QTAPI Mental Health: An interview with Rumi Sol about Queerness and Religion/Spirituality

QTAPI Mental Health: An interview with Rumi Sol about Queerness and Religion/Spirituality

This Pride month, we wanted to take some time to explore the role that religion or spirituality may play in our lives. Many queer, trans folks may have a complex relationship with their religion or spirituality, and this is no different for LGBTQ+ Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (QTAPI). Our mental health counseling intern Amanda hopped on a call with Rumi Sol, a queer Asian American psychosomatic therapist, healer and coach, about the intersections of queerness, religious trauma, and spirituality to find out more.

Please note that this conversation was held between two people who have experiences with Christianity, and while we hope there are some nuggets of wisdom that anyone in the community can resonate with, it is still one conversation. We encourage folks to continue conversing about what this means for them, whatever their relationship with religion or spirituality may be.

In this conversation, Rumi and Amanda talk a lot about holistic psychosomatic therapy and coaching. Very generally speaking, holistic psychosomatic therapy can be seen as an approach to therapy that incorporates elements of the mind, body, and spirit, focusing on a variety of factors for overall wellness. A psychosomatic therapist or coach may work with you to process how emotions feel in your body or soul, rather than simply focusing on cognitive or behavioral changes. While therapy and coaching share many similarities, there are also a few important differences. Therapy tends to focus more on healing from the past, whereas coaching places more emphasis on future goals. This context is provided by Cut Fruit Collective for the purpose of offering clarity and information to readers. For more specific information about Rumi’s practice and offerings, please see their website here.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Amanda: So thank you again for making time to talk today. I know a little bit about your work through Inclusive Therapists, but maybe [do] you want to start by introducing yourself and kind of describing what is the work that you do?

Rumi: Yeah, absolutely. So hello to anyone who will be listening to this. My name is Rumi, my pronouns are they and she, and I offer holistic psychotherapy alongside psychosomatic holistic coaching services. A lot of the work that I do is what I would call reclamation, I really see healing work as a path towards liberation. But in doing so we're also taking back something that's often been lost inside of us by connecting to the body, that connecting to not just our physical body, but our spiritual, emotional and mental bodies, remembering ourselves home, and allowing the containers that I offer individuals to be a vehicle towards meaningful change. And transformation on my client’s terms.

Amanda: That sounds wonderful. I think, yeah, when I think about wellness, it is like that holistic picture, right? You know, we talk about mental health, but there's so much more that goes into it than just our mental state. And I think that physical and spiritual safety and wellness are included in that as well. So that sounds really transformative for folks. What is it that brought you to that work specifically? Like through that lens?

Rumi: Yeah, that's a good question. So, I mean, as I often share, I always knew that I wanted to support people. And I think when I started it, you know, it was in the early stages of my college years, and I've always leaned towards being in service work. But I think it took me a long time to get in right relationship with that. And by that, I mean, learning what it means to be of service without trying to save people. And so I think that's why that decolonial lens is so important in this work. But it took me a while to come into therapy, and I took some time before grad school because I just knew that I wasn't ready. And I started on my own personal journey towards healing. I'm a survivor of, you know, sexual trauma alongside early childhood trauma. And so I had to, I had to think to myself, like how can, how can I show up for others without identifying with their story, or that identify my stories in them, right. And so just knowing that I wanted to go into this work, I sought out my own healing, I started going to a therapist, and one really changed my life, she actually ended up being my first teacher in this work. But as soon as I met Mary, she helped me connect to my somatic body. And I think this is something that's really interesting, because as a culture, Asian Americans are so somatically connected, but that becomes almost, I think…I don't want to say “corrupted.” But that becomes diluted, I think, in the culture that we're surrounded by when we move to, you know, move abroad, when we have migration experiences. And so coming back to my body in that meaningful way, and healing from bottom up, instead of top down, I think it really changed my life. And so that became my clear path. And that's why I decided to go into therapy as a practice because my therapist helped me heal so deeply.

