Miles Borrero’s debut memoir, Beautiful Monster (Regalo Press, 2023). is a story of becoming: of coming out, transness, spirituality, acceptance, and how the lines of fantasy and reality can be beautifully interwoven. Miles has been a longtime yoga teacher which is how the two of us originally connected yoga. We both sat on an amplifying LGBTQ+ voices in the yoga community panel during the pandemic. As someone who transitioned later in life, Miles takes readers on their own journeys, exploring versions of his past selves with a little help from the voices of his ancestors and the guidance of his breath.
Olivia Beaton: On the cover of Beautiful Monster, the word “memoir” is crossed out, and “a becoming” is written in. How did you land on that? What does “a becoming” mean to you?
Miles Borrero: It happened organically because the Polaroid photo on the cover kind of lends itself for writing on it. The editor who bought the book, Gretchen, wanted the word memoir in there, but when I wrote the manuscript, it didn’t say it was a memoir; it said Beautiful Monster, “a becoming”, and I just thought it was dumb to have two things. Once we officially settled on the Polaroid idea I was like, well, what if it’s written and crossed out, like it’s an afterthought, like memoir was the first thought and then the person was like, no, this is better. And I actually thought that was even cooler.
OB: And I think it’s so fitting too because so much of the book weaves between nonfiction and magical realism. What does the term “memoir” mean to you?
MB: I wrote a blog for over 12 years, but I didn’t necessarily identify so intricately with the word or the term. And I think that is because I come from a different background. I think it gave me some freedom. I’ve done many kinds of art, I’ve been a storyteller in lots of different ways. When I teach yoga, I tell stories through my classes; not only verbally, but I try to tell a story with the way that I craft the class. And I think all of those skills kind of coalesced to create the situation where I just started writing. When I wrote the book, I wasn’t so bound to what it was, or what it would be– it was a practice of non-attachment. I knew that it was going to be a memoir in terms of I knew that it was going to be a story that was about me and my becoming, but I didn’t necessarily feel that bound to the term memoir. I left a lot of space around what it could be.It just seemed like there were so many things that I wanted to put in there, it was kind of overwhelming at first. It took me a while to figure out how to find the right amount of everything, but I feel pretty good because I think ultimately, we did accomplish what we set out to do. And when I say we, I’m including my sweetheart, Sarah, who basically edited the book. She really helped me find how to shape the story. On top of that, it was a really fun undertaking for us as a couple to work on it together.
OB: What does the connection between yoga and writing look like for you and how do you find the two interconnecting in your world?
MB: The breath is a big component of it. I’ve been teaching for 18 years now, and of course I always love to keep learning and absorbing new things, but for me it connects to writing in that I don’t will the yoga to do anything. I have become kind of a hunter and gatherer as a creative. Sometimes it’s images, sometimes it smells, sometimes it’s a beautiful tree. It’s about living and being in the present moment with what is in front of me. I feel like with yoga and writing, I’m always sort of collecting little bits and bites. I think that the connection for me is that being able to be with my breath allows me to stay open so that I can follow what it wants. A lot of it, more than creating, was sort of sussing it out. Like, where do you want to go, where does the story want to go? I feel like it kind of told itself. It was really a very pleasant experience for me, actually writing the manuscript.
OB: What was the transition like between knowing and living the connection to your yoga practice with breath and spirituality and putting those principles on the page?
MB: It felt very, very close. Knowing it, living it, and putting it on the page felt very close. In the end, I think it felt like such a distillation of my work. I had a huge moment of realization when I read it for the audio book where the prose felt like a yoga class. I feel like the breath and the “so hums” throughout the book kind of pace it. I think one of the things that I do well as a yoga teacher is pacing and so I feel like that really traveled into the book. For me, having the breath in the book was kind of magic, because it was almost like a hidden yoga class.
OB: What was the “becoming” of the book itself? Was there a moment you realized this was turning into art/a book?
MB: When I wrote my blog for 12 years, I would write once a month. And it was really about how philosophy meets life. As a yoga teacher, I felt like my students often struggled with the ability to bring the philosophy into a practical realm. Whatever I was thinking about or whatever was happening in my life, I would connect it to the seeds, the dharma, that I was doing in my yoga classes. And then at some point my students were like, “Oh, you should write a book!”
So I started looking at some of these essays and thought, well, what if I compiled some essays to become a little book of essays of yogic bits and bites? And then I realized that because I was really starting my physical transition at the time, my father had passed away, and I was going through a breakup, I was in this very vulnerable and open space. So I started tinkering. My mom was turning 70 and she had had a really hard go of it because her mom passed away, then my dad passed, and then my grandfather passed within two and a half months. It was just a really brutal time.
