By: Emily Unwin
William. There’s so much I want to say about this incredible person. William is the person responsible for gifting plants and trinkets that make Shakti feel like home. The person responsible for my love of dancing in chair pose. The person responsible for all the best questions, all the needed conversations, and all the handstands.
William has been a part of the studio since September 2017, and a consistent part of my classes for about a year now. William and I bonded over a love of anatomy, weird poses, and vegetables, and he runs a farm and grows incredible produce. Be on the lookout for fresh strawberries soon!
Most importantly, William’s story runs deep, he’s more than a label, and he’s excited to share. So, I sat down with William after Monday night’s Triple P class and asked him to tell me his story.
“My story gets divided into two groups. There’s a really happy part, and the sad part. But they actually coincide.”
Over the year or so I’ve known William, he’s shared glimpses and bits of his life story. But never had I sat down and asked about the full picture. William’s story doesn’t move chronologically, nor does it piece together in simple ways. In perfect fashion, William’s story comes together in snapshots, like a collage of his life organized into a hopeful message: Be yourself, no matter what.
“When I was two or three,” he says, “I really loved girls’ stuff. And unfortunately, a lot of people weren’t prepared for that. My mom wasn’t prepared for that, my dad wasn’t prepared for that. Which is why I do a lot of what I do here.” For those who don’t know William, he is the #1 fan of K-deer, a women’s yoga clothing line that advocates for neurodiversity and size inclusivity. He wears their leggings every class, and recently, he’s started wearing tank tops and sports bras.
I asked William if there was ever a conversation in his household about gender fluidity and what guys ‘should and shouldn’t like.’ He responded, “I think everyone knew about it, but there wasn’t a conversation until I was 15. You know when you tell your parents something and they say, ‘Don’t ever talk about this again.’ There was some of that.”
William and I talked about what that felt like, as a kid, to hear that you shouldn’t enjoy things you love or be yourself. And William responded in a way that, I feel, grasps exactly how those who struggle with unaccepting family members feel. “Everybody has their own things they’re dealing with. Behind every person is a story. A story of why they act the way they act. But still, it wasn’t kind. It’s not a question of my family or people in my life weren’t trying, they honestly weren’t able to [understand].” A few weeks later, William shared with me that he feels, in life, that hindsight is a gift, and everyone’s in the work and learning. So, he doesn’t want to place blame. Rather, he appreciates where he’s been and where he is now.
Luckily, William feels that Shakti has become a place he can feel safe and supported. “It’s a really cool thing coming here. You have people coming from all walks of life, and I’m forcing them to interact. I’m being honest. Growing up, I so longed for somewhere like this. This is a gift in the sense that I’m able to share and bring this up here.” I asked William, What have you struggled with? What have you needed to share? What can people learn from you?
“I grew breasts. They’re supposed to be there.” I asked William if he preferred other pronouns besides he/him. “Pronouns aren’t as important to me. I’m both [genders]. The biggest thing people can do is what we’re doing right now. Listen. I think, if my parents had listened, they wouldn’t have insisted, over and over, that I get plastic surgery to have them removed. No. No. No. No.” I told William that it sounds like his breasts have become a part of who he is and how he identifies. “Ya! It’s fun! I actually feel like I got something extra, if I dare say.”
William’s thoughts on gender: “I think [gender] is a really stupid idea.” Preach. “You are who you are and you do what you do. Gender is holding back too many people. [Gender and sexuality] is not everything. It’s there, but it’s not something you should have to talk about.”
What might be a defining or singular label to some feels like a smaller part of William’s larger identity. A larger, whole, complete person. Honest, authentic, and genuine. And, other components of William’s life have been equally as prominent, especially growing up. Specifically, learning disabilities.
“Additionally, having a mother who wanted a poster child... She didn’t get that. No one really gets them. You don’t go to a catalogue and pick your kids.” I relate. I’ve become someone and made choices that my parents’ didn’t initially agree with. There are pieces of my identity that I still don’t feel comfortable sharing, for fear that my parents wouldn’t accept me anymore. But like William said, he feels like people are sort of getting it now. Or at least, learning and trying to become more accepting. Doesn’t make life easy, though.
“Having learning disabilities and having to go to different schools made this whole situation feel more isolating.” William has ADD and dyslexia, which made him wonder when he was younger, “What the hell is wrong with me? Why can’t I do the things other people are doing? You see it in [the yoga room]. It’s not gone. It’s hard to concentrate. But I can also concentrate really hard on things and do things, frankly, other people can’t do. It’s not about what you can’t do and more things you can, things you like. It’s farming. I take pieces of things that [don’t fit together] and make something from it. It’s like that in yoga. ‘Well, I can’t do that. But what if I put my arm here, what if I move this way… What pieces do I have?’ Running a farm, you don’t have the right part, but you have this this and this. How can I make this work? Seeing things from start to finish is really rewarding.”
I learned, and learn, so much from William about embracing who I am, but it’s difficult in a world that celebrates conformity. But with each time I lean into and trust who I’ve become, I value myself a bit more. I don’t allow myself to get stuck. Still… It feels challenging. “Many people do give up,” William says. “We’re told [to conform] in life, we’re told that at work. But being who you are… It’s so important.”
“When someone sees me, they see something new and something different. So when they go out into the world and see someone like me, it won’t be the first time. Maybe they won’t have such a strong reaction.” You’re using yourself to create safety for other people like you, I said. “It’s not easy,” William replied. “It’s scary. But someone has to start.”
It’s showing people that you can be different, exactly who you are, and that’s a reason to celebrate.