Amanda: Mmm, that's wonderful. I definitely resonate with that piece of doing the inner work. Because I am a student, I'm a second year student. And I also came into this work with my first experience with therapy and like how much that kind of transformed the way that I feel about myself and also repair the relationships that I have with other people. And I found it really interesting when you talked about top down versus bottom up healing. Can you share a little bit more about what that means?

Rumi: Yeah, yeah. I think in psychology, we often get this idea that we're thinking of, we're really in the mind, right? We think about our stories, we think about our narratives, and a lot of it is about changing our perspectives. And I think that there's a lot of value in that. But I think for some people, especially those…I work with a lot of highly sensitive people and a lot of those who might have a little bit more of a bodily approach or you know, in the same way that we recognize that trauma is stored in our bodies, so people maybe who have complex trauma or people who are generally just more sensitive in their bodies. A bottom up approach is a way for us to tap into deeper nervous system regulation, through the physical body, through motion, through energy as a way to create a bridge between our thoughts and our bodies in a way that I think we often don't necessarily have access to every day.

Amanda: Yeah, I definitely agree with that. And, you know, my first experience with therapy was with CBT, cognitive behavioral therapy. So definitely like that more top down approach that you mentioned. And I think that that did serve me for a little bit of time in terms of coping, but when I wanted to do that deeper healing work, it was that somatic piece, like the bottom up work of processing my emotions on a physical level, that really kind of brought me a little bit closer to what I feel is like true healing of the wounds that I had. So yeah, that's really insightful and really powerful. And I think that we need to talk about that a bit more when it comes to therapy. 

Rumi: But I think the one thing that I find a lot of value in is somatic work, but I also take slight issue with the way that it's being sold back to us. These mindfulness tactics, or even like, you know, what do we call it now? Mindful…what they call mindful DBT? MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction)? That's just…that's just mindfulness. It's part of so many of our cultural histories, and it's kind of being sold back to us. And there's so much gatekeeping within these kinds of therapy communities, but it's just, I think that's a conversation for another day.

Amanda: Yeah, for sure. Yeah, I definitely agree. I mean, I recently did a quick post on mindfulness and what are the origins of it, and how is that being, like, transformed and repackaged to us in a way that is divorced from our culture? So I know that a lot of the work that you do, or maybe not a lot, but part of the work that you do has to do with spiritual or religious wounds or trauma? Can you speak a bit more about what drew you to that specifically? And like, what does that look like for API?

Rumi: Oh my gosh, yeah…you're speaking directly to my heart space when you bring that up. I think a lot of our families, or grandparents when they moved to the States, you know, they moved to Turtle Island, found community and church spaces. And I can recognize how important that is culturally, while also making space for the fact that it was deeply traumatizing for so many people, including people who are queer and trans. And so when I was younger, I grew up in a very typical Korean Presbyterian Church. And I've always felt a spiritual connection with the divine. But the way that it was being taught to me was so…what I would call deficit-based– really, you know, from a place of fear, from a place of shame, telling us that we're small. And I think for that reason, I had this push and pull internally, especially as a queer young person, of “What is wrong with me?” I feel this connection, but this message isn't resonating with me. And so as I got older, and started to develop my own sense of spirituality, I started to expand my perspective. And then I started to realize that my relationship with spirituality had nothing to do with religion, but I'm grateful for religion because of the community that it built and for the meaning that it gives to my parents. For me, religion was my introduction into spirituality. But for me, when I say the word God, I mean the trees, I mean the sky and the earth, right? I mean the elements that we’re surrounded by, I mean looking at another person and seeing the beauty inside of them. And that's also why I think for me, spirituality is deeply queer, because you're expanding your understanding of something beyond binaries. And to me, the divine source is both a very deeply masculine and a very deeply feminine entity. And so that “bothness,” right? That “everythingness” is kind of what spirituality means to me. And when I bring in mindfulness, when I bring in spiritual healing in my work, I do it from a place of, again, remembrance. Of remembering the parts of our body that have always been connected to the earth, the parts of our body that remember the way that our ancestors would turn to plant medicine, things that we would call weeds, to heal our bodies. And so when I say holistic, I think that's what I refer to.

