by Princess Harmony
My name is Princess Harmony and I’m in recovery from substance abuse. This isn’t something I’ve ever hidden from anyone, and it’s not something that’s unique to me. In fact, there are many queer and trans people in America who are in recovery. It would be hard not to be in a community that has over two times the substance abuse rates as the general population. Being a substance abuser, and being in recovery, you notice when intoxicants are present or not present at events. And the one thing I couldn’t help but notice after getting into recovery was that many major queer events are sponsored by alcohol companies. Pride in every major city, OutFest in Philadelphia, and the upcoming Creating Change conference are all sponsored by alcohol companies vying for the queer dollar. And something about this has always bothered me. Just why are alcohol companies so interested in queer events that even our social justice events are covered by them?
To get the answer, you have to understand intoxication culture and its impact on queer communities. Intoxication culture, as defined by anarchist artist Clementine Morrigan, is a culture that creates and expects normative drinking. Intoxication culture is what causes sobriety to be seen as boring. And nowhere else is intoxication culture more prevalent than the queer community, where 30% of us suffer from substance use disorders (compared to the 9% of the general population). It’s why there are so few sober spaces in queer culture and queer nightlife itself is built around substance use.
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Let me make it clear that it’s not necessarily negative to drink and if people want to, that’s fine. Yet, as people seeking liberation from oppression, we must constantly be willing to critique oppressive structures in our lives. One such structure is intoxication culture.
An unfortunate part of intoxication culture is the messaging it creates that the only way to deal with our problems is to escape. I know this full well. I escaped pain and loss as a trans woman using alcohol and hard drugs. Queer alcoholism and addiction is known to stem from our oppression and the feelings of alienation and internalized queerphobia that we experience. Feeling that the world is against us, we turn to alcohol and other drugs to numb the pain. It’s like a warped vision of self-care. As long as intoxication culture is as pervasive in queer culture as it is, our coping mechanisms for oppression could always turn toxic and self-destructive.
But who do we hold accountable for the level of alcohol abuse in queer communities? Alcoholics certainly can’t control the level of alcohol they take in, or else they wouldn’t be alcoholics. We should hold accountable the companies that specifically prey upon a community that’s plagued by high levels of alcoholism and substance abuse. The unchanging exploitative nature of capitalism practically demands that companies prey on the most vulnerable. If a company’s executives know that a population is more prone to purchasing their products, they will find a way to profit as much as they can. And, they have. They’ve wrapped themselves in rainbow flags, Love Wins stickers, and all the trappings of queer pride. They’ve successfully played the part of corporate friend to The Gays, all the while knowing that they are targeting a population that is vulnerable.
So knowing this, why would nonprofit organizations that place themselves at the helm of queer leadership accept money from unethical companies that target the vulnerable? Why would they be okay with accepting the money of people uninterested in our mental health and wellness? This is why I call into question the decision of the National LGBTQ Task Force to allow an alcohol company to be a sponsor of Creating Change, a conference dedicated to queer social justice. Not even in our liberation spaces are we allowed to be free from the specter of alcohol. Although it’s too late now for them to refuse alcohol companies offers to sponsor these events this year, I call on them to reject it in 2018 and beyond. Queer people should get to have spaces free from people who profit from our pain.
On a personal level, I reject queer capitalism and believe it would be in our best interests not to feed into a system that oppresses so many. Yet, I make a distinction between companies that profit off of us and companies that profit off of our pain. As much as I want for all companies to keep their hands off of queer pride and queer events, I realize that the horse is out of the barn. Still, it’s not too late for at least some queer events to reject Big Alcohol’s sponsorship.
I would like to close with saying I’m not opposed to alcohol consumption. I don’t believe in policing how people choose to enjoy themselves and I don’t think it’s a helpful reaction to queer alcoholism. It also should be noted that the majority of queer people can consume alcohol safely. But because of oppression, queer people are more likely to be substance abusers than the general population. What does this mean? It means that we should have sober spaces and we should take aim at intoxication culture by creating sober spaces during Pride events and in queer nightlife. And it means that our liberative spaces ought to be free of Big Alcohol’s influence on us. To truly create change, we must take aim at everything that harms us.
Princess Harmony is a nerd, writer, and happy little loser. She enjoys anime, video games, fashion, and cute things. Also, if you feed her snacks, she gets real happy. She’s also available as a consultant on matters of race, transgender identity, and all things anime.