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Why This Queer & Trans Yoga Class Is So Necessary

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Photo: Courtesy of Josetta Malcolm.
When Josetta Malcolm began teaching yoga eight years ago, she decided to offer a class targeting a specific community. "I teach private clients and at mainstream yoga studios but I've always had at least one LGBT or trans and queer class on the go," she tells Refinery29 today. "Because I'm a queer person and had previously worked as an LGBT mental health advocate for MindOut in Brighton, it was a natural fit for me and I've always been aware of the issues that some people have. There are increased rates of mental health problems amongst LGBTQ+ people, which means yoga is a very, very good thing for them to do. But at the same time, a lot of LGBTQ+ people just don't feel comfortable going to mainstream yoga studios."

The reasons for this discomfort are complex and varied, and even when prejudice manifests itself subtly, it can be incredibly distressing. "Lots of yoga studios have very gendered changing rooms and toilets," Josetta explains. "So sometimes trans, genderqueer and non-binary people will get very 'policed' and questioned over which changing rooms and toilets they've used. They may also feel as though they're being judged or looked at in some way. But it's not just trans, genderqueer and non-binary people that get policed in this way. Because some lesbian, gay and bisexual people don't present in the way that mainstream society expects them to, they can be policed too."

Disappointingly, there can also be tensions within the changing room itself. "Because of underlying biphobia and homophobia, sometimes queer people don't feel entirely comfortable using communal changing rooms where straight people are maybe fearful or prejudicial against their presence in that space. Some straight people still think that if you're gay, you're automatically going to be attracted to them. They don't get that gay people don't go around fancying everyone they see just because of their gender."
Photo: Courtesy of Josetta Malcolm.
Josetta has held her LGBTQ+ classes at various locations over the years, helping different sections of the community along the way. Since 2014 she's been teaching a class for trans and queer people on Wednesday evenings at 56 Dean Street in Soho, London's queer heartland. This class is partly subsidised by CliniQ, a holistic sexual health and wellbeing service for all trans people, partners and friends. Martha Dunkley, director of CliniQ, says Josetta has been "a real find" and praises the "calming" and "friendly" ambience of her class.

Explaining why CliniQ decided to subsidise Josetta's class, Martha says: "There are so many body issues around being trans – from presenting differently to how you feel about your body. Because of this, being in a completely nonjudgemental space where there's no pressure to perform as any gender, where you can just be yourself, is extremely valuable. Also, Josetta's class is very gentle and she conducts it in a way that suits all fitness levels. She's careful to ask if people are having any particular problems so she can avoid anything that might cause distress."

Because of the subsidy, Josetta can afford to offer the class on what she calls a "sliding scale" of payments. "I normally ask for a small donation of £5 [to attend the class], but if people are rich and want to they can pay £10. But most people pay £5 and there are a couple of people who have no regular income and they're very welcome to come for free." Offering the class for free is very important, Josetta says, because it makes it accessible to any trans or queer person who wants to drop in on any given Wednesday. "Many of the people who use CliniQ are transitioning," she explains. "And this is a generalisation, but because of the age at which they're transitioning or perhaps some kind of mental health issue, some of them haven't been able to keep up good education and employment. I think it's quite common that some trans people may not have the disposable income to pay for a luxury like a yoga class."
In the past, Josetta has also taught classes for queer, trans and intersex people of colour, and next year she wants to offer these again on a monthly basis. "There's another layer of issues there, because unfortunately there is racism in the LGBTQ+ community," she explains. "When you're doing something that's supposed to be therapeutic, you don't want to be doing it in a space where you may experience direct or indirect racism or micro-aggressions. You don’t want to feel as though your body is being exorcised or even just looked at. And I think because yoga is seen as a privileged and moneyed thing to do in the west, and some people of colour still have less disposable income, it can seem like more of a 'white' thing to do, unfortunately.”

Josetta hasn't found a location for this new class yet, but I have no doubt she will. Chatting about her LGBTQ+ classes is even more humbling and inspiring because she runs them for purely altruistic reasons, and her passion and empathy shine through. At times in the last eight years, the classes have barely covered her travel expenses. But perhaps the biggest endorsement of their benefits comes from Oliver, who has been attending Josetta's queer and trans class at CliniQ for the last 15 months. "There aren't a lot of exercise spaces for trans people like this – they're really not easy to find," Oliver says. "Josetta's very clear about not using any particularly gendered language or constructs in her classes and that was made clear from all the advertising. As a trans person, sometimes the stress of being in a cis-dominated space actually outweighs the benefits of the actual activity, so if you remove that stress, you can enjoy all the benefits of the exercise."

Find out more at https://www.facebook.com/JosettaYoga/ or follow Josetta on Twitter @josettayoga
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