I just finished participating in a survey for the PRIDE Study, which I have been participating in for several years. The PRIDE Study is the first large-scale, long-term national health study of people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or another sexual or gender minority (LGBTQ+). Those of you who know me as a cis-gender woman, happily married to a cis-gender man with two beautiful biological children may wonder how I qualify as a research participant for the PRIDE Study. And you’d be correct in assigning me each of those labels. I am also bisexual. I identify as the B in LGBTQ+, which puts me squarely in the middle of the target audience for the PRIDE Study. But how would you know that? You wouldn’t. And that’s sort of the point.
There is an infamous research study that we teach about in research ethics training called by various names including The Tearoom Trade Study. In it, a researcher observed men having sex with men in public restrooms without their consent. He volunteered to be a “lookout” in case police or strangers entered but was in fact collecting data, both personal and behavioral. There is much debate about whether the knowledge gained from unethical research, such as the Nazi experiments on unwilling subjects, should be used or shared. And while the methods in the Tearoom Trade Study were deplorable, they dispelled widely held myths and stereotypes about human sexuality. An important finding was that many of the men in the “tearooms” were married to women. (It should also be noted that we can largely credit this study among a few others with the current procedures for informed consent by any human research subjects.)
Because I am a cis-gender woman who is happily (and faithfully) married to a cis-gender man and has two biological children, you might make assumptions about my sexuality and my identity that are untrue. In fact, when I came out to my parents, one of them inquired why I felt it was important to share this information, since I was already happily married to a man and my bisexuality was therefore largely irrelevant. But my identity is not irrelevant, no matter my family structure or my life choices. I am who I am and that continues to matter. It influences how I see the world, even if it doesn’t influence how the world sees me.
You might similarly ask why I am sharing this with you. What does this have to do with arthritis? With yoga? With Yoga for Arthritis?
First let’s start with arthritis. When you look at someone, can you tell if they have arthritis? Maybe they require a cane or a wheelchair. Maybe their hands are visibly stiff. Maybe their knees are swollen. But maybe they aren’t. When you look at them, do you know if they are in pain? Fatigued? Depressed? If they are twenty years old and appear able-bodied, would you consider that they might have been living with arthritis since age two? We are all more than meets the eye. We all have stories to share. We are all only ever partly seen. We all should consider how our assumptions shape our behaviors toward each other and whether or not those assumptions might be harmful.
And now yoga. Sadly, yoga in the West suffers from an epidemic of exclusion. As has been highlighted recently in relation to BIPOC, yoga is far too unwelcoming toward the many kinds of otherness that are not thin, white, young, middle-class and able-bodied. I am all of those things.
I am the image of yoga in America. And the fact that I could be in the public sphere for the past 20 years without outing myself as bisexual means that I have benefited from the privilege of straightness even if I don’t wear it as my identity. It is from this privilege that I have the opportunity and the responsibility to advocate for those in my own LGBTQ+ community who don’t feel welcome in heteronormative yoga spaces.
And finally, Yoga for Arthritis. As a bisexual woman and the founder of YFA, I am committed to advocacy for LGBTQ+ yogis, including those with the intersectional experience of arthritis and disability. Just as BIPOC with arthritis experience worse symptoms and health outcomes, LGBTQ+ persons often have reduced access to quality healthcare and higher incidence of comorbid mental health conditions, which are already elevated in the face of arthritis and chronic pain.
During the remainder of June, which may be one of the most complicated and challenging Pride Months in recent years, and in the months ahead, I call on each and every one of us to listen. Let’s listen to each other’s stories without the need to jump in, to relate, to commiserate, to explain. Let us recognize the inherent complexity in the stories we carry without trying to overcategorize or oversimplify.
We are more than our labels but our identities matter. We are more than our histories, but our experiences matter. We are all one, but we are also many.
Thank you for listening. Thank you for being you.
Love and Light,