LGBTQIA2+ Recovery Matters. Shout Out the Truth!
By Elizabeth A. Stanard, Community Member, SHE RECOVERS® Foundation
“As we celebrate Pride this month, let’s shout out the truth that LGBTQIA2+ recovery matters. Until we identify and eradicate all of the systemic, intersecting inequalities that threaten and sometimes kill those of us on the margins, no one will be healthy and free.”
~ Elizabeth A. Stanard ~
Pride month is here! In June the world celebrates the history, visibility, and integrity of our LGBTQIA2+ community.
We recognize the strides made in securing some of our basic human rights while fighting the injustices that remain for those of us on the margins.
Pride originated in 1970 from a gay rights march commemorating the Stonewall riots of June 28, 1969. The riots, led by LGBTQIA2+ community members, were a demand for justice in response to the violent police raids at the Stonewall Inn, a targeted gay bar in NYC. Now over fifty years later, Pride has evolved into an international call-to-action for LGBTQIA2+ equality. Arts exhibitions, political rallies, pride parades, educational conferences, family festivals, live entertainment, and historical events are held throughout the month of June and beyond.
In the U.S., it’s common to reduce the LGBTQIA2+ narrative to rhetoric about same-sex marriage, religious values, and gender-inclusive bathrooms. It’s also common to capitalize on any performative aspects of LGBTQIA2+ gender expression. “Gay men can be fabulous, and gay men can be boring, just like some days I do a kick-ass Ethel Merman impression, and other days I just want to settle for a subdued Bea Arthur (who isn’t boring; she’s just no Ethel),” says Adam Hunt, contributor to HuffPost. Simplified and sometimes distorted versions of reality hardly scratch the surface of the lived experiences of those of us who identify as LGBTQIA2+.
We’re complex people with multidimensional identities, not rainbowed caricatures for the public’s consumption and unresolved trauma.
In recent years, the term “intersectionality”, a concept introduced by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, has been appropriated by many beyond academic circles for its complex, multidimensional approach to a person’s identity. My interpretation is that every person exists within a variety of identifying social constructs that intersect in similitude. A person isn’t just a singular stereotype or one box to check on a form. Rather, each of us has any number of identities, including, but not limited to, our: race, class, gender, sexuality, religion, occupation, ability, education, language, etc. And each one of these identifiers varies in the privilege it affords or denies us to move freely in our world.
People in the LGBTQIA2+ community would assert that we’re much more than a fabulous party or a tragic statistic.
Rather, we might identify with various letters in the queer alphabet as well as with a number of intersecting cultural positions and circumstances, all of which influence our authentic expression, quality of life, personal autonomy, and individual power. Each identifier challenges a fixed notion of our fundamental rights to liberty. Thus, navigating the world safely and happily, with equal access to all human rights such as healthcare, housing, work, food, education, and legal representation, is what we hope for; but it’s an advantage that’s rarely guaranteed.
For instance, even though Elliot Page, a white actor who identifies as trans, is granted many privileges due to their race, celebrity status, and wealth, they still endure discrimination due to their gender and sexual orientation.
This is why an unwillingness by some to learn LGBTQIA2+ nomenclature like “the alphabet” due to the supposed labor involved is a privileged position. It fails to realize that naming the scope of factors that influence the identities and livelihoods of LGBTQIA2+ people is essential for the survival of all humans. We all must adapt and evolve for the sake of everyone’s wellbeing. And homicide, suicide, substance use disorders, and debilitating mental and physical health are the grave consequences of not having broader conversations about the individual triumphs and social obstacles for LGBTQIA2+ people.
For example, transgender deaths by homicide are rising at an alarming rate. And according to Insider Intelligence, 56 of the 71 total U.S. transgender deaths from 2019 and 2020 were of transgender women of color. Black transgender journalist Raquel Willis has attributed this disproportionate rate to housing insecurity, job discrimination, and systemic racism.
These murders are an erasure of transgender women of color due to their intersecting identities of race, class, and gender that, especially when combined, threaten supremacy. In fact, it wasn’t until 2019, the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, that Marsha P. Johnson, a Black transgender woman who’s made significant historical contributions, was acknowledged as an LGBTQIA2+ advocate and leader. She organized countless initiatives, including those for transgender rights, homeless youth, and HIV care until her death in 1992. Several monuments, a park, and an institute are now named in her honor.
