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Queering Psychedelics 2019

  • Brava Theater Center 2781 24th Street San Francisco, CA, 94110 United States (map)

Queering Psychedelics 2019 


Queering Psychedelics 2019 is the first conference of its kind highlighting the voices of queer visionaries within the psychedelic community and examining the history of psychedelics from queer and non-binary perspectives. As the emerging psychedelic renaissance reaches a pivotal moment of mainstream interest and regulatory legitimacy, it is vital that traditionally under-represented communities share a seat at the table and have their voices heard so as to ensure access to all the benefits that psychedelics and plant medicine offer. Additionally, it is vital that queer spaces be established for exploring the unique needs, gifts, and strengths that LGBTQI communities bring to psychedelics and psychedelic medicine. LEARN MORE HERE.



 9:45am – Registration and open doors

9:45  10:00am  Bia Labate – Opening Remarks

10:00  10:50am  Kanyon Sayers-Roods – Queering the Landscape: Indigenous Perspectives on the Spiritual Ecology of Kinship, Land, and Responsibility  

I am from the Indian Canyon band of Mutsun-Ohlone peoples and I am a spokesperson for the Association of Ramaytush Ohlone people, the lineal descendants of Yelamu (now San Francisco), the original people before contact. I offer an opening song and reminder of the importance of land acknowledgments and inclusion of Indigenous peoples in regard to futures decisions impacting our communities, the environment, and our future. I offer an indigenous, two-spirit perspective on the ecology of the land we stand on. As stewards of the land, we have a responsibility to our environment, always thinking ahead seven generations. I will talk about traditional ecological knowledge and respect for the plants and their abilities and the importance of recognizing native communities and seeking their blessing. The focus of my work is on offering opportunities to share indigenous perspectives and making a difference in the lives of others by sharing my life experiences and knowledge about California’s Native Americans, today’s common practices, and sacred site protections. 

 11:40am  Erik Davis – A Brief History of Queer Psychedelia 

Psychedelic experience in the modern era has always been queer—not just in the sense of being enchanted, wayward, and weird, but in the more concrete sense that queerfolk have fundamentally shaped the substance, style, and spirituality of the psychedelic underground. Since at least the work of Havelock Ellis at the end of the last century, interest in psychedelic experience and non-heteronormative sexuality have been intertwined. Important progenitors of the psychedelic underground—including Aldous Huxley’s mentor Gerald Heard, the Beat writers  Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, and the Harvard researcher-cum-Hindu guru Richard Alpert/Ram Das—were queer. The mass arc of the counterculture, from the sixties to today, is inconceivable without all manner of psychedelicized style queens, love-bomb DJs, and Dionysian mystics, including Hibiscus and the SF group the Cockettes, Loft party progenitor David Mancuso, the Radical Faeries, and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, who helped establish the social mores of Burning Man. While sketching an overview of this vast and colorful history, this presentation will also interrogate the continuing radical potential of queer psychedelia in today’s era of assimilation and increasingly codified and discursively managed identities. 

11:40  12:10pm – Break

12:10  1:00pm  Clancy Cavnar – “It’s Cool to Be Gay”: Psychedelics, Sexuality and Self-Acceptance

This presentation will explore the capacity of psychedelics to help people accept themselves, with a focus on acceptance of sexual orientation and gender. The tendency for psychedelics to reinforce positive qualities associated with mental health and spiritual attainment will be reviewed and the ways these qualities influence self-acceptance will be explored. Psychedelics are once again being used in psychiatric settings for various mental health indications, including to alleviate end-of-life anxiety, to combat depression and PTSD and to treat addiction; I suggest that psychedelics may be of use in helping gay, lesbian, and transgender people accept themselves in face of cultural resistance and judgment and thus live happier, more fulfilling lives. Using psychedelics to help deconstruct negative introjects absorbed from moribund cultural frameworks can be a way to utilize these substances to heal an oppressed population. 

1:00  2:00pm  Lunch

2:00  2:50pm  Allyne Andrade – Are Black People and Queer People Allowed to Trip?

This talk will examine how societal privilege plays out in the psychedelic movement and what that specifically means for black people. We will discuss how the War on Drugs influences our experience with psychedelics. The War on Drugs is more than a century old in America, and has existed for over 50 years in Brazil, and has always been racist. The lesson was clear: Drugs make dangerous, animalistic “coloreds” even more dangerous. Jail them if they try it. The War on Drugs broke our communities and made any use of psychedelic a dangerous experience. You have to be in alert in order to survive this world. Mass incarceration, stigma, and police violence have forced our communities to refrain from the use of psychedelics in social settings or for healing. This presentation will provide ideas about how structural racism, sexism, and classism intersect and influence the experience of black communities in both Brazil and United States, and how the psychedelic movement can incorporate anti-racism practices.

