Refraction Is Not Division: Pride, Diversity & Discernment

Our work as yoga practitioners is to remember that refraction is not division and that how we show up in this lifetime is not who we are, but one of many projections. I am not red or purple, I am light.

As a publicly Queer and non-binary person, June is the busiest month of my year, and I don’t mean socially. In fact, June is quite possibly the least social month of my year, because when I say that it’s the busiest, I mean it’s the busiest professionally. Whenever Pride month rolls around, my inbox is suddenly flooded with invitations from organizations, many of which have never reached out to me before, asking me to teach a class, sit on a panel, train their staff, be interviewed on their podcast–the list goes on. I’ve heard about similar patterns others experience whenever their heritage months come around.

When these opportunities are not degrading and pay equitably, I usually accept. I know that what I have to share, and even more particularly, that which I’ve gleaned through lived experience, is valuable. The invitation to share those experiences as teachings is affirming. Queer and Trans people have so much to offer this world, so much perspective to share, much of which integrates so easily with the teachings of yoga. I choose to share of myself in these offered moments, vulnerably and honestly, because I believe it has the potential to benefit everyone, regardless of gender or sexuality.

I think it’s perhaps a fact of duality that our diversity is what gives each of us our individual purpose, identity, and sense of self. Just like our bodies, made of hundreds of parts, billions of cells, all serving the whole through their various differentiated functions, it’s precisely because we are different that we make up a greater body, the spiritual union of all, the dharma. The fact of our union is not proven by uniformity or ability to assimilate, it’s proven by our differences. Sameness is unrecognizable if difference doesn’t exist–they rely on one another to have any meaning at all.

Imagine looking at a splash of color on a painting, asking yourself, “Is that a deep red or warm purple?” You might look at the rest of the painting for reference–if you’re able to spot a color that you identify as red, you might use that as a reference point, a neutral point of comparison, to determine your approximation of an answer. Our perception, in the visual sense and the more nuanced sense, is literally colored by context. The presence of red, the knowledge of what it looks like, is what allows you to see where it is absent. But there is also more than a binary–more than red and non-red. You need more than one reference point in order to start discerning the other colors from one another. Differentiating red from non-red is not enough to experience the spectrum, and we, as beings, are the products of one infinite light shining through a prism, refracting us into a never-ending rainbow of appearances, identities, and experiences.

Our work as yoga practitioners is to remember that refraction is not division and that how we show up in this lifetime is not who we are, but one of many projections. I am not red or purple, I am light. And/but, I am light having a red experience (or purple, or green, or blue, etc.). Both can be true. Both are important. How can we ever fully realize our true nature, if we don’t have reference points that allow us to clearly discern our human nature? And how do we get to know our human nature, how we show up in this life individually, if not through relationships?

Sexuality and gender are two distinct facets of our human experience. Like all of our facets, there’s as much diversity in these identities and experiences as there are people to embody them. While we may encounter others with similar experiences, no two experiences of gender or sexual or romantic attraction are exactly the same. What I’ve realized from having thousands of conversations about gender and sexuality in all types of settings is that each time I listen to someone else share their experience, I learn at least as much about myself as I learn about them. I now see the same in any conversation I engage in around any facet of identity–race, religion, class, body size, ability, and all of the other ways we label ourselves.

Sometimes, when I talk about being Queer or non-binary, I’m met with an uncomfortable response. I think that often, people’s discomfort with my identities stems not from them having to reckon with my existence, but with their own. Not from their uncertainty about my experience of gender, which has no real bearing on them, but from the glimmer of uncertainty that is sparked within them when I invite them to see me, and in doing so, to see themselves in relationship to me. To see themselves in relation to a new point of reference.

The easy–and dangerous–way out of that discomfort is to bypass it, to project it onto the other person, to deny their existence or wholeness. This is exemplified in the extreme by the fact that the LGBTQ+ “panic” defense is still legal in 35 U.S. states as of the time of this writing. It’s exemplified by the overwhelming slew of anti-trans legislation currently moving through state governments. It’s exemplified in every system of oppression we have built and continue to build. It’s exemplified anytime we hear someone share their experience and approach it with denial or defensiveness instead of curiosity and self-inquiry. To fear or deny someone else’s wholeness is really to fear or deny your own. To avoid someone else’s truth is to avoid your own. This is not how any of us reach liberation, whether worldly or spiritual, and it demonstrates why yoga and social justice are inextricable.

What if we released the fear of our own wholeness long enough to meet our self-uncertainty and move through it instead of around it? What if, instead of taking our fear out on others, we each took on our individual responsibility, and inquired with it? What if we saw each and every vulnerable offering of experience and expression of truth as a gift, a point of reference that can help us know ourselves, as well as one another? Maybe even to know ourselves well enough to start discerning what is human nature, subject to duality and temporality, and what is true nature, infinite, timeless, and unrefracted? Every relationship is an opportunity for svadhyaya.

This is why my calendar fills up every June, when society decides it’s the month to platform Queer voices. I know I benefit when I open myself to all kinds of relationships, including with people I’ve never met and never will meet. It’s part of my yoga practice, and I see value in offering myself as a point of reference for others’ self-study. I have witnessed the expansion of minds and the depth of self-inquiry that can evolve from relationships, even and especially those that challenge you. I wish that for others. I wish that for you.

Ultimately, while I hope that the reflections above are useful to you in your practice, this is also a call to action for the yoga community at large. Representation matters year-round. My value as a Queer, Trans teacher is not higher in June (unless, of course, you are trying to package and sell me for your own profit because this month my identities are #trending. And, for the record, I have written for OmStars before, at other times of the year–this is not intended as a meta-critique). Do you know what I would really love to do during Pride month? Rest. Love on my Queer and Trans family. Engage with my personal practice and my art-making and dedicate it all to my Queer & Trans ancestors. Replenish myself before moving into the next 11 months, which I will inevitably spend trying to fight for and build a world where Queer, Trans, and other marginalized folks have access to even a scrap of the platform that is suddenly offered up every June 1st. I’m not saying we shouldn’t recognize heritage months–you can still invite me to teach a Pride class in June. But before you hit ‘send’ on that email, please stop and consider: are you still planning to book me when my response reads, “Yes, but let’s do it in July”?

No matter the date, we have no meaning without each other. And as yoga practitioners, I think we even long for each other. To experience liberation in our oneness. If this is our aim–if yoga is our practice–we need to honor and attend to our differences as part of our regular, ongoing practice. We need to cultivate non-exploitative relationships for mutual benefit. All of these labels we take on are constructs, yes–none of them are the truth of who we are. But that doesn’t mean they’re not important or valuable. Because if who we are, our truest nature, is undifferentiated oneness, then noticing and acknowledging our differences and temporality is the only way to see what remains when all of that is stripped away.

By M Camellia

M Camellia is an East-Coast-based, fat, queer, non-binary yoga teacher and self-love advocate, called to create profoundly accessible spaces for self-inquiry and the inward journey by integrating mindfulness and adaptive movement practices with the spirit of social justice. They believe that the goal of yoga, as of life, is collective liberation and in turn challenge contemporary yogis to dismantle the systems and beliefs that hold us all back. In addition to teaching group and private yoga classes, M offers workshops that explore queer identity and body image, leads adaptive yoga teacher trainings, helps coordinate trainings internationally for Accessible Yoga, champions diversity and inclusion in the yoga industry as a member of the Yoga & Body Image Coalition leadership team, and serves leading industry groups as an expert advisor on diversity and accessibility.

Featured photo by Blueboy Photographer, @blueboyphotoco on Instagram

Profile photo by Cinthya Zuniga, @cinlife on Instagram