- Jeering Psychedelics: A Critique of Jacques Mabit’s Criticism of Queering Psychedelics - February 4, 2022
- How Ayahuasca Can Help Gay Men Create Better Dance Parties - June 17, 2021
As a queer, non-binary person, I am used to challenging misconceptions about gender and sexuality. However, as a psychotherapist who specializes in the field of psychedelics, it is not often that I receive these misconceptions from leaders within my own psychedelic community. I was therefore surprised to read Shelby Hartman’s 2019 interview of Jacques Mabit, an ayahuasca researcher, professor, and founder of Peru’s Takiwasi Center, a drug addiction treatment center that incorporates ayahuasca. In the interview, Mabit makes ignorant and homophobic comments criticizing the Chacruna Institute’s Queering Psychedelics conference, held at the Brava Theater in San Francisco, California from June 1 to June 2 in 2019. I feel compelled to mitigate the damage Mabit’s misinformation may cause by authoring this critique.
The Psychedelic Community Needs Queer Spaces.
Before I respond to Mabit’s comments, I feel it may be helpful to first address what queer theory is and why the psychedelic community needs queer spaces. Because queer theory intersects with other academic disciplines, there is no universal consensus about its definition or principles. However, I believe most scholars would agree that one element of queer theory involves understanding the existence and impact of heteronormativity.
“Heteronormativity” is a term that describes how social and legal structures normalize and privilege certain types of relationships (e.g., monogamous, heterosexual, and romantic), families (e.g., nuclear and child-bearing), sex (e.g., vanilla), and gender expressions (e.g., male/female binary). Society then comes to see these privileged categories as “normal.”
Being queer means existing outside any category that heteronormativity privileges. Although the most easily identifiable heteronormative categories tend to be sexual orientation (heterosexual), gender identity (cisgender), and gender expression (masculine/feminine), queerness is not limited to these categories. I know many cisgender, heterosexual people who society deems queer because they are non-monogamous or enjoy kinks such as BDSM. Even today, some communities would still consider interracial couples queer.
Heteronormativity traumatizes queer people by erasing, pathologizing, or even violently punishing those who exist outside its narrow confines. In fact, heteronormativity makes everyone suffer, whether or not we identify as queer. It restricts our capacity to imagine the full spectrum of human love, connection, and expression. For example, because heteronormativity privileges romantic love over other forms through laws, media portrayals, and even holidays, people without romantic partners might consider themselves “single” or lacking soul mates even though their lives are rich with deep and loving relationships.
Heteronormativity is an ideology that permeates all our lives and goes largely unnoticed. Queer spaces like the Queering Psychedelics conference are therefore necessary because they help us research, heal, and share wisdom free from the biases and limitations of heteronormativity. For example, “clinical studies of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy have [historically] used male-female co-therapist teams” (Wagner et al., 2019, para. 2; see also, Bartlett, 2022). This configuration ignores the experiences and needs of people who do not fit within the male/female binary. It took a queer perspective to identify the heteronormative assumption at play and propose alternatives that better match the reality of human experience.
Mabit’s criticisms of the Queering Psychedelics conference are based in his heteronormative biases and showcase the very need for the conference’s existence.
Mabit’s criticisms of the Queering Psychedelics conference are based in his heteronormative biases and showcase the very need for the conference’s existence. For the remainder of this paper, I will address those criticisms.
Queer Scholarship Invites Debate But Not Obsolescence
One of Mabit’s primary criticisms is that the Queering Psychedelics conference, which he refers to repeatedly as the “LGBTI lobby,” should allow “open and adversarial debate” about whether queerness is pathological (Hartman, 2019, p.1). He says that, by not exploring whether queerness is a spiritual or psychological disorder, the Queering Psychedelics conference “risk[s] abandoning scientific debate in order to create an ideologically uniform space from which any dissonant voice is excluded” (p. 3).
Mabit has clearly spent little time in queer spaces, which are ripe with debate and dissonant voices on any number of topics. Queer scholars simply feel no need to address obsolete ideas with no basis in science.