Mental health conditions in LGBTQIA2+ communities also are impacted by the intersectionality of marginalized identities. In the Trevor Project’s latest U.S. survey, 42% of LGBTQ youth, including over half of transgender and nonbinary youth, had suicidal ideation. Almost 50% of all surveyed had no access to their preferred mental health care. And suicide attempts were highest in the U.S. Indigenous population. It’s no surprise that transgender and nonbinary youth were less prone to suicide attempts when their pronouns and names were respected by others and reflected on their legal documents. Nor is it shocking that transgender youth in states with fully inclusive athletic policies were less likely to consider suicide, according to American Progress.
As a member of the LGBTQIA2+ community myself, I can speak to how the intersection of my own identities has influenced my quality of life, my multidimensional experiences, my navigation of my mental and physical health, and my relationship to substance use disorders.
White, cisgendered, college-educated, able-bodied, and born into an upper middle-class family, I had the privilege to live comfortably, work competently, benefit from health insurance, and date women in a queer-inclusive city until I developed Fibromyalgia, a chronic condition causing fatigue, depression, and widespread pain.
No longer able to work full-time, I then moved back to my hometown for family support that I thankfully still have. I confronted a confluence of challenges including: the denial of health insurance, disability, and Medicaid; costly medical protocols; untreatable depression and body pain; the gaslighting of a woman’s voice about her health; a scarcity of flexible job options in an ablelist, careerist workforce; mounting debt; difficult family dynamics due to prolonged, unresolved trauma; alienation in a heteronormative, nuclear-family centric culture in which the expectation was to “don’t ask, don’t talk, don’t tell” about queer lives; and a long list of queer and ableist microaggressions that were hard to explain.
In order to survive, I used my class, racial, and educational advantages to compensate for the marginalization I experienced as a queer woman with a physical disability, no affordable healthcare, a limited income, and spotty employment. Yet I still struggled through a decade of perpetual stress, with little relief in a complicated situation. So I medicated my pain, isolation, depression, and helplessness in response to the acts of abuse, ignorance, and discrimination with alcohol: which was both inexpensive and accessible.
Finally, in regaining some fundamental rights and having the support from organizations like the SHE RECOVERS Foundation, I patched together an individualized approach to heal a grief and rage that had become too corrosive to channel constructively for years. And at last, I found the footing to save myself from what had felt like an eternal hell.
In forging individual relationships through SHE RECOVERS, I was able to be seen and take up space without compromising myself for others who hadn’t resolved their own biases towards disabilities and the queer experience.
In co-creating a designated, welcoming, and supportive space for the LGBTQIA2+ recovery community SHE RECOVERS fosters authentic communication for all LGBTQIA2+ identified individuals through regular gatherings, a private support group, and LGBTQIA2+ recovery-focused resources.
Additionally, thanks to the advantages of having more accessible healthcare, more family acceptance, more outlets for expression, and more financial security, I’ve built upon my strengths as a creative, courageous, sensitive, queer-identified woman to pursue the complex, messy, healthy, loud, beautiful, safe life that I am— and every LGBTQIA2+ person is— entitled to.
However, as we celebrate Pride this month, let’s shout out the truth: until we identify and eradicate all of the systemic, intersecting inequalities that threaten and sometimes kill those of us on the margins, no one will be healthy and free.
There are many resources available for LGBTQIA2+ allies who want to learn more. This list from Buffer is a great place to start.
Join the SRF Support For LGBTQ+ Community
If you are a recovering queer woman, transwoman, a non-binary individual who identifies with women’s communities this dedicated recovery space is designed just for you.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Elizabeth A. Stanard, BA | She/Her/Hers
Elizabeth supports peers who are changing their relationship with alcohol. She specializes in assisting peers with chronic illnesses; disabilities; creative blocks; and LGBTQIA2+ identities. Elizabeth helps peers discover their own pathways to healing and believes in the power of nature, creativity, and visibility. In her spare time, she leads peer groups, takes walks, and writes essays. She is also currently writing a memoir.