Living Loud and Proud: Sober Spaces Bring Joy and Love to Pride Month

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by Ethan Paul
they/them
contact@queerkentucky.com

LEXINGTON Ky. — Pride month is a time for celebration and remembrance — a time for the queer community to let our hair down and live it up with friends and (chosen) family. Pride began in 1969 with an outburst of rage and violence, in defiance of the oppressive police who regularly harassed queer folks at the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. In the decades since then Pride has morphed from a singular riot into thousands of joyful parades, festivals, and events across the country and globe.

Partaking in substance use — whether drinking or drugging — has become for many a prerequisite to Pride month celebrations, a hedonistic tradition for queers worldwide. In response to this expectation of intoxication, some queers have created sober spaces within Pride events for those who choose to abstain from drugs and alcohol. This year Recovery Café Lexington, a community center for folks in recovery from substance use disorder and mental health issues, debuted a drag show for queers who want the same high-energy Pride fun without the typical mind-altering libations.

Recovery Café Lexington’s Loud and Proud: Sober Drag Show and Ice Cream Social brought the joyful creativity of Lexington’s drag community to their community center on Versailles Road. The lineup featured a host of local drag performers including Saturn Star Shooter, Sierra Rain, Amaya Virgin, Winnette Rain, Mia Milan, Trinity Alexis, Tiana Love and more. Aside from performances, the event hosted a variety of community organizations including BrightView Behavioral Health, Primary Purpose Recovery Residences, and AVOL Kentucky’s mobile outreach van.

The event’s mistress-of-ceremonies was Jayda Dasha (aka Layonme Summore) a Black trans woman and person in recovery. Jayda began living as a trans woman in 2005, and quickly found a circle of friends for whom substance use was a rite of passage. “All I had to do was use [drugs] and I was accepted. I felt great because I wasn’t judged at all, and I felt like this was what I was meant to be and do. It took homelessness, stealing, selling my body, getting stabbed, and a distant relationship with my family for me to finally say I needed help,” said Jayda. 

For many trans and queer folks, substance use is a way to cope with the unrelenting oppression we experience from our communities, institutions, and the individuals within them – as well as the often traumatic journey of discovering our gender identities and sexual orientations. According to the Rhode Island Prevention Resource Center, “studies show that rates of substance [use] are two to four times higher among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning youth than their heterosexual peers.” Substance use of all types is normalized in queer communities, highlighting the need for safe, sober and recovery-oriented spaces for queer folks of all ages.

“Queer folks who are in recovery should be able to participate fully in our culture,” said Aaron Guldenschuh, Assistant Executive Director of Recovery Café Lexington. “For various historic and cultural reasons, drag shows and other LGBTQ+ community events typically take place in bars or underground venues. These types of spaces may not be safe for queer folks in recovery. That’s why Recovery Café Lexington has worked to grow safe, sober spaces for queer folks and their allies to gather and celebrate Pride.”

According to Guldenschuh, Recovery Café Lexington has “invested in infrastructure and staff to reach more people from racial and ethnic minority communities and LGBTQ+ individuals.” With grant funding from Nspire, Recovery Café Lexington put on two sober drag shows with an emphasis on showcasing Black and Latinx performers. “I wanted to bring awareness of LGBTQ+ recovery to the forefront. Many people in recovery can’t find good sober things to do or even just some clean fun. Many [people in recovery] can’t go to [drag] shows because of the venues they’re at,” said Jayda. “To have a show for the recovery community and to be able to share some strength, hope, and experience through the art of drag goes hand-in-hand.”

Aside from producing sober social events like Loud and Proud, Recovery Café Lexington offers a community space for people in recovery to gather and find healthy social support. In addition to their community and event space, Recovery Café Lexington offers peer support services, case management, recovery support groups, and a series of events called “School for Recovery” which includes yoga classes, a ceramics and other art classes, plus a book club and a gardening club. They also provide Pride month is a time for celebration and remembrance – a time for the queer community to let our hair down and live it up with friends and (chosen) family. Pride began in 1969 with an outburst of rage and violence, in defiance of the oppressive police who regularly harassed queer folks at the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. In the decades since then Pride has morphed from a singular riot into thousands of joyful parades, festivals, and events across the country and globe. Partaking in substance use — whether drinking or drugging — has become for many a prerequisite to Pride month celebrations, a hedonistic tradition for queers worldwide. In response to this expectation of intoxication, some queers have created sober spaces within Pride events for those who choose to abstain from drugs and alcohol. This year Recovery Café Lexington, a community center for folks in recovery from substance use disorder and mental health issues, debuted a drag show for queers who want the same high-energy Pride fun without the typical mind-altering libations.

Some of the event’s guest organizations showed up to offer support to the queer community and people in recovery. BrightView Health, an addiction treatment clinic that provides medication for opioid use disorder, hosted a table to speak with community members about recovery and to offer treatment and support services. “By showing our support publicly, members of the queer community know we welcome them for who they are and that they will not be judged at our facilities,” said Samantha Adams, Community Outreach Manager at BrightView’s Lexington office. “We never want someone to feel like they can’t be themselves, whatever that looks like for them.” 

Primary Purpose Recovery Residences is a transitional living home in Lexington that provides safe and sober housing for people in early recovery. Its founder and owner Jonathan Allen knows the importance of having a sober space and activities for queer folks. Though Jonny is not part of the queer community, he is an ally who does his best to support LGBTQ+ folks by providing discrimination- and prejudice-free housing. His homes have a zero-tolerance policy for homophobia, transphobia, and racism, and he works to ensure all of his residents feel safe and comfortable to be themselves. Transitional living homes can be unsupportive places for trans and queer folks who don’t fit in with the often predominantly cisgender and straight residents. One way in which Jonny creates a welcoming environment for queer folks is in his management choices. Jaxxon Shearer is a transgender man in recovery who manages Jonny’s intensive outpatient home. After finding long-term recovery, Jaxxon became a Certified Peer Support Specialist. He now uses his training to support other people in recovery by sharing his experience and providing techniques such as motivational interviewing and facilitating recovery support groups. Jonny’s transitional homes boast several queer folks who have achieved long-term recovery. 

For queer folks that struggle with addiction or mental health conditions, finding a healthy and positive community of peers — like those in transitional living homes or community centers — can be a game-changer. “If anyone needs help mentally, physically, spiritually, or through addiction I would advise them to ask for it,” said Jayda. “Find a network that is supportive of your wants and needs that will listen to you without judgment. Find a new way to live without letting go of the real, genuine you. Queer folks have to find a way to channel the energy we possess and put it into positive things that make our world beautiful. You are worth being part of this world. You are special to someone and if nobody has told you today, I love you.”

If you are a Queer Kentuckian struggling with substance use disorder, FindHelpNowKY.org provides a list of treatment and support services across the Commonwealth. You can also call 1-833-8KY-HELP to speak with a specialist about treatment options and available resources. Learn about Recovery Café Lexington at RecoveryCafeLexington.org. Find more information about BrightView Health at BrightViewHealth.com. Contact Primary Purpose Recovery Residences at primarypurposeky@gmail.com or on Facebook.com/PrimaryPurposeRR.

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