LGBTQ individuals may face discrimination while traveling to South America for ayahuasca tourism.

LGBTQ individuals may face discrimination while traveling to South America for ayahuasca tourism. Image Source: Wikimedia user Luiz30.

Sometimes, being bisexual is exhausting. Almost everything—from taking a girlfriend to meet my parents to finding a church that accepts me —is more complicated for me. When I travel, I need to be aware of LGBTQ laws and sometimes even change my presentation based on the local attitudes towards people like me. Like the rest of life, ayahuasca use can be complicated for members of the LGBTQ community to navigate, and there are certain things we should be aware of in order to ensure a safe, positive experience—especially if traveling abroad as an ayahuasca seeker.

Historically, the LGBTQ community and psychedelics have a somewhat dark relationship. Psychedelics such as LSD and peyote were components of gay conversion therapy from the 1950’s through the 1960’s. Even now, there are stories of people secretly dosing their gay or trans loved ones with illegal psychedelics to “convert” them to heterosexual and cisgender people. In actuality, the conversion therapies of the past were reliant on the cognitive-behavioral components more than the psychedelic components, and psychedelics do not naturally promote one type of sexuality over another. In fact, many LGBTQ individuals have positive, affirming experiences while using psychedelics.

If you will be traveling abroad as an LGBTQ ayahuasca seeker in the near future, there are a few aspects of travel and finding a shaman that you should carefully plan ahead of time. You will also want to consider the ways that ayahuasca may cause you to reflect on your sexual identity.

Traveling In South America

The only legal way to take ayahuasca in the U.S. is by joining a recognized church that uses ayahuasca ceremonially. However, in most South American countries, ayahuasca tourism is popular and legal. But before booking a flight, know that LGBTQ issues in South America are complex. Brazil has the most progressive legal protections granted to LGBTQ people but, at the same time, has the highest rates of violence against people in this group. Most anti-LGBTQ violence tends to be directed at locals, though, and there is actually a flourishing LGBTQ-centered tourism industry, with many hotels, clubs, restaurants, and other businesses catering specifically to LGBTQ people.

Peru, on the other hand, does not have as many legal protections for LGBTQ people but tends to have less violence against these individuals. When traveling in Peru, discretion is usually advised, and most locals follow a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to sexuality.

Surprisingly, Columbia is one of the most accepting South American countries when it comes to the LGBTQ lifestyle. While discretion is still advised in small towns, most of the medium and large cities have active LGBTQ communities.

When planning to travel to these countries for ayahuasca tourism, it is important to fully research any additional risks and decide how open you will be about your sexuality. You may want to find an LGBTQ-friendly tour operator or accommodation by using a site such as Purple Roofs, calling various ayahuasca tour operators, or getting recommendations from a psychedelic therapist. Also, keep in mind that many ayahuasca centers are in smaller towns and villages, which tend to be less LGBTQ-friendly compared to large cities.  

Finding a Center or Shaman

Just as the attitude towards LGBTQ people varies throughout South America, individual shamans and ayahuasca centers may have different feelings. Historically, shamanism has been accepting of LGBTQ lifestyles, and many shamans believe that ayahuasca allows seekers to shift their gender to gain additional perspective. Often, if you let the shaman know about your sexuality, they will slightly alter the ceremony to include more inclusive language and help you feel at ease. However, most shamans will simply not ask about your sexuality so, unless you mention it, it will probably not come up.

You may want to avoid South American ayahuasqueros who are associated with the Santo Daime or União do Vegetal churches. While Santo Daime churches in the United States and Europe are accepting of LGBTQ members, South American Santo Daime churches are not, and União do Vegetal churches throughout the world take a strong stance against the LGBTQ lifestyle.

Many LGBTQ seekers do not tell their ayahuasquero or shaman about their sexuality. While that is a valid choice, keep in mind that you may have deep reflections on your identity—including aspects of your sexual identity—that you may want to discuss with someone after your ceremony.

Expecting a Spiritual Experience

While some LGBTQ people have positive relationships with religion and spirituality, many have experienced persecution and discrimination at the hands of major religious institutions. This can make spiritual and religious exploration challenging for some.

If you have a difficult relationship with religion, know that ayahuasca is most often taken for spiritual or psychological growth. Many of the visions seekers have when taking ayahuasca include spiritual and religious symbols such as Christ, angels, God, and celestial cities. If you see religious symbols during your session, it may serve as a way for you to make peace with your own religious past, but it is best to prepare for this type of vision in advance.

You can prepare for religious-themed visions by practicing self-reflection in the weeks leading up to your ceremony. You may meditate on your relationship with religion and your current spiritual beliefs so you go into the ceremony with a clear definition of your current spirituality. If religion is something you specifically want to focus on, you can work with a psychedelic therapist to set your intentions beforehand.  

Preparing for Possible Exploration of Your Sexuality and Gender

Both LGBTQ and cisgender, heterosexual people often reflect on their sexuality while using ayahuasca. Many people find their sexual appetite decreases in the weeks following the ceremony and some people find they develop a new, more reverent approach to sex.

Most LGBTQ individuals who take ayahuasca have a neutral or positive experience regarding their sexual orientation and identity. This is especially true if you are confident in your sexual identity and did not have a traumatic coming out. However, if you have issues accepting your sexual identity or have experienced trauma related to your orientation, ayahuasca may bring up thoughts and feelings relating to your sexuality and identity. Usually, this focus results in individuals affirming their sexual identity and coming to terms with past difficulties, but the actual experience can be intimidating if you are not ready to explore your sexual identity thoroughly and honestly. Make sure to carefully set intentions beforehand and take the time to integrate the experience into your life afterward.

As an LGBTQ person, you will likely experience the same benefits that heterosexual, cisgender people get from taking ayahuasca. In fact, the sexual affirmation many people feel while taking ayahuasca can make it even more beneficial for you. However, your journey to find the medicine and a practitioner who is accepting of your sexuality may be more complicated. If you have had a challenging experience, consider setting up integration therapy with an LGBTQ-friendly psychedelic therapist to help you process your ceremony. However, careful planning can help keep you safe while traveling in a foreign country and ensure you get the most positive experience possible out of your ayahuasca ceremony.