I was talking to a friend about how he felt like he couldn’t risk making a mistake in the Movement. He was always in a constant state of fear, wondering if he was doing the “right” thing.
I told him that I had carried that anxiety once. Being frozen by the fear of not doing the “most radical” thing, of making mistakes, of hurting other people.
How did you get out of it? he asked in response, but I had nothing to tell him. It was (and still is) an all too convoluted of a process for me to come up with a clear answer.
My first Spanish class assignment was to submit a short paragraph introducing myself. I didn’t know what to do with the gendered a/o endings, so I just stuck in ‘x’s for all the endings like I had seen my genderqueer Latinx friends use, and then sat there wondering what I should tell my professor.
The formality of the situation and my status as her student almost made things easier. I wrote a short note in the comments, telling her that I chose to use ‘x’ endings for personal reasons around my gender and then cringed while I pressed submit. The next day, she wrote me a nice note with a smiley face, saying that she understood and supported the decision.
And that was that. The simplicity of it all blew me away.
She pulled me aside after class the day after and apologized to me, saying that she didn’t know that much about alternatives to o/a gendering in Spanish and that she would look into it in her other graduate classes and resources back home in Spain. Throughout the rest of the semester, she intentionally switched back and forth between ‘o’ & ‘a’ endings when referring to me.
At the end of the semester, I received an email from her:
"Last thing: I did not have the chance to tell you that I started a conversation with my department and other smaller departments about gender in the Spanish class, and about why it is important to develop an awareness that some students do not identify with either gender. I had never thought about this reality before (at least not very carefully), and I started doing research about it and got in touch with a couple of associations in Spain that work on this. I will visit them this summer when I am in Spain and I will go to a workshop in the Basque Country. Again, thank you for making me think about this."
I could not believe that it had been so simple.
It was perhaps the ninth or tenth time attending her yoga class. We were all lying there on our backs, with our knees up and stably resting against each other, “like they could stay there forever,” she said.
She walked through the aisles and stopped to ask me if I had been doing
yoga outside of her class. No, not really. The only other thing I’ve been doing is physical therapy. She told me that she could still tell that my body was being honored. “It’s so great to see,” she added with a smile, and then turned to the class to give the next instructions.
I laid there silently processing it all. It was just a passing-by moment, but also probably the first time that someone had recognized all the work that I was putting into my body. All those hours of acupuncture, physical therapy sessions, reading herbalist blogs, googling back pain strategies, and daily stretches. Looking back, this random yoga instructor had been the only one to truly witness the change of my body and its movement in those last couple of months.
And it was powerful to have that work be recognized by someone and to be so seen.
I wish I had told my friend to seek out generosity, forgiveness, and understanding in unlikely places. To find people who made him feel safe. To find spaces that loved him as hard as he loved the Movement. That those were the things that brought me to where I am now.
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A person of East Asian descent is laying down on a blue yoga mat with a faint smile on their face. They are facing to the right, turned toward a yellow flower that's cupped in their hand. The left hand rests on their stomach. The person is wearing a white t-shirt, green pants, and striped tube socks.
About Juhee Kwon:
Juhee is a queer diasporic korean from the midwest, currently living in Seoul and pursuing traditional korean medicine.