By Sydney Bradley
When I entered the studio in downtown Eugene, I knew it was first-string. The teacher gave me an eye-gazey welcome and vines cascaded down the foyer’s white brick wall. She directed me to the female-identifying lockers. Loud and clear: this was a progressive zone, committed to the rights of trans people and gender equality. A fortified return to yoga.
The class was full — about 30 of us — on a hot July day for hot Vinyasa. Three of four (lucky) men were shirtless. One had proud man-boobs. One wore black boxer-briefs. My sweat began to drip, and it occurred to me I’d be more comfortable with my top off, too. I always wear the skimpiest clothes for heated yoga —going for as little fabric as possible. I wind up tightly bandaged by cotton and spandex. If only I could be shirtless like the guys…
But wait! This joint has female-identifying lockers. And my teacher opened class talking about the intuitive nature of Cancer season, citing Robin Williams’ innate skill for reading his audience. A sign. A Cancer myself, I read that the crowd wouldn’t be thrilled to see boobs, but they’d get over it and focus on their hip-flexors. It’s Eugene ‘21. And this business touts a safe space.
Fifteen minutes in, when I really got flowing, I slipped my pink tank top onto the floor. I focused on my poses. The class proceeded normally. I had a great hour recalibrating my muscles and mind. My heart-opener stretches were especially free. After savasana, while folks dutifully sprayed their mats, no one reproached me. What could they say? I was shirtless among three others. In Oregon, public indecency only includes genitalia or sexual intent. I wasn’t trying to arouse anyone. I was downward-dogging.
I left the building clothed and titillated by promises of the future. My mom, who often disagrees with me politically, was excited to hear. “I’ve always wanted to do that and be comfier,” she commiserated, “but wouldn’t dare.” Our world, I thought, just needs a little nudge to settle into proportion.
But the next morning, the owner called me. In a soft voice, she shared that some classmates reported my breasts (the vibey teacher, too!). She explained the studio policy requires my breasts be concealed. So everyone feels safe. She didn’t personally disagree with me, but she has a community to protect. (It’s not that my body is obscene. Just that women are obscene).
“Did I make people feel unsafe?” I asked.
“No,” she said without pause. “It just hasn’t happened before.”
There was a time my mother couldn’t wear pants to school. It had never happened before. And now we wear pants.
The owner continued in a sweet tumble. “If I open that up, what’s next? I wish breasts weren’t sexualized, but they are. And consider the people who aren’t comfortable having their breasts exposed, they may feel leered at — and what does it mean for people distracted by boobs?”
Whoa. Flashback to Catholic high school, where I couldn’t wear Lululemon leggings in case it kept the fellas from their books.
“Can’t the same be said for booty shorts?” I asked. “Doesn’t every person already wear what makes them comfortable?” I felt more comfortable shirtless, like the men (they’re onto something). And what if I were a flat-chested woman? Still a problem?
“I’m willing to take on some politics,” she leveled, “just not everything.” She described their alliance with transgender groups in town. I asked her if this sense of justice extends to women — shamed for centuries. My people. Booted, again, to the back of the line.
“I’m a business owner,” she said, her young children in the background.
“Change is up to the business owners,” I suggested. And citizens. Isn’t that what we learned in social studies? She agreed. But another owner, another town, another day.
While it may be that no other studios allow boobs, I know of none with gender-nonbinary washrooms, either. Oh, and also, breasts give life.
So many women are taught to hide our breasts, wear circulation-cutting bras, and veil our nipples at all costs. We’ve finally embraced public breastfeeding (duh). But we still hunch, develop tumors, and do what we’re told. My breasts are totally sexy, and so are my legs, neck, hair and all other lady parts I share with the world as I see fit. Trans rights are important and so are mine. They don’t seem mutually exclusive. Can’t we all support each other?
“Would you be willing to require men to wear shirts?” I asked at the end of our call.
But I did not strip to tussle. I stripped because it seemed obvious. I’m topless, not hopeless. I’m a college-educated school teacher, published writer and midwife-in-training. I don’t cover my hair when I go to the grocery store and I love yoga.
“Check in with what you need for your flow today,” our teacher had prompted toward the start of class. “A child’s pose, maybe a sip of water, a few deep breaths.” Not only were her sequences original, her words elevated the session. First-string indeed. She emphasized listening to the soul.
About the writer/deviant: Sydney Bradley is a nationally published fiction writer and teacher from San Francisco. Her short stories have been printed in the Harvard Advocate, the Washington Square Review (NYU), and the Bennington Review. She moonlights as a midwife’s apprentice.