Amanda: Yeah, that “everythingness.”

Rumi: The “everythingness,” yeah.

Amanda: And I think that speaks to a really important thing, which can be the difficulty of holding those two spaces of understanding. How certain organized religion or certain aspects of religion that are very fear-based or are very shame-based doesn't resonate with us, but still wanting to hold on to that spirituality and not understanding how to shift away from that deficit model. And reclaim that spirituality–what it means for myself, and even just ancestrally, right? Like you mentioned at the beginning, I grew up in like an Evangelical Christian household, and so as a queer person it was just very hard for me to reconcile how we taught ourselves about queer people, versus how I felt. And also not being able to let go of religion entirely because I felt so much connection to that spirituality. And I think it is really important also to recognize how it has served our parents in terms of community, because that is definitely an anchor that my mom held onto as a Filipina person in a new world and a new country. Yeah, just like making space for that trauma but also a desire to still be connected as a queer Asian person. This kind of ties into a question that a team member wanted to ask, which is, “It's understandable that QTAPI might turn away from spirituality given that it can play a role in the oppression, prejudice, bias towards queer and trans people. But if you're able to access a space that feels affirming, what are the potential benefits of spirituality?”

Rumi: Oh, gosh. When I think about what it means to connect to spirituality, I really believe that it's about connecting to our highest selves. At the end of the day, people talk so often about the universe, right? But we're also thinking about how we can connect to this almost primal but also very, very, almost ethereal version of who we are. And you know, in psychology we often talk about the self with a capital S, right? I think spirituality and that “Selfness” is actually not removed from one another. And so, I truly believe that in our work connecting with spirituality, not only can we find cultural and ancestral remembrance, but we can also find a deeper relationship with who we are. Like, for example, I have an altar. And on my altar, I have a little figurine of Guanyin. And I'm not a practicing Buddhist, but this reminds me of my family's cultural origins. My dad was a Buddhist before he converted to Christianity and his family was too. And what this represents for me is, of course, working with the loving energy of this figure, but it’s also archetypal. It's how that archetype exists inside of me and how I can connect to that every day as a form of healing.

Amanda: And when we talk about healing, what does that look like or start to look like for QTAPI who want to maybe fully remove themselves from the religion because of the pain or may be trying to find some kind of connection still?

Rumi: I think it's so common for so many queer, especially API, who identify as Christian but not have a church community that they can go to. Because they lose community– “If I want to be who I am, I have to lose this part of me.” That's also just as important. Because church isn't just religion, it's also community. And so I think reconciling that can be really difficult. And it's hard to know where we fit in, in those spaces. And so finding an affirming church can be really helpful, or finding an affirming practice. I also know a lot of queer API that are really interested in things like oracle cards or Tarot as a way to connect to spirituality in a way that feels safer. Like astrology, right? And so bringing all of those things in and remembering that Christianity is a structure that has been given to us. But we can figure out what feels good for us, and I think that's where the somatics comes in, right? What if you're sitting in church and a pastor’s giving a sermon and something about that doesn't resonate, and your body does a “contraction,” which we talk about in somatics. What if that's not your truth? And what if that's okay, right? There's a hierarchy of, “This person's right. They're telling me how to live my life.” But everything's a teacher, and that also means that we can also take and leave whatever doesn't resonate with us.

