The veteran yogi and online instructor shares intimate details about the end of her first marriage to her husband and the happily ever after she found with her current wife.
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Kathryn Budig

Kathryn Budig isn't a fan of labels. She's one of the most renowned Vinyasa yoga teachers in the world, but she's been known to pepper burpees and jumping jacks into otherwise traditional flows. She preaches the beauty of sweat, grit, and strength, but will regularly wrap herself in the fluffiest fabrics and glammed-up fashions, as evidenced by her Instagram. So when you ask Budig — who married sports journalist and author Kate Fagan after divorcing her husband — to define her sexuality, she's not super stoked to do so.

"I believe love should be labelless," she says during a Zoom call from her Charleston, South Carolina home, while Fagan mills about in the background. "But as someone who was married to a man, I then identified publicly as straight, when internally, I knew I was bisexual — but again, I don't like labels." Budig says that when she first felt compelled to categorize her sexual identity, she relied on the term 'fluid,' but has since shifted gears. "Now I like 'queer' because it's just this beautiful, all-encompassing phrase that makes me happy." (Related: LGBTQ Glossary of Gender and Sexuality Definitions Allies Should Know)

And Budig is unabashedly, undeniably happy — a state of being that resonates so powerfully in her online classes. (As a longtime student of Budig's myself, I couldn't help but notice a shift in her character over the years.) While her content has remained consistently soulful, sweet, and often hilarious over the years (she'll kick your ass but make jokes about her puggle Ashi along the way), Budig has seemed to soften into her current self, embracing her quirks, and encouraging her students to do the same.

"It's been a huge evolution for me, and I'm so happy about it," she says, acknowledging that since marrying Fagan in 2018, she's developed into the "most real version" of herself. "Obviously, falling in love with Kate was such a huge part of it — it opened my eyes to so many things. My job as a teacher is to make students feel safe and welcome. It's impossible to please everyone, but it's become a massive part of my classes now to offer as many modifications as possible and to be specific with my language choices — down to the simplicity of trying to be more inclusive with gender pronouns. Five years from now, I'll probably look at a class I filmed yesterday and cringe, but that's the process of evolving and always trying to do better."

Budig's commitment to self-improvement started early — the Kansas-born, New Jersey-raised instructor says she first started practicing yoga as a kid. By the time she graduated from the University of Virginia, she'd developed an all-out love affair with it, devoting as much as two hours a day to demanding Ashtanga classes. But this intensity eventually led to burnout, and after sustaining multiple injuries, she shifted her perspective and began cultivating a practice that she says felt nourishing to her spirit and more authentic to the way she wanted to show up for her students. She met the man she'd later marry as she began feeling more in tune with her relationship to yoga, but a year later, Budig recalls realizing that she had more self-discovery ahead of her.

"Kate definitely flipped my world upside down in every single way," she says. "I had been married for a year to my now ex-husband, and we had been together a total of four years at the time. I was at the ESPNW Summit event in Southern California and Kate was working as a panelist. She was gorgeous and talented and amazing and I immediately had a crush on her." (Related: Sex Toys to Buy from Small Businesses In Celebration of Pride)

Budig remembers leaning over to a friend at the event and whispering, "oh my god, she's so beautiful," to which the friend replied, "'get in line – everyone loves her." As Budig's infatuation grew, her pal joked that maybe the newlywed ought to start considering a second marriage.

"There was some foreshadowing!" she laughs. "But it further shed light on the fact that I was unhappy in the relationship I was in, and not because I wasn't with a woman — I was unhappy because I hadn't chosen the proper partner to live life with, and I had known that for a while."

Still, Budig says she has no regrets about the past and believes if she hadn't experienced the unfulfillment of her first marriage, she wouldn't have been able to recognize the magnetic pull she felt toward Fagan. "I have nothing but gratitude," she says. "Divorce is not fun, but it's made me a more empathetic teacher — I understand my students more and I'm able to see things through different lenses. There's so much silver lining there."

Budig says meeting Fagan stirred up feelings she'd unknowingly stifled. "I was one of those little girls raised on the lore of fairy tales," she says. "I knew there was so much more — in the way of a true partnership. [My past relationship] taught me never to settle."

Kathryn Budig

While Budig has carved out her own fairy tale with Fagan, their relationship hasn't been without struggle. Although her friends and family were immediately accepting of her decision to file for divorce and pursue a new partnership, many of her students and online followers were less than supportive, leaving cruel comments on her Instagram posts and unfollowing her account in droves.

"I think people felt there was a level of betrayal," she says. "I think people attach themselves to what they want love to look like, even when they don't know what's really going on in the relationship of all these people they see through their phone screen or in classes. So I think there was a level of betrayal and a ton of homophobia." (Related: Meet FOLX, the TeleHealth Platform Made By Queer People for Queer People)

Budig says that the onslaught of online negativity was tough to stomach — not because she was worried how her dwindling social media following would affect her career, but because she felt the response represented deep-seated and persistent homophobia, regardless of how much progress has been made in LGBTQ representation. "It was less about panicking about my career and more about feeling a deep sadness about humanity," she says. "It's a very sad commentary on where we are as a culture and a big wake-up call."

Budig also says that incredulous reactions from supporters aren't exactly helpful either. "People don't know how hurtful it is to say, 'I can't believe this still happens in 2021 — homophobia can't still be a real thing!'" she says. "It's lovely that they haven't had to experience it personally, but people in the LGBTQ community continue to experience it regularly."

Still, Budig says that for the most part, she and Fagen have been "lucky" regarding their experiences of homophobia but acknowledges that the couple makes a concerted effort to avoid places and people that don't feel safe.

There is an overwhelmingly bright side to the vulnerability Budig has shared over the course of her relationship with Fagan. "The beautiful part has been that a lot of people told me they don't understand it and want to," she says. "I have such a deep appreciation for people who want to understand and maybe don't have that much experience outside of the heteronormative world and can't wrap their minds around divorcing a man and falling in love with a woman." Budig says her openness has also inspired other women with similar backstories to reach out. "I had a lot of women reach out to me with their own similar stories who expressed gratitude for me being so open and public," she says. "I do believe the more transparency we can offer, the more people can feel seen and safe." (Related: I'm Black, Queer, and Polyamorous: Why Does That Matter to My Doctors?)

As Budig continues to evolve personally and professionally (she recently launched her own online yoga platform called Haus of Phoenix), she's reflective on the past and brazenly hopeful for the future.

"I didn't have a dramatic coming out story — mine was more about falling in," she says. "I believe we're all a product of a patriarchal culture and we can loosen the need to compartmentalize and label sexuality. I would love for people to let go of these strict parameters of who they think they are. If children were raised without the idea that 'pink means girl' and 'blue means boy,' we'd give them the freedom to just be human."