Psychedelic Sisters In Arms is an ongoing series inspired by women who have recently come forward to speak their truths about the sexual violence they’ve experienced in psychedelic communities, and is indebted to the whisper network that continues to ensure the safety of the outspoken survivors to this day.

This series is a collection of personal stories on violence against women and marginalized people, dealing with issues of consent, gender, and sexual violence. It’s been led by women, and each writer is a member of the broader ‘psychedelic community’. If you have any interest in sharing your story, please reach out to oriana@psymposia.com

Time’s Up. The Dance Floor Is Not Your Colonial Hunting Ground

 

By Paula Kahn

If festival, conference, and event producers care about the safety and survival of their attendees, they must hire survivors of sexual violence, consent educators, and sexual trauma healers to consult them on the best harm reduction practices to prevent sexual violence and to treat consequential psychotic episodes at their events. These issues MUST be addressed within these spaces because conscious and unconscious perpetrators of sexual violence also self-identify as “psychonauts,” “healers,” “experts,” and often hold positions of power. We will no longer ignore the severity of this reality because survivors of sexual violence participate in these spaces.  

We are your friends, your kin, your colleagues. Although our traumas have been invisible for most of our lives, we are harnessing our collective power to reveal our pain to put an end to these toxic cycles of violence and chronic, planetary PTSD. We recognize preventative measures must be codified to ensure that we are not at risk of being re-traumatized, especially in spaces where we seek learning, community, freedom of expression, healing, and transformation under the presumption that we are “safe” to be “free.” If there are no systems or cultures of accountability, no cultural shifts within psychedelic institutions, these spaces will continue to be breeding grounds that enable the predatory and silencing behaviors of the conquistadores the #MeToo movement has brought to national reckoning.

It’s been seven-and-a-half years since I was raped as a teenager while on psychedelics at Lightning In A Bottle 2011 and harassed by multiple predatory men at Burning Man 2011, again while on psychedelics. I‘ve recently entered a new phase of my healing process from those and previous incidents of sexual violence; it’s taken me an entire decade. If you find yourself blaming me for ingesting psychoactive substances at a young age and “endangering” myself, my exercise in self-medicating at this age is irrelevant. Your tendency to shift blame to me is called “victim-blaming.” I should have been supported and guided to self medicate without having to worry about men trying to conquer me and extract my sexual energy and youthful feminine power from me.

Although 2018 was my fifth Burn, although I am a consent educator, although I study martial arts, although I am a “veteran” survivor of sexual violence–I was still assaulted at the Burn while I was in an altered state on the dance floor, in the company of friends. The psychological consequences were grave, if not catastrophic. Self medicating on the dance floor has been my oldest, most reliable, most satisfying approach to healing my sexual and identity based traumas. When I was a teenager (from age 14 onwards), going to raves and taking ecstasy was more accessible than seeing a psychotherapist.

As a teenager, I took ownership over my mental health and exercised agency by self medicating at raves, where I processed my traumas in the context of the Peace Love Unity Respect movement. I felt safety, belonging, and acceptance. The dance floor became my temporary sanctuary, my refuge; it is where I’ve experienced a new degree of embodied freedom and spirituality, in community. It is where I am able to worship and somatically express the wonder and joy of being alive. Unfortunately, I soon realized my sense of safety on dance floors was an illusion; dance floors became battlegrounds as I became increasingly attacked and preyed upon on too many times to count, dance floors at festivals and raves where predatory people also ingested stimulants and psychedelics.

This last incident at the 2018 Burn pushed me over the edge. I had already responded to a European man with the caucacity to wear a Native American headdress. Yes, as a person of Mayan descent, I took it off his head and shamed him. Yes, this disruptive act shot my nervous system further up than it had traveled from my previous encounter. Minutes before this, I literally caught a sex worker who fell from an art car in my arms. She had tried to climb the Mayan Warrior art car and was swinging back and forth. I asked people around me to help me spot her. The men around me went straight for her ass, hips, and inner thighs. I smacked their hands away, “What are you doing,” I asked. “Just trying to help,” they foolishly responded. So they stopped helping. She eventually lost her grip and I caught her.

A man was with her; he was reprimanding her and wanted to walk away with her. It was obvious she wasn’t sober and that her balance was impaired. I sternly informed the man that I needed to have a private conversation with her; he could wait nearby. I asked her if she was okay and offered her to spend the night with my friends. Even though she had acted as if she was out of her mind intoxicated, she went on a coherent feminist rant about how the tech industry devalued women, abused them, and upheld a hierarchy. She confided in me that she couldn’t leave the guy because she was economically bound to him for the Burn. She shared the camp that these alleged disrespectful men belonged to; it’s a well known camp on the playa with significant social and economic capital. The term sex work was used. She threw herself to the art car and tried to climb it to escape her John. As she reassured me that she was fine to return to her John, I was disturbed from witnessing unempowered sex work on the playa.

