Sober queer+LGBT dance party Choose Yr Own Adventure returns on May 20th to DIY Space for London in Peckham! As we prepare for the relaunch, what is the place for sober spaces in queer and LGBT community today?
Content note: discussion of addiction, sexual consent, violence, family issues, positive and negative relationships with alcohol and drugs.
When talking about alcohol and drugs, most people who've spent time in queer and LGBT community have personal stories that are somewhat different to our straight and cis counterparts, perhaps for better or worse. In the first instance, this may be liberatory for some. For most of us, our first experiences of queer+LGBT community are in the local intoxicant-heavy gay (sic) bar or club: we learn to live and love more freely in these spaces away from the straight (at least) gaze, we meet people who understand certain parts of our lives. For some, intoxicants may represent a rejection of the expectations of hetero- and cisnormative society. For many, they are a coping mechanism, an escape from the mental presence of the violences and pressures that society and in many cases our families present.
But it should be readily apparent that this relationship between queer+LGBT community and intoxicants can present its own serious issues, and its own exclusions. Some estimates place alcoholism rates within our community at up to 50%.
The presence of alcohol in spaces intensifies sexual and other forms of violence: I do not want to linger here, but most of us have stories of violation of boundaries partially enabled by alcohol, and particularly those amongst us who are women, bi and/or trans, and this bears heavily on what we do. And beyond the exclusion this affects, many people are marginalised by intoxicant-focused spaces.
People have countless reasons for not drinking, or for not being able to drink, and these often cut across those who are most marginalised and often most in need of community: non-drinkers include those of us from a number of religious and cultural backgrounds, which are often heavily racialised; those addicts who need to avoid spaces involving alcohol and drugs who need the support community entails, and often are affected by related mental health issues; people who cannot ingest intoxicants due to health reasons, and the ways in which this relates particularly to disability.
When spending time in sober spaces, it often becomes very apparent who is excluded from those other spaces. For this and many other reasons, I'm pleased to see that recent years have seen a budding of sober spaces within our communities. Here in London, Queers Without Beers run monthly meetups, and it is becoming more common for spaces to have dedicated sober time. And plenty of our community who are not sober are relieved to have options that don't every time revolve around alcohol and/or drugs! Whether as a sometimes-option or a necessary requirement in someone's life, we need genuine alternatives for those who feel alienated, uncomfortable or unsafe in spaces which focus around alcohol and drugs, as well as for those who’d simply rather it not so universally define our social lives.
In this light, on 20th May we're going to be relaunching the queer+LGBT dance party Choose Yr Own Adventure, at the amazing DIY Space for London! For myself these last few years, going out sober has brought a new appreciation of nites dancing, and I hope that it will create a sanctuary for many and lead to many more opportunities for those who want and need such spaces here and elsewhere <3