#56 The privacy of closets and coming out

Once upon a time, I started a master’s program in The Netherlands with the intention of writing all of my assignments and final thesis project on the topic of online privacy and surveillance. I completed my thesis proposal months in advance; I knew why I was there and what needed to get done in order to be an expert in my chosen topic. Then, I took iboga one time at the end of my program’s first year, realizing that philosophizing about altered states of consciousness was far more interesting a topic/mystery to explore for the rest of my life. And here we are. But online privacy and surveillance still intrigue me, they are academic ex’s, so to speak. Like actual ex-girlfriends, I wonder how their lives turned out after me, whether they are worse or better off after our stint.

The first person to turn on this light in my mind regarding privacy and surveillance of psychedelics was Terence McKenna in his 1994 talk he gave in Hawaii called, Language About The Unspeakable (Deus Ex McKenna, 2012). For the first time, I heard someone compare psychedelic prohibition to identity politics and marginalization. He argued that if psychedelic users wanted rights like other disenfranchised groups such as homosexuals and African Americans, they would have to come out of their closet and fight for those rights, whatever the cost.

I realize that we cannot compare apple to apple here, especially after reading the seven-part series published on Psymposia.com entitled, Coming out of the Psychedelic Closet: The decades-long ‘War on Drugs’ has created a situation in which the use of psychedelics is a social justice issue. Each contributor to the overall article raised excellent points and I recommend you read them for a fuller perspective of each side’s arguments. One contributor chose to remain anonymous because of fear of backlash from colleagues and work contacts, while at the same time acknowledging psychedelics impact on their own life. Another said we shouldn’t compare psychedelic users to other groups that have died fighting for their civil and equal rights, especially in the United States (Kaywin, 2016), while another contributor rebukes the former’s comment by reminding us that homosexuality and psychedelic use are still punishable by death in some countries (Teafaerie, 2016).

No matter which camp you pitch your tent, I agree with Julie Holland’s (2016) point in referring to the gay rights movement: “Harvey Milk made it clear that ‘rights are won only by those who make their voices heard’; … We need to out ourselves because we need to stand up and be counted. You can’t expect to get equal rights unless you push for them, and you can’t push for them without first standing up and being ‘out’; … You can’t moderate what is hidden. You must bring the behavior out of the shadows. Nothing grows without light.”

For me, this was one of the most important points of the entire series. If everyone knew who took psychedelics, how psychedelics helped them overcome physical or mental disease, and that psychedelic users are not degenerates but rather come from all walks of life, then, we would have some serious pondering after the initial head-turns. When I first came out of the psychedelic closet, the people closest to me were amazed, they couldn’t believe it. I think I have a reputation of being relatively normal, head screwed on tightly, extremely rational/logical in how I approach life, social issues, and my academic research. By knowing someone like me who openly speaks of their psychedelic use/research, my family and friends likely had to reconsider and reimagine what psychedelics are and do, and further, question the long-held stereotypes surrounding them against the backdrop of the boogie-man-ized word—that is, DRUGS—in most societies.

It’s true that some of us psychedelic users will be persecuted by still-intact archaic laws. Some will die in prison. What gives me hope regarding the rescheduling, decriminalization, and one day, legalization of this class of substances is that more people will stand up for what’s right. I’m reminded of a scene from the film Gandhi (1982), when Gandhi led a march to the sea to encourage people to make their own salt. The British government at the time sold and taxed salt in India, but Gandhi thought making salt from one’s own land and resources was a human right. In the film’s dramatized version of the event, a group of British soldiers denied access to the nonviolent marchers; soldiers clubbed the marchers one by one as they approached the sea. The feeling I had when watching this was first disgust, followed by asking how one could deny another the right to make salt from their own seashore.

Regarding the cognitive liberty argument in psychedelia, how can one deny another the exploration of their own mind, from taking a substance that helps them deal with their fear of imminent death, to relieve PTSD, etc.? To deny people something that helps cope with pain, or to neuter someone’s curiosity of mind and Other Worlds, all the while imposing no harm to others, is a crime against humanity.

