As I stumbled into my late teens in the early 2000s — a confused queer kid searching for a sense of belonging — I was drawn like a moth to the flickering lights of gay clubs.
Beacons of freedom complete with flashing lights that swirled to thumping music where barriers seemed non-existent.
In the toilets, people sat on the sinks, nattering away to total strangers as if they were old friends, and it didn’t seem to matter if you opted to use the ladies or the little boys room.
To the 15-year-old me, on his first queer adventure in Manchester’s gay village, this freedom was, in a word, intoxicating. Quite literally, because as well as being pulsating signals of liberty, these places were retailers of alcohol.
Legally considered a minor, the isolation of being a closeted teenager had led me to meet up with an 18-year-old from Faceparty (very 2002, if you please) and get sloshed.
I woke up the next morning, naked beside my new friend, my vomit-coated clothes festering in a pile by the window. I was convinced that I’d had an absolutely brilliant time.
If we jump forward — rather abruptly — 15 years to 2017, it was the Monday evening of Manchester Pride and the candle-lit vigil was taking place in Sackville Park. Only I’m not there.
No, if you look across Canal Street to that hotel next to the chicken shop, I’m in there. I’d been drinking since lunchtime, and when my body wanted me to stop I bought cocaine so I could continue.
When I became too fucked up to communicate with other people, I took myself to the hotel so I could continue alone. I’d travelled to Manchester to be a part of the celebrations and there I was, a lonely alcoholic sent into solitary confinement by addiction. Pathetic, isn’t it?
I bring up these two examples because I’m confident that they’re not unique to me. Pubs and clubs are often our first port of call when we try to access queer spaces, because too often they are the only queer spaces.
Meanwhile, studies show that LGBT+ people are far more likely to experience alcohol/drug abuse and dependencies than our cis-straight counterparts. Is this a deal that we’re happy with?
Two months after my end-of-Pride isolation in a Mancunian hotel room, I finally gathered the strength to take myself to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
At the time of writing, I’m in my first year of recovery. Experiencing the LGBT+ scene through newly sober eyes brought home just how booze-dependant queer Britain is.
People still buy me shots to try to tempt me back. I still hear: “Oh, that’s a shame,” when I explain that I’m not drinking. Is the alternative, alone and paranoid in a hotel room, more appealing? Not for me.
I ache when I think of confused queer kids out there, feeling the immediate sting of childhood loneliness that may well be a distant memory for us grown-ups.
And I ache to create more queer spaces where the focus is on getting better, not getting fucked up.