Wet >< Dry

 Juggling drinking/user rights AND sobriety

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I’m about to turn 2 years sober – woohoo! Summer was a challenging time to get sober, particularly with so many queer events in Toronto that involve booze. The warm months are now a time when I fluctuate between deep gratitude that I’m not drinking, and wistful fantasies of swilling beer on patios and swigging bourbon in the park. A lot of sober queer folks struggle to stay sober during Pride month, so I’m reflecting on what our community could do to hold us, whilst also holding space for others to have fun or cope with alcohol and drugs. Both sobriety AND drinking/user rights are access issues in social spaces and within our political movements.[1]

Whilst I love intentionally sober space (yay for Sober Pride!), I also want our communities to be able to hold space for those who use alcohol or drugs as medication or to cope with this shitty world. I’m horrified that visionaries such as Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P Johnson (both trans women of colour on the frontline of Stonewall) were banned from some LGBTQ spaces because of their drinking or using. The impacts of that likely involved further marginalisation for each of them, as well as a HUGE loss of wisdom and experience to the movements which they kick started.

Here’s the thing: there’s a very big difference between some people being intoxicated within a space versus a space that feels intoxicated. For me, when a critical mass of people at a party or event are drunk or high, it becomes an intoxicated space. If there are only a few drunk people around in an overall sober/ non-drunken space, it feels way more manageabe for me. So the more people who refrain from drinking and using, the more the space can hold both sober folks and some people who are drinking or using.

I get that drugs and alcohol can be about more than coping – they can be about many things including fun, which is super important too! I’m not suggesting that everyone stop using/drinking – just that those who don’t need it, be more intentional about how and when they drink or use. Let’s remember that doing stuff without drinking or drugs can be awesomely fun too! Enjoying music and company and dancing and art events and deep conversations and connections that you are more likely to remember. No checking your sent texts to see the embarrassing things you sent! No trying to remember if you did inappropriate things.

Given that many sexual assaults, violence and other non-consensual behavior have alcohol involved, drinking less can also mean there are more folks around to support a culture of consent and community safety.

Suggestions for organising Gatherings, Dinners & Events

Various friends including Clementine Morrigan, had some great suggestions:

  1. If your event will include alcohol, post that on event promotions (social media, fliers etc) along with other access info.
  2. Organise more drug and alcohol free events, but with no one turned away for showing up either high or drunk. Communication well with guests so that people don’t start policing or shaming the folks who may turn up high or drunk.
  3. Serve tasty non-alcoholic drinks that are treats – not just water and soft drinks/pop. Check out Liz Shield’s tasty recipes here
  4.  Considering many people use alcohol as a “social lubricants” (to cope with nervousness, anxiety, boredom etc), have alternative social lubricants – like activities or games. E.g. interactive food bars (tacos, waffles, burger bars…), conversation prompt games, arts and crafts areas, books, tarot cards, nail painting supplies, or whatever! (thanks Hannah Pepper-Cunningham for this suggestion)

Ally Suggestions for Individuals

Whilst event organisers have particular responsibilities, each and every one of us has a powerful role to play. So here’s my request for the Pride month (and beyond). Unless you need to use alcohol or drugs as self-medication/coping:

  1. Have some sober nights – like if you’re going to 4 events this month, how about choosing 2 at which you’ll be sober?
  2. When you are drinking or using, consume less and be mindful of what spaces you consuming them in.
  3. If you think it would be welcome, check-in with your sober buddies about whether they want a sober companion to go to an event with. Ask them if there’s any other support they might want or need.

The more people who refrain, the more we can hold community and space for both those who are sober AND those who use drugs and alcohol to cope.

Happy Pride!

photo by Tania Anderson

* I wrote another related article last year with more reflections on our communities and supporting sober folks – here’s the link: The Brandy is Just for the Zit in My Mouth

[1]Thanks to Clementine, Geoff, Quinto & Amy for politicizing me around sobriety as an access need.

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