Alyson Stoner on the Power of Movement and Queer Joy

feature image photo of Alyson Stoner by David Livingston / Contributor via Getty Images

When I was younger, I would sometimes be compared to Alyson Stoner. Not just in looks — athletic, brunette, tomboy fashion — but in personality, too. From what we could at least see on screen, Alyson and I both enjoyed being the center of attention; we were creative, we were confident, and we acted older than we were. Okay, and I choreographed a dance to a Missy Elliot song for my middle school talent show. WHO DIDN’T?

I used to think it was so cool to be compared to Alyson, as if it meant I could be like them when I was older. Well, I’m older, and I recently spent an hour talking with Alyson Stoner. It turns out we are just alike. For those who don’t know what Alyson has been up to too since their days on Step Up, Cheaper by the Dozen, Phineas and Ferb, and being every young millennials’ queer awakening… they’ve been busy. They became a mental health advocate, they wrote a book called MIND BODY PRIDE, they started a podcast called Dear Hollywood where they expose the child star industry, and they co-founded a digital wellness platform, Movement Genius.

I became aware of Movement Genius because of the free workshops they held for queer and trans folks gearing up to face some bullshit at home over the holidays. By bullshit, I of course mean transphobia, homophobia, deadnaming, misgendering… you know the stuff. I wanted to learn more about Alyson and, specifically, what kind of gay things the Disney alum was up to in the wellness industry.

We chatted about inequities in health, honesty, and when we’re allowed to experience queer joy.

Author’s Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Motti: “Self care” is a term that has changed a lot throughout the past couple of years. I’d love to hear about the measures that you take as a founder and as a programmer to steer away from that.

Alyson: Absolutely. Yes, you’re speaking to an all too common representation of wellness as being a byproduct of materialistic consumption and we would use the term whitewashed. Wellness has notoriously looked a very particular way, typically people who are thin, light skinned or white, non-disabled, and who can afford retreats and $150 serums.

Movement Genius deliberately inverts that entirely. And we say, if you only had your own mind and body and you couldn’t afford anything else, or you weren’t in a space and environment where you could access an outside tool, how can you learn how to feel safe, comfortable and confident in who you are?

So our tools are about understanding the map of your own psyche and nervous system. It’s also about understanding when self regulation reaches its limit, and we have to learn how to coregulate in community as a tool for healing. Essentially, we looked at the wellness market and we saw two glaring discrepancies.

One, mental health is typically segmented with modalities that focus neck up, and so they ignore the stress and anxiety stored in the body, which, when you’re in a heightened threat response, your body is what’s going to be activated and needs to be tended to before you can even reaccess your full cognitive capacity.

And so we thought, well, we absolutely need to address the mind and body together, which scientifically speaking, there’s really no separation. But that’s just the verbage we’ve grown accustomed to with the biomedical framework. You don’t have to put any of this geeky stuff in there.

Motti: I love the geeky stuff.

Alyson: (laughs) Then we can go all day long.

Then, the second is that the products themselves only worked for such a narrow group of people that it actually increased health inequity, because the people who already had tools got more and the people who needed them didn’t have any. So we sought to collaborate with therapists and movement experts, mindfulness coaches who represent the gamut of humanity.

And when I say that, I mean it. Like, every letter of every acronym, we have. Every physical embodiment, every kind of disability — physical, cognitive, visible, invisible, different ranges of mobility — so that our tool kits and content really offered something for as many people as possible. In that case, when people show up to our classes, it’s a really common response for folks to name that they haven’t genuinely felt like they’ve been in a welcoming and warm space in this way, because it’s really human.

In some ways, we’re like the anti-capitalistic wellness company, where we want it to feel like you can truly show up exactly as you are, any energy, any mood, and start there because that’s what your actual self care is going to look like on a daily basis.

That’s the long winded answer.

Motti: That’s a great answer. What’s important to you when you’re deciding who will be hosting these workshops for Movement Genius, and specifically for these Holiday workshops that are geared towards queer folks.

Alyson: There are several things. The first is relationship building. If we’re going to offer a space, we have to trust the people who are facilitating virtual or in person spaces, and that takes time. Often, platforms just rotate new creators or speakers through because of the need for novelty. The vetting is not necessarily as stringent as we like to be, because we feel very protective of our community.