Amanda: Yeah, yeah, for sure. And I think that it took me a long time to give myself permission to do that. To leave behind things at church that are causing me to have those “contractions” or causing me pain. And just recognizing, “This is one person's interpretation of what this religion or this Bible means.” And I can view it in a different way. I don't have to accept that in my life. And I think that what you said about having to choose between different parts of ourselves is so powerful. Just from my personal experience, talking with friends, and also the work that I'm doing looking into mental health for API, that's such a big theme. That theme of belonging and choice, where we feel we have to live different lives in each different space that we occupy. How can we start to move towards wholeness in every space, rather than separating and choosing which mask to put on in different places?

Rumi: Yeah, seriously. I think that's the question, especially for those who are maybe queer API and neurodivergent, right? Because there's already masking going on in every space that you occupy. I think one thing that stands out to me in that conversation is that a lot of the conversation around spirituality, a lot of the conversation around queerness, is dominated by a very Eurocentric, white supremacist perspective. And so even within queer spaces, if you hear that a family is unaffirming, you'll hear a lot of, “Well, throw the family away,” right? And I don't think that API queer communities can discard their family as easily for a lot of reasons that I think are very culturally embedded. And I'm sure that a lot of other cultures can resonate with this, but even the idea of coming out, right? And so I think a lot of the fragmenting happens, of course, because of trauma, but also because we feel like we have to fit into specific narratives within our identities. And so maybe part of it is rewriting the stories and having more community conversations like this. I think that's why Cut Fruit Collective’s work is so important, because when you hear someone else's story, and it aligns with yours, you can say, “Oh, wait, that's me, too. I guess I don't have to do it this other way that I've been taught. I thought I had to.”

Amanda: Yeah, that expansiveness and that “everythingness” and coming back to that and just realizing that there's infinite possibilities. There's not just one way to exist or be. And I think it is definitely a culturally embedded thing where we might feel like we need to fit a certain mold in order to be accepted. And I think that is doubly true for neurodivergent QTAPI. I'm neurodivergent. And learning to unmask has been very difficult, but also liberating. If you were to offer any affirming words or sentiments to the QTAPI community who are on this journey of reclaiming their spirituality, or even just like figuring out what it means to them, if that's something they want to engage in, is there anything you'd like to offer them?

Rumi: I guess what I would say to them is that there's no wrong way to do this, and living your life, in your authenticity, is a holy and sacred thing. And if anyone tells you that you're wrong for that, I would want to offer them compassion because I think about the way that our ancestors– even, you know, two generations back, one generation back–our parents have had to fit into these boxes as well. Just remember that you have queer, you have neurodivergent, you have trans ancestors. Maybe they didn't use that language, right? And maybe they didn't have the same framework that you did. But you living your life, and being exactly who you are, is a love letter to every single person that came before you.

Amanda: Mmm. I got chills when you said that and I feel myself tearing up a little bit because, you know, coming from a family that doesn't necessarily accept queerness, the thought that like, my ancestors were queer–for sure, some of them were. And I never thought about that, but of course, I come from that lineage that is neurodivergent, that is queer, that exists outside of these molds that we feel we need to fit into because of societal pressures or the myth of white supremacy, right? They might not have the same language, but they understand how I feel on some level. And so their strength does reside in me. And that can be really, really powerful to realize.

Rumi: Exactly. And, you know, we always talk about ancestral work, right? If we don't know what that means, start there. Just think about the queer, neurodivergent, trans ancestors in your family line, and just connect with that in your own body. And I think that's ancestral work. You know, even before you set up an altar, maybe you can just do that inside the altar of your heart. 

Amanda: You mentioned this altar a couple of times in our conversation. If somebody wanted to kind of create one for themselves, where would they start? How can they kind of start building that even just within themselves?

