- Queer Voices Speak to the New Psychedelia - September 18, 2019
- Dissolving the Binary: The Queerness of Psychedelics - October 9, 2018
We listened to a critique of the limitations of mystical experience definitions when they are done solely through the lens of being white, straight, and male
On the evening of June first, about 50 or so participants at the Queering Psychedelics conference gathered in one corner of the Brava Theater in San Francisco to discuss what unique issues queer people might bring to psychedelic therapy for healing. As group facilitators. we both felt honored and moved by the turnout. After all, it was seven p.m. on a beautiful Bay Area day, and we’d collectively been in the space since about nine that morning. Personally, I was surprised that so many decided this topic important enough to stay after what was already such a long, full day. We’d learned much about the intersections of psychedelia and queerness throughout the history of the past 50 years, from the intense 1950s experiments and dialogues of Aldous Huxley and the probably queer Gerald Humphrey, through the early, dusty days of the Radical Faeries and Burning Man, and on to the glory days of The Coquettes and the early black and trans club scenes of New York City. We listened to a critique of the limitations of mystical experience definitions when they are done solely through the lens of being white, straight, and male. Perhaps, most importantly, we were reminded of the original inhabitants and caretakers of the land we were sitting on, as a presentation of Ohlone consciousness and mindfulness opened up the conference.
After all this, I think we were expecting a small group, maybe five to ten sturdy folks determined to add more voices to the mix. That the group was so large and engaged was an acknowledgement of both how important many queer folk feel this work is, and how much needs to happen to make this work as LGBTQI+ conscious and mindful as it needs to be for it to have actual healing potential for us.
The general sense of the gathering seemed to be one of sober reflection (yes, kind of surprising for a conference with this title!), the idea that our particular needs, fears, traumas, and resiliencies potentially bring so much to this new psychedelic renaissance, and a demand that our experiences be heard, reflected upon by the researchers and guides, and taken seriously.
One of the early conundrums that arose was the idea that queer people are not used to being heard, and, perhaps more importantly, “gotten” by straight, establishment people and institutions; and, given that, what do those people and institutions need to know to create “safe enough” psychedelic spaces for our communities?
One way of understanding the discussion is examining how we navigate various contradictions of experience to make use of these medicines in healing contexts. One of the early conundrums that arose was the idea that queer people are not used to being heard, and, perhaps more importantly, “gotten” by straight, establishment people and institutions; and, given that, what do those people and institutions need to know to create “safe enough” psychedelic spaces for our communities? They need to know that much of our trauma comes from societal homo/trans/bi/pan phobia, and the resultant violence (physical, emotional, religious, and spiritual) that so many of us have had to endure; that attempts to address that trauma only within the confines of the office setting is not enough; a wider, holding, cultural and racial accountability is necessary.
Another contradiction that was discussed was the idea that the term “queer” itself is a loaded one for many people; a source of deep pride and galvanizing energy for some, and a painful reminder of bullying, beatings, and abuse for others.
Another contradiction that was discussed was the idea that the term “queer” itself is a loaded one for many people; a source of deep pride and galvanizing energy for some, and a painful reminder of bullying, beatings, and abuse for others. This also led to a number of discussions about how queer, or LGBTQI+ people, are not one thing, nor one entity. We are actually many communities, with different expressions of intersectionality; different races and classes, with differing religions, educational, and professional experiences, living in urban and rural areas; and our needs are not a monolith either, but need to be assessed and honored individually, even as we are a movement for full rights and healing for all.
A third conundrum arose around the differences between the ideas of safety and comfort. We, as queer people, need psychedelic spaces that are “safe,” meaning: free from abuse—sexual, spiritual, and emotional—with sensitive and informed practitioners who both mirror our experiences as black, brown, native, Asian, older and younger, and urban and rural queer people. But deep healing often calls for, and necessitates encounters with, aspects of ourselves that are particularly uncomfortable; including working though queer bashing and family-of-origin rejection.
So, the question of how to create the scaffolding of safety, honor, and respect that actually allows us to confront and heal trauma and allows the fullest possible exploration of the multiplicities of our selves was an important talking point.
Another potentially uncomfortable but rich topic that could arise in psychedelic sessions is that queer people might be drawn to explore the ways families of origin didn’t “get” them, or weren’t the “right fit” for them, because of their family’s heterosexuality. That this lack of fit is often a deeply traumatic experience that LGBTQ+ people endure. Of note is the idea that this “lack of fit” might, in and of itself, be regarded as a kind of initiation; an initiation into other spaces, other ideas of family, connection, community, beyond the nuclear family that is perhaps not available to our straight brethren. So, the question of how to create the scaffolding of safety, honor, and respect that actually allows us to confront and heal trauma and allows the fullest possible exploration of the multiplicities of our selves was an important talking point.
Some further questions and ideas that arose included the following:
- What does a queer spirituality that includes the multiplicity of our various identities look like? One that honors and includes sex and the body in so many of their healing and pleasurable manifestations; one that honors those on religious paths, and those who find those paths too historically painful, or actually irrelevant, to be necessary; one that acknowledges the loss of so many of our potentially wise elders and teachers during the plague years of the 80s and 90s; and the need for that wisdom now.
- What forms of therapy (cognitive, psychodynamic, narrative, etc.) might be most useful to allow us to define and tell our own stories in the ways they need to be told?
- What types of guide configurations outside of the limiting male/female dyads might be most helpful for us, and what types of healing settings could be best? Are group sessions a better way to increase trust and build healthy communities than one-to-one or two-to-one client-to- therapist sessions?
- Honoring the centrality of the land and the ancestors of this land that we are privileged to be doing this work on; looking for meaningful ways to bring awareness of the history of the land and the First Peoples who were, and still very much are, here as we engage in our healing.
- Inviting participants in these healings to bring the objects and artifacts that are meaningful to them for altar placement as both important in its own right, and one of the ways we consciously create the old/new queer healing rituals that will flow into the future.
Two ideas in closing: One is the awareness and acknowledgement voiced by several people that, as queers, we are particularly adept at traversing liminal spaces, the “in-between,” not yet arrived, or always-on-the-way spaces, and that this is a particular gift that might be particularly resonant in the work with psychedelics, which, themselves. point to and inhabit those spaces. And, finally, as several have noted, the plants and medicines themselves have their own intelligence, no doubt much vaster than ours, and have arrived with us here at this particular moment in time (as they have been here for thousands of years in dance with other cultures and environments), perhaps for reasons we cannot know or understand, but which we must simply accept and learn from.
Art by Karina Alvarez.