We know that nothing is ever a perfect safe space.There’s always a chance that someone shows up, or is having a certain day and behaves in a way that might cause harm. But we can put a lot of parameters in place, and we do so.

We do deep research on the speakers, their training modalities, even the books that they read. We like to get to know them as humans. So we know what the subliminal concepts they will be sharing in the middle moments where it’s not just their script, but it’s their humanity coming forward,

Second, we look at current events and what’s topically relevant. So, at the moment, for queer folks and collectively, there are so many overlapping crises, and we’re entering winter months as well, which often bring a certain heaviness, density, proneness to isolation, feeling of isolation. So we’re wanting to bring in speakers who can help this particular period.

So, Keanu Jackson (@theblackqueertherapist) and Regina Rocke (@rocke_body) have a very nurturing and nourishing presence. Both of them. As a business, everyone follows the professional parameters and stays within healthy boundaries, interactions, but you don’t have to leave your humanity at the door when you enter.

Motti: We believe in queer professionalism, too. I love working with queer and trans people.

What is the importance for you to offer these workshops accessibly and sometimes free?

Alyson: We do the busy work on the back end to find partners who can help sponsor and offset the expenses, which mainly go to our American Sign Language team, so that deaf and hard of hearing folks can join, too, with more ease. We have transcriptions, but, you know, let’s do better. We can’t, as a small company, afford that for every class quite yet.

There is something I think about not just the financial barrier being removed, but also the social stigma barrier being removed, because you can show up entirely anonymously. It’s also very low risk and potential high reward if you have no reference point for these services and you end up finding something that can change the trajectory of your healing. If it doesn’t resonate, you didn’t invest anything other than, you know, adding your email to this little signup sheet.

I think removing the stigma is helpful, too, because people can watch at their leisure. If you’re someone who is quite introverted or feels a little overwhelmed by social spaces like this, the recording will be in your inbox whenever it feels aligned for you to watch it.

The other thing I’ll add here is that the holiday period is, especially for queer trans folks, particularly sensitive times for a number of reasons. The one top of mind is, if you’re returning home to a space that is transphobic, homophobic, queerphobic, and you don’t have a sense of community… you also maybe feel like you can’t fully express who you are. So, you’re kind of stuffing it down, shutting down, dismissing, rejecting parts of yourself for the duration of the family event, and then you’re left with yourself at night, wondering when your parents will accept you. Or you’re dealing with the icky feeling of being misgendered all day, then the spirals that can happen in terms of our own dysphoria. I think this is sort of like an antidote.

Motti: What are some ways that you personally destress during the holidays?

Alyson: Oh, man. My sister, who is my co-founder, Correy, and I made a commitment that if we were going to start a mental health and wellness company, we would not sacrifice our own wellbeing. It’s a learning curve for both of us. We’ve got some martyrs in the family, that’s for sure. But I have been teaching a lot lately, and I’m finding that those are actually not replacements, but added gifts and opportunities for me to utilize the techniques myself.

Movement comes as no surprise with my background and also training and the company. Somatic movement really has changed my life, particularly in that it helps me be able to survive the experience of being with myself. No matter what happens in the day, I can look to a gentle, steady, movement, and oriented release. And it can be an artistic expression, or it can be like purely practical muscle relaxation.

It might sound like a shameless plug for the company, but the tools that we share are actually the healing tools that Correy and I both needed for our own journeys, including treating trauma, chronic illness, and just everyday stress.

Motti: That’s really great. I think movement is a fantastic tool I should use more.

Alyson: And not fitness, by the way, not “No Pain, No Gain” kind of movement. For some people, that’s helpful, but for me, it has to be more about a holistic, softer landing.

Motti: What does your best self look like?

Alyson: Honesty. Allowing myself to accept and integrate all the parts of who I am into the greater whole and not shy away from truthfulness, self, and honesty with myself.

Motti: That’s great. That’s something I’m trying really hard to do, too.

Alyson: I mean, there’s a lot of deconstruction involved, right? Like you have to deconstruct the whole morality bullshit before it even feels safe enough to admit some of these things. I don’t know if you ever were in a church congregation growing up, but I’ve got the religious structure like, “thou shalt not,” you know. But if I’m being honest, I just want to be a good person for all of it.

Motti: I grew up in the Catholic church and then did the silly thing of, when I was a girl and in college, I joined a sorority where there was a whole new set of rules about how you can and cannot be.

