• Healing The Wounded Black Gay Kid In Me

    But, coming out of the closet was just the first step. It would take nearly two decades for me to get to a place where I could deal with the pain of the childhood rejection I experienced. Yoga would be a conduit for that healing.

    The following is an excerpt from “Embodied Resilience Through Yoga:30 Mindful Essays About Finding Empowerment After Addiction, Trauma, Grief, and Loss” edited by Kat Heagberg, Melanie Klein, Kathryn Ashworth, and Toni Willis, Llewellyn 2020.

    Where I grew up, men were expected to act like men and little boys were expected to act like little boys. During the 80’s and 90’s, statistically, most young black men would be involved in some kind of street violence and would also spend some part of their lives incarcerated. So, many black fathers, grandfathers and uncles who had connections to young boys had to have it in their minds to groom young men that could not only survive the violent streets of Washington D.C., but that could also survive jail.

    I was also a light-skinned kid. So, there was even more reason for concern because light-skinned high yellow boys were seen as weaker. And the men I knew weren’t having any soft-acting, high-yellow black boys coming out of my neighborhood if they could help it. They had to make sure that I would be strong. “You got to be all boy! You got to be the All-American Black Boy!” was what a substitute gym teacher in my elementary school would say to us male youth often, his eyes focused mostly on me, it seemed.

    As we lined up and filed out of the school gym, a classmate’s grandfather that volunteered with the physical education program whispered to me as I walked by him, “Every soldier, every hero finds his own glory, young, man. You’ll find your own glory!”

    He seemed to be speaking directly to my wounded heart. I guess he saw the insecurity on my face. It’s like he was telling me that despite what the substitute gym teacher had just said, that it was all right to be different from the other boys. Like many elder black men in our community, he’d proudly served as a Lieutenant in World War II. Having led so many different kinds of men with so many different temperaments into battle, perhaps he had first-hand knowledge that surviving a war depended upon much more than physical prowess. I felt like this elder was letting me know that he saw my uncertainty and that I was going to be okay. Even though I didn’t fit the image being projected onto all of us, better days were coming for kids like me.

    The All-American black Boy rode mopeds and dirt bikes. The All-American Black boy could handle himself with his fists if someone disrespected him. The All-American Black Boy played sports, knew his way up and down a basketball court and knew how to catch a football. The All-American Black Boy was a champion. The All-American Black Boy was source of pride for the men in his community.

    I never really took a liking to any of those things.

    By my last year in elementary school, I knew that I was gay. I also knew that I couldn’t tell anyone.

    I played with the girls. I jumped double-dutch. I read books.

    I was jumping rope with a group of girls in an alley behind my house one summer day when the words, “That boy ain’t gonna be shit! He’s gonna be gay.” directed to me from the mouth of a loud intoxicated man out of a car widow hit me like a brick.

    Even though there were always slivers of inspiration that would bolster my hope for better days in the future, like the grandfather in my gym class whispering to me, for the most part, the words coming from the mouths of men I looked up to devastated my young spirit and my confidence. I would go through my days and nights with those words echoing through my head. I’d look at other boys my age and wish I could be more like them and less like me.

    Many young boys’ reaction to the pressure to be manlier would have been to become overly masculine to win the approval of others they looked up to. But, that wasn’t my nature.

    I was a gentle spirit. I had a poetic soul.

    By the time I reached my teen years, I felt rejected and alone.

    There were no LGBTQ clubs at D.C. area high schools. There were no gay pride parades happening in Washington. D.C that I knew of. There were no same sex couples raising children that were visible. They were not preaching inclusivity in the church that I went to.

    If you were a gay kid growing up in Washington, D.C. in the eighties and early nineties, you were on your own.

    There were many days when I just didn’t want to live anymore.

    Once I hit puberty, I began to pull away from friendships with males and females.

    I didn’t go out partying like other teens did. I just focused on academics.

    I’d check out a book each week from the library to read during the long bus rides out of my neighborhood to attend magnet schools that I’d been accepted to in Downtown, Washington, D.C.. I’d become what people may consider a ‘gifted child’ and that got me into schools away from my neighborhood. Away from anyone who really knew me, I spent time on the bus with my head buried in books communing with some of the most inspirational minds to ever live. And that’s exactly what a young gay kid like me needed: inspiration.

    James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Richard Wright, Langston Hughes, the voice of Malcolm X through Alex Haley’s book, Alice Walker, these folks became my allies. These were black writers who wrote mostly about their experiences with racial discrimination in America. But they also wrote very candidly about their experiences as children coming of age and how painful experiences shaped them into activists and advocates for the underdogs of this world. I could relate to them.

