Kathryn Budig On What Wellness Spaces Can Do To Be More LGBTQ-Friendly
Kelly Gonsalves is a sex educator, relationship coach, and journalist. She received her journalism degree from Northwestern University, and her writings on sex, relationships, identity, and wellness have appeared at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.
We're kicking off the series with one personal growth guru who knows a thing or two about speaking your truth: Kathryn Budig, the internationally beloved yoga instructor, author, and fashion designer who created a movement around her core spiritual message, Aim True. When Budig opened up about her relationship with her now-wife Kate Fagan (yes, the esteemed ESPN host and reporter—talk about a power couple) in 2016, she got a lot of love from her fans—some of them, at least. She opens up about losing followers after marrying Fagan (and not giving a shit), why she identifies as sexually fluid, and how wellness spaces can be more welcoming and inclusive to people who don't fit the stereotypical cookie-cutter mold of what a person in wellness looks like.
What made you confident in your voice and your message as something that's worth telling people?
Confidence obviously just comes through experience and repetition. I didn't start out confident in my voice as a teacher. That took time. I was a miniature of my mentor until I started to find my voice and what interests me, and ideally the path of being a teacher regardless of the genre that you fall under is that you continue to evolve as you learn more about yourself and about your students and the world around you. So it's been an evolution of I love ashtanga, and then I loved teaching hand balances, and then I started going more into the spiritual path of what it meant for me to "aim true," and it's just this constant evolution for me. I think the confidence for me personally comes from my ability to be willing to change at any given moment.
When you're leading a class or posting on social or recording a podcast, do you ever think, Gosh, do I even know what I'm talking about?
Of course! I think everyone has impostor syndrome to a certain extent.
I don't think in terms of scale or numbers when I'm sharing something. I'm not sharing something with the hope that I reach as many people as possible. I just hope that I reach one person who needs to hear what I'm saying. I think that our society has really fallen into this concept of moving goal posts and scaling and that the only way to be impactful on a spiritual level is to access as many people as possible, which is just egotistical bullshit. That's what your ego is saying: that you want to be really popular and have lots of people listen to you. And obviously there's nothing wrong with that.
People would have less impostor syndrome if they really focused on their message as opposed to how many people are going to like what I have to say? That was a lesson that took a long time for me to understand. So now when I'm sharing something, there's no questioning what I'm saying. I totally believe everything that's coming out of my mouth, and whether or not people agree with me is totally up to them. If they don't like it, that used to really upset me, and now it's just like, that's cool—because there's thousands of other teachers out there, and if my message isn't connecting with you, then you can go get it from someone else. But I'm not going to change my ethos just because it's not fitting with someone else's.
How do you describe your sexual identity?
I use "fluid." I identify with being sexually fluid. I lovingly say I'm gay-ish to people who don't understand verbiage when it comes to LGBTQ.
I identify with sexually fluid because I am attracted to all genders. I, for the majority of my life, have been in romantic relationships with men. I, throughout my entire life, have been attracted to both men and women and have had sexual relationships with both. And I happened to fall in love with a woman, and I found my person, my lifelong person, in a female.
Some people were probably pissed I wasn’t their American, white girl, blond, blue-eyed, heterosexual wet dream. And you know, you just gotta burst that bubble sometimes.
I don't feel appropriate or it doesn't feel right to say I'm "gay" because that to me insinuates that you are only attracted to the same sex and that's how it's been for you your entire life, and I don't want to disrespect all those who've come before me who've had an incredibly rocky path and have had horrible coming-out experiences. I don't identify as gay, and it's not a slam at all—I love gay. I love the word "gay." I love what it means to be gay. That's why I love to say that I'm gay-ish—because I love it.
I don't identify with the word lesbian either because that insinuates that I've only been attracted to women my entire life, which is an incorrect representation of who I am. So "fluid" just feels appropriate to me because that's how I feel about sexuality. It's how I feel about attraction. That's how I feel about love.
Was there a moment when you were like, "Whoa, I also like other genders!" What was that process like for you?
It's funny because I don't have a "coming out" story. It's not like I woke up one day and was like, holy shit, I've been lying to myself. I've never been lying to myself. I've always allowed myself to be attracted to both men and women, and when I would be with women, it didn't feel wrong. … It was just like, OK! I'm attracted to this woman. I want to be with her right now. When I fell in love with my now wife, the hardest part was that I was still in a marriage with my husband at the time. So it was more of a diplomacy issue than a gender issue. When I told my parents and my friends that my marriage wasn't working and I happened to fall in love with a woman, no one even batted an eye at it. But that's my community. I'm very lucky to have the people who are close to me see me, and they love me.
Sure, on social media, I did see a big drop in numbers after I told people that I left my husband and that I was with a woman. And I'm sure some people were pissed that I got a divorce. Some people were probably pissed that I wasn't their American, white girl, blond, blue-eyed, heterosexual wet dream. And you know, you just gotta burst that bubble sometimes. I have yet to have a really nasty encounter with anyone over the fact that I'm with a woman. I have had some rude comments but nothing that I can't brush off my shoulder quickly.
