I moved to London just over a year ago, and was introduced almost immediately to the most active and vibrant LGBT+ scene that I had ever known. People around me were comfortable in their skins in a way that was new to me - they wore the rainbow flag with pride, dated openly and flirted unashamedly. I was fascinated, and my instincts urged me to explore. I went to clubs, I met guys, I drank, I had sex. I did all those things that I had fantasised about doing during my early teenage years when I was too afraid to actually act on my thoughts. And I did all of them quickly, one after the other, trying to make up for all the lost time.
I was incredibly grateful to the city for allowing me to experience everything that I wanted. However, all the desires that had been bottled up after years of societal constrictions were unravelled at a scary speed. I was like a river overflowing with mountain water after a cold winter - uncontrollable and wild. When you are in such a state, you consume what is given to you compulsively: alcohol, sex... And it is easy to inadvertently get sucked into a whirlpool of addictive behaviour.
For multiple reasons, the LGBT+ scene generally offers the perfect environment for it. Drugs and sex are part of the foundation of plethora of queer spaces. Alcohol, ketamine, cocaine, poppers and all sorts of multi-coloured pills, among others, are within reach at clubs. Orgies, chemsex and drug-fuelled sex parties are barely a click away. Promiscuity and alcohol indulgence are not only promoted, but also encouraged. This makes it very easy for anyone in the scene to develop an addiction; whatever the reason to start drinking, using drugs or having sex is, all of that will be pretty much handed to you.
However, it would be naive to think that unsafe queer spaces are the only ones to blame. A lot of times addiction is simply a reflection of the progress still to be made in the path to equality. A member of the LGBT+ community deals with plenty of rejection from society throughout their life and drugs and sex offer a seemingly safe haven. The former temporarily erases the pain, while the latter provides an illusion of warmth. So they might lose themselves in one, or the other, or both, as means of coping with their own demons.
Basically, the cause of the high addiction rates among members of the LGBT+ community is not simple. It's a complex intersection of individual and societal issues, where partying meets low self-esteem and sexual release meets compulsion. Nevertheless, the majority of cases have a common denominator: the search for acceptance. We want to be accepted, whatever our sexual orientation or gender. And sometimes, in our journey towards acceptance, we hit the most toxic -as Britney would say- roadblock of all: addiction.
The logical conclusion is, then, that there is still a lot to do for queer people to feel accepted in society. Even LGBT+ groups have a long way to go in being accepting of every letter in the acronym. It is our duty. Not because "so much addiction makes us look bad in front of mainstream society" - which is, in fact, what a friend of mine claimed when I told them about this article. I don't care about "looking bad" because I don't care about the opinion of "mainstream society". There is nothing necessarily healthy about being "mainstream". It is our duty to become more inclusive because we are endangering lives. By promoting high-risk behaviour and failing to show respect to all people under the LGBT+ spectrum, we are effectively putting their lives at stake. And that is something that no one should stand for.
On the 24th of January, UCLU LGBT+ is hosting a panel discussion about addiction in the LGBT+ community, featuring both research from medical professionals and reporters, and experiences from recovered addicts. The discussion will take place at the Bloomsbury Main Campus of the University College London. If you want to know more, click here.