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"Men Stick With the Men, Women Stick With the Women," Heterosexism in the Addiction Recovery Communities

This "men stick with the men and women stick with the women" idea is just one of many ways in which the recovery communities are not always the most affirming place for LGBTQ+ individuals.
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"Men stick with the men and women stick with the women."

When I first entered into recovery from a substance use disorder at age of 24, there were many things that confused me about the rhetoric of the recovery communities. Much of this confusion was easily attributed to years of accumulated mental fog still wafting away from my healing brain, however some things were just flat out puzzling to me even on the clearest of days. There were many rules to learn when it came down to what it meant to be a young person in recovery, but the heavily heterosexist concepts regarding who I should socialize with, who I ought to select as my "sponsor" and how I ought to conduct myself were the most confusing of all. Unfortunately, much of the literature produced by the mutual aid groups I was mandated to attend did nothing at all to alleviate my confusion. I, instead, found myself in the painfully familiar place of feeling like perhaps I didn't quite fit into this world.

With the risk of developing a substance use disorder as much as 20-30 % higher for individuals who identify as LGBTQ+, it is baffling to me that heterosexism still pervades large pockets of the recovery communities. Just as those of us living with white privilege can be largely unaware of this privilege and what life is like for those without it, so too can heterosexual individuals often be unaware of the privilege they hold and what life is like for those without it. While for many folks, the idea of suggesting that "men stick with the men and women stick with the women" seems to be sound advice, this suggestion totally discounts the reality of gender identity being far more than a binary of male or female. It also ignores the fact that sexual orientation actually exists on a vast and fluid spectrum that includes so much more than just a firm heterosexual.

This "men stick with the men and women stick with the women" idea is just one of many ways in which the recovery communities are not always the most affirming place for LGBTQ+ individuals. The good news is that many of the different pathways to recovery teach concepts that could greatly enhance an individual and group's ability to be affirming. Ideas such as acceptance, open-mindedness, self-awareness and unconditional love serve as fertile soil for heterosexual people in recovery to be facilitators of helping to create safe spaces for the rest of us. Nobody seeking recovery from a substance use disorder should find themselves wondering if they belong. We all belong.