2:50  3:40pm  Alexander Belser – A Queer Critique of the Psychedelic “Mystical Experience” 

How do psychedelics work? Current research consistently suggests that a “complete mystical experience” is the mechanism of action that leads to symptom reductions. However, the standard measure privileges a certain type of mysticism (a monistic experience of the Void which is formless, shapeless, colorless, odorless, and soundless) and ignores other spiritual experiences. This narrow definition of mysticism was advanced by mid-twentieth century White heterosexual cisgender male researchers. I offer a series of critiques, drawing on qualitative research findings in two studies of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy at New York University. (1) The current psychedelic research paradigm systemically undervalues the types of spiritual experiences reported by queer folks, women, indigenous people, and other marginalized groups. (2) Current research does not measure common mystical experiences, such as voices and visionary experience, pain and suffering, ecstasies, creative expression, spiritual longing and devotion, friendship and compassion. (3) Relational-mysticism, or experiences of the Real in relationships with other people, has been neglected in psychedelic research. (4) Mystical treatments which deny these experiences propagate heteronormative structures. Interviews with participants who have taken psilocybin suggest that mysticism is not one, but many. Findings from qualitative research suggest that we should pay attention to spiritual experiences that are embodied, envisioned, in relationship, and in nature — that psychedelic awakening is queerer than we thought.

3:40  4:10pm  Break

4:10  5:00pm  Dee Adams – Sitting in Liminal Spaces: Addressing the Needs of Gender and Sexually Diverse People in Psychedelic Medicine 

It can be difficult for gender and sexually diverse (GSD) people to navigate psychedelic medicine spaces and integration, particularly in other countries. These spaces can be cultural and linguistic minefields to navigate. Does one share that they are not part of the hetero- and/or cisgender-normative collective? What could happen if this information is shared? Is there a risk or danger in this information becoming known? These types of questions, along with many others, can add additional stress and anxiety for participants. This presentation will explore my experiences in navigating psychedelic medicine spaces as a sexually and then gender diverse person, identify some of the needs of GSD people in psychedelic medicine spaces. The model I envision, the “liminal space model” is built on education, reciprocity, and right relationship. The aim of this approach is to create safe and affirming spaces for GSD people participating in psychedelic medicine spaces. I will finally share some personal experiences on how ayahuasca has helped me become who I am and accept it and be proud of it.

5:00  5:50pm  Terence Ching – Intersectional Insights from an MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy Training Trial

The road to the current psychedelic renaissance in research on MDMA—the active ingredient of the drug known popularly as “Ecstasy”—for addressing treatment-resistant posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been fraught with political and academic bias, as well as cultural stigma among underserved populations. In this presentation, I will briefly chart the course of MDMA’s Schedule I classification and its stigmatized existence in the scientific literature to partly explain why there is poor minority participation in MDMA-assisted psychotherapy trials for PTSD. I will also explore how contextual factors, such as harsher penalties at the international level—including state execution—can dissuade minority participation in these trials. Importantly, I will go on to detail various forms of symbolism and insights from my own experience as a queer person of color being administered MDMA legally as part of a therapist training trial for MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, in hopes of radically destigmatizing this treatment approach for queer people of color. Themes to be covered will include: set and setting; cultural pride; LGBTQIA+ pride; acceptance of intersectionality; as well as patience, perspective, and strength in retrospection. 

5:50  6:20pm  Break

6:20  7:00pm  Break out sessions

Session 1, facilitated by Aubrey Howard and Dee Adams: How can the contributions of queer therapists, advocates, and researchers become more visible in the field of psychedelics?

Session 2, facilitated by Jeanna Eichenbaum and Jessica Katzman: What are the unique issues queer people bring to psychedelics and psychedelic therapy for healing?

Session 3, facilitated by Adam Knowles and Alex Theberge: In what ways are psychedelics queer?

7:00pm  12:00am  Reception & Party Asiento on 2730 21st Street @ Bryant Street – Free/Register here

SUNDAY, JUNE 2, 2019

9:00  10:00am  Doors open

10:00  10:50am – Kevon Simpson – How to Cure HIV: Cultural Blind Spots That Psychedelics Can Help Us All Address

With current antiretroviral medication being so successful at suppressing and stopping the spread of the HIV virus, less cultural compassion has been the result for those who are newly diagnosed in a world far removed from the 1980s. That lack of humanity at the core of why the HIV virus even exists, is still being directed at LGBTQ people, and is revealing itself to be as disastrous as the current opiod crisis by the self-medicating that is happening in our community’s underbelly to heal  from it. A place where “slamming” (injecting crystal meth) is becoming normalized; a place where older white males with money, offer younger POC an opportunity at a substance that will pause the shame for a little while, until they waste away. As an individual working up close and personal with such populations, this presentation offers a fresh, and sobering perspective told through the art, the music, and the experience of ritual that people of color have used to survive, before anyone realized we were left out of clinical research.

10:50  11:40am  Ariel Vegosen – Creating Pathways of Queer, Trans, and Non-Binary Liberation in This Time of Psychedelic Privilege 

This talk will examine how societal privilege plays out in the psychedelic movement and what that specifically means for queer, trans, and non-binary community. Key topics covered will be the unique needs of marginalized community in a therapeutic setting; challenges of psychedelic use in a social setting; access to psychedelic healing; the impact of racism, classism, and colonization on psychedelic use; higher rates of misuse and abuse of substance in queer and trans community; and the emerging vision and implementation of Queer Zendo. Bringing 18 years of experience in inclusion, diversity, and experiential learning this presentation will provide ideas and tools for creating engaging pathways of inclusion and representation for queer, trans, and marginalized community in the current psychedelic movement.  