The American Psychological Association removed the diagnosis of “homosexuality” from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual in 1973, and the World Health Organization did the same in 1990 in its International Classification of Diseases (Drescher, 2015). Similarly, the American Medical Association voted in 2019 to support bans on gay conversion therapy—attempts to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity (Fitzsimons, 2019). An AMA spokesperson commented, “Conversion therapy has no foundation as scientifically valid medical care and lacks credible evidence to support its efficacy or safety” (para. 2). Mabit’s criticism of Queering Psychedelics is like criticizing a geology conference for excluding speakers promoting flat-Earth conspiracy theories.
There are ample spaces for Mabit to espouse heteronormative ideology because it is already the default bias. The Queering Psychedelics conference exists precisely because psychedelic scholarship requires dialogue with voices that transcend those biases.
Mabit Uses Flawed, Heteronormative Logic to Argue That Queerness Could Be Pathological.
To support his contention that queerness could be pathological, Mabit draws on flawed and heteronormative logic. He starts by sharing observations of people in his drug treatment facility who identify as gay. “The family structure tends to be classic with a strong predominance of the mother-child relationship with a weak or absent paternal figure, in the case of male homosexuals (and vice-versa for women)” (Hartman, 2019, p. 7). He contends that this creates a “fear of the opposite sex” by which “otherness becomes confused with similarity”—as though gender is the only way one can experience otherness. He adds, “Childhood sexual abuse is also frequently observed, which seems to affect the perception of sexual identity.”
Mabit further proposes that gay identity may be a spiritual malady, not just a psychological one:
Normally, spiritual inheritances follow gender lines and come from the alternate generation (from a paternal grandfather to his grandson or a maternal grandmother to her granddaughter). However, if, for example, a man’s maternal grandfather transmits his spiritual energy to his daughter and the latter to her son, the latter will receive a male spiritual inheritance (from his grandfather) through a woman (his mother), which entails a strange primordial overlapping that may affect the male-female differentiation. (Hartman, 2019, p. 7)
Mabit’s ideas about the origins of gay identity are problematic on multiple levels. First, his ideas are based solely on untestable spiritual conjecture and his limited observations of queer people at his drug rehabilitation center—a population more likely to have experienced complex trauma and not representative of the queer population as a whole. Second, Mabit draws from outdated psychological theories but is himself neither a psychologist nor a psychiatrist.
One would only search for pathological origins of gay identity if one assumed queerness were an anomaly instead of a natural manifestation of human variety.
However, the most problematic component of Mabit’s hypotheses is that they are steeped in heteronormative bias. One would only search for pathological origins of gay identity if one assumed queerness were an anomaly instead of a natural manifestation of human variety. He does not, for example, reflect on the psychological and spiritual traumas that might cause someone to be heterosexual because he assumes that heterosexuality is standard. These assumptions have no basis in science.
Mabit’s Heteronormative Bias Blinds Him to Queer Spirituality.
Mabit’s second primary criticism is that the Queering Psychedelics conference “focuses only on the dimension of healing [in psychedelics], omitting the dimension of salvation” (Hartman, 2019, pp. 6–7). As a result, Mabit argues that the Queering Psychedelics conference appropriates and desecrates sacred medicines. He goes so far as to compare the conference with “a rave party in Buenos Aires” and a “recent show by the Kenzo fashion house” that each incorporated ayahuasca (p. 4). He states, “All of this forms part of a desacralization of a thousand-year-old medicine, transforming it into just one more product in the universal market of modernity” (p. 4).
However, Mabit’s comments reveal his fundamental ignorance. First, as a non-Indigenous person who makes his living from ayahuasca commercialization, he appears ignorant of his own appropriation.
The issue of appropriation is indeed significant and timely. However, Mabit’s comments reveal his fundamental ignorance. First, as a non-Indigenous person who makes his living from ayahuasca commercialization, he appears ignorant of his own appropriation. Even more troubling is the way Mabit apparently mixes in his own Catholicism, as revealed through comments that queer people are not concerned with “salvation.” Catholicism is not an Indigenous practice and has been central to the destruction of many Indigenous cultures.
