After being on hiatus, I was finally back in yoga class but excitement soon turned to mortification as I endured the most awkward experience of misgendering. As the teacher announced that class was about to start, she glanced around the entire room and realized there were no guys present.
Starting a conversation to the sea of people, she asked loudly, “Do we have any guys in class? It looks like we have all ladies today!” I cringed. Oh god, what was happening, I thought. I desperately looked around. Surely there were some guys in class, right? She double checked, scanning from left to right from the stage and as she poured salt into my wounded being, repeated herself. “Any guys in here?” she playfully teased. “I think we are all ladies today. If you are a guy, identify yourself!” she joked.
How embarrassing. I looked away. Looked down. Should I say something or raise my hand? First of all, I couldn’t think quick enough. Second, I didn’t feel obligated to “out” myself in front of the endless sea of strangers who didn’t need to know my gender in the first place in order to enjoy a yoga class. What if I had said yes, me? What if I had raised my hand, looking like a girl and said in a high-pitched voice that I was actually a man? Picture that. Sheer confusion. No thanks.
But people have me so wrong!
To them, she or her are just two more words that roll off their tongues automatically without any contemplation. To me, they are a million razor-sharp fingernails on a single chalkboard mutilating ever-so-sensitive ears and defying my insides. I am embarrassed and I pull my turtle head into my turtle shell. I wanted to disappear. Me? Are you talking to me? Who am I? Surely, you aren’t referring to me? I hear “she” and I momentarily dissociate from my body and I’m floating outside of it.
I feel unreal.
Every moment of every day is a chance for a fundamental part of me to be misinterpreted. Being misgendered makes me feel like a salty mist that stings even my own eyes and contorts and conforms only to boundaries of a societal construct. It’s confusing. On one hand, I look like a girl so why would the world see it any other way? On the opposite, why don’t people see me as a guy because that is how I feel? My outsides constantly betray my insides.
I didn’t feel like being in class anymore after that but managed to focus enough to enjoy some stretches and breathing exercises as much as I could. I knew I must speak up after class. My true self begged to be known. I am worthy of that and people are worthy of having the honor of knowing the real me.
My feet were wiggly Jell-O and the rest of my body was my pounding heart but I calmly approached her and politely said, “Thank you for the class. By the way, in regards to the comments that were made at the beginning of class, I actually identify as a guy. I am trans.”
“Oh, I know, I saw your face once I said that and I am so sorry! Once I realized what I had done, I couldn’t figure out how to back track. I am so sorry but I am glad you said something!”
I was so nervous that my hands shook and the tiny cup of cherished after-class chai tea was vibrating in my hand as I walked off. I tried to finish it as quickly as possible so that I could throw away the cup before anyone noticed my trembling hands. The Chai tea that had always been notoriously lukewarm, was scalding hot today but I swallowed it down in two painful gulps. So badly, I wanted to leave before tears burst through flood gates
I wasn’t mad. I had no hard feelings. I mean, how are people supposed to know? An opportunity to step into my own strength is the gift she had given me. It was a chance to stand up tall and speak of my authentic self. I realized that after 5 years of suffering through the cacophony and chaos of questioning gender in my head, that was the first time my identity was articulated out loud in such a straight forward and honest way.
I wasn’t just declaring my trans identity to the teacher, I was admitting it to myself.
My ears heard the words coming out of my mouth in full confidence. It was a relief. I had never been so sure of myself all these years.
I am not female and I am determined now to move forward as a man. Even though tears had now been released from the gates, I felt more empowered than ever. Those were my most pure tears of freedom.