Rumi: Yeah, it can be so subtle, right? So all an altar is, in essence, is just a dedicated space that represents all four elements–or depending on the school of thought you're in, maybe five–but all the elements like earth, water, air, fire, and you can even put wood or metal. And then have some kind of symbol, maybe it could be a crystal, it could be a figurine or photo of your ancestors, that represents the entity or the idea that you're dedicating that altar to. It could be an ancestral altar, it could be an altar for love, an altar for hope, an altar for social change. Maybe you can have a bowl of water, or you can have a candle or crystals to represent the earth. And then maybe a feather or a fan to represent air. And my recommendation is play around, maybe do some research on what your culture did for altars. Most have some form of it, and then allow that to be kind of a vehicle towards, “Okay, let me just play around with this. Let me move this stone here. That feels good, maybe. I like the color pink here…” And just play around with it and see how that feels. Allow that to be a space for not just not just remembrance, but also feeling like that. I think an altar is an intention. Right? An altar is a dedication and a devotion. So it represents so much, but it also represents, for me, a relationship that I'm building with myself.

Amanda: Yes, I remember in one of my more recent experiences with therapy, they introduced me to this idea of an altar and talking to your inner child, and that work was so transformative for me. Just seeing that I had a space dedicated for my inner child and for remembering my ancestors. And that is like a physical reminder of where I came from. That was very powerful. I remember an immediate kind of push back against the idea of an altar, being raised with this idea of, “Oh, you can't worship anything outside of God, you know?” And so I think that if someone is having trouble connecting to what feels good to them, even just to that feeling of “What does feel good?” And that little voice that says, “This isn’t good.” How do you get beyond that? How do you connect to that feeling and be okay with it? Because sometimes that can be hard as well.

Rumi: Right? That's so true. I mean, I think sometimes there's the hesitation to set up an altar because of all the shame, the religious shame that comes from that. My thought is this– if God said that our bodies are a temple, then within our bodies, there is a sacred kind of altar. It's just space holding right? That's really what it is–space holding, remembrance. How is that not also sacred? Isn't an altar a gesture, a reflection of the holiness that we have inside of us, reflected on on the physical Earth, right? And we're forming a relationship with that ancestral connection. Again, that doesn't have to be a picture of your ancestor and feeding it with fruit, right? It could just be an intention. I think religion often upholds this idea of a very wounded patriarchy. It feels like a jealous and fearful dominating God, a very masculine presence that wants to take what we have for his own. And this might sort of rub some people the wrong way. But what I want to say is that, if God is love, right? If knowing God is also having a relationship with God, then what if an altar is just a reflection of that again, in the physical world?

Rumi:  Right, yeah. It is so true. We fit God into this patriarchal view. But I think, you know, God is love and love doesn't have a gender. Love doesn't have a certain look to it, right? And so I think that releasing that is also really important, releasing this image that we have of God that's very dominating, like we should be fearful of him. I think that's like a verse that was often told to me. My mom always wished for me to be a “God-fearing person.” I'm just like, “Why would I be afraid of a God who loves me?” It's so strange.

Rumi: Exactly, it's the funniest thing! I think that's the reason why language is so important, especially for young people. And my thought is, if you connect to love and give yourself permission to feel that, then the other thing is–it's okay to make mistakes. And there's permission for that, too. So maybe you try an altar and you don't like it. You can take it down. It's okay. There's no eternal punishment for trying something.

Amanda: Yes, yeah. No punishment for that, for sure. Well, as we close up our time here, I just want to thank you again, for all your wisdom and your insights and sharing. I feel we could talk about this for a very long time. Are there any closing words or last words you wanted to share with our audience about what it means to be QTAPI with that religious wound or spiritual wound?

Rumi: Just that I see you, and that in so many ways we are each other, where there's so much of our stories that overlap. And I think that speaks to something. And I think that that's something really powerful. So, if you've seen anything in this conversation that lands with you, just know that I see your pain, I see your hope, I see your dreams, and I just want to pour love into anything that you're sitting with right now or anything that resonates with you. Just know that it comes from a place deep in my heart as well.

Amanda: Thank you so much. I really cherish this conversation. I love connecting with community, and I love hearing other people's stories, and how I resonate with them, and how it differs from mine because I learn so much from hearing other people's stories. So thank you.

Rumi: Thank you, I appreciate the opportunity.