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Gay New Yorkers: Connected by Stonewall, Barneys, and Grey Goose?

by Jeremy Hooper

This writer is a gay man who lives in NYC. First and foremost, I'm linked to the gay world because I am a proudly out man with a husband and vibrant sex life. Beyond that, I feel connected to the community in terms of the shared fight for equality (in which sense the "gay community" spreads far beyond those who participate in same-sex sex). And I also feel somewhat connected on a cultural level, especially when it comes to Broadway, a world that afforded me both my first NYC paycheck and my first experience in a professional environment wherein LGBT people hold a majority.

But you know in which way I don't feel connected to my NYC gay community? In terms of the libations I might choose to 200907211153consume. At all. I mean, I know just as many (more?) hetero drinkers as I do homo ones, and I've never once married my love of a good red wine or organic dark brown ale with my love for a man. In choosing establishments where I can catch a good vibe and a good Pinot, it never ever crosses my mind to pick an exclusively gay establishment. Not here, in such a diverse and mostly accepting city. It wouldn't even occur to me to think about social alcohol consumption along sexual orientation lines.

I think that's why this new New York magazine piece confuses/annoys me so much. With quotes like this one from a straight doctor...

“Gay men,” ..."have the minds of college students and teenagers when it comes to alcohol. It’s crucial to their socialization.”

...and this one from a gay man...

Will, 31, a gay art director from Brooklyn who joined Alcoholics Anonymous last year, says yes. He found it to be a segregating experience when he would socialize at bars. “Nobody wants you around because suddenly you’re the guy who remembers every drunken-mess thing they did or said, because you’re the one drinking ginger ale with a clear mind,” says Will, who, like other participants in the Columbia program, agreed to be identified by first name only. He left AA a few months ago. “It’s tough because, sure, as a New Yorker, drinking plays a role in going out. But it’s nothing compared to the role drinking plays in your life as a gay man.

...the piece could not seem less detached from my own experience as an NYC gay man. On one hand I find it confusing that anyone (LGBT or S) who lives in a city so rich and so vibrant would ever see drinking as a such crucial component toward stimulate themselves. And on another hand, I find it annoying to think that drinking, one of America's favorite past times for the past many generations, would be positioned in a way that makes it sound as if it's an innate component of gay life. Something about that idea seems both dated and dangerous.

To me, the kind of drinking that's discussed in the article sounds like a sweeping cultural affect that's being misapplied to a specific group in unfair ways. And while I certainly understand and agree with fellow gay writer Benoit Denizet-Lewis' point about the potentials for all high risk behaviors being increased in the LGBT community due to the years of persecution and stigmatization that provides another, less fortunate connection for LGBT people, I think that the social drinking that is cited in the article is much more the product of choosing to spend time in the nightlife scene in general, and not a matter intrinsically related to living your natural life as an LGBT person.

But don't take my word for it. Go read the NY mag piece for yourself and form your own opinions:

Pilot Alcoholism-Treatment Program Targets Gays [NY Mag]

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Your thoughts

I'm going to play a little bit of devil's advocate with this one. For those of us out here in the sticks, gay bars are the main places in which we can gather and feel free enough to be ourselves. That's not about drinking per se, but it is a reality for those of us living in small towns in mid-America with few entertainment options. It stands to reason then that some in the gay community might have alcohol abuse issues, especially when combined with the stress of living a closeted, or even semi-closeted life.

Now let me jump back to the other side of the argument. Straight people have alcohol abuse issues as well. I've seen them show up at our local watering hole to watch some relative perform in a drag show, and make utter fools of themselves (the straight folk, not the drag queen) after a night of drinking.

In all, I guess I'm saying it could be a good idea to target gays for alcohol abuse, but there are probably just as many good reasons for targeting other minority or sub-groups of the general population.

Posted by: keltic | Jul 21, 2009 12:15:54 PM

Keltic: I too come from "the sticks," and I know how important gay bars are in places where you desperately lack for places of acceptance. I'm very sensitive to that.

I also get why one would have an alcohol-centric group that is dedicated to LGBT people. Again, it can be a comfort thing.

