This past spring I had an opportunity to be a part of a yoga retreat weekend.
I had initially decided not to do a spring yoga retreat this year with the amount of things I had going on with going back to school and other family/life events. I had actually turned to one of my students one day and said “I would do a retreat if I didn’t have to organize it or lead it but if I happen to be someplace doing some yoga then by all means you can join me” and POOF! The Universe made it happen.
It was taking place up north, out away from the city. And it was a beautiful location. I got to share my journey there and back with an awesome woman whose company I immensely enjoyed. What had completely slipped my mind is who the attendees of the retreat would most likely be. It was almost all older, rural, straight, white women. And it began to dawn on me that being a tall, half-Asian muscled gay man with tattoos in his 30s, I was going to stand out. It’s only when I am outside of the city that I ever feel like I’m somehow different and not right and I know that these feelings are lies.
I have been blessed and gifted with an opportunity in this existence to experience the mosaic of life and not just one single splash of colour or point of view. Not a melting pot but a collage. Each edge of glass its own shape that makes the whole stained glass come to life – not just a single transparent pane of glass.
But what started to happen was what I have through my life began to dread, the questions. I was really in no mood for them as just before leaving Toronto, I broke up with the guy I was seeing and was really spent so not incredibly in the mood to answers things about my life.
I have gotten used to it over time; veiled questions of race hidden under a whitewash of misunderstanding. It usually starts when I’m asked about my last name. And then I tell them it’s Chinese. Which sets a series of questions that follow which usually ends with some strange off-handed “compliment” from people when I tell them I’m half-Asian and they assure me, “You don’t look Asian.” To which I sometimes hear my reply in my head say, “Yes, well you don’t look like a moron, so looks can be deceiving.”
Race, sexuality, tattoos, piercings, my last name, even the style of yoga I practice all are apparently up for open scrutiny and debate to which I feel like I have to defend and explain my existence so they can understand. And I just don’t want to. Huh? Really!?! And oh what a delight! I am the first gay person you have ever met? Goodie for me!!
There were periods where just overwhelmed with questions, I retreated to my room and began to isolate myself. My belief in life is quite simple and I endeavour to neither complain about it nor explain it. It simply is. What I have found is that this does not always sit well with people.
On the very last day one of the other presenters was asking me the same series of questions about my tattoo sleeve that I have been asked every week since having it adorned on my body and for the first time I found a way to articulate to someone how and what those questions feel like. I looked down at her feet. She was wearing black socks with Birkenstock sandals. And then I lifted my head and asked her, “So what is the spiritual significance of your black socks?” And then in rapid fire more questions flowed from me “You’re wearing black socks with sandals. How do your parents feel knowing that you wear black socks with sandals? What was it like for you coming out to your family about your black socks? I think you’re still a good person even though you wear them with sandals. And not just any sandals, but Birkenstock sandals! I have two friends in Calgary that have Birkenstocks and wear black socks too, do you know them? It’s awesome that you can be open about your black socks and free liberally wearing them because you don’t look like a black socks wearer but hey whatever works for you. I would never do that but I’d still be your friend I guess even though you wear them.”
As the words flowed out of me I suddenly felt stronger. I paused for a moment and smiled and said, “And what’s the real point? You just wore black socks you probably didn’t even put thought into it. You probably just liked them and put them on.”
After my line of questions she smiled and me and said, “You know, you make a good point. And actually I think you have helped me understand my son.”
You see her son had a cancer operation that left a large scar from ear to ear under his face. She had once overheard him saying to someone asking that he was caught on a wire while skiing. And now she understood why he said it. My reply was “I would have said "knife fight saving someone’s life".”
She smiled and understood, but really, that’s when I understood. I think people mean well for the most part, but are not fortunate enough to see everything by choice or design.
It has been my experience though that those that are the most different from the way I live and conduct my life have the greatest lessons to teach me about life. That day I finally felt like the potential existed to be understood by this strange white-bred rural world for a moment.It made me think of most of this country and how homogeneous we are in these tiny areas and how this idea of living is a way of life for many which may keep them in silence or in the shadows.
I have chosen to live in the light. My life is open and exposed at times. What has occurred to me was living in the light will mean that I can both be a beacon, and a target. That is something I can accept. It’s not another person’s fault for the way they live. Not being exposed to different people, understandings, different ways of doing things and interactions means their view of the world will be limited. And that’s OK. Because at the root of it, is still this incredible humanness and desire to learn, understand and grow. I hope that when I am approached with questions again, I can remember the spiritual significance of my black socks.
Relax. And take it easy.