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  • Writer's picturesarahnaomijones

Expansive - A Gender Identity Story

I was in love with my best friend in high school, I didn’t understand it. I never felt a sexual attraction to her, but I was head over heels for her. I wrote her poetry, sang to her - I mean I went really hard for her. Couldn’t nobody say shit about her in front of me. I remember just looking at her and thinking that she was perfect, again, not in a sexual or romantic way, just from a place of deep love for her being. She was so goofy. Funny in accidental ways and extremely smart in heart sense. She worked really hard at everything she did, was honest and full of integrity. When things were really bad in our respective home lives, I remember wishing that we could just run away together.

There was a time in high school I really leaned into expressing my gender fluidity. I wouldn’t have described it as such at the time, but that’s exactly what it was. I had spent my life (with the exception of the seventh grade) in Christian schools. Attending Denver School of the Arts in high school was the first time in my life I felt free and safe to express myself in that way. One day, I would opt for high femme: pink heels, a dark denim skirt with matching pink stitching on the hem and pockets, a light pink cropped shirt with a denim jacket (it was the nineties - work with me here). The next day, I would wear super baggy khaki pants, a pair of black and white Chuck Taylor’s, an oversized black T, cornrow my hair into four or five rows straight back and tie a folded bandana to lay my edges down. I remember my friend telling me one day, just sort of nonchalantly, that it made her uncomfortable when I dressed "boyish." She said it made her feel like she didn’t know me. I immediately and deeply internalized her words, even though they were said in passing and without much thought. I expressed myself exclusively as femme pretty committedly from then on.

It wasn't until I was thirty something, married with two kids and attending a yoga teacher training that I started to heal myself from years of suppressed gender expression. It was when we were learning about the masculine and feminine energies that we all possess, according to yogic philosophy. My teacher explained that at the base of the sushumna nadi, the body’s central energy channel, are two channels that wind upwards crisscrossing each other all the way up the sushumna nadi meeting again at the third eye chakra. One of those nadis (energy channels) is named ida which is considered to be feminine, intuitive or lunar energy and the other pingala which is considered to be masculine, logical or solar energy. In yoga, the goal is not to be one or the other, but to balance the two energies. In fact, to have one energy more pronounced than the other is said to cause chaos and disruption to peace. Ultimately, the goal is to be neither masculine nor feminine but to be led solely by our true spirit which is not separated (the duality of masculine and feminine is separation) but one with all of The Divine. Only when the energies enter the sushumna nadi, which has neither masculine nor feminine qualities do we really access a truly purposeful and vital life.

My mind was blown. I began a journey of self inquiry and study. I reflected on the ways in which my desire to be liked had steered me down a path of deep dishonesty and recognized the ways that had caused me to lose myself and my peace along the way. I over-corrected and tapped deeply into my masculine energy, then realized that I had healing to do in my relationship to both my masculine and feminine selves and understood myself, my work and my identity to be nonbinary. I started noticing how uncomfortable it can be, both to myself and to others when I work to be balanced in those energies. I began to understand that balancing masculine and feminine energies actually made life smoother - not easier, but smoother. For example, when I work to follow my intuition (feminine) and be direct about my needs (masculine), I am able to first hear myself and be guided by my own inner knowing and also take the guesswork out of responding to that, which ultimately makes my relationships smoother. When I take the time to organize my schedule (masculine) and build in protected time for art and expression (feminine) I provide myself a safe container to be in my creative body. These are practices of balancing masculine and feminine among many others.

Prior to beginning my yoga journey, I had never had masculinity and femininity framed in that way. I wonder how my life might have looked different if I'd had that perspective in high school. When I look back at my high school self and the ways they worked to understand themselves, I am so grateful for their bravery. I’m grateful for their curiosity. I offer them gratitude, grace and a really tight hug because they were scratching at something that our society doesn’t give us tools to understand - how to be our whole selves. At some point along the way, I started to identify my gender as “expansive” because I don’t want my identity to be named as what I am not (non-conforming, non-binary) but as what I am, an ever expanding being.

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