Embodiment practices, gender identity, and self-abandonment
Please enjoy this month’s guest post, by Amy Gartenberg, M.A., below! Amy is a queer and non-binary therapeutic coach, writer, and creative, and if you connect with their writing on gender identity, sexuality, and healing, I recommend checking out the podcast episode we did together, or their new poetry book How to Stay in the Story of My Own Existence!
Learning to Listen to my Inner Dude: Embodiment Practices & Gender Identity
The first moment I began to question my gender identity came at the end of a yoga class.
I was tired, and sweaty, and laying on my mat, quieter with myself than I usually liked to be.
In that moment of groundedness, I connected with what I would later describe to my therapist as “my inner dude.”
My inner dude felt like this calm energy, a gentle presence within myself that felt inherently masculine. He was so happy to be lying there peacefully with nothing to do. He didn’t feel like he had anything to prove. So when I was connected with him, I didn’t feel like I had anything to prove either. It was both glorious and terrifying.
For the first time in what felt like perhaps ever, I could actually “hear” myself.
And it freaked me the fuck out.
In the years prior to that moment, I had made some big and sweeping changes in my life.
I had broken up with a guy I was about to get engaged to.
Started to make peace with food and gaining acceptance around my body’s changing size and shape.
Moved across the country.
And started dating a woman for the first time.
I was going to therapy weekly, and working through some deep shit.
But this, the idea that I was perhaps not a ciswoman after all, shook me.
Despite all of my work in therapy, I was still a workaholic who didn’t like to actually stop and listen to myself too often. In retrospect, I can see that perhaps I was afraid of what I would find. So I said yes to everything that was asked of me, and moved further and further away from my internal voice.
This is the essence of self abandonment.
When we consistently prioritize the needs, desires, and values of others above our own, it results in more and more disconnection from ourselves. We start looking outside of ourselves for ourselves. We, intentionally or not, start searching for a new identity.
Here are some of the main reasons we tend to self abandon:
Safety and belonging: As humans we are wired for belonging. So the idea that we could hold a need or identity that separates us from others, triggers a very primal response to do what we need to do in order to feel accepted by the group.
Access and privilege: Expanding on the idea of safety and belonging within family structures or social circles, we live in a society where cis, straight, white, young, thin, able-bodied bodies hold the most privilege and access. So it makes sense that we may attempt to suppress aspects of our identity to gain this access.
Grief: We are fluid beings. Our interests and aspects of our identities shift and change over time. However, there is a lot of grief that comes with letting go of how people see us and the way we see ourselves, so we tend to cling on to old versions of ourselves or relationships and jobs that are past their expiration dates.
In my work, I have found that one of the best antidotes to self abandonment is engaging in embodiment practices. Embodiment practices are when we partner with our body to connect with our inner wisdom. When we use our bodily sensations to quiet the mind, and tune into a deep internal knowing.
The “gut feeling” you get when something is not quite right - that is embodiment.
This is what I had inadvertently done in that yoga class. I had quieted my mind enough to actually “hear” myself.
Because many trans and nonbinary folx experience gender dysphoria in relation to their bodies, the idea of using embodiment as a tool to access a greater connection with their gender identity may feel foreign and strange.
We sometimes forget that embodiment is not about the way our body looks. It’s about using our body to access deep internal knowledge. You do not need to love your body to engage in embodiment work.
Despite feeling betrayed by my body at times, what I have found is that there are embodiment practices that help me connect to a sense of gender euphoria.
These practices are usually done with my eyes closed, because it’s about connecting inward. Any outward expression of my gender identity is then in deep celebration of what I discover inwardly.
Here are some of my favorite embodiment practices you can use to connect with your gender identity:
After a movement practice (for me recently this has been running), close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and call to mind the “truest expression” of yourself. Allow this version to exist as any gender and allow the version to shift and change through the visualization as needed. Feel the sensations that arise in your body just from being in the presence of this version of yourself. Do your shoulders relax? Does your jaw unclench?
Put on a song that “feels good” for reasons you might not be able to name. Close your eyes, and let your body lead you. This gets to be messy, and “weird,” and completely your own.
Masturbation gives us an opportunity to explore our desires and pleasure without any external voices from a partner(s). Go slowly, just noticing what feels good, and if any sort of touch or fantasy gives you an experience of gender euphoria.
My gender identity is still a question mark. Most recently I asked my wife “Is Harry Styles a gender identity? I think that’s how I identify.”
I share this, because there are a lot of narratives and experiences out there from people who knew they were trans from a young age. While this is one experience, it isn’t the only experience. In a world with so much cisnormative noise, it makes sense that many of us are only now beginning to hear ourselves and connect with our gender identities. This work can feel slow and confusing at times. In addition to embodiment practices, connecting with others doing this work is deeply powerful. Ingersoll Gender Center offers a peer support group that is virtual and free.
I’m moving on my own timeline. Currently, I’m using pronouns she/they because she/her doesn’t feel true anymore, but I’m not really sure what does. When I asked how I identify, I feel gender fluid. This may change and I’m letting that be ok.
Embodiment practices help ground me when I feel overwhelmed by this journey. Connecting inwardly, despite what my body looks like outwardly, reminds me:
I am here.
I am here.
I am here.