My mom wanted to go on a trip. We took a month to celebrate her 70th birthday, and we went to all these magical places. And Sarah, my sweetheart, asked me if she could see some of the pages because she is a poet. I probably had maybe 40 or 60 pages at the time. I was like, “I don’t know if I wanna show you the pages ’cause you’re like a self-proclaimed poet, and I’m just somebody sitting in the dark hours of despair, just doodling.” But I was away on this trip, so I was like, well, why not? I’ll send a couple of pages and see what she thinks. And then she wrote me back and said, “There’s something here, you have to really do this.” That’s the moment when I realized that this would become something, so I was like, let me show up for it and see what it wants to be and then usher it in, in whatever way it wants to become.
OB: What did the writing process look like? And was there anything that surprised you about it?
MB: Oh my gosh. So many things surprised me. The writing process was super uneven and very disorganized. It happened like in the back of a car, typing with bags on my knees and up to my chest. It happened in little moments where there was a ton of noise around me. And for some reason I was just able to zoom in. I was surprised by my grandmother Marina showing up as clearly as she did. Before this book, I didn’t have much of a relationship with her. She passed away when I was around 24, and before that she laid in her bed for 10 years. I didn’t have a good feeling for who she was as a human being, so I was really surprised by my fascination with that, and by the fact that it really felt a need to know more about this person. I had this curiosity to sort of imagine what her life might’ve been like before, so I think that was the biggest surprise.
But then I was also surprised how fascinating I found the process of editing, by what decides it wants to stay and what decides that it wants to go. And I think because I was brought up as an actor and acting critiques are so hard because they all feel so personal, it’s all about you, and even if it isn’t about you, it feels like it’s about you. Because of that, with writing, I really was able to be like, “Oh, okay, you wanna go there and you don’t want that to be in there.” There are a lot of parts that didn’t make it in the end. One of the big questions that I had was where to start, where to end, and then how to organize all the fuckery in the middle. And I tried so many things. We had these giant post-it notes that we would paste and write on and kind of try to figure out how to organize it. I was really delighted by that process. I just have such a love for storytelling, I wanted it to be like a really delicious story.
Hopefully the reader walks out of having read it changed, and maybe that means that they’ve recognized the universality in my transness and their non-transness. Maybe it means that they’ve seen themselves represented in some way, I think it could look like anything. The book is the same as yoga; it’s not about the pose, it’s finding that juice of the honeysuckle.
OB: And even if readers didn’t go through your same experiences, they went through something heartbreaking, they went through something beautiful, they had a breakup, they had a moment where their family didn’t accept them. So it’s about creating something people can connect to. How did you discover that thread?
MB: I think that the key is, how do you find universality? What does it mean to be universal? And how do we find connection? All my work as a yoga teacher has all been about community and connection. And so how do I create a conversation through my words? The wonderful thing about books is that you get to create something so intimate, and there’s something magical that happens from that. Having the experience of putting it out there is like sending out a love letter and you don’t know who it reaches or how it touches people. I found that to be truly life affirming and just incredibly, incredibly mystical and magical.
OB: Your family is very present In this book. What was the process of writing about your family like for you, writing your truth?
MB: I felt that the best way to proceed with all of that was to try to point the camera, if you will, as much as I could at myself. I didn’t want to be pointing fingers at people necessarily, I wanted it to be about the curiosity of the moment, and the way that we’ve changed more than the actual horrors of what happened. Half of my family has not responded well and I’ve been disowned by one half by my dad’s side. It’s been very hard. But what I’ll say about that is, for me, this process of becoming has not been easy, and even though it might feel like the book is the catalyst for some of these things, all of these things have existed way before the book.
The problems that people are having with the book are things that have been there the whole time. I think the book is very distilling, like it has revealed who really wants to meet me in my life, not necessarily the readers. I’m talking about friends and family who are capable of meeting me where I am and who are willing to learn and grow with me. And it has also separated those who really don’t want things to change and who are happy with their trans phobias and homophobia and who want to stay exactly where they’ve been. And fortunately for me, I’m 46 years old and I really did stop giving a fuck at 40, I just cannot be bothered, you know? I’ve come to a place in my life where it has not been easy to stand on my own two feet telling my story. But my story matters. If you cannot see that my story matters, then we really don’t have anything to talk about.
