Alcohol is only a social lubricant for some
By Bex Peterson, Editor-in-Chief
If you’re looking objectively, without nuance or barriers, it seems like there are many opportunities in Vancouver for LGBTQ+ people to meet and mingle. Pub crawls, club nights, gay bars—we’re almost famous for it. However, these spaces aren’t as accessible as they might first appear to be.
It’s not a fresh, new, or nuanced point to make, but a lot of the gathering and socializing opportunities for LGBTQ+ people are framed in an alcohol-forward context. Bars, pubs, clubs—these aren’t exactly quiet sober places. The queer community in the city especially seems to run on two separate concepts; you seem to either have alcohol and party-forward and focused events, or explicitly sober events.
I’m not here to condemn party-forward LGBTQ+ spaces. I feel like my major concern with this issue is that it often becomes a binary argument, if and when it does come up. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, LGBTQ+ people are “up to 14 times” more likely to be at risk for substance abuse, among other mental health concerns.
I feel like we drive those at risk of or suffering from substance abuse out of accepting spaces when it’s all or nothing; either it’s a party night in Vancouver where alcohol consumption is basically expected, or it’s a completely sober event where any substance use is prohibited. I also want to clarify explicitly that I think that completely sober substance-free events are extremely important and far rarer than they should be. For people who have self-medicated in the past and are recovering addicts, having a space free of substance use is incredibly valuable for broader socialization and for ensuring a safe and comfortable environment.
I think as a person in the LGBTQ+ community my main concern is the lack of a broader middle ground. It’s hard to meet people in the community, to find more people who share your experience. For many people, alcohol and substance use allows a level of freedom. I know when I first started self-identifying and understanding who and what I was in a largely heteronormative and binary environment, having substance-positive spaces definitely helped.
However, for people who aren’t comfortable with a party atmosphere and especially for younger LGBTQ+ people, the club and bar scene can be incredibly isolating. You don’t see too many LGBTQ+ coffeehouse events that focus on community-building (though some do exist and should be supported!). I would love more middle-ground environments; not explicitly sober, not explicitly substance-forward. Places where people under 19 can hang out and find support and acceptance from older members of the community, and places where people can have a quiet drink or smoke and bond with people like them without the pressure of a party atmosphere.
When I first came out and wanted to bond with a broader community, many of the most visible opportunities presented to me were party-oriented. I’m not much of a clubber, but I do enjoy the occasional drink. It was—and still is—difficult to find a space in my own community that isn’t fully one or the other.
It comes down to normalizing the space that LGBTQ+ people take up and claim for ourselves. As LGBTQ+ people though, it is worth asking ourselves the question when we’re looking at events and initiatives. Who does this event appeal to? Who are we leaving out?