Beyond the Bar: Gladly queer, proudly sober

March 2024 | 7 minutes

When Scott came out at the age of 16, he quickly found himself enamoured with the party and hedonistic culture of London's Soho nightlife. But five years ago, he chose to become proudly sober.

Homosexuality was decriminalised in 1967, and if we believe the history books, we have lived happily ever after since. Rarely do people talk about the fact that 30,000 LGBTQ+ people were arrested between 1967 and 2003 for acts that, if performed by heterosexuals, would have been legal. In 2013, the final anti-LGBTQ+ law was repealed in the U.K, meaning that for the first time in history, queer people could live without fear of criminal prosecution. But the damage had already been done.

You might wonder why I chose to start this blog with a history lesson in LGBTQ+ rights. Firstly, I wanted to remind people that until 21 years ago you could still be arrested in certain parts of the UK for being LGBTQ+. And I wanted to offer a hypothesis shared by many; that alcohol has such a prominent place in queer culture because, until very recently, we were forced into the shadows. It took courage for LGBTQ+ people to go out alone at night to meet other people like them, never knowing whether they would be arrested or beaten for being who they were. In these shoes, who wouldn’t numb that experience with alcohol?

I came out when I was 16 and shortly after, found myself in the nightlife of London’s Soho. I quickly became enamored with the freedom I felt after feeling trapped and lonely whilst coming to terms with my sexuality. I moved from a world of heteronormative expectations to an environment where anything and everything felt possible.

I was exposed to too much, too early. I lived with a feeling that I didn’t belong; ultimately ashamed of who I was. But drinking felt good, it felt hedonistic, it felt fun. Until it wasn’t anymore.

After a few years of partying, I realised that I drank to escape. I wanted to alter my reality to feel secure in myself and in society. We know that Brits have a particularly problematic relationship with alcohol. My relationship with it felt unhealthy and led me to make choices that if I were sober, I like to think I wouldn’t have made.

Five years ago I chose to break the cycle and stop drinking. It is without question the best decision I have made for myself. My relationships with others became healthier, but most importantly, the way I viewed myself improved too.

I hadn’t considered how it would feel to be a sober gay man in a community where alcohol and partying play such a huge role. The truth is it feels lonely at times. In the early days, familiar feelings of not fitting in meant I isolated myself from the community I once felt so at home in. They say the opposite of addiction is connection, but what do you do when connecting with your community means being in spaces that don’t promote healthy authentic sober connection?

Over the last five years it has become easier; I know where I want to spend my energy. The reality for me today is that it does mean very few interactions in the spaces I have concluded add nothing positive to my life. It means spending time in nature, running sober community events and eating (lots of) delicious food.

As the conversation about the need for queer sober spaces begins to gain traction, and with 25% of gen Z reportedly choosing to be sober or moderate in attitudes to alcohol, I can’t help but feel hopeful that the next generation feel safe enough to be themselves without wanting to numb the experience.

Proud and Sober, the online and in person community I founded 4 years ago, aims to create social events and moments throughout the year where LGBTQ+ people can connect in spaces free from alcohol and drugs. We bring sober and sober curious people together to have authentic and meaningful experiences together to remind people that we no longer need to be intoxicated, or hide in the shadows, to be who we truly are.