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June 10, 2021

Toward a Queer Acupuncture

White hand with red painted nails holds a small rainbow pride flag in front of green foliage

“Every person who comes to a queer self-understanding knows in one way or another that her stigmatization is intricated with gender, with the family, with notions of individual freedom, the state, public speech, consumption and desire, nature and culture, maturation, reproductive politics, racial and national fantasy, class identity, truth and trust, censorship, intimate life and social display, terror and violence, health care, and deep cultural norms about the bearing of the body.[…]Queers do a kind of practical social reflection just in finding ways of being queer.”
-Michael Warner, Fear of a Queer Planet

East Asian Medicine as a liberation practice?

Acupuncturists are always fundamentally focused on the free flow of energy in the body– the “Qi”. You may have heard your acupuncturist talk about “Qi stagnation” as the source of your pain, abdominal distention, headaches, or even emotional symptoms. So what causes the Qi of the body to stagnate in the first place? One common culprit is a lack of movement, but another relevant cause is a lack of internal movement: feeling one’s feelings, self-expressing, and allowing one’s full self to be present in any given moment.

You can test this theory for yourself: what does it feel like in your body after you vent to a really great listener about something that has gotten under your skin? How often do we walk away from those conversations feeling lighter, better, and freer from the situation? We’ve successfully freed the stagnant qi. On the other hand, how does it feel if the person we’ve chosen to confide in instead points out that our feelings are wrong or shuts them down in some way? They may say things like, “well, look at the silver lining,” “don’t let that get to you,” or “you’re being so sensitive”– those things are frustrating to hear, right?

Denying the truth of our feelings can stagnate the Qi even further and create more tension and discomfort for us. Not convinced yet about the magic and medicine in self-expression? Read up on how swearing has actual, well-proven analgesic (pain-relieving) effects. Self-expression is healing in action.

As Acupuncturists, I would argue we have more than a duty to practice non-discrimination towards people’s gender and sexual identities– I think we’re called to a true liberation practice & celebration of people’s unique, full, authentic selves. That’s when the qi can really be free and in flow with life.

While I would not suggest that the history of East Asian Medicine does not engage with or reinforce heteronormativity, I would suggest that there is ample space within the foundational concepts of East Asian Medicine to practice a medicine that celebrates LGBTQ+ identities and lives. Striving for freedom is fundamental to the philosophies behind our medicine.

Acupuncture for Queer Folks

Acupuncture can be used successfully to manage a host of issues that Queer people may have in the course of their lives, not by virtue of their queerness but simply by virtue of being human. The evidence continues to mount that acupuncture, East Asian herbal medicines, and movement therapies like Qi Gong can support people experiencing all kinds of conditions, from digestive complaints to pain to emotional issues.

In addition to the usual ups and downs of life, acupuncture & East Asian medicine are well-suited to support some LGBTQ+ specific issues.

Acupuncture can help with LGBTQ+ healthcare in areas like:
  • Scar healing after gender-affirming surgeries
  • Hormonal regulation & side effect management for hormonal therapies
  • Fertility & Assisted Reproduction support
  • Stress, Anxiety, & Depression
  • Trauma & PTSD
  • HIV and Immune system support

As with every helping profession, not every acupuncturist practices from a sex-positive, trauma-informed, or radical liberation perspective; I encourage any Queer folks looking for East Asian medicine to seek care that will affirm and celebrate their identities.

To do so, you could search this growing database from the Queer Circle Podcast, seek care at a POCA-affiliated community clinic*, or look for a local Acupuncturist who includes language around non-discrimination on their website or marketing materials. At AIMC, we strive to make our classrooms and our clinic safer spaces for all who seek care, including those with LGBTQ+ identities.
*If the POCA link doesn’t work for you, it may be because they successfully migrated to their new website!

Resources for Acupuncturists Who Want to Learn More:

Gratitude for the Teachers & Ancestors

As a young queer person reckoning with the history and culture of a medicine I have taken on as a practice, I would never have come to this understanding without the help of so many (formal and informal) teachers along the way. If you are interested or feel called to explore further any of the ideas mentioned here, here are some of those influences.

“An open mind leads to an open heart.
Openheartedness leads to justice.
Justice is an expression of divinity.
Divinity is oneness with Tao.
Oneness with Tao is freedom from harm, indescribable pleasure, eternal life.”
-Tao te Ching, Chapter 16
Translation by Brian Browne Walker

About the Author

White woman with wide brim straw hat on holds a white and brown dog and smiles in front of snowy mount and frozen lake scene on a sunny dayAlly Magill is an AIMC graduate with a background in birthwork as a labor and postpartum doula, outdoor education, and the management of thriving community acupuncture clinics. She studied Five Element Acupuncture at the Maryland University of Integrative Health before joining AIMC for the herbal & integrative medicine portion of her Master’s degree. She has had the opportunity to study the teachings of Daoist master Jeffrey Yuen through his students & incorporates Classical Chinese Medicine into her practice. You can connect with her & find out more about her Bay Area practice at www.bloomwithcare.com.

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