A Brief History of Queer Experience with Addiction and Recovery

English: Rainbow flag flapping in the wind wit...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are a lot of generalizations about LGBT communities and treatment, but this is an interesting commentary on the place of addiction and recovery in the queer health agenda:

As early as 1970, gay activists in recovery began to challenge AA in the flurry of queer-positive activity that followed Stonewall, petitioning AA for the right to establish “special interests” gay AA groups. This piece of history, largely unknown to the overall queer community, preceded the 1973 removal of homosexuality as a mental disorder in the DSM-II by the American Psychological Association (APA). Advocates pioneered what was to become a current network of “Gay AA” meetings across the country, arguing that it was important to create a safe and openly identifiable recovery space in which queers could explore the nature of their addiction and sexuality in a supporting and understanding community of peers. This has resulted in a strong, sober queer community that is a subset of the larger community. It has also created an overall acceptance of queer experience in many mainstream factions of AA and 12-step culture in general.

Many queers today express discomfort with the notion of disclosing their recovery within the queer community. As in other oppressed communities in which substance use is a social norm, there is often a reverse stigma and harsh judgment placed on people in recovery who no longer share common activities that center around the use of substances. Further, oppressed communities tend to shy away from addressing addiction as a social problem in their specific communities, fearing that it will bring further negative attention and blame upon them by the dominant culture. Because of these variables, it is important for us to tease out the issue of addiction in our community from the separate but related issue of the “right to use,” and the historic role of substance use in subcultures promoting sexual liberation. Thoughtful dialogue can direct us to recovery solutions that include not only those who practice abstinence from substances as a means to generate their recovery from addiction, but also those who chose to use substances in a way that promotes informed choice, awareness, and acknowledgment of risks, while reducing harm.

Queers who are successful in completing addiction treatment often return to their communities unsure of their footings and confused about how to find safe places and people who will support their recovery. Linking to new sober friendship networks and community spaces and engaging in activities that do not involve the use of substances are key elements in stabilizing their early recovery.

As we go about making a queer politics more inclusive of the experience of all queers, let us not forget that doing so will involve a commitment to supporting community responses to substance use, addiction, and recovery. If we approach this subject with a sense of our own power and authority, a complex understanding of the multiple reasons for substance use, and genuine solidarity between recreational drug users, nonusers, those struggling with addiction, and those who have achieved long-term recovery, we can only strengthen the broad and diverse community that we are.

Of course, my readers know that the history of gay people in AA goes back much further than the 1970s.