 

 

An hour later, my nervous system already imbalanced with adrenaline from these previous interactions, I was triggered by unwanted, non-consensual touch on the dance floor. The safety of the dance floor had already been violated for me and this was the third trigger of the night; under attack, my nervous system’s resilience collapsed. That uninvited touch and the subsequent confrontation were the last straw–I hit the man across his face. After this, I proceeded to experience flashbacks of previous traumas throughout the evening.

I kept my silent panic attack to myself because I wasn’t sure how to express it to others. I had started the night feeling elated, feeling sexy, feeling adventurous, feeling euphoric! By sunrise, I felt like there was something inherently wrong with me. I felt like I was a freak. I felt strange. I felt like a helpless child, a wild, wounded animal.

I was feeling haunted by my sexual traumas and condemned by them. I was depressed that yet again, I had to suppress my freedom of expression and my embodied feminine medicine on the dance floor because there were no safeguards to protect me from entitled, shameless, colonial, predatory energy. I experienced a psychotic break. I felt fucked up from being raped at Lightning In A Bottle in 2011. I felt reminded of what it was like to be constantly hunted at the Burn in 2011, and the immense impact it had on my self-esteem, my standards, and my sense of worthiness. I ached in the familiar feeling of having my euphoria and my safe space attacked by conquistadores who have followed and hunted people like me for multiple generations. These ongoing attacks are physical and psychological warfare on my healing process. I am a woman of Mayan descent, and the sexual trauma I carry is collective, intergenerational, and specific to the violence experienced by the peoples of the Northern Triangle. My DNA is just beginning to repair itself from centuries of colonial rape. Survivors like me can’t afford any more epigenetic harm.

Are you aware of how many indigenous women go missing and are murdered? Murdered and missing indigenous women have been subject to exclusion and invisibilization by racist reporting and documentation. Indigenous women have just begun independent research to monitor and quantify these cases. Do you know about our disproportionate rates of suicide? According to the National Institute for Mental Health, “American Indian/American Native” females had the second highest suicide rates, just under “American Indian/American Native” males. This public health crisis has been my waking reality since I was eleven years of age. If self medicating at raves or “conscious” festivals and going dancing is my unique approach to healing my traumas as it has been since I was a suicidal teenager, it must be safeguarded at all costs. My embodied trauma lives in the memory of my skin. If touch is not invited, I have a violent reaction. Survivors like myself must be protected from being pushed to the edge like that. I refuse to be another indigenous or Latina woman who commits suicide or lives with the silence of internalized sexual trauma. I am a social worker, activist, caregiver, educator, and healer. I offer so much to the world.

Survivors like myself will not tolerate invasions of our healing processes. We do not exist for the conquering, extraction, or consumption of our divine creative energy. The sublime energy some of us consciously emulate and share with the collective, in the peak of our altered states, is our earthly expression of humanity’s beauty, expressed in a ceremonial way. We offer medicine through our performance. We operate in those moments as a reflection of humanity. Our prayerful, entranced dances are integral to our collective healing processes. Dance has played a sacred role universally amongst indigenous cultures for millennia. Our dances may have nothing to do with attracting your gaze. If you are confused, just smile and ask, “Wanna dance with me?” Say, “Thank you,” if they don’t and respect their space. These are collectively shared moments in temporary autonomous zones where we have a chance at enacting utopia; they are to be honored and held in reverence. Sacred dance (yes, twerking IS sacred embodiment) are offerings–not to be lost in the battleground the dance floor becomes when conquest is performed.

Our mental health will no longer be put in jeopardy or trivialized by event producers, researchers, experts, and those in power. I formally encourage festival producers and conference organizers to invite survivors like myself to guide cultural shifts in your institutions and events. Consent and anti-oppression education is a work of art; the creative process is exciting, and we maximize fun for everyone. We are amidst a planetary transformation highlighted by the #MeToo, #TimesUp, and climate change movements. We are crossing the portal into a new era and we must adapt quickly. The way we treat each other is a mirror for how we treat our shared planetary home. Consent must become the 11th Burning Man Principle by 2019. Festivals like Burning Man and Lightning In A Bottle must formally implement consent and anti-oppression education by 2019. Help us help you create safer, if not the safest spaces, for our collective liberation and fun! 


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