Mabit is also ignorant of the Queering Psychedelics conference. He says it was focused on ayahuasca, which it was not, and laments that it ignored the spiritual aspect of psychedelics and had “no indigenous representatives” (Hartman, 2019, p. 2). However, the first speaker after opening remarks was an Indigenous representative who spoke on “Indigenous Perspectives on the Spiritual Ecology of Kinship, Land, and Responsibility” (Chacruna, 2018, para. 5).
Discover the Indigenous Reciprocity Initiative of the Americas
Mabit is further ignorant of Indigenous uses of ayahuasca. He contends that “ayahuasca’s domestication for purposes other than sacred medicine and therapeutic goals amounts to a profanation of the sacred” (Hartman, 2019, p. 4). However, “ayahuasca researchers know well that among Indigenous groups of South America ayahuasca is often used for hunting, sorcery or ‘shamanic warfare,’ and even recreation” (Green, 2020, pp. 89–90). Mabit also ignores queer Indigenous people who use ayahuasca in Indigenous and mestizo settings.
Mabit argues that, although psychedelics can help someone accept their queerness, spiritual liberation requires diving deeper to explore whether queerness itself—not just the trauma of queer oppression—is the root of suffering for queer people
Most egregiously, however, Mabit reveals spiritual ignorance by viewing spirituality through a heteronormative lens. Mabit argues that, although psychedelics can help someone accept their queerness, spiritual liberation requires diving deeper to explore whether queerness itself—not just the trauma of queer oppression—is the root of suffering for queer people (Hartman, 2019). He makes an analogy to depression;
Although the first step in the healing process of a depressive person is their acceptance of the depression, this does not mean that depression is healthy in itself, but rather that it offers an opportunity to access another way of living. (p. 5)
It is only through heteronormative bias that one would even question whether queerness were a spiritual malady rather than just another manifestation of human variety. Mabit does not, for example, encourage heterosexual people to dissect the roots of their heterosexuality as part of their spiritual path. Mabit limits the role psychedelics might play in a queer person’s life to one of resolving the problem of queerness. He does not consider that queer people can use psychedelics in endless capacities. Nor does he appreciate that the journey into one’s queerness can be deeply spiritual.
I actually agree with Mabit that queer people would benefit by exploring their spirituality more deeply. However, this can only be done in spaces that are free from heteronormative biases, such as the Queering Psychedelics conference.
When queer people have spaces to explore spirituality with dignity, we may find that queerness offers a unique spiritual contribution within a world of diverse, interrelated beings.
When queer people have spaces to explore spirituality with dignity, we may find that queerness offers a unique spiritual contribution within a world of diverse, interrelated beings. In some Indigenous cultures, “two-spirit people” who do not manifest traditional gender characteristics have special spiritual roles as healers, magic-workers, and ceremonial leaders (Jacobs et al., 1997). From this perspective, queerness is not an anomaly, but a manifestation of human variety with its own flavor of spiritual medicine. Perhaps disconnecting from two-spirit medicine contributes to the spiritual sickness of the post-industrial world. Perhaps heteronormativity is part of a larger system that takes us out of harmony with each other and our planet. One thing is certain: We will not sufficiently explore these questions if we allow Mabit and others like him to waste our time defending our basic dignity.
Art by Trey Brasher.
Bartlett, A. (2022, January 17). Old guard, new tricks: Reflections on queering the psychedelic space with Annie and Michael Mithoefer. Chacruna. https://chacruna.net/queering-psychedelic-space-annie-michael-mithoefer/
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Wagner, A., Mithoefer, A., & Monson, C. (2019). Breaking the mold: Reflecting on our experiences in same-gender therapist teams with MDMA-assisted therapy. MAPS Bulletin, 29(1), 21–23. https://maps.org/news/bulletin/breaking-the-mold-reflecting-on-our-experiences-in-same-gender-therapist-teams-with-mdma-assisted-psychotherapy-spring-2019/
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