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Gay(,) Drunk, Proud

BY AUDREY E.P. FICK | I’ve come out about twice a year since I was 12.

I started drinking when I was 12.

My parents didn’t take it well.

Mine is a family of heteronormative, conservative background. We were involved in the community and faithfully attended our local parish. 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.

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, force the pain of family denial and disappointment to subside, and make bearable the duality of who I presented to be and who I really was.

As Pride came around this year, I once again considered the seemingly inextricable realities of drinking and being queer. To an individual with no prior knowledge of Pride Weekend, it might appear less commemoration of the Stonewall Riots of 1969 and more large-scale show of duct-taped nipples, leather, and liquor. Alcohol companies sponsor floats, performers, and after- (and after-after-) parties. High-risk behavior is fueled by the consumption of alcohol as well as illicit substances, and the glitz of glossy liquor sponsorships, coupled as they are with the promise of sex, fans the flame. And this is intentional.

More than 30 years ago, alcohol advertisers identified the LGBTQI market as a shrewd target, baiting the advertising hook with their depiction of inclusiveness that both out and closeted members of our community so long for. Major distillers deliberately key into the deep-rooted emotional need of every individual to see their identity and life publicly reflected. By presenting images of belonging that counter the stress of identifying outside the traditional gender binary, the experiences of being bullied and ostracized, the political exclusion, and the damnation of religions, Big Alcohol appears to champion the gay community.

Or, are they exploiting a vulnerable population with a higher rate of depression, whose socialization historically revolves around the gay bar? In becoming a gay ally, alcohol companies reinforce a dangerous cultural dynamic that implies that “gay” equals “drinking.” It’s a dynamic our community would be remiss in failing to examine.

I moved to New York City 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 underwent a switch in majors to morning vodka, cocaine, heroin, Xanax, and an intervention.

I didn’t realize that I fit a statistic, that approximately 25 percent of homosexual people use alcohol and other substances excessively. Only nine percent of the general population is similarly afflicted. Alcohol and drug-related problems aren’t limited to drunk texts and walks of shame. The higher our rate of use, the higher our rates of STD and HIV infection, intimate partner violence, unemployment, and homelessness — never mind cancer, dementia, cirrhosis, and gout.

GOUT.

This Pride Weekend, I chose to celebrate who I am, whom I love, and the strides made toward gay equality with the best of them — all of those things certainly deserve to be celebrated. But I didn’t celebrate in a way that landed me on a Thorazine drip at Bellevue on Monday. I don’t want to make a million friends who don’t remember my name when the party’s over. I choose to celebrate Pride in a way I can feel proud of, to assert my belonging in a community willing to examine its relationship to an activity endangering its members. And I want to be a member of the community I drank to belong in — sober.

Audrey E.P. Fick is a genderqueer substance abuse counselor working in East Harlem, living in Brooklyn, and writing this on the G train. S/he is an acting member of the Partnership for a Healthier Manhattan at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

2 Responses to Gay(,) Drunk, Proud

  1. gary July 12, 2013 at 9:50 pm

    I too, grew up not knowing why I was different and not really caring. I began to drink at the age of 17 and drank until I was 57. In those years, I ruined my life by being alcoholic and not doing anything about it, but now I have 13 years of sobriety in AA, and am so thankful that I finally came into such a loving and wonderful program. AA saved my life and I just hope that more gay people are aware, and use the AA program to regain their lives before they are completely destroyed. Being gay isn't the problem, drinking and becoming alcoholic is. And there is something we can do about it.

    Reply
  2. John Magisano July 14, 2013 at 5:18 pm

    M. Fick, thank you so much for your piece. Alcoholism is not just an individual disease but an environmental one. Pride celebrations have become an 'environment" of alcohol consumption, with the bar and alcohol company floats, ads, free samples, etc. Years ago, community activism and outcry put a stop to the "Tanqueray AIDS Ride," an alcohol industry subsidized fundraiser for HIV/AIDS and LGBT organizations, which ignored any connection with alcohol consumption and HIV transmission. The alcohol company acted marketed itself like an ally, when it was just a smart advertising strategy. There has been no such outcry since then except from organizations such as Alcohol Justice. (http://alcoholjustice.org/)

    In the late 1990's the NYC LGBT Center obtained a grant from the Federal Gov't (when they were offering such innovative grants in the late Clinton administration) to organize among LGBT people in recovery. The group that was founded, "SpeakOUT! LGBT Voices for Recovery" developed a strategy for addressing the environmental factors that lead to the higher rates of alcohol addiction in the community and a broad definition of recovery to include harm reduction communities as well as abstinence-based ones like 12-step programs. This was an exciting effort and we were in coalition with other impacted communities around the country like First Nations/Native American groups and Latina/o groups.

    Two things undermined the effort. First, the NYC LGBT Center was the beneficiary of a large amount of alcohol industry funding (through the AIDS Ride and other sources), and the Federal money spigot was turned off as the Bush administration cut the most innovative and LGBT friendly funding streams. An article on exactly the topic of alcohol industry funding was censored from the SpeakOUT newsletter so that their grant would not be jeopardized, totally proving the point that the alcohol industry was treating the LGBT community as a cheap date.

    I hope to see a new movement to look critically at the relationship between alcohol companies and the LGBT community, but I am not optimistic. LGBT pride is now so mainstream and nonthreatening that the Bank of America and Citi and Chase are all on board, so why not Absolut?

    Reply

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