How is prohibition ever going to end if people are quiet about their amazing psychedelic experiences. Everyone’s positive stories have been drowned out so often by the negative ones, although the tide is turning. As McKenna says regarding any disenfranchised group, people didn’t ask for equality, they took it, they fought for it, and suffered along the way, they took a chance in being persecuted and ostracized, yet they knew they were on the right side of history. They knew it while everyone else couldn’t see. Psychedelic users are no different. We know that these substances are nothing to be afraid of. Most people are afraid of them or judge those who take them because these substances are deemed illegal by many governments. But if these people knew the ancient sacramental, therapeutic, and exploratory capacity of these substances they may think twice about them. Personally, I’m willing to compromise with government officials. Tax it. Restrict it to retreats. Demand psychedelic user “pilot” licenses and subsequent training just as we do with transportation vehicles of all kinds. Whatever you want to do that is reasonable to the safety and security of the population, then just do it already. We are willing to compromise so that these substances can be taken legally and safely, so that black markets do not tamper with the purity of novel psychoactive substances and thus guarantees a good (intended and expected) experience of that substance.

Another crime is to be closed about your own use, for two reasons. First, we need more people to come out of the psychedelic closet, to be “counted,” as Julie Holland explains. You must out yourself; if not, you defer to government policies, you accept them, you are too worried to lose something that you have, such as your life or property or reputation. I’m reminded of the cowardice of Nazi collaborators during the Second World War; we do not remember nor praise them, rather we remember the resistance fighters who helped free their society from such oppression. The second disservice you do is this: you risk not meeting likeminded people. Yes, you will lose some friends and career connections, but for each one you lose, you will make another because you’re “out,” and it is only by being open that will gravitate you and others toward each other. If you stay in the closet, others likely won’t know that you are into psychedelics, they won’t find you, conversations and friendship lost forever because you weren’t comfortable, because you thought more about what others would say and do than being as genuine a you as you can be.

Back to the privacy and surveillance angle that inspired this stream, I think it would be okay to use a pseudonym in an online forum. People use aliases often online and psychedelic fora shouldn’t be any different. As well, that which you communicate might be of a highly personal nature, however, you want to contribute to a forum thread because you want advice or to start that line of communication about a particular topic. In this sense, I think it’s fine to use an alias, to “hide” behind an avatar. With that said, I think it’s important to be open about your interest in and use of psychedelics because how are we supposed to have an open, honest, constructive conversation if the other side doesn’t know with whom they are discussing.

If we take a look at Belgium during the first and second world wars, for example, their neutral stance didn’t stop the Germans from invading twice. Neutrality, or being anonymous toward psychedelic issues pertaining to cognitive liberty, won’t stop other actors from imposing their will on you. You might as well pick a side, chin up, and expect to get hit. At least then when the history books are written you can say with conviction that you didn’t favor one side while openly favoring another when people ask where you stood during that historical moment.

Deus Ex McKenna. (2012, July 15). Language About The Unspeakable ~ Part 1/6 (Terence McKenna). McKenna originally gave this lecture in February 1994 in Maui, Hawaii, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6hv_TPlmjkQ

Holland, J. (2016, May 25). Out Yourself. Part 3 of “Coming out of the Psychedelic Closet: The decades-long ‘War on Drugs’ has created a situation in which the use of psychedelics is a social justice issue.” Retrieved July 12, 2020, from https://www.psymposia.com/magazine/out-yourself/

Kaywin, E. (2016, June 9). The Asymmetric Risk of Coming Out in Queer and Psychedelic Communities. Part 5 of “Coming out of the Psychedelic Closet: The decades-long ‘War on Drugs’ has created a situation in which the use of psychedelics is a social justice issue.” Retrieved July 12, 2020, from https://www.psymposia.com/magazine/asymmetric-risk/

Teafaerie, T. (2016, June 21). Coming Out in Solidarity. Part 6 of “Coming out of the Psychedelic Closet: The decades-long ‘War on Drugs’ has created a situation in which the use of psychedelics is a social justice issue.” Retrieved July 12, 2020, from https://www.psymposia.com/magazine/coming-out-in-solidarity/

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