By Nick Mattos, PQ Monthly
Queers and alcohol have a rich and varied relationship, for better or worse. Bars have historically served as de facto community centers for the queer community, and many major gay parties and dance nights in urban centers are often sponsored by liquor companies seeking to ingratiate their brand with queers in order to capitalize upon our high levels of expendable income. However, research also indicates that young queer people often begin drinking at an earlier age than their straight counterparts, and that alcoholism and unhealthy drinking patterns may be more common amongst the LGBTQ population than in straight populations.
Questions arise: Does the aggressive courting of the queer community by liquor companies help or harm our community and the individuals therein? Do liquor companies have a responsibility to engender healthy drinking habits in the community — or is it an individual’s responsibility to ensure that they maintain their own healthy habits? Finally, is it a bad thing for queer individuals if the community embraces the “intoxication culture” sold by liquor companies?
The opinions expressed in these responses do not necessarily reflect the views of PQ Monthly, or, for that matter, the views that you hold on the issue — which is exactly why we invite you to share your thoughts and continue the conversation at pqmonthly.com.
LILLIE CRAW — POET, NOVELIST, EVENTS COORDINATOR
I recently learned that one of my dearest friends from my Midwestern hometown had died in a drug- and alcohol-related incident. He was queer. He was only 40 years old.
We partied a lot together, and then I stopped. I moved to Portland with my husband, who came out as trans and as a comics artist. I came out as a poet. And we became creative hermits, effectively cutting ourselves off from the queer social scene.
I say “effectively,” because most queer events (even the literary ones) in Portland have a heavy focus on alcohol consumption. There are queer-positive spaces that serve alcohol without reveling in intoxication culture (like The Waypost), but they are few and far between.
So I think when we ask the question about big liquor companies like Absolut and Jagermeister sponsoring events like Pride, and what effect that has on queer culture, I think we are asking the wrong question, or at least too narrow a question. Corporations only have the power we cede to them, and I believe the real question we should be asking is whether or not there is a place for intoxication culture inside queer culture. I say no.
With little access to comprehensive and relevant healthcare, exclusion from traditional social institutions, little or no protection in the form of hate crimes legislation, and little in the way of housing and job security, there are plenty of reasons for queers to anesthetize themselves with alcohol (and the drugs that usually accompany it). Yet this anesthetization does nothing to advance our resistance to the institutions that oppress us. In fact, intoxication culture keeps us from forming the real and deep bonds that will help us to rise against.
In his zine “Towards a Less Fucked Up World,” Nick Riotfag talks about how intoxication culture isolates the most vulnerable among us — queer youth. Drinking is something they will eventually “graduate” to, but until then they are held at bay from queer cultural events that happen mostly in bars. Additionally, due to the shame and isolation of growing up queer in an oftentimes hostile world, Riotfag points out that most queer youth have their first sexual experience under the influence of drugs and alcohol — and that many of those experiences turn out to have tragic consequences.
I believe the recent tragic shooting of teen queers Mollie Judith Olgin and Mary Christine Chapa sums up my point entirely: If we still live in a world where people kill us simply for being queer, why are we killing ourselves with drugs and alcohol?
So what’s the answer? How do we have a queer social life in the absence of alcohol-fueled events and venues? I believe it involves, again, resistance and rising against. Rather than mirroring a consumer culture that values only white, hetero-normative, wealthy, cis men, we can construct our own culture of creation rather than continually pursuing a culture of consumption.
MARC DELPHINE — FOUNDER AND CEO, EQUALITY FUNDS, LLC
It is neither good nor bad that liquor companies consider us a viable market — it just is. Businesses sponsor markets that they believe will respond to their advertising, nothing more, nothing less. If the LGBTQ community didn’t drink so much alcohol, companies like Absolut Vodka wouldn’t sponsor our parties …
That being said, it should be noted that the liquor companies are probably not a big sponsor of anything Mormon, wouldn’t you agree? Where there’s a market, so shall advertising be. It’s obvious Absolut, et al is a beneficiary of our community’s drinking habits. If we were really entrepreneurs, we’d buy their stock!
[In terms of the effects of liquor company money upon LGBTQ social life,] I see a positive effect on the bottom line of the liquor companies and a negative effect on the hangovers of the lives of so many of my gay brothers and sisters who partake. But as a semi-recovering alcoholic … the choice was and is my own to indulge in a “social life,” with or without alcohol. I will never consider myself, nor anyone else a “victim” of liquor companies as some may suggest. That is such folly in a day and age when we need more personal responsibility. To assert the notion that some corporation is responsible for my behavior is ABSOLUT-ly ridiculous! Is the LGBTQ community some protected class that needs help from the government to stop the “predatory advertising practices” of liquor companies? If so, should I get a “bail out” for my DUII and subsequent car impound?
To put it bluntly, the purpose of a for-profit company is to make money. It would be great to see companies supporting values of the community but that is a long shot and a major challenge when you’re talking about alcohol. I hate answering questions with questions, but SHOULD liquor companies actually care about the “health” of gay “society?” They certainly care about “the gay dollar!” Hell, we give them enough of it!
There are laws to protect the innocent children who may or may not be able to make adequate choices for themselves (not to say kids don’t get their hands on the stuff all the time), but the LGBTQ community does not warrant such protection. If we “collectively” drink too much, then maybe we need more self-discipline. That is up to the individual to decide. Which leads me to a relevant quote: “Discipline is the greatest indicator of self respect.”