I’ve been taking self-defense classes for several months. During that time, I’ve learned so much about my body, being in it and feeling it, being comfortable with it. Much of that like relates to the fact that it’s a queer self-defense club where I can exist safely and comfortably in the odd genderless space I fit into best. I don’t get that luxury often in life, so I cherish it. There, I’m not “she”–I’m “they.” I don’t get separated by gender, called Miss, presumed to be something else. It’s refreshing.

Today we were working out and a frame of motion between the sensei and another student caught my eye and mind. We were practicing the most basic of things, rolls. In order to take falls and throws safely, you have to spend hours practicing how to roll correctly. My partner and I were both having trouble with the form–we didn’t curl our shoulders in enough as we hurtled through the air, inevitably jamming them as we landed on the somewhat forgiving mats.

The image that caught my eye was of sensei placing her hand on my partner’s head as she grabbed her opposite arm to guide her upper body through the roll smoothly. With the upper half of her body correctly placed, the rest followed through.

As I watched, I found my brain flashing back to my days as an evangelical Christian. I remembered watching countless people baptized. They stood in the baptismal pool, usually dressed in white, next to an elder. The elder placed his (never a woman) hand on their head and held one of their hands as he lowered them into the water and lifted them back up. It was a ritual that awakened shame in me every time, as I’d frequently been told I wasn’t good enough to be baptized.

Sitting on the mats in the stuffy room at the LGBT center, I watched sensei’s hands, mesmerized by the memories they conjured in me. The motion–hand on the back of the head, firm pressure downwards, control of the arm–was eerily similar to what I’d been indoctrinated with as a child.

Watching it as an openly queer, agonizingly agnostic adult, I felt bittersweetness flood my body. Being queer, for me, has been intricately linked to reclaiming words and habits I’d been told were sinful and disgusting. Today, the motion I’d linked to Christian baptism as a child seemed to come full circle. Instead of imagining the words of the waters of baptism–“I baptize you in the name of the father, the son, and the holy ghost”–instead I saw a different kind of new birth happening. Comfort in my body, in my queer identity, in my right to stand up for myself, in my genderlessness, in my strength–all these things were things I grew into, at least in part, in this club, with this sensei. In a way, her hands on my head, on my arm–these were the harbingers of a new kind of life for me, a life bursting with vibrancy, pulsing with vivacity, abounding with colors.

In a way, ’twas a baptism into queerness, an affirmation of the way I’ve chosen life, and life abundantly.


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