?

Take your time. Focus on yourself. And don’t be afraid if you don’t have all the answers right away (or ever). Obviously your safety comes first so don’t do anything that endangers you. But don’t be afraid to step away from people & relationships that aren’t supportive of you, even family. And I don’t mean ones that just tolerate you. Do what you can to find people who truly accept you for who you are. This doesn’t happen overnight, it isn’t easy, & won’t always happen for everyone.

But, looking back on my experiences, those would be the goals I’d go for if I had to do it again. I was so afraid of losing what I had even though I was, at best, being tolerated, that I couldn’t see what I’d gain by being around people who accepted me. If I would’ve known what was possible, I would’ve come out a long time ago.

Do you have a favorite yoga pose?

I’ve always really liked pigeon but lately I’ve been spending a lot of time in child’s pose. I also really, really love reclined, supported hero’s pose. A lot has changed in my practice since I had 3 surgeries in 4 months in 2017 so I’m still learning again what my body needs & likes now.