I was talking to a friend the other day when she asked me a question: "Don't those bags of birdseed on your chest get scratchy?"
No, they don't -- unless they burst. Then it's not just my chest getting scratchy. (Gravity sucks.)
After that, however, she asked me another question: Is drug use higher among the gay population? A parent, she found herself concerned that her son being gay might mean he was more susceptible to getting involved in drugs. That made some sense to me.
People often get involved in self-destructive behavior; none of us make the right choice all the time. I eat too much red meat. Women -- and men -- wear high heels. Some LGBTQ people have even voted for Mike Huckabee.
Accepting that, I fully expected to find LGBTQ folks have higher rates of drug abuse. If any group of people were to be involved in a self-destructive choice, it would be a group of people whose behavior and birthright have been unfairly labeled everything from dumb to demonic. Being oppressed by the world is hard to take after a while.
I was right, sadly. Drug use in the LGBT community is about two to three times higher than the general population. I was also right about why: Coping with the everyday stress of social and personal prejudice is too much for some people.
As always, however, it's not that simple.
Within the health care system, there are attitudes that prevent LGBTQ addicts from seeking help. Makes sense: Are you going to feel safe talking to someone who may think you're going to hell just for existing? Sure, maybe in Massachusetts or California you're willing to take the risk. But in Alabama? Kansas?
Hippocratic oath aside, it's hard to imagine popping into a doctor or counselor's office in these more socially conservative places and feeling safe to bare one's soul. More, it's also a possibility that a non-enlightened health care provider will give "inappropriate or irrelevant service." So, even when you do actually talk to someone, they may stereotype you, and send on your way, one more of "those people." And while that may sound harsh, similar attitudes are known to pervade the medical care of all types of minority groups.
Finally, many LGBT individuals feel safest socializing in "gay-safe" spaces, like bars and clubs. Here, heavily marketed products like tobacco and alcohol are easy to find, enabling those prone to addiction. My experience suggests these are easy places to find illegal recreational drugs, too.
Well, that's cheery. No wonder my friend was worried.
At this point, let me say this column is not going into the perils of drug abuse. Not that they aren't relevant, but there are other venues to discuss that: anti-drug programs, Malibu Passages commercials on CNN and the life story of Lindsey Lohan.
I think the more important question is: What resources are there for the LGBTQ person who wants to get out of that world? On the surface this is simple: Just read that Passages Malibu book like all the straight people do.
If that sounds ridiculous, trust me, it is -- and it just gets worse.
First: while there are more than 450 LGBTQ-friendly hospitals across 47 states, most don't have an LGBTQ-friendly addiction program. That includes having LGBTQ sponsors in "Anonymous" programs, magazines in the waiting rooms that are specific to LGBTQ populations and Fox News not on the TV.
Second: Most LGBTQ-friendly hospitals are in larger cities. If you've been like me, and lived just to the left of nowhere, you have a problem. And it's getting worse: funding for drug treatment programs has been drastically cut.
Third, and the best part: Even if you manage to find an "LGBTQ friendly" drug treatment program, it may not matter. According to the website Addiction Professional, of the 854 agencies they contacted offering LGBTQ-specific services, only 62 actually had specialized services. Worse: They were all in California and New York. That's right, when it comes to LGBTQ addiction recovery, Miami is the sticks, too.
That survey was done nearly four years ago. But even now, when I Googled "specialized addiction treatment programs," it eventually led me to a constantly changing toll free number for things like wheelchair repair and a Mexican bar in Houston. (Really.)
In the end, this takes us right back to where we started: What resources are there for the LGBTQ person who wants to deal with their drug addiction? (Assuming you don't have the means to get on a plane and drop out of your life for a few weeks.)
As always, the "Anonymous" programs do offer hope. Google them along with your city name and "LGBTQ" to see if there are chapters nearby that can help. If there's not, Alcoholics Anonymous at least has a printable pamphlet. Other groups may have similar resources online. No, that's not even close to the same thing, but it's a start.
As an educator, I'll always recommend to younger people that if there's a teacher you trust, speak to them. Ideally, if they're a guidance counselor, that helps. But I think it's more important that they be supportive and understanding of LGBTQ issues than the degree they have hanging on the wall.
Well, that was a bummer of a column; it's hard to be funny when you're depressed. Still, I'd like to think things are going to get better. With society's increasing acceptance of LGBTQ people, hopefully, people like ourselves won't be as inclined to get involved in self-destructive behaviors. Also, as open LGBTQ people become more integrated into mainstream society, I'd like to think awareness of their issues will, too.
Will just that eliminate the problem of substance abuse in the LGBTQ community? Of course not, but if the incidence of drug abuse among our population could drop to that of the general population, that would save a lot of lives. Even in Kansas and Alabama.