Your follower count dropped! Was there major pushback from the people you were working with or from your fans or from the wellness community in general?
I will never know for sure. I have noticed that since I have been open about our relationship that there has been a major decrease in followers and in how quickly I used to gather followers. But for all I know, that's just the Instagram algorithm. I don't know for sure. But I do notice that if I post a picture about us or something about the podcast that's specifically more about us and not necessarily our guests, that it gets a ton of love and comments and likes on the actual post, but behind the scenes, people drop out. It's disappointing, but it's also just like, you know, this is my relationship. I'm not going to adjust my relationship for your comfort level. If it makes you uncomfortable, then that's something that you should probably go sit with and figure out why it bothers you so much.
Do you think LGBTQ+ people still face any unique challenges in the wellness space?
I just wish there was more representation honestly. I think that obviously within the yoga world, gay men tend to be represented in the LGBTQ community in yoga. You don't see a lot of gay women and nonbinary people as much, at least not mainstream. It's nice to see people like Jessamyn Stanley, for example, who identifies as queer and polyamorous, and it's just refreshing to have someone out there who basically makes the run-of-the-mill wellness consumer go, what are you? And that's great! Because it starts a conversation.
I'm a firm believer in, when it comes to social justice and education, lead through patience and love. I don't believe in punishing someone because they're not at the level of education that I want them to be at. I don't believe in telling someone, well, you're a little late to the party. Because that's how you lose the openness of someone to expand their mind. And not everyone has grown up in a community where there is diversity and to just say, wow, you didn't take the time to look outside your own community? It's not as simple as that.
I wish people would work harder on understanding experiences that aren't their own. I also don't think the answer is to be cruel or rude to them. That's part of the reason why Kate and I started our podcast and talk about sexuality and our relationship and gender issues as much as we do. If people like her from her sports background and writing background, and they like me for my wellness and writing background, then hopefully they'll come listen to us and learn, and we can say something that they've never thought about before. And that's really our goal: to plant these seeds and get them to think bigger and change their perspective.
Do you have any advice for people who feel excluded from wellness spaces or like they just don't fit in or belong?
There are definitely members of the LGBTQ community within the wellness world, and we are out there. For anyone who feels like the oddball, you can find us. We will be there with you.
I think more importantly, my advice would be to the media publications and to the studio owners and social media runners. Work harder on your representation in media. If you're a studio owner, and you're just posting a bunch of skinny white girls in sports bras, guess who you're going to appeal to? That's going to be your only clientele that are going to show up. We need to show more diversity within gender and race, and the simplicity of just how you offer your classes.
Even within verbiage when I'm teaching, I'm very aware of gender pronouns and making wide cultural references of, "Well, ladies, when your men just piss you off…!" What if you don't have a man, and that's not what you have at home? There are just little simple things that teachers, whether you're heteronormal or you belong to the LGBTQ community or you don't know what the fuck you are, you can make small adjustments that make everyone feel at least closer to being welcomed and being part of the family.
Visibility is so important.
Yeah. There are great teachers like Dana Flynn, the founder of Laughing Lotus. She's just a rock star. Jessamyn is a total rock star. Rocky Heron—I love him. He's just out there living it large. There are just a lot of really, really lovely teachers out there.
I don't think to feel like you fit in that your teacher necessarily has to be part of the LGBTQ community, but you do want to try to find a teacher who has at least put some time and thought into it and how they speak and what it means. You're not just teaching about "Ladies, when you get home to your boyfriends tonight." It's like, stop. Stop! [Instead say,] "Humans, when you get home to your partners." It's so easy to adjust little words.
It's hard, too, because this is how our culture has been for a very long time. It's going to take some time. I think everyone slips up, but if you're regularly making the effort, that's massive.
Has your identity as a fluid person influenced your work as a yoga instructor, as a writer, as a fashion designer?
Oh, completely. I mean, being married to a woman now completely changes the lens one looks through at the world. I take way more time to pause before I create.
What does Pride mean to you?
I love Pride. I love the fact that it's a great time to put awareness on the LGBTQ community and a time to celebrate how unique we are. But I think it's also a really important time to celebrate how similar we all are. I know that Pride is all about rainbow and sparkles and parties, and I love that. [But at the same time,] I don't want people to be like, "Oh, she's in a gay marriage." No, I'm in a marriage. It's not gay. It's a marriage. You're in a marriage. I'm in a marriage.
I think we need to change how we look at each other. Yes, celebrate how different and amazing and sparkly we are—but also how similar we are. Because [just like] anyone who is in the LGBTQ community, yeah, I love being different. I'm not gonna lie. I love it. But there's a lot of stuff where I don't want to be the special exotic animal at the zoo that everyone's looking at trying to figure out where they came from. I'm just a human who fell in love with another human and wants to do the family human thing together.
Yeah, we are different in many ways, but I would love for us to fixate on how similar we all are.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
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