With my short, rainbow hair, flannel shirts, and biker boots, I get stared at. I didn’t get those stares with my long, brown hair and glasses. I know that there are people who look at me and think it’s for attention, but that those ponytails, low-cut tops, and make-up always felt like playing dress-up to me - I feel most at home in my body like this. I know that it can feel like a political statement or a confrontation to people at times. To others, I know that I feel and look like comfort, familiarity, and family. For me, self-defense is for everyone, but especially the most vulnerable, those who are different, and people who get stared at. And people who look like me, who may have been intentionally or unintentionally pushed off the mat in other gyms.
Our gym is located in a conservative, somewhat rural area. Before we bought the gym, we thought through what it would mean to welcome the LGBTQ community on our mat and what it could mean for current students. But the thought of reaching everyone who needs self-defense meant even more, especially those who have experienced trauma. We talked through what it would look like to hold an LGBT+ workshop, placed a pride flag near our TV, and slowly started to introduce our welcome to the entire community.
At the start of class, especially when there are new people, I let my class know about my pronouns and allow others to show theirs if they feel comfortable, both out loud or privately. I’ve received so many different responses to pronouns: from “what does that mean?” to “I don’t have pronouns” to smiles, thumbs up, sighs of relief, and thanks after class. We take a Pride photo in June, host an LGBT+ self-defense workshop, and try and lovingly correct any negative comments that may come up.
Some days, it can be hard. While we’ve been saying pronouns for years, some of our other additions have come gradually and that can present growing pains. We’ve had conversations about what it means to be queer-friendly and what it means to be inclusive and everyone’s opinion is different. In the end, it’s about the fact that we are a community that loves and respects each other and asking, “How can we care for one another, even if we disagree?”
I was in conversation with someone who is currently working in trauma-informed care and creating a trauma-informed weightlifting program and one of the best things they said was that their main goal isn’t completely changing minds, but is harm reduction.
They understand that people are going to come in at all levels of understanding about trauma: some people will be 100% understanding and others will come in uninterested, but knowing it could bring them more business. They said that they know that bringing someone from one end of the spectrum to the other is nearly impossible, but if they can bring a person a few steps closer to understanding trauma, they will have done their job in the moment.
I try and keep this in mind when it can feel like we’re taking steps forward and backward: it is your actions that will mean more than your thoughts. Respect one another and care for one another and understanding can come, small steps at a time. Marriage equality came in record pacing because people learned that those they loved were part of the community.
I can’t tell you if people haven’t come back because we share pronouns or have a Pride photo or post about being queer friendly. If that’s been the case, they haven’t told us. But I know that people who may not agree with me have stayed and found a little bit of understanding, love, and care from people that they may not have chosen to spend time with in other areas of their lives and vice versa. And I definitely know that we have created a space for people who were anxious about their safety both on and off the mat.
In the end, it hasn’t been easy, and we're nowhere near perfect, but it’s been worth it.
We started by telling queer folx how to find inclusive gyms, but decided to tell gym owners how to make their space more inclusive instead.
Owner Lee is not a huge fan of Krav Maga, but her experience with Krav Maga was pivotal in her journey to healing after trauma. Learn more about her story and how she decided to heal at her own pace.
Krav Maga near me? There is! If you're looking for a Krav Maga class near you, Valley Self-Defense is a proud member of the International Krav Maga Federation with schools located across the United States. To find a school near you, visit the IKMF USA website.