Heteronormity and the Root Causes of Addiction

When Does the Party End When There’s No Place Else to GoHetero-biased Society and its effects on the LGBTQ Community

Contributing writers: Martel Bird, leah rothschild and sadie rae m.

The reality of the situation is (unfair, unjust and outdated as it is) that here in the United States, and internationally, we live day-to-day in a heteronormative society. Heteronormativity is a term for the presumptive belief that heterosexuality is the only normal sexual orientation. This assumption easily morphs into heterosexism, a judgment that generalizes any other sexual orientation as abnormal. These beliefs lead to prejudice, discrimination and social inequality.

Heteronormativity also assumes that gender identity and gender expression should adhere to a person’s “sex assigned at birth.” Someone’s birth sex is based on their anatomy and the assumption that it has to correlate with their gender suggests that trans persons are outside the realm of “normal,” as well. The injustice is, that as long as the limiting assumptions of heteronormativity are subtly indoctrinated in our society, members of the LGBTQ community will continue to be cast as second class citizens.

The closet doesn’t exist because of LGBTQ people. The closet exists because of heteronormativity. Would people hide who they are if there was no reason to hide?

Today, in 2017, the atmosphere out of the closet is safer to some, but is still hostile and difficult for many others to live their lives out and proud. It can be especially difficult for young people. LGBTQ youth are understandably afraid of rejection from their peers and families. Fear of rejection or feeling rejected and being rejected, reasonably leads to a search for acceptance.

America’s Youth Partying Scene

The search for acceptance is something that can frequently lead young people into experimenting with drugs and alcohol. In the youth party scene, young people may begin to feel a level of acceptance that is a quenching relief from the rejection they may be experiencing in their homes or among society at large, as it is. Some find an accepting community in sports, some find it in extracurricular activities and some just happen to find it in the party scene. That could have to do with the loosening of the definition of what is acceptable in “normal” society when inhibitions and fears are lifted with the influence of alcohol and drugs.

A major portion of the population will find themselves participating in the party scene in some capacity or other at some point in their lives. It is, for better or worse, a rite of passage in our culture. There are people for whom the party scene doesn’t enter the picture until they are in college and maybe not till they are of legal drinking age. Unfortunately, many reports on covering the trends of drug, tobacco and alcohol use show high rates for millions of teens, even starting as young as twelve years old. While alcohol is reported to be the most abused substance, today’s drug exploration among teens has widely contributed to the “accidental overdose” epidemic that America is currently faced with.

For LGBTQ youth who experience family rejection, in addition to rejection they may experience among their peers, the party scene can be a veritable oasis of acceptance in an excruciating desert of isolation. LGBTQ youths who experience rejection from their families are statistically three times more likely to use drugs and alcohol than non-LGBTQ youth, as well as LGBTQ youth who don’t face rejection at home. In the party scene, this group finally finds their acceptance.     

When LGBTQ individuals meet other queer* people, a sense of fitting in and belonging is experienced. For many, it may be the very first time they’ve felt that sort of acceptance. At younger ages and in larger numbers, the need and opportunity to let loose, put aside inhibitions and “go wild” has heavily impacted American youth. Most of us, in some way or another, have taken part in “the party scene,” and we all know what it means to “party.”

“Partying,” “Do you party?” “Let’s party!”: These are all phrases that have, over time, come to be associated with drinking and casual or “recreational” experimentation with drugs. For the majority of folks, it may be safe to say that when the party ends, they go home and the next morning they get up and get on with their lives. For some, the party doesn’t end until it becomes less and less a party, and more and more an addiction.

Coming of Age

There is no definitive answer yet as to why addiction rates are 20-30% higher among the LGBTQ population than in the general population, but part of the reason could be the fact that LGBTQ culture seems to be centralized in bars and clubs. Historically in America, the feeling of acceptance most readily exists in LGBTQ-friendly bars and night clubsthat’s what made The Stonewall Inn a safe haven, along with many other famous New York City venues known for being inclusive, sometimes outrageous, and of course, fueled by drugs and drinking. Perhaps the bars and clubs are legitimate places where love and acceptance of queer identities are unmatched by other non-partying places. It may also be that sober spaces with that sense of acceptance are less available.  