With all of that, I’ll say that there have also been amazing responses. I mean, what this book has done for my mom and I has been incredible. Her reading has galvanized the difference between her being in the tolerance space to her being fully in my corner. So for me, the amazing responses have surpassed any of the intense negative stuff. My heart has been so blown open that I just feel like those naysayers, they’re just never going to get it. There’s a point where I have to, as a trans person, be like, you’re not a heart that I can switch, and I’ll work on the hearts I can sway and I’ll work on the hearts that love me.
OB: What was it like for you to write about your coming out, your transness, and to use your dead name in this book?
MB: I feel okay about that. I know that some people don’t feel that way, but I think some of that comes from my being older when I transitioned. I feel like my transition was never really about leaving what was in the past. It was always about bringing everything with me and expanding. I didn’t want less, I wanted more. I wanted a broader expression, so I think that having my dead name as part of the book is kind of lovely, it’s a nod to another facet of myself. In yoga, one of the beautiful things I’ve learned from the practice itself is wholeness. I have felt the violence of cutting off sections of myself, and that always estranged me from myself, so it feels authentic for my story and coming out to be an evolution of all the past versions of myself.
OB: Where do you find inspiration?
MB: Everywhere. I find inspiration in my friends and my family. I find inspiration in my puppies. I find inspiration in nature and in film and series and stories. I love reading. I find inspiration from movement. Of course I go through flat times in my life, but I feel like usually they’re built out of burnout and exhaustion. And when I’m not burnt out and exhausted, I can always look around and find something beautiful, whether it’s sort of how the light hits something or music. Humans make beautiful things, you know? I know we also make a lot of pain and a lot of hurt and horrible things, but we also make beauty.
OB: And in those moments where you are burned out or struggling, how do you reignite the flame?
MB: I find I try to find pleasure wherever that is, like sitting outside in the sunshine for a little bit. When I experience burnout, I try to pinpoint where it’s coming from. I used to have a teacher who would say, “What can you get rid of?” And so I’ll go into the ‘less is more’ kind of model and be like, okay, can I trim? I’ll try to really simplify so that I can leave space for the joy and for pleasure.
I grew up being a very intense, energetic and dynamic person, and I’ve learned the hard way that I also really need rest. I used to resist it, but now I find that I need a lot of rest and private time to recharge.
OB: What do you like to read when you’re not writing?
MB: All kinds of stuff. I read books on spirituality, science, self-improvement, but really my favorites are fantasy. Young Adult is my favorite genre. But I also love memoir. I love historical fiction. Mostly I just want to be gripped by a story.
OB: Do you have a particular book or author that either means a lot to you or was a catalyst for you?
MB: I really love Elizabeth Gilbert. I read Big Magic like once a year. If I ever feel blue, I pop in the Audible just to hear her speak because I think she has such a warm voice. She just feels positive without being fake.
OB: What is the best piece of advice that you’ve heard or received as a writer?
MB: When I had the first draft of my book that I thought was solid, I sent it to a student of mine who is an editor. She sent me an email in response, and one of the notes was, “Think of immediacy.” I think that really changed me. From then on, things really started cooking. As a Latin, sometimes I can get a little caught in the overflow, and that advice really helped me stay grounded.
OB: What is next for you? What are you working on?
MB: I really want to work more with our [LGBTQ+] community and build on my book in order to serve our community better. I’m excited about the potential of that. I’m enjoying the doors that the book is opening for different kinds of work and different kinds of experiences. I’m excited to build and see what we can do. Like how can we reach other people through the book? How can I get the book into schools? Who can I talk to about it? All while I will continue to teach yoga and also stay open to what comes.
When the editor picked the book up, we were trying to figure out how to market it, and yes, this is a trans memoir because it’s about me and I’m trans, but is there a world where someone can also be an amazing writer and be trans? I wanted to challenge that. I think sometimes it’s hard for people to be able to have space for both. As a trans person, it’s hard to get a project made, and it’s also hard to have it be buoyant out there because the system is not made for us.
Throughout his many lives, Miles Borrero has survived fronting a Latin rock band, riding horses competitively, acting on various stages across the US, and nannying a six-year-old. He has been Catholic, Jewish, and a frequent guest at Krishna’s house, and has lived life as a boy, a girl, a woman, a man, and something in between. Now a senior yoga teacher and cranio-sacral therapist who leads retreats all over the world, Miles is passionate about dismantling the systems within ourselves that keep us small. He lives in New York with his sweetheart and their two adorable dogs.