Queer Bars and No Sober Places
I don’t really drink – a family history of messy alcoholism and recently being on a medication that doesn’t mix well has (personally and mostly) turned me off from drinking. I grew up peeling my dad off the couch and putting him to bed, watched as he downed bottles of wine during the nights to dull the physical pain of a decades old injury and the emotional turmoil swirling in his head. I watched as the man I knew as my father grew from the carefree man he once was to a man I barely recognized, spending most days with a glass of wine always in his hand.
However, that is another and much larger story for another day but provides some context to why I hardly drink. I worry about becoming the person my father is and childhood memories of drunken outbursts often plague my mind. I’m not saying drinking is bad or to judge anyone but to, again, just provide context for my own decisions.
When I came out as queer, I had all of this history behind me plus I was underage with no fake ID. I didn’t live with my parents during my first couple years of being out, which was a blessing. It wasn’t perfect though – I was instead living in a microaggressive Catholic community, where I was one of just a small percentage of openly queer people. Many of the queer spaces I saw in the city around me were bars or clubs, with a few exceptions.
Digging around, I’ve discovered that the queer community has a significantly larger problem with alcohol abuse than the general population. Estimates show that roughly 15% of the general population struggles with alcohol abuse but that number jumps significantly when you look at the LGBTQ+ community (estimates of 45% of the community struggles with alcohol abuse).
These estimates may vary but the overall conclusion I’ve reached in my own research? Alcohol and substance abuse is a significant problem with the LGBTQ+ community and is often significantly higher than the general population. And of course, adding intersectionality into the mix by looking at queer and trans POC adds more complexity to the issue at hand. An article about the state of queer and trans communities of color from a few years ago highlights similar findings and stated that:
Gay and transgender people of color are also more likely to smoke cigarettes than their straight or white peers. Further, unemployed transgender people of color abuse drugs and alcohol at twice the rate of employed gay and transgender people.
There are many reasons why a larger proportion of queer people dealing with substance abuse. ThinkProgress has two articles about this – one touching more on the overall reasons for the higher substance abuse and the other focuses on the targeted marketing from corporations. Marketing from tobacco and alcohol companies have in fact targeted the LGBTQ+ community, exploiting the fact that queer bars and clubs can often be safe spaces for the community. QueerMeUp highlights several points, including the high levels of stress that sometimes comes with being LGBTQ+ and even goes on to say that:
targeted marketing efforts by alcohol and tobacco companies exploit the connection many gay and transgender people have to bars and clubs as safe spaces for socializing and increase easy access to tobacco products and alcohol.
I don’t want this post to be a way to shit on people dealing with addiction or any kind of substance abuse. But instead, I want to address the fact that even with this high proportion of alcohol and substance abuse within our community, there’s a large number of queer/gay bars and clubs that help add fuel to the fire. Sure, gay/queer bars and clubs have been incredibly important to the LGBTQ+ history (something Violet Viridis briefly touches upon) but shouldn’t sober and all ages spaces be just as important?
Fabian Romero wrote about their experiences dealing with substance abuse, recovery, and trying to stay sober in queer spaces. They bring up some incredible points, talking about the difficulty of trying to be in recovery but also be social in queer circles at the same time. One of the last paragraphs from that post articulates my thoughts about these issues much better than I ever can:
I believe that having more consideration for sober spaces not only will nurture relationships with recovering addicts, it also will be more accessible to youth and will build more skills around de-stressing and coping with the microaggressions that we face daily; More importantly it will start conversations about the people who are not hanging out because of inaccessibility. I dream of a world where I can be with my differently abled friends more than once a year. I want to be able to talk not only about how sober spaces are not considered in queer spaces but how it is connected to the ways that ableism runs our lives and how our attitudes toward ableism keeps disabled people isolated. This is only one way that the queer community can improve, there are many ways that ableism separates us, consider learning about those too.
Ultimately, I think it’s so important to have more community centers and safe spaces that aren’t centering alcohol or substance use. With so many youth experiencing homelessness identifying as LGBTQ+ and part of our own community not legally able to drink, with such a high rate of alcohol and substance abuse in our community, with the intersectionality of classism, racism, ableism, and so much more, with all of that in mind – having safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community that aren’t bars or clubs is something that’s super important for me.e
I don’t want the bars and clubs that have so much history behind them to up and disappear; nor do I want people to stop going to them if that’s something they really enjoy doing. Instead, I just hope that we can start creating more safe, sober, and all ages places for the queer community to come together.