Drinking Gay

Glory of the 1980’s.
photo by David Quick.

We live in the shadows of our past. We are shaped by the events of our own, individual life. We are affected by the histories of the communities to which we belong. Try as we might, we cannot escape certain realities; we can only embrace the truth.

Sometimes, that truth comes in the form of a massive headache and a tumbling stomach the morning after a night out. You’ve all been there. You really didn’t feel like going out. You certainly didn’t want to drink. But it’s Friday, and there’s an 80’s themed dance party at the gay bar downtown. Tonight could be the night—the night you meet that magical person; the night the world sees just how electrifying you are. So you throw on some parachute pants, find a Pac-Man t-shirt, and summon your inner-Zack Morris. You down a shot of Tequila to take the edge off. You head out the door of your apartment and head toward your destiny.

You arrive. The music is loud and familiar. It’s the same tracks they always play…just with a few extra Madonna songs tonight. It’s the same crowd, too. You recognize 90% of the people…it’s the unknown 10% you’re there for, though! You scan the room. You zoom in on a few prospects. They don’t zoom you back. You want to leave. You stay, though, and order a drink. If you’re liquored up, you’ll forget just how disappointed you are. This is an important moment.

It’s within this space—the time in between when your expectations were high with hopes and the time just before they are shot down by the disparages of reality—that alcohol becomes your fortune. It’s sort of like a liquid tax for being gay. You can be sober to the loneliness of your own reality, or you can pay a toll to intoxicate bliss.

This is how queer people are disenfranchised.

Hangovers aren’t particularly indigenous to homos, but there are certain reasons that LGBT folks are three times more likely to abuse alcohol than their hetero-peers. In the Midwest, the isolation is compounded by a conservative political climate and a fragmented sense of community. There aren’t enough of us, and we don’t really know what to do with each other. We live in a heterosexist world where no one teaches us how to be intimate with a member of the same-sex. It’s quite the opposite, actually. Most of us grew up being engineered toward a sexuality that didn’t fit; even when parents and peers accept us, we’re left alone to negotiate how we integrate into a world that only has fragments of space for people who are LGBT. It’s highly uncomfortable.  So, we drink. Gay identity often amounts to being a barfly.

You aren’t socially deconstructing when you’re rocking out to “99 Red Balloons”, though. You’re just trying to keep up. You’re keeping up appearances by pretending that this scene of ours is just fine by you. You’re also just plain trying to keep up with the number of drinks those who arrived earlier have downed. By the end of the night, you’ve imbibed 7 beverages. Maybe you’ve even gone home with someone. What about the magic and the destiny, though? Providence got lost somewhere on the dance floor… or perhaps inside one of your glasses.

When we surrender our uncomfortabilities to the bottle, we drown the very hope that is intrinsic to our unique being. There’s a special challenge to being gay; in the 21st Century, we have the ability to redefine the very terms of life by rising to the occasion of this contest. We live in a highly assimilationist culture. Advertisers and media conglomerations tell us what music to listen to, what TV shows to watch, what clothes to wear, and which foods to eat. To acknowledge a sexual orientation outside of heterosexuality is to admit to being different. It’s an affront to American social order. Yet, it’s also the paradoxically the paradigm of what it means to be American. In the last century, we opened doors for people who have been marginalized by expanding opportunities for women, racial and sexual minorities, persons with disabilities, and other groups. The challenge of this century will be to determine what we do with the freedoms we’ve been afforded. The queer community can play a distinct role in this.

Instead of blending into a rainbow flag subculture where Cher, Madonna, and Lady Gaga are our patron saints and where communion is taken with a shot of tequila and some poppers, we need to be masters of our own universes.  We need to create our own culture—lots of different cultures so that each person, homo or not, can have a distinctive place where their talents and gifts fit. Alcohol is the antithesis of uniqueness. It’s a distraction so that you don’t have to contend with that peerless sparkle inside. If we can simply own who we are—and I’m talking about characteristics way beyond sexuality—we can create powerful forces. Part of the reason drug use, alcoholism, promiscuity, and suicide rates are high in the LGBT community has to do with how we discourage true individual examination. Gay people are just as guilty as the straights, too!  There’s a tendency to “fit” into the gay community as soon as we come out so that we aren’t left standing alone. Empty bottles on a table and toxins in your tummy aren’t company, though.

