If experiencing the paranormal is strange, and what is strange is queer, is the paranormal queer?
By any logic, yes. Yes, it is. Strange and queer are synonymous, are they not?
If the impulse to express oneself as queer is unexplained, and the paranormal is also unexplained, doesn’t it follow then that queer people are unexplained?
The answer is yes. In fact, many of our deepest impulses – from our sexual interests to our food interests – cannot be fully explained.
In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association made a landmark decision to strike “homosexuality” from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (known in the psychology community as the “DSM”). This decision was revolutionary because it took away a psychiatrist’s right to prescribe medication or potentially damaging treatment to “cure” those individuals who expressed homosexual proclivities.
But there was another groundbreaking result: It gave credence to people’s experience of homosexual instincts as natural, as part of normal behavior.
Even though the psychiatric community did not (and still does not) fully understand how some people are born with homosexual instincts and others are not, the community understood that invalidating a person’s intrinsic desires was psychologically damaging and completely unfounded.
To this day the world suffers as a result of religious misinterpretation. Extremists take a fundamental approach to their respective religious texts, causing them to prescribe anachronistic decrees and taunts upon people whose beliefs differ from their own. Queer (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, asexual) people are still being discriminated against for reasons of religious belief, despite the psychiatric community’s ruling forty years ago that queer people are as normal as non-queer people.
When people, usually young people, experience their first strong homosexual desire, they have three choices:
1. Believe their desire is valid
2. Believe their desire is NOT valid, perhaps a result of some other issue
3. Believe their desire is valid, but not as strong or equally as strong as their heterosexual desires
When a person undergoes a paranormal experience, they have three choices:
1. Believe their experience was valid
2. Believe their experience was NOT valid, perhaps a result of some other issue
3. Believe PART of their experience was valid, but may be complicated by other elements of the experience.
It is no coincidence that when people have decided to publicly discuss their experience of the “paranormal,” it has been referred to as them “coming out of the closet” about their experience.
Those who publicize their psychic abilities know very well the stigma associated with their assertion, and many will say they remember exactly what it was like when they “came out of the ‘Psychic Closet.’”
Why are these two experiences — coming out as queer and coming out as having a paranormal experience — so interconnected?
How about this framework:
1953 – A man decides to go to a psychiatrist’s office, already anxious because there is a stigma associated with going to a professional to discuss your “personal” problems. This may mean you are mentally unstable. When there, he admits to the doctor that although he always knew he had to get married, and he and his wife have two happy children, he has these unexplainable desires to be with men sexually.
He feels lonely, depressed, and anxious as a result of these experiences of arousal. He had an experience last night when he awoke from a sexual dream involving their next door neighbor, an attractive man who can often be seen mowing his lawn shirtless. The man has taken note of this several times and finds himself staring and fantasizing.
The psychiatrist tells him that being a homosexual is a mental disorder, and any expression of homosexuality needs to be treated. The psychiatrist tells him not to be concerned. He has treated homosexual people the same way he has treated people with schizophrenia, for example, who talk to people who do not exist and hear voices that are not really there. The psychiatrist will find a way to cure his homosexual urges in therapy and/or with medication or medical treatment.
2013 – An openly gay man goes to his psychiatrist’s office, already anxious because there is a stigma associated with going to a professional to discuss something “paranormal.” This may mean you are mentally unstable. When there, he admits to the doctor that although he always knew he had to disregard these experiences, and he has for a long time, he is no longer able to deny that these experiences are taking a toll on him psychologically. He has been sensing spirits since he was a teenager, and he is often plagued by experiences where he imagines something and it comes to fruition later on.
He feels lonely, depressed, and anxious as a result of these specific experiences. He had an experience last night where he awoke from a nightmare involving an angry spirit, only to notice that all of the contents atop his desk across the room were now on the floor. He went into the bathroom and found the window open. It is the dead of winter, and he always leaves the window locked through the winter months.
The psychiatrist tells him that it is very easily explained as a result of stress and, as a result, the possibility that he has begun somnambulating — sleepwalking. The man’s mother had passed away a year ago and perhaps he is still dealing with some stress and anxiety as a result. He will be happy to prescribe him either an anti-anxiety medication or an anti-depressant to help control his symptoms, depending on which he experiences more strongly. He will also give him a prescription for a sleep aid to ensure he stays asleep as often as possible, since sleepwalking can be dangerous. They will monitor his progress together.
Comparing these two case studies, what becomes evident?
At the crux of both cases is the concept of validation versus invalidation. What the man seeks in both cases is to be told that his experience is valid, and not only valid, but normal.
The first man seeks help because society then labeled homosexuality as abnormal (bold intended for emphasis). The second man is openly homosexual, but since this is now considered normal, this element of his experience does not even need to be brought up or questioned. It is now a non-issue. His issue concerns the still abnormal experience of interacting with spirit energy. I wonder, in a hundred years, which human experiences, that are likewise not damaging to other people, will still be considered “issues?”
Unsurprisingly, there is a high incidence of homosexuality among psychic practitioners. For hundreds of years, those with homosexual instincts were ostracized and persecuted for their personal experiences of homosexual inclination. For a comparable amount of time, people who experience psychic impressions have been either ostracized and persecuted for sharing those experiences. It stands to reason then that homosexual people, whose natural experience of others falls outside the range of social “normalcy,” would be more willing to share experiences of psychic information, which also falls outside this range.
The feeling is often: “Well, I’m already considered alternative by being queer. Since I’m already outside the ‘norm,’ why not share these alternative psychic experiences as well?”
Let us not forget that in the days of antiquity, prior to (and including) the events contained within western biblical scripture, both homosexual acts and psi practice were often considered acceptable, valid aspects of society. In the patriarchal society of ancient Rome, for example, the pervading attitude regarding homosexual practice was related to power, not “right-or-wrong.” A Roman did not associate a dominant male sexual role within a same-sex encounter to be emasculating. It was a sign of strength for the dominant male to penetrate the submissive male, who was usually a slave or convicted criminal. In this way, homosexual acts were seen to amplify masculinity for the dominant male, while reinforcing his power over the submissive male.
The evolved medical technology and advanced social interconnectivity of today did not exist, so there could be no working concept of a same-sex family. Had this been possible, the idea that the submissive male could only be a man of lower stature may not have persisted. In the final analysis, however, there was no stigma associated with dominant males engaging in same-sex activity.
On the “paranormal” end, the ancients held psychics in such high esteem that their counsel was most often sought directly by the society’s monarch or ruler. Such biblical tales as The Sacrifice of Isaac, Noah and the Ark, and Joseph and the Multicolored Coat each present psychic ability as a gift to be revered and validated. In these cases, each protagonist (Abraham, Noah, and Joseph, respectively) is ultimately redeemed by an ability to perceive divine energy and apply it to a practical circumstance.
The only difference: the word assigned to these gifted people was “Prophet,” which expressed their ability to receive psychic information as a form of open communication with the divine. Their experience of psychic energy, however, is completely analogous to those people today who practice such gifts under the term, “Psychic.”
Here we are in the present day, and these same stigmas persist. Queer people are still being denied validation (such as marriage) considered “normal” to the mainstream, and psychics are still being denied validation by mainstream science. By exploring the evolution of such forms of experience as they relate to the societal “norm,” we begin to understand that mainstream society’s coming to fully accept such experiences as both valid and normal is only a matter of time.
First published on Adam’s blog, Paranormalyte, on May 4, 2013.