    They weren’t talking about being gay, but they were talking about being black and being different and oppressed. They were talking about how black people deserved better; how difference deserved to be celebrated; how difference deserved a voice. Since they were poets and writers, they did all not fit the stereotypes of what men should be or women should be for that matter, but they were successful and powerful.

    Their books taught me that I could pour everything that I was going through as a teen into the arts. I could convert my pain into creativity; into creative projects. And that’s exactly what I did.

    I joined drama clubs, signed up for speech competitions, went away for summers to study in academic programs and I began to shine in those areas. So much so, that I began to win the approval of many people in my community.

    As a teen, my love for the arts and books took me all over the country and eventually away from the streets of my hometown to college. It was in Boston while in college that I was able to find the space to allow my true identity to begin to come out.

    But, coming out of the closet was just the first step; It would take nearly two decades for me to get to a place where I could deal with the pain of the childhood rejection I experienced. Yoga would be a conduit for that healing.

    “You are enough” that’s what yoga says. “Your life matters. You are special. You are a hero on your own journey. Come as you are. Accept yourself for who you are!”

    No one had ever said that to me quite the way yoga teachers had.

    *****

    Yoga brings me to a place where I can watch my thoughts and separate out the voices in my head. I can distinguish between the abusive voices—the ones put there by society and some of the men I grew up around that oppress LGBTQ people—and the voices that are for my greatest good and that uplift me.

    Yoga helps me to constantly assess the damage that life has done to me and creates the space for me to be able to heal that damage.

    Yoga invites me to be my own hero.

    NOTE: This post is part of a collaborative media series organized and curated by Omstars and the Yoga & Body Image Coalition intended as a deep dive into yoga & body image.

    By Dorian Baucum

    LA based singer, Dorian Baucum won yoga studios over with his Dorian’s Live Neosoul & Yoga – a fusion of his conscious, live, feel good neosoul music you can groove to with yoga classes to create a concert-style yoga experience.

    He guest-starred on CSI: Las Vegas with country music group The Rascal Flatts and the hit TV show ER. He’s a registered pharmacist with a Certification in Integrative Pharmacy, Reiki Master, Certified in Bodywork by the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, served in the Music for Healing Program at Cedars Sinai Hospital in Beverly Hills, holds an MFA in Acting from the University of California, San Diego and a B.S. in Pharmacy from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy. He’s just completed his 200HR Social Justice Based Yoga Teacher Training at The Tree SOUTHLA Yoga Cooperative.

    Dorian has released two albums: EVERYDAY WARRIOR: Acoustic-Neosoul for Your Soul and Turn It Into Gold!

    Website: dorianneosoul.com
    Social Media: INSTAGRAM @dorianwarrior

    Photos by David Young-Wolf

  • Balancing a Career and a Yoga Practice

    “I wish I had enough time for yoga.” How many times have you heard those words, or said them yourself?

    Something that I get asked about on a regular basis is how I’m able to keep the balance between a demanding career and a dedicated yoga practice. These questions come from both people that I work with, and people that I practice with. I am a medical doctor, specializing in obstetrics & gynaecology (OB/GYN), and my Ashtanga practice has me learning Intermediate Series. One thing that often prevents people from dedicating themselves to a daily practice is the perceived impossibility of fitting it into their already-crammed schedule. Certainly, before I started practicing yoga, I wondered how people had time for work, physical activities, volunteering, and socializing. These super-human individuals seemed to have more hours in the day than the rest of us mere mortals. I added yoga to my life over three years ago, from a previously sedentary and unhealthy lifestyle. Having seen both sides of the coin, I can tell you that it’s not possible to invent more hours in the day. That said, it is completely possible to manage a busy career and a demanding practice.

    As the yoga practice took hold in my mind and soul, what had been a weekly exercise became a daily practice. This process evolved over the course of about a year. I noticed that the more time I committed to yoga, the less time I devoted to other things. This natural evolution in my priorities is something that is ongoing. Going out for a big night isn’t something that interests me much anymore. Neither does staying up to date on the latest episode of Queer Eye. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think there’s anything wrong with these things. Rather, I moved them down my list of priorities so far that they rarely happen anymore. Other things became more important: yoga, work, and a small circle of loved ones. One of the benefits of starting a physical practice from a place of inactivity is the abundance of new energy that comes along with it. So, while you might not be able create more hours in the day, you might be able to do more in the hours that are given to us. Prior to committing to a daily practice, I would often feel sluggish after work. Now, I look forward to getting on the mat, be it at home or in the shala.