I think for me, my annoyance with this piece is about tone. But I don't need or expect everyone to agree with me on it -- I just needed to state, as an NYC-based gay, that my queer reality does not at all revolve around social drinking. And I say that as one who thoroughly enjoys good alcohol.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Jul 21, 2009 12:25:49 PM

Ok I read through the article and have a couple of comments in response to it and your comments:

-First, I realize this article was in the NY Mag but I think the doctor was discussing gay society as a whole, but using NYC for its high concentration of gay men and women, and that’s how I took the article, and I can understand the annoyance from anyone living in NYC and reading this, it does not necessarily fit in with your life, anymore.
-Yes a high proportion of Gay people have an issue with alcohol, most likely due to several issues that the author brought up about it being traumatic to grow up gay in America.
-In NYC there is a vibrant and widespread Gay culture, providing ample opportunity for socializing sans alcohol.
-Outside of NYC and other big cities this is not the case, especially outside of the North East and California, in other words, the rest of the country. These places may have a gay bar for every 100-500 miles, and getting scarcer almost everyday with this economy. And that one bar is THE ONLY place provided to Gay youth in that area to look for other friendly people.
-So if we accept the data that gay people have a higher percentage of alcohol problems, and we have most of the country dotted with Gay bars and no gay cultural centers, yes it is possible to draw the conclusion that Drinking has become an integral part of Gay culture as a whole.
-The article could have used some polishing to make it more palatable, and less focused solely on NY, but its message is clear, we as a community need to continue the fight to make it ok for a small kid from Grants NM to look forward to something besides the gay bar in Albuquerque. It’s great that in NYC or Philadelphia (where I am) we have so many options to be part of the community without alcohol but what have we done to make it so for the small towns around us. Every time I go out to the bars, as rarely as that happens now, I always see a group of young gay men and women who came in from the towns far out in rural PA, they did not come to see our community center, or see the site of the first gay protest, or spend more than 5 min in one of the last gay bookstores, no they came to go out to the Gayborhood and hit the bars and clubs. I know I did not grow up in my alcohol use until I was in a city that had so many other things to offer a gay man to do, and got in a committed relationship. I could be an anomaly but I don’t think so.

Posted by: Randy | Jul 21, 2009 12:32:23 PM

Randy: Nice, fair thoughts.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Jul 21, 2009 12:47:04 PM

I think most of our umbrage here is that the article just makes the blanket assumption that all gay men are alcoholics. Were there a quote or some dissenting opinion in the article, we wouldn't be taking so much offense. The article is specifically about gay alcoholics, which helps to explain the lak of dissent, but it also shows some poor journalistic standards on NY Magazine's part.

At least this program is about moderation, rather than creating some other dependency through total abstinence.

I'm reminded of the episode of The Simpsons where Marge goes to rehab: The Drinkers are smoking; the smokers are drinking; and the gamblers are sleeping with anything that moves!

Posted by: Marcus | Jul 21, 2009 2:05:52 PM

What motivates a clinical psychologist to make such a sweeping generalization about a group of people? This Dr. Morgenstein needs to think before he speaks. I am a scientist, and I don't know a single serious academic researcher who would make a hypothetical claim as outlandish as this. He has obviously been caught making a flippant, off-hand remark and should be called out by his peers. His remarks also raise the question of bias in his methods. If I heard a grad student speaking like this in my lab, I'd ask him which scholarly journal he was citing.

Posted by: Brian Brady | Jul 21, 2009 3:03:50 PM

As other people have said, people in small places mightn't have opportunities to socialise in the gay community that don't involve alcohol, and a lot of people (everywhere on the sex and gender spectrum) find themselves turning to drink to cope with stressful, frightening or just plain unfamiliar situations - such as coming out and attempting to negotiate the club/bar scene.

Having said that, I live in the UK (as far as I can tell, the drinking culture is even more pronounced here) and in a fairly small place and I don't drink - and I haven't seen any evidence that "nobody wants me around" because of it (there may be other reasons, but oh! the anxiety!). I also have another gay friend who doesn't drink, and he does okay.

Posted by: Celia | Jul 21, 2009 9:04:10 PM

I go to a gay bar less than once a year. Last week, I finished up the beer that had been in its carboard box holder in the refrigerator. On the lid of the box was stamped the date: 06/21/07. This means it took me 2 years to drink 18 cans of beer. Now, this does not make me better than anyone else. However, it shows that those who try to equate being gay with varying degrees of alcoholism are nuts.

Posted by: Michael | Jul 22, 2009 6:49:24 AM

I had a drinking problem and quite 4 years ago this month. There was more peer pressure from straight people to drink than there was gay people. Nobody much cared that I wasn't drinking. Course I'm on the other side of the planet here in Chicago.

Posted by: Jason D | Jul 23, 2009 5:57:52 PM

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