Proud to Be Gay, Proud to Be Sober
Pride weekend is a celebration I'd rather show up for clean, sober and proud. But my community is vulnerable, so what's with Big Alcohol targeting us?
I’ve come out biannually since I was 12. Every six months, I'd summon the courage, make my announcement and my parents would laugh it off or fight it out. "Hi. Still gay six months later..." I also started drinking when I was 12. My parents didn’t take that well either.
Mine is a family of conservative background. We lived in a little town in New England, the WASPish equivalent of tucked-under-The-Bible-Belt Deep South. We faithfully tended our local parish and my family managed to verge their Catholicism on evangelical (which isn't really fair, as that's supposed to be the lazy religion). The birthright of our lineage was a debilitating shame and straight-jacketed inability to express feelings, two characteristics that I'm fairly certain pooled to comprise the amniotic fluid within which I gestated. I knew I was queer at an early age, but I heard in church that gay people go to hell, that they are sinners and wrong. I didn’t know how to reconcile who I knew I was with what I heard and saw around me. And I didn’t know anyone who was queer besides my friend’s gay uncle—but he wasn’t really gay, because Bernard was just his "roommate."
Pride weekend begs examination of the seemingly intrinsic nature of drinking and being queer.
I didn’t know that my identity wasn’t something of which to be ashamed. I didn’t know that everyone was to be celebrated. So I drank. I drank to dull the shame, tamp the guilt, subside family denial and disappointment, and make bearable the duality of who I presented myself to be and who I really was.
Pride weekend begs examination of the seemingly intrinsic nature of drinking and being queer. To an individual with no prior knowledge of Pride, it might appear less a commemoration of the Stonewall Riots of June 1969, and more a large-scale show of duct-taped nipples, liquor and leather. Alcohol companies sponsor floats, performers, and after (-after-after) parties. Engagement in high-risk behavior fueled by consumption of alcohol and other illicit substances ranks notorious; the glitz of engaging glossy liquor sponsorship coupled with its promise of sex and fun fan the flame. And this is intentional.
In 1981, Absolut Vodka began advertising in The Advocate and After Dark. These were followed by Absolut sponsored events in bars, and then events. This shrewd—and at the time daring—target marketing depicted the inclusion that out and closeted LGBTQI community members so longed for.
Smirnoff, Miller Brewing, and Jim Beam followed suit, deliberately keying into the deep-rooted emotional need of every individual to see their lifestyle and identity publicly reflected. With the minority stress of identifying outside the traditional binary, the experience of bullying, isolation, political exclusion, and religious damnation, Big Alcohol appears to champion the gay community.
Or, they’re exploiting a vulnerable population with a higher rate of both disposable income and depression, whose socialization historically revolves around the gay bar. In becoming a gay ally, alcohol companies reinforce a dangerous dynamic implying: “gay” means “drinking.” And it’s a dynamic our community would be remiss in failing to examine.
I moved to New York when I was 17 because I knew I could find gay people in gay bars, gay drinking. So my scholarship to ostensibly study French and Art History quickly switched majors to morning vodka, cocaine, heroin, Xanax and an intervention.
I didn’t realize that I fit a statistic—that approximately 25% of homosexual people abuse alcohol and other illicit substances. Compared to the 9% of the general population similarly afflicted, it seems the LGBTQI demographic is afforded a one in four chance at developing alcohol-related problems, opposed to a one in ten chance of such involvement for their heterosexual peers.
These alcohol-related problems aren’t limited to drunk texts and walks of shame. The higher our rate of use, the higher the likelihood of decisions leading to our rates of depression, STI and HIV infection, intimate partner violence, unemployment and homelessness—never mind cancer, anemia, dementia, cirrhosis, seizures, pancreatitis and gout.
On Pride Weekend I’ll be celebrating who I am, whom I love, and the strides made toward gay equality with the best of them—they certainly are to be celebrated. But I don’t want to celebrate in a way that lands me on a thorazine drip at Bellevue next Monday. I don’t want to make a million friends who don’t remember my name when the party is over. I want to celebrate Pride in a way I can feel proud of.
There may not be as many sober events as there are booze-fueled, but this proves the one aspect of Pride where size doesn’t matter. Queer & Sober is hosting several events through the weekend, from a meeting and a sober-social, to the 2013 Mr. Sobriety Show, to the Parade and Closing Cruise. It’s one Pride celebration where anonymity ensures you won’t have to feel bad when you forget someone’s last name, and you don’t have to feel shady when you suggest exchanging numbers.
The Center on West 13th Street in Manhattan hosts queer-centric meetings on a regular basis, with schedules accessible on both their website as well as the New York Intergroup website. If you’re looking to do service Intergroup has expressed an increased need for phone answering—give them a call at (212) 647-1680. After a quick orientation they’ll forward calls to your home or cell and voila! you’re no longer thinking about how you’re bound to die alone.
As a friend in recovery remarked in comparing his experience of Pride sober to Pride drunk, “the night ends in only the good kind of handcuffs, and you get to remember it.”
Let’s celebrate Pride in a way we can feel proud of, as members of the community we drank to belong in—sober. There’ll be significantly less vomit, and none of it will be yours.
Audrey Fox is a pseudonym for a sober genderqueer substance abuse counselor in East Harlem, New York.