PnP culture is killing us: Queer man leaves the parTy, embraces pride

Story by Jimmy Cheatham, Lexington

Art by Joshua Riley

Queer. To me, that word means living outside of the heteronormative/cisnormative world that we see everywhere we look. I’ve been queer long before I identified as a cis gay man. Growing up in rural Kentuckiana I always knew there was something queer about me and that I did not fit into the mold that my society and culture expected of me. I’m 35, and while we still have a long way to go, LGBTQ+ representation was not a thing you saw in the media when I was a child and it certainly wasn’t taught in grade school. To Wong Foo was released in 1995, I was 12. Ellen came out on her television series in 1997, I was 14. Will & Grace first aired in September 1998, I was 15. Prior to this, I had no knowledge of any LGBTQ+ culture and thought my queerness was something to reject. Conforming to the norm felt obligatory, yet was unachievable.

Addict. Such a cringeworthy term to most. Not something one would aspire to become. The word itself comes from the Latin word addictus which means to sacrifice, sell out, betray, or abandon. Those definitions ring true to me. What began as recreational drug and alcohol use at 16 to escape my inability to erase my queerness, eventually led me to inadvertently sacrifice everything else of any value in my life. Smoking weed and drinking booze led to snorting coke and popping pills. Every line I said I would never cross, was eventually crossed with ease. I would never be a “junkie”, I may do a lot of things, but I’ll never be as bad as “that person” …until I became “that person.” By the age of 25 I was injecting meth and life was a spiraling shit storm with a one-way ticket to rock bottom. Rock bottom happened in 2012, at 28, when I was arrested and eventually told I had 2 options: jail or rehab. A queen would never choose jail, so I chose the latter. I’m grateful that I didn’t choose to keep digging to make my bottom even lower {insert gay joke here}.

Recovery. A refreshing term that insinuates survival. That’s what it means to me. I survived a sinking ship. Addiction typically leads to either jails, institutions, or recovery if you’re lucky. The unlucky ones get buried. With the rate that our fellow humans are perishing from overdose related death, I consider myself to be very fortunate. When I began my journey of recovery, I didn’t really know who Jimmy was because I had spent so many years hidden behind the veil of substances. After completing a 28-day treatment program, I entered a long-term 12-month recovery program for men. I began to get a sense of who I was and who I wanted to be. A vision for a future began to materialize and, for once in a long time, I had hope. I worked low paying jobs in the beginning, but I was the happiest I had ever been. I made friends who were also in recovery and I no longer felt alone in life. Eventually I began to unlearn all those toxic ideas about my queerness and I began to embrace it lovingly. Not only was I recovering from addiction to substances, but I was also recovering from the indoctrination of dangerous societal and cultural beliefs and dogma that being LGBTQ+ was inherently wrong. The need to feel like I had to conform slipped away and I embraced, and am still in the process of embracing, every little part of me. There are no good or bad parts, there only parts that are more difficult to embrace.

Pride. One definition is “delight or elation arising from some act, possession, or relationship.” That is the definition that most resonates with me. I take delight in being a gay man. I take pride in standing as an ally to every person who identifies as LGBTQ+. Being a minority has taught me to empathize with others who are oppressed and marginalized, and I am proud of that. I am proud that I took adversity, in the form of addiction, and turned it into a strength in my life. I am turning my life experience into a career and will be entering grad school in the fall, with an end goal of becoming a clinical social worker and helping other LGBTQ+ individuals with substance misuse issues. I am so proud that I have chosen to travel this path. As queer folx, we all face many obstacles in life, even if substances aren’t a part of everyone’s story. No matter the obstacles, there is always hope to be found and pride to be had.