The Problem With Gay AA
Until gay men sort out their sex issues, they can’t stay sober. And until I sort out mine, I can’t be happy.
Gay men find it impossible to stay sober. They relapse again and again. The reason is clear: sex. Sexual addiction. I am not suggesting that all gay men who claim that they are alcoholic are in fact sex addicts but most gay men who can't stay sober cite sex as the primary reason for relapse.
The simple fact of the matter is that most of the time, readily available anonymous hook ups quickly take the place of alcohol and drugs. When a sober man walks into the apartment of a super hot man doing crystal meth, sobriety is quickly flushed down the toilet along with HIV status.
I hear the story over and over again. Yet, as a community, we think we can get away with this risky behavior. It is an arrogant vanity.
Gay AA is a sad affair. I go periodically—mostly when I flee the super charged straight stag meetings because I find the straight, young newcomers too triggering.
While many straight sober people create a new life with AA that involves abandoning bars and other locations that might lead to relapse, gay sober men often want a sober version of the life they had before, complete with dance parties, bars and gogo boys. Any reason to have a party will do—including the absurd “three-month anniversary.” Or, as one galling invitation I received said, “Help Joe S. celebrate his one-month anniversary.”
Forgive me if I'm wrong but anniversaries are a yearly celebration.
While many straight sober people create a new life with AA that involves abandoning bars and other locations that might lead to relapse, gay sober men often want a sober version of the life they had before.
Many of these sober parties are indistinguishable from their non sober equivalent: scantily clad men line up for espresso machines manned by disco short-wearing super hot straight guys more used to shaking cocktails than dispensing coffee to gay guys jacked up on caffeine. Unable to attend drug-crazed gay circuit parties, many gay sober men in LA flock to the sober circuit parties, such as Hot 'n Dry, which is held annually in Palm Springs. These events are more likely to take someone out than any other reason I’ve ever heard in gay AA. Yearly, after this event, bedraggled gay men turn up at meetings, their eyes blazing from excessive drug use, taking newcomer chips. Should I be surprised? After all, the Hot n' Dry ticket salesman had assured me that it would be “a sex fest from the moment you arrive at the Ace Hotel.”
The absurd idea that we can behave like we have always behaved as long as we have a deluded and lackluster understanding of the 12 steps just doesn't work. Two years ago, after I appeared on Sex Rehab With Dr. Drew, I suggested that within the gay community, we might have a sexual unmanageability problem and was flooded with vitriol. But that’s not going to stop me from sharing what I believe to be serious issues.
The other serious issue within gay AA, in my opinion, is the resistance to God or a Higher Power. Most of my gay sponsees are understandably wary of God. The Christian God—the religious God—hasn't made them feel very welcome in the past and has actually steeped them in shame and misery. To find that at the heart of AA is a God—even if it’s one of their own understanding—is anathema to most gay men. From what I can determine, most gay men just ignore the God part of the 12 steps—a relevant fact when the God part, in my estimation, accounts for roughly 90% of recovery. Working through the God options with gay men can be excruciating. Why bother looking for spiritual validation when they can get immediate validation on Grindr?
I used to love AA in LA; my love for it was actually the reason I first moved to LA. Now I hate it. It's like a cult—sober grandees ruling over desperate men, the film industry providing the sickest of backdrops: men flaying themselves before agents and film executives in the hope of catching crumbs from the sober table I see this everywhere from the straight stag meetings, where misogyny and homophobia are expressed freely, to the sickest meetings of all: Gay AA in LA.
For all of these reasons and more, last November, after nearly 16 years, I stopped going to AA meetings. I was exhausted, disillusioned and utterly miserable. My last meeting in LA, at the iconic Log Cabin on Robertson in West Hollywood, was a gay meeting attended by 300 gay men.
I couldn't walk away fast enough.
And yet yesterday, after a nine-month hiatus, I walked into a co-ed meeting in Park Slope, Brooklyn. I was an hour early. I helped set out the chairs in ten neat rows and then I made the coffee. During the meeting, I shared my resentments and my fears and afterwards, a tiny woman called Dianne came up to me and let me have two full barrels of her tough love wisdom.
"It's time for you to get fucking humble,” she said. “Come back and do fucking 90 in 90 like a newcomer."
She was right. After months away from AA, I felt spiritually bankrupt. I stopped fighting and did what we are all meant to in the rooms of AA: I gave in.
Later that evening, the young man I helped set up the meeting took me for dinner. We talked recovery. This morning, we had sex. There I was, doing the walk of shame, doubled down. I had once again fucked a newcomer, counting days. It's my story in AA. The younger men find my honesty irresistible and I can't say no.
When I first got sober in London, the only gay men I met in AA were old queens at the Eton Square meeting. I met a couple of gay men in NA but within the deluded gay community, at that time, there was a mantra I heard over and over that “quitting was for losers.” Several years later, after celebrities like Boy George got sober, the rooms of AA and NA filled quickly with what we now recognize as gay recovery.
Back then I was accused, by my drinking friends, of being a contrarian—of rocking the boat and spoiling it for the others. As it happened, I was in the vanguard. I remember being hounded by drunken gay men who were outraged that I might, just by being sober, challenge their powerlessness and un-manageability. Of course those very same men now thank me for introducing them to the 12 steps.
After a few months away from AA, I am ready to start again but, as Dianne said, I've got to get humble, forget all those years of sobriety and do 90 meetings in 90 days. For the first time in a long time, I value my life. I should have left LA years ago but I'm a tenacious old queen; I didn't want to let go. Just one more meeting might fix me. Just one more line, one more Vodka Tonic and the crazy opera playing in my head might stop.
Walking back into AA in New York was a relief, a joy—just like it used to be. I want to be sober. The only problem getting in the way of that is me. But I know that if I’m going to be able to do it, I'll have to learn how to say no to sex. As a single gay man, the consequences are dire if I don't.
Duncan Roy is a filmmaker whose movies include AKA, Method and The Picture of Dorian Gray. He appeared on Sex Rehab With Dr. Drew in 2009, and has written for The Sunday Times, The Evening Standard, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Guardian, and The Daily Beast. Roger Ebert has praised his blog as “a moving and evocative chronicle of modern gay life.” This is his first piece for The Fix.