For plenty of young people, partying is a rite of passage that runs its course and ends. After college or marriage, the party scene changes from person-to-person. For some, it gets left behind when a house in the suburbs takes shape, along with a white picket fence and 1.5 kids to drive to soccer practice. Welcome to heteronormalville, a reality that is not accessible nor appealing to a lot of different kinds of people. Some of those being the “forever a bachelor” or a “jet-setting” business person too busy to settle down. Then there are the types of people, many LGBTQ people included, who might tend to hang around the party scene much longer than others because they don’t conform to, or aren’t included in, the status quo of heteronormative life.

There are various other possible reasons the LGBTQ population has higher percentages of substance use and addiction. The case can be made, though, that a great many of the reasons relate to the impact of heteronormativity. The impulse to escape realities due to bullying, family rejection, harassment and self-doubt can certainly lead a young person to indulge in alcohol and substances. These discriminatory realities are a symptom of feeling left out, marginalized or oppressed by a heteronormative society.

More specifically, a heteronormative society looks like this:

  • It’s normal for men and women to walk down the street holding hands and kiss each other goodbye.
  • It’s normal to have only heterosexual couples represented in commercials and advertising.
  • Heterosexual people will not be denied employment or housing due to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Currently, 28 states do not include LGBTQ rights in their anti-discrimination laws.
  • Heterosexual couples don’t have laws that change the status of their rights to marry, own property, raise children and make decisions regarding each other’s finances and medical needs.

Where is the Love?

It’s safe to say that many LGBTQ people have difficulty finding their community. LGBTQ youth report that when they are accepted by their families and friends they feel confident about their future, maintain grades, aspire to go to college and generally feel capable of achieving their life goals.

However, for others who have to hide their true identities from their parents and peers, they may feel a sense of community can only be found in the party scenea party scene that typically allows for drug use and even encourages it. That environment can likely lead to substance abuse/substance use disorder for individuals susceptible to addiction.

What happens when a person in their 20’s or 30’s discovers that their life has become unmanageable due to their partying? What does somebody in that circumstance do when they want to recover from addiction. For an LGBTQ individual the answer to that question carries more variables than it does for heterosexual people and that is a result of our heteronormative society.

A sober community is essential to success in recovery. Too often LGBTQ people in the beginning steps of their recovery find themselves faced with a sober community that not only prioritizes heterosexual experiences but is potentially homophobic. They may find themselves in addiction rehab centers that aren’t culturally competent when it comes to appropriate and compassionate care for LGBTQ individuals. Other clients or other people “in the rooms” may not be safe people to share personal experiences related to sexual orientation, gender identity and the intersectionality these major life factors play into a person’s addiction.

When a person is “as sick as their secrets” but has to stay in the closet or keep quiet about their personal life to be comfortable in a treatment center, sober house or 12 Step meeting, then their sickness can continue to hide in their secrets, and the sickness can also be fed by the shame inflicted by systematic heterosexism in our society. LGBTQ people in recovery face these challenges and, unfortunately, LGBTQ people in recovery might not find the supportive community that essential to beating addiction soon enough.

The community for LGBTQ people in recovery does exist, and it is growing. In South Florida, the LGBTQ 12-Step meeting clubhouses LAMBDA North, LAMBDA South and LAMBDA Miami-Dade are hubs of LGBTQ recovery community for those who have traveled to the region to attend any of the countless rehabilitation programs in the area. Elsewhere in the nation LGBTQ-specific AA and NA meetings can be found to be available and listed in the Where and When Meeting Guides of specific locations. Treatment centers offering LGBTQ support are beginning to pop up, as well as those that specifically cater to the LGBTQ community. The trends have been noticed and action is being taken to better serve LGBTQ people struggling with addiction.

At Transpire Help we are dedicated to connecting LGBTQ people in recovery to those resources and more. There are many factors that play into a successful recovery from addiction, for anyone. Being LGBTQ adds more factors to that plate and we are working to close the gap that has made it more difficult for the LGBTQ community to find effective addiction treatment in the past. It is also our mission to educate the public about the need for better services for LGBTQ people in recovery. With the assistance of donations and fundraising, Transpire Help’s mission is to make recovery a reality for LGBTQ people who are still struggling with addiction. Hope is real. Help is here.


*Within some circles of the LGBTQ community, the word queer is generally used to be an inclusive, positive umbrella term for folks whose gender identity, sexual orientation, sexuality and/or presentation do not fit society’s constructs of how a man or woman is “supposed” to look, act, dress, love, etc.

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