The Other Closet
As the queer community has reached greater visibility, a considerable segment of our population—the queers in recovery from addiction—has remained hidden from the whole. For decades, queer people have been congregating in church basements and YMCAs to offer support and healing to each other for their recovery from addiction. Queer-oriented Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and scores of other 12-step groups are the most organized, but by no means the only recovery support networks for queer people across the country.
Marty Mann, an early recovery advocate who promoted public education about the disease of alcoholism and founded what is now the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence, was a lesbian. She was also responsible for ushering many gay men and lesbians into AA in the 1940s and 1950s. “Mrs. Marty Mann” was “out” about being a woman in recovery (double stigma), but remained silent about her sexual orientation (triple stigma). This was partly because of the times, but also because being out about too many stigmatized areas of her life would have undermined her already compromised credibility as an activist. In our community now, many queers are willing to disclose their sexual orientation or gender variance, but not their recovery from addiction. The lives of far too many among us span both closets.
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 addictions 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 them
…. excerpted from writings by Tom Hill from History on Queer Experience with Addiction and Recovery.