Queer without beer: Why more LGBTQ+ people are ditching booze

Never in a million years did I think I’d consider sobriety – that was until recently, when my thinking shifted completely.

It sounds a touch ethereal, but for the past year or so I’ve had an overwhelming feeling that I’m entering an important new phase of my life, which in the natural order of things also requires tangible change. 

There have been two major deciding factors which continue to incentivise me to be sober. The first is that I hit my 40s and have been contemplating my future more than ever.

Until now, I’ve meandered through life not caring much about the future. I think that largely comes from a life-changing experience in 2005, when I was hospitalised for several months with AIDS-defining illnesses. After coming through that, I adopted the ethos of living for today, as tomorrow is never guaranteed. 

Secondly – thanks to the help of an excellent therapist – the stark realisation that I’ve been at the mercy of alcohol for a large part of my adult life. Worse still, I’ve allowed myself to be reliant on alcohol in order to achieve meaningful connections and relationships, as well as using it as a means to escape reality. 

At the height of my drinking, I knew I was losing control of my life. I was doing things that are not in my nature, things that made me hate myself. I had to change. I had to save myself. The alcohol was controlling me instead of me being in control. I didn’t want to be lost in a haze of booze anymore.

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In 2020 and 2021 I reduced my alcohol intake, and 2022 saw me going sober for up to a month at a time. When 2023 came around I decided to make more of a concerted effort, and consciously abstained from alcohol – which resulted in my longest period of sobriety: four months.

The only reason I paused my sober streak was because I was working at an LGBTQ+ event where I fancied a glass of wine. I was extremely hesitant at first because I know I can spiral. But I didn’t, which was a huge win and another hurdle crossed. Suddenly, managed sobriety was another option on the table. 

Now I’m back on the wagon and ready to face each challenge head-on. Importantly, on my terms. I assess the risk of each work event and social gathering – self-awareness was the catalyst that opened the door to sobriety for me. 

Working in nightlife, as I have for 20 years, I’ve now had to change my mindset completely. Work is work, and not a place to get drunk. Friends who understand my situation know not to encourage me to overindulge. I’m naturally a person who likes to please others, so putting my needs first is somewhat foreign. Learning to say no has been a revelation and very empowering. 

But I’m not the only one. In my experience, more and more queer people are now going alcohol-free. 

Heidi Liscious, 49 from Fitzrovia, is a drag queen, DJ, and gay scene icon who has been sober for almost seven years. Once the foremost face of alcohol and drug-fuelled partying, Heidi now helps others, and is widely recognised as the face of sobriety on the scene. 

‘For me, drinking too much was part and parcel of being on the scene.’ she says.

‘It starts out relatively tame and then it just gets more and more. My health started suffering and I wasn’t really able to do the work I loved anymore because I was concentrating too much on the drink and the drugs. That’s when I took a year out.

‘Now I like to look out for others, because there’s so many other performers and people generally who struggle with alcohol. Many have said I’m an inspiration. I think it’s good to have people who are open, because I’m also inspired by others who share their sober journey.’

Someone who understands all too well the challenges of being sober and embedded in the gay scene is Dan Patterson, 37 from London, who is four years alcohol-free and a bartender at LGBTQ+ venue, The Royal Vauxhall Tavern. 

‘I was a functioning alcoholic. I drank all day every day for six months. A binge-drinker before that,’ Dan explains frankly.

‘Working in a late-night venue, surrounded by alcohol, was daunting at first, but in all honesty I found more temptation walking past an off-licence than being at work.’

Nights and events on the gay scene are still very much dominated by alcohol, but there’s a quiet sober revolution happening which has been gathering pace in the past few years. 

Neil Hudson-Basing, 40, from London, is the co-founder of House Of Happiness—an inclusive alcohol-free clubbing experience for the LGBTQ+ community and allies, which takes place at Fire nightclub in London.

Neil initially planned to abstain for a few months whilst training for an ultramarathon. Four and a half years on, he’s still sober.

‘For me, it’s about being alcohol-free and the discovery that there’s so much more to do. I’ve realised that I have given myself back so much more time and clarity.’ Neil says.

‘Before I gave up alcohol, every weekend was crazy – from Friday right through until Sunday afternoon. Hardcore partying. I didn’t have a problem with drinking, but my behaviour was fairly problematic.’

Neil explains that House Of Happiness events are fundamentally about fun and supporting people who are attending on their own. 

‘We just want to show that you can have a banging time without alcohol’, Neil says. ‘We also have a pre-meet immediately before the club event. We really care about peoples experience. A lot of people come on their own to sober events, because if you’re like me, you come from a big group of friends who are drinkers, and everything revolves around alcohol.’

Also in London is Queers Without Beers at Club Soda, which started as a pop-up event in 2016. Now Club Soda has a permanent home in Covent Garden and the event is monthly, with a focus on alcohol-free cocktails, beers and conversation. All three of Club Soda’s co-founders are queer, and entry is always free, with no requirement to book in advance. 

And the movement isn’t just confined to the capital. In Manchester, Spill The Tea is an event which was created by Stephen Wilkinson in 2022. Stephen says: ‘As the gay community is largely based around bars and clubs it can be very challenging for people with substance abuse issues, who are now in recovery, to come back into these places. That’s why I created Spill the Tea – to bring sober gay people back to the Manchester gay village.’

People from the trans, non-binary, gender-queer, and intersex community are welcome at TransSober in Brighton. Services include fun socials, peer support, well-being events, and more.

So what’s next for me? Well it’s been a fair few years since I’ve been as focused and happy as I am now. I have a renewed love for life.

Of course I’m very much a work-in-progress and blips will occur, but being alcohol-free has cleared the fog from my mind and reduced my anxiety considerably. This is the path I want to continue on for now. 

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