Yoga, an ancient discipline seems to be gaining in popularity every year. In a 2012 study, more than 20 million people were doing yoga and a recent 2015 survey by the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease and Prevention, that number has increased to more than 24 million.
It’s such a growth industry that Lululemon has opened a new store just for men, Yoga Journal is celebrating its 40th anniversary and a recent Wall Street Journal article reported that some yoga classes are so overbooked that yogis are getting into fights over mat space. It’s a $10.3 billion dollar business driven primarily by white wealthy women between the ages of 35-54 who earn more than $75,000 annually.
Yoga classes for the queer and transgender community however can be a far less than peaceful experience and not just in what bathroom or shower to use, but whether to tuck or pack, what clothes are we comfortable in and in most cases, just the general lack of understanding our needs of feeling safe and secure in a space that can often be intimate which can trigger dysphoria, anxiety and panic attacks, but the good news is that queer yoga is one of the growth sectors of the business and class spaces are popping up all over the country to satisfy an untapped yoga market.
“It’s time for our community to have more centers and community spaces that focus on health, self-love, acceptance, empowerment, and personal growth,” says the Director of the new documentary Queering Yoga Ewan Duarte who is a Trans man. “When I began practicing yoga over 10 years ago I was the only queer identified person in the yoga classes that I took and although I had a positive experience overall in the yoga classes. Yet, I didn’t see my community mirrored or visible in the classes that I took.”
Queering Yoga is a feature-length documentary about the Queer and Trans yoga movement for healing, self-acceptance, self-discovery, and empowerment. The documentary explores the intersection of Queer/Trans identities and the burgeoning tradition of yoga. Participants share their stories of personal transformation and healing through yoga. Queer/Trans filmmakers along with Queer and/or Trans yoga teachers are creating a film about our community, by the community and for it.
“The idea for Queering Yoga arose after I interviewed participant Sparkle Thornton for an article about the intersection of her Trans identity and yoga practice in 2014 for Original Plumbing Magazine,” Ewan explained and feels that a story like this has never been told, which is what motivated him to document the experiences of queer yoga spaces and participants. “This interview received an overwhelmingly positive response, inspiring us to go further. A documentary is a powerful way to reach a larger audience and to tell empowering stories of Queer and Trans lives from the perspective of Queer/Trans yoga teachers.”
“As the Producer/Director of Queering Yoga, I’ve been actively working on the documentary with a wonderful team of Queer/Trans crew members and one ally since May 2015,” Duarte said and having an all Trans and queer crew has made it easier to get interviews of amazing and dynamic participants who have told riveting stories about their past experiences.
In the past year, movies like The Danish Girl, About Ray and even the trans-critically acclaimed film Tangerine have been written, directed or starred cisgender artists telling our stories and Ewan agrees that it’s time that we tell our own stories from our point of view. “As a Queer/Trans filmmaker,” Duarte states, I’m all too aware of who is telling our stories. It is so vital for Queer and Trans artists, writers, and filmmakers to be the one’s sharing our own lives and experiences from perspectives that aren’t sensationalized, objectified, or purely for profit.”
The goal of the film is to become a teaching tool for the yoga community and bring awareness and education about privilege, access, oppression, inclusion, decolonizing the practice and create a safe space for the Queer and Trans community while honoring the roots of yoga. “My intent is for the film to be affirming and empowering for the Queer/Trans communities and Allies. We can all learn how to be better Allies to Trans people.”
Films and stories like this haven’t been told before through our eyes and the Ewan Duarte feels he’s been called to both tell the story and illuminate our differences and also honor our one-ness. The film is for the Queer/Trans communities and Allies. One of the goals of the film is for Queering Yoga to be accessible to all, which includes both Queer and cisgender yoga teachers and institutes. The film wants to show the yoga experience from the perspective of the rest of us that do not fall into the binary categories or may feel unwelcome or unsafe from practicing yoga in a heteronormative community setting…in-other-words, anyone that doesn’t fit into the category of white, cisgender, woman who is middle to upper-middle class.
“It’s time for Trans artists, filmmakers, and creative folks to rise up and to tell our stories!” Ewan stressed, “We are ready and it’s our time to tell them. I feel it’s absolutely imperative for Trans stories to be told by people who identify as trans themselves! It’s important to write and create what you know. I’m honored and excited to create Queering Yoga. I love interviewing the participants, holding space for them while they share their stories and experiences, and I’m hopeful that the powerful interviews will reach a wide audience to teach and educate about their queer/trans perspectives.”
Already in production, the film is aiming for a fall 2016 release and is crowd funding the remaining of the project through IndieGoGo. The hope is that Queering Yoga can stream on Netflix, Hulu and PBS, but the director feels that the documentary will help bridge a gap between the LGBTQIA community and the yoga community to create more understanding, awareness and compassion for our collective needs and safe spaces.
So while production moves forward Ewan says that it takes a community to make films like this happen and having an all-queer crew has allowed the participants to be open, vulnerable, comfortable, and grateful to have a chance to share their stories and let their voices be heard.
As participant Deontre Martin said, “It is revolutionary when those without a voice finally have the chance to share their story!”
Support and contribute funding to Queering Yoga on Indiegogo
All pictures reproduced courtesy of Ewan Duarte