We homos have a peculiar history with alcohol. It brought us together as a movement when bars were the only true avenues for same-sex socialization.  In many places, that’s still true. As a community, we need to start thinking about what this means in terms of how we live our lives today.

Eighties dance parties are fun. Zack Morris is cute. But is going out all the time worth the health risks?

I drink. Sometimes I drink too much. Hell, I drank too much last night! But I’m getting tired of waking up feeling terrible. My body is screaming for change. I have a feeling yours might be, too. So let’s start a conversation. How can we get out of the bar scene and get more in tune with our own being?

More to come…much more…


Golden Grains of Contradiction

There’s a vastness to Kansas that foreshadows boundless possibility. Open fields on flat land that eyes can see for miles ahead impress upon us the promise that we can fill that space with anything. There can also be a restraining aspect to that scale. Entrenched ideologies can limit who settles and how land is developed. When it comes to being a homo on the range, we walk through a field of dichotomy.

There are grains of subtle progress, though. By now, you’ve probably heard the new Lady Gaga track, “Born This Way”.  Whether you think it’s a cheap rip off of Madonna’s “Express Yourself” or the hottest tune to drop in a decade, there’s undeniable substance in this song. The loud lyrics are ironically birthing a quiet revolution. It’s impossible to divorce the explicit message it sends: if you are gay, it’s by God’s divine, beautiful intent and you should celebrate that! As teenagers struggle to accept themselves, the power of hearing their existence positively affirmed via a buoyant ballad on the radio cannot be understated.

Nor can the effect this song is having on the hetero-masses be ignored. Recently, I was working out at the YMCA and happened to catch a glimpse of a Zumba class in session. Soccer moms were dancing up a storm to this track, and as the lyrics “no matter gay, straight, or bi, lesbian, transgendered life I’m on the right track, baby I was born to survive” roared, no one recoiled; in fact, they seemed to step it up!  These are the same mothers who drive mini-vans full of kids. Some of those kids will one day realize that they’re gay. Popular culture has more of an effect on the average person’s worldview than most of us care to admit. In this instance, though, that may turn out to be a very good thing for LGBT acceptance.

Expansive fields are filled with hope!

There are also thorns in the pasture, though. On the same day these Zumba moms were sweating with Gaga, the Kansas Legislature was cleaning up outdated state statutes. Part of Governor Sam Brownback’s campaign promises included establishing an “Office of the Repealer” that would work with state lawmakers and citizens to get outdated laws off of the books that drain economic development. Statutorily, being gay is a crime in Kansas, punishable by fines and prison terms. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled the same-sex sodomy law unconstitutional in 2003; however the language in state law was never removed. When a motion was made in the KS State House to include this law in the repeal effort, it was block—by a prominent Kansas Democrat. State Rep. Jan Pauls of Hutchinson, along with The GOP’s Rep. Lance Kinzer of Olathe, took the lead to ensure that being gay remained a crime in The Sunflower State. For all the talk of attracting new businesses to Kansas and keeping our young people from moving away, stuff like this doesn’t exactly help! The message from our political leaders is clear: if you are gay, we would rather you be somewhere else. Some of us will probably oblige, and other states will enjoy our talents and our tax dollars. Brownback should consider renaming this new wing “Office of the Repelor”!

Vast territories are stymied, their full potential never allowed to blossom.

The queer experience in Kansas is anything but a straightforward path.  Meaningful progress is being made every day on an individual level as more people feel comfortable coming out, opening the eyes of their straight peers. Damaging actions not just to LGBT rights, but also to the long-term economic viability of our state, are simultaneously holding back our full, collective potential. We need to rectify this dissonance so that we can all walk with pride across the land The Midwestern gay movement.