11:40  12:10pm  Break

12:10  1: 00pm  Chris Stauffer – Examining the Queer Communities’ Healing Edge Through a Clinical Trial of Oxytocin-Enhanced Group Therapy for Methamphetamine Users

The queer community suffers from elevated health-related risks, such as depression, suicide, homelessness, targeted violence, HIV, and substance use disorders. This may be partially explained by the effects of societal scapegoating as a form of individual and collective developmental trauma. Oxytocin, an endogenous neuropeptide associated with the therapeutic effects of MDMA, plays a prominent role in social attachment dynamics. Oxytocinergic systems can become dysregulated as a result of developmental and relational trauma. Evidence exists suggesting that administration of oxytocin can enhance social salience, modulate stress reactivity, and promote unique anti-addiction effects. Results from a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, clinical trial of oxytocin-enhanced group therapy for methamphetamine-using men who have sex with men will be presented. Linguistic and thematic analyses will be deconstructed to reveal important blind spots within the queer community where unresolved trauma is being unconsciously reenacted. For example, “identification with the aggressor” or perpetuated cycles of scapegoating can trap some LGBTQ individuals and subpopulations as holders of community shame. Finally, the potential of psychedelics in expanding queer consciousness, breaking down barriers and building bridges, and healing the queer community’s most vulnerable members will be considered. 

1:00  2:00pm – Lunch

2:00  2:50pm – Tony Moss – Music and the Psychedelic Experience: A Queer View on Its Evolution and Pivotal Role in Shamanic, Psychedelic, and Therapeutic Practice

Music can heal, especially when intentionally shared and directed in a psychedelic, ceremonial, and/or therapeutic context. This musically-enhanced talk will explore the science and spirit of music used as a traditional and contemporary healing modality. The presentation will more specifically discuss music in consort with ayahuasca, and how it informed my study and understanding of the intersections of epigenetics, neuroplasticity, and Eastern mysticism. It’s now widely accepted that the trauma of our ancestors is stored in our DNA, with myriad scientific studies demonstrating that ancestors of traumatized populations experience greater physical and mental health challenges. While the scientific language around the phenomenon remains largely undeveloped, there is growing evidence that ayahuasca can heal trauma embedded into one’s epigenetics, getting to the root of deep and lingering issues often resistant to more traditional therapies. This neuroplasticity engendered by ayahuasca presents incredible potential for healing individuals and populations burdened with the collective traumas of history, a group that of course includes LGBTQI communities worldwide. In this talk, I will share how confronting my own ancestral and identity-related trauma resulted in a journey of transformation that challenged and “healed” all notions of cultural and sexual identity. I will also discuss the transformations I have witnessed during my 25 years of work in the ayahuasca space. I believe the incorporation of music in ceremonial contexts is crucial to this healing process, and this talk will present both my evidence for this assumption along with the music itself.

2:50  3:40pm  Brian T. Anderson – Psilocybin-assisted Group Therapy for Demoralization in Long-term HIV/AIDS Survivors

Long-term AIDS survivors are people living with HIV (PLWH) who were diagnosed early in the AIDS epidemic, when HIV was still considered a terminal diagnosis. Today, PLWH are living longer than ever expected, and 75% of PLWH are expected to be >50 years old by the year 2020. Like “cancer survivors,” long-term AIDS survivors experience increased rates of psychological distress (e.g., demoralization, complicated grief, depression) even long after their disease is controlled. Psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy is a promising experimental treatment for psychological distress among the medically ill. Clinical evidence and reports from traditional ceremonial usage of plant medicines suggest that a group therapy setting may enhance the safety and efficacy of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy. In this talk we present preliminary findings from our clinical trial, which is the first modern study of psilocybin-assisted group therapy, and the only clinical trial of this novel intervention specifically for PLWH. 

3:40  4:10pm – Break

4:10  5:00pm  Steve Silberman – Coming Out as Queer in Jamband Communities 

The communities of fans that grew up around improvising bands like the Grateful Dead and Phish evolved their own rituals and structures for shared psychedelic experience. Because these communities developed out of a heteronormative society that feared and stigmatized non-mainstream gender identities and romantic attachments, however, LGTBQ+ fans found themselves to be outsiders even in their own chosen tribes. As the first gay Deadhead to come out publicly in the 1980s, I will talk about the overlooked gay contributions to the psychedelic culture of the Haight-Ashbury in the 1960s, the roles of gay mentors to the hippie movement like Allen Ginsberg and Ram Dass, the challenges queer fans faced in a subculture that exalted traditional gender roles and explicitly homophobic groups like the Hells Angels, and the emergence of proudly out LGTBQ+ people in jamband fandoms in the 21st Century facilitated by the rise of social media.  

5:00 – 7:00pm  Group Panel – Final Panel With All the Speakers

To read more about the speakers, click here.

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