The politics of sobriety in the LGBT community, according to historian Jen Manion

Substance abuse and sobrierty within the LGBT community were recently unpacked in an op-ed by Jen Manion, advocate and Connecticut College history professor, featured on The Advocate's website. The poignant piece, "The Queer Politics of Sobriety," reflects on why people who are LGBT turn to drugs and alcohol at a higher rate than others, and the fitting ways in which they can obtain sobriety. Jen writes:


As we suffer the effects of resisting gender and sexual norms, day in and day out, year after year, the world still too often blames us for our mistreatment. So we drink and get high to that, too.

We have all heard the statistics, time and time again: LGBTQ people have higher rates of alcohol and drug abuse. For generations, bars and clubs were the central social spaces where people found friends, lovers, and community. Major alcohol companies sponsored our parties, conferences, and Pride parades when few other corporations would associate with LGBTQ organizations.  So many of us turned to drugs or alcohol to numb the pain of familial, religious, or societal rejection. They lowered our inhibitions just enough to pursue our first (or second or third) gay sexual encounter.

Despite our awareness that social norms and economic systems promote drug and alcohol abuse, we still treat it as an individual problem with a medical or spiritual solution. I’ve been sober for many years now and have always struggled to reconcile the overtly Christian 12-step model of failure and redemption with my queer feminist politics that views drug and alcohol use as a reasonable (ideally temporary) coping mechanism in the face of profound rejection and marginalization. Seeking a way out of self-destructive use of alcohol or drugs need not require one embrace failure and redemption; rather, as queer people we might embrace sobriety as an act of survival, resistance, and possibility.

Jen, in addition to serving as Director of Connecticut College's LGBTQ Resource Center, is an historian, a co-editor of "Taking Back the Academy: History of Activism, History as Activism," and is currently writing a book on transgender representation in early America.

Connecticut College has been ranked as one of the top 25 LGBT-friendly schools in the country, and partnered with GLAAD for Spirit Day 2013 to support LGBT youth.

The Advocate's must-read piece can be found in full here.