Alyson: Yeah!

Motti: I came out a couple of years ago, and I’m slowly deconstructing. First, it was all the gender constructs. Now, I’m in this sobriety moment and fearless confidence. I’m like, discovering that I have confidence. So, it’s definitely taken a while, but I think at the root of all of it is honesty.

So that speaks to me, and I think it’ll speak to other people, too.

Alyson: I’m also sober. I never started, so the term is not quite the same, but it is a different lifestyle when you’re fully present for all of the experiences. I should say I coped with other substances — it was food for me — but when you stop engaging in certain things and you’re like…I guess I’m sitting here feeling all of the things underneath that.

Motti: Exactly.

Alyson: It’s ultimately liberating, ultimately empowering, and ultimately expansive. When people talk about the trans experience, or queer experience being contagious — like they’re afraid of their child becoming gay or something — I think, “If only you were so lucky!” We would all be liberated.

It’s like a ticket to deconstruct everything that has ever suppressed everyone. Suddenly you’re liberated in all spaces, including you as great as human.

Motti: Yes! They can do it, too!

Alyson: Oh my gosh. If only they knew.

Motti: I know.

Alyson: I feel lucky that I saw love in a woman ten years ago. Change my life.

Motti: Wow. Good for you. Ten years for me, too. I’m not with her now, but she taught me a lot. Would you want to engage in some vapid fluff for Autostraddle?

Alyson: (nods nervously)

Motti: Well, you and Autostraddle have something in common, which is that you’ve both helped so many queer people figure out that they’re queer. I know there’s going be some readers on this article who are going to be so happy to be reading from Alyson Stoner.

Alyson: Ugh, my heart.

Motti: The same people who found the publication a decade ago by Googling “Am I Gay?”

Alyson: Oh, I’ve probably been on it then. I instantly feel like a voluntary sibling to whoever is reading and just wanting to speak to the wonderful, multi-dimensional, expansive human that’s reading this. The thing that comes to mind is, if we’re seeking “truth” about ourselves or the world, we get to ask questions and discover an experiment, and trust that whatever is true will remain and whatever isn’t can fall away.

And I think sometimes, at first, that can be a bit scary, because we’ve held on to beliefs about ourselves or a story about our life, and these new curiosities or realizations might conflict with that original story.

Motti: Mhmm.

Alyson: It’s okay to validate the uncomfortable feelings as well as create space for a new story and to really move at your own pace. One of the most beautiful things, especially in the queer experience, is joy. Queer joy. I used to be kind of militant about the growth curve of it all until someone, maybe it was a therapist, was like… “If you’re seeking joy, you get to feel joy along the way, right?”

You don’t attack joy militantly and then wake up and feel joyful. And so, if you’re seeking wholeness, if you’re seeking joy, if you’re seeking liberation, the beautiful news is that you get to feel pieces of that every step of the way.

Motti: Wow.

Alyson: Those can be really beautiful guides. But move at your own pace and just know that you have a queer sibling somewhere in the world rooting for you.

Movement Genius has over 250 on-demand classes available on their website, the first season of Dear Hollywood is available to listen everywhere, and you can keep up with Alyson’s advocacy work on their Instagram.

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Motti

Motti (they/he) is a New York born and raised sorority girl turned writer, comedian, and content creator (whatever that means these days). Motti has been featured on We're Having Gay Sex Live, The Lesbian Agenda Show, Reductress Haha Wow! Live, the GayJoy Digest, and even played the role of "Real Life Lesbian" on Billy on the Street. In 2022, they wrote about how clit sucker toys are a scam, sweet gay revenge, chasing their dreams, and getting run over by a pick up truck in their now-abandoned newsletter Motti is An Attention Whore. Motti has a Masters in Public Administration and Local Government Management, you'd never know it from the shit they post online (see previous sentence), but occasionally he'll surprise you with his knowledge of civic engagement and electoral processes. They live in Brooklyn with their tuxedo cat, Bo, and their 20 houseplants.

Motti has written 14 articles for us.

2 Comments

  1. Been watching Alyson on YouTube and think she’s doing really important work giving a voice to child actors. It’s insane that we subject children to the emotional wringer and give them no tools to help them.

    This project also sounds important and I’m definitely gonna learn more. Thanks!

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