“Be present in your body.” It’s the opening to every yoga class and every mindfulness exercise.
But for trans people and survivors of sexual or intimate partner violence, it can be a monumental ask and sometimes an impossible one. Sometimes I think it is callous for us to be asked this by some professional, in a serene, relaxing voice, as if it is nothing.
They do not know the weight of it.
Our bodies are sites of harm and dysphoria, so it can be painful and scary to also live there, in a place that holds so much pain. And so sometimes—consciously or unconsciously—we choose not to. We may distract ourselves and dissociate, using substances, behaviors, and thoughts.
While these strategies are often pathologized, these escapes from our bodies are acts of survival and safety. they are also an acknowledgement of an important truth: that our bodies cannot hold us– that we are vast and remarkable and not easily contained.
And yet there are times—swimming at the lake, being in the arms of a friend or lover that I feel safe in my body. Perhaps I am living inside it, or perhaps I am forgetting it exists, moving through it, beyond it. My friend who does hooping calls this state “flow.”
I have also found that small acts of reclamation that affirm our gender and cause gender euphoria can also make our bodies more hospitable places. Things like wearing lipstick or a binder, taking selfies, finding clothes that hang in just the right way. I think this is because trauma is about the experience of being out of control, so re-establishing agency over our bodies and how they are perceived—demonstrating that our bodies are our own—is deeply healing.So our bodies are not only sites of pain; they also hold joy, liberation, and reclamation.
It’s complicated. In ways I don’t understand yet.
So let’s figure it out together.
Here are the questions I would like to explore instead of trying to be present in our bodies:
- What would it be like to be in your body?
- What would it be like to leave?
- Are there ways to be fully present in your life without living in your body?
- What do you notice when you’re outside your body? What’s the view like from there?
- Do you need to be in your body to achieve flow, or connection?
- Do you need to feel all the pain of your body in order to live inside it or can you be present without feeling pain?
- What makes it easier to inhabit your body, even in small ways?
I believe that trans trauma survivors have the ability to determine for themselves how and whether to inhabit their bodies. Perhaps these questions can be a starting point for that process.