Archive for May, 2003

Peeking Out of the Closet

Thursday, May 1st, 2003

It was a very casual moment, almost surprisingly so. I had arrived at the dojo where I take aikido and was making small talk with that evening’s instructor. We were talking about why I’d been missing more classes than usual recently, which led to my describing a sketch comedy DVD project I’d been feverishly working on for months, which led to my clarifying that this was a psychedelic sketch comedy DVD, which led to my clarifying further that it was being released via a magazine I write for, which is called Trip, and of course just to make sure she didn’t think it was a travel magazine, I clarified further that Trip is the Journal of Psychedelic Culture, and voila, in under two minutes, I had outed myself as a psychedelic drug user to one of my aikido instructors.

Now lets be clear: in Seattle, this isn’t such a huge risk. And this was the youngest of the instructors I have regular contact with. And when, a few minutes later out on the mat, a student described the work she was doing in her post-doctorate studies, and another student replied with a joke about whether or not that meant she could get us good drugs, and everyone laughed, it didn’t immediately strike me as incongruous. The class that night was small, pretty young overall (I’m thirty), and Friday night classes are always a little casual.

Still, the moment stuck with me. On one hand, I’ve been very public and open about my psychedelic experiences, posting freely under what is essentially my own name to mailing lists, newsgroups, and the web, helping publish Trip and contributing approximately four hundred billion experience reports to Erowid (okay, slight exaggeration, but a boy’s gotta have goals). On the other hand, naturally there are contexts when that kind of openness seems, if not wholly inappropriate, then at least rather irrelevant. Does my boss actually need to know that I use psychedelic drugs?

I have a bunch of friends who work at a large software company that has a generous matching program for charitable contributions. I remember my distinct surprise in learning that Erowid can actually take donations this way, via MAPS, which meets the requirements for the matching program. This means all who donate to MAPS via the program are essentially outing themselves on the job, if not explicitly as psychedelic users, then certainly as those who feel that these substances have value, which, as you know from watching the tube, makes them all terrorists or something. Now everyone knows that the software industry is rife with drug use, and in particular, psychedelic drug use. But there’s a big difference between covertly admitting your use to coworkers, and actually setting up payroll deductions to support psychedelic research. And certainly software is a much safer industry in which to do this than others, but its still a progressive step for a behemoth corporate institution and its individual employees to take.

Which brings me back to outing myself to my aikido instructor. One thing I lost my appetite for many years ago was any kind of active proselytizing on behalf of the psychedelic experience. Introducing LSD into someones life is not the kind of responsibility I want on my hands any more; that’s just a personal preference. But this was only small talk with an acquaintance, someone I regularly train with and feel comfortable trusting my safety to, and I was simply letting her in on a little part of my life. After training at the school for a couple of years, making steady progress and building a rapport, it seemed natural and appropriate.

Perhaps the fact that I take psychedelics recreationally should be no more or less important to the people around me than whether I’m religious, or married, or like Broadway musicals. Obviously that kind of climate is nowhere in sight, except on a limited basis, and perhaps that basis is less limited than I anticipated. Making political progress on this issue will come in part from gaining recognition that many of us who do don’t match the stereotypes created by popular media and by the government. Certainly the role of overt, aggressive activism can’t be understated; but there is a wide range of considerably more subversive memetic reprogramming that needs to happen in the culture at large. And that work can only happen one person at a time.