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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Psychedelics and Self-Discovery: Exploring the Queer Perspective

According to spiritual leader Ram Dass, the journey to enlightenment begins when one realizes that they are not who they thought they were. This realization is also the starting point for many LGBTQIA+ individuals. In both cases, psychedelics can play a role in prompting self-realization, but this transition can be challenging as it requires the death of the known self. However, it ultimately leads to a place of beauty, truth, and love. For queer and gender-diverse people, expressing and connecting with their authentic selves is often unsafe, resulting in the suppression of their identities. This self-denial and trauma can lead to mental health issues. However, researchers, therapists, and underground practitioners within the LGBTQIA+ community are discovering the potential of psychedelic therapy in healing internalized queer- and transphobia.

Lxo, a London-based artist and research curator, began experimenting with various substances during art school when their queer, trans*, and non-binary identities started to emerge. They had undergone over five years of talk therapy but found true healing when they tried s-ketamine. Lxo described it as a transformative experience where they were able to forgive and heal the version of themselves that was crying out for help.

There Is No “Post-Trauma”

Dr. Jae Sevelius, a clinical psychologist and Professor of Medical Psychology, explains that for queer and gender-diverse people, trauma is ongoing, and it is specifically tied to experiencing violence because of their identities. Examples of this include anti-trans legislation, hate crimes, and societal norms that exclude and marginalize LGBTQIA+ individuals. The impact of this trauma is seen in mental health issues and higher rates of suicide among queer and gender-diverse individuals, particularly among youth.

Mainstream therapies often treat trauma as an isolated incident, but they are not effective in addressing the ongoing trauma faced by the LGBTQIA+ community. Furthermore, these therapies are often rooted in the very systems that contribute to the trauma. The history of diagnosing homosexuality as a mental illness and the requirement for gender-diverse individuals to undergo psychiatric evaluation for supportive healthcare are examples of how the healthcare system has perpetuated the trauma faced by queer and gender-diverse people.

Rethinking Clinical Frameworks

The current clinical frameworks for psychedelic therapy do not adequately address the needs of the LGBTQIA+ community. Studies and trials often do not gather data on sexual orientation and gender identity, making it difficult to understand the impact of psychedelic therapy on these communities. Additionally, therapists are often not trained to handle the complex issues related to gender and sexuality that may arise during sessions. This lack of understanding and support can lead to re-traumatization.

To improve access and inclusivity, it is essential to recruit and train more LGBTQIA+ researchers and therapists. This will help create queer-inclusive clinical spaces and ensure that the therapeutic experience is tailored to the specific needs of queer and gender-diverse individuals. It is also crucial to capture demographic data about sexual and gender identity in psychedelic research to better understand the impact of these therapies.

The Journey to Self-Discovery

Personal stories from individuals within the LGBTQIA+ community highlight the transformative power of psychedelic therapy. For example, Saoirse, who presented as masculine for survival, underwent years of talk therapy and other traditional treatments before participating in an ayahuasca ceremony. Through this experience, Saoirse was able to connect with her true essence and embrace her femininity with the support of a conscious spiritual community.

Psychedelic therapy, particularly with substances like psilocybin, LSD, and MDMA, can help individuals deconstruct and reconstruct their self-concept, leading to profound insights and healing. These substances have been shown to break stuck patterns and increase self-compassion and empathy. However, it is essential to provide support before, during, and after the psychedelic session, as the process of self-discovery can be challenging and may require ongoing therapeutic support.

Affirmation and Community

A fundamental human need is to be seen and loved for who we truly are. For queer and gender-diverse individuals, affirmation and validation are especially crucial as they navigate a world that often disaffirms their identities. Psychedelic therapy can provide both affirmation from therapists and a deeper connection to mystical forces, enabling individuals to validate their own being.

Building supportive communities and peer-support networks is also vital for healing and affirmation. Groups like the Queer Psychedelic Society and Transadelic connect LGBTQIA+ individuals who use psychedelics, providing a space for shared experiences and support. The sense of belonging and witnessing within these communities can be transformative and promote self-acceptance, self-love, and self-confidence.

The Queer Nature of Psychedelics

The connections between psychedelics, queer culture, and esotericism run deep. Throughout history, psychedelics have been intertwined with spiritual and cultural practices that embrace fluid conceptions of gender and sexuality. Psychedelics challenge norms, release rigid patterns, and promote connections within communities. The queer experience itself mirrors the psychedelic journey, breaking down binary categories and embracing the multiplicity of identities.

Moving Forward

It is essential for the clinical establishment to understand that queerness is not something that needs to be cured or pathologized. Instead, the focus should be on healing and building coping strategies for facing ongoing trauma. To ensure inclusivity in psychedelic therapy, it is necessary to recruit and train more LGBTQIA+ researchers and therapists. It is also crucial to gather demographic data about sexual and gender identity in psychedelic research. By centering the queer experience and increasing representation, psychedelic therapy can become more empowering and transformative for the LGBTQIA+ community.

Note: Names in this article have been changed to protect the identity of the sources.

Dr. Jen Chalmers
Dr. Jen Chalmers
Dr. Jen Chalmers is an accomplished writer and cannabis enthusiast. With a Ph.D. in Botany and years of experience as a researcher, she brings a scientific perspective to her captivating articles on cannabis news, recipes, and the fascinating world of psychedelics.

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