    Along with working long hours, I also work unusual, irregular hours. This is something that I have learned to embrace. I get to be quite creative in my practice schedule. An Ashtanga practice lends itself well to this sort of flexibility of schedule. Did I really just say that, about the style of yoga most known for its disciplined structure? In a word, yes. However, I am forced to veer away from what tradition dictates, which is early-morning practice, 6 days a week. Evening practice suits me better, and is more sustainable for me. I often swap around moon days, which are meant to be days of rest, for other days to accommodate my schedule. Most importantly, I have a sequence that I can do anytime and anywhere, and there is power in that. If I’m in work until 9 pm, I can come home and do as much of my practice as I’m able for. If I’m doing one of my 24-hour-long, in-hospital shifts, I might get a chance to do a Surya Namaskar or two in the on-call room. Working a night shift? Get on the mat at home or in the shala in the morning.

    In addition to learning to be flexible with the times that I practice, I’ve expanded my definition of what practice is. Working in my career, I am regularly expected to be awake (and functioning!) for 24 hours in a go. This usually involves long hours standing, and doing physical work on my feet. These things naturally take a toll on my body. Some days my body is only able for the Surya Namaskar and the finishing postures. Other days, a full-power, long practice is what I need. Most days, it’s somewhere in between. In my early days of practicing Ashtanga, I would beat myself up if I didn’t have the capacity for a full practice everyday. I pushed and pushed, often to the point of injury. My type-A personality and need to achieve were something I had to confront on the mat. Learning to accept my limitations, and accept where I am any given day, has brought me a lot of peace. There will always be ebbs and flows of busy times at work and softer practices, to balance with less busy times and more energetic practices. It’s all practice!

    I’ve talked a lot about the physical practices of yoga, but that’s not all there is to yoga. Within the 8 limbs of yoga, we also have codes of conduct and personal disciplines, the yamas and niyamas. Applying these ethical guidelines to our day-to-day life is another important way of practicing yoga. I also like to think of my work as a form of karma yoga. That is, good work, done unselfishly, to benefit another, is a form of prayer. While I’ve written mostly on navigating the often-negative impact that a busy career can have on a yoga practice, there is a lot to be said for the impact that the practice has on career. In yoga practice, we are continuously being confronted by difficult situations, and are asked to sit with them. This brings up our stuff, whatever that may be. This can have manifold benefits. By unpacking our own demons, and challenging our habitual patterns of thinking, it’s natural to become more compassionate towards others. That pose that challenges us immensely might bring up anger, frustration, or sadness. We can now see that when someone at works acts in an unpleasant manner, they are really reacting to something within themselves. In knowing that, it is easier to address the negative behavior, and forgive the person. This way of thinking has changed the way I interact with colleagues and patients alike, for the better.

    I’ve also learned to extend this kindness and compassion, and what is essentially ahimsa, to myself too. Being more in tune with the body and mind has made me realize how badly I was – and often still am – abusing both in the name of work. Inadequate sleep, poor diet, less than ideal posture, negative self talk. All these things can easily happen when we put career first. However, the yoga practice continuously brings my awareness back to these habits, and challenges me to change them. Through the yoga practice, we become more resilient, and able to recover from failures. How many times have we failed on that difficult posture, only to try again tomorrow? Difficult situations arise in my line of work frequently, and being resilient is essential. Being present, empathetic, and kind in stressful situations are skills that can be learned. Being able to not become attached to the situation is often more difficult, but yoga helps us practice that. My way of approaching the yoga practice won’t work for everyone or every job. They are simply the things that I have learned over time. Hopefully something I’ve shared can help someone out there struggling to find time for the mat.

    Namaste.

    By Alison DeMaio

    Alison is a medical doctor, specialising in obstetrics and gynaecology in one of Ireland’s leading maternity hospitals. Originally from the Bluegrass state of Kentucky, she earned a bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences in 2007. The following year she moved to Dublin where she completed a graduate medical degree at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. In her early years of working as a  doctor, Alison experienced a great deal of back pain and stress.  Yoga became a deeply transformative tool in both her physical and emotional healing. Alison is committed to her daily Ashtanga Mysore practice, despite the demands of a busy job. She has been fortunate to practice with some world-renowned teachers, and she is currently learning the Ashtanga Intermediate Series in the traditional method. Keep in touch with Alison (@ashtangi_ali) on Instagram.