Editor’s note: This piece has visual descriptions of drinking and getting drunk, so please be aware if this is a trigger for you.
Losing my virginity in college felt like a goal I had to accomplish or else my existence as a woman would be invalidated. I was constantly wondering, “Who am I if I’m not accepted and found to be attractive to men? Am I worthy?” My subsequent first sexual experience was filled with racially charged motives and assumptions, creating an extremely negative view of my own Black, queer body and my interpretation of the world of sex. I was nothing if not the Black woman on the checklist of someone who wanted to sleep with their exoticized version of me.
I was left tainted in the sense that I couldn’t view my body from my own lens — it was only under the gaze of that straight, white man who asked me to perform in a way that fulfilled his own stereotypes of me as a Black (and at the time closeted) lesbian.
From then on, every sexual encounter I participated in began with a quick swig of vodka from my college dorm fridge, and I have only recently learned how to reconcile my issues with sobriety and my self-image during sex. This reconciliation proved to be more difficult as my Black household was not conducive to conversations around sex, let alone me coming out to ask questions about my sexuality and other forms of sexual experiences. I was in an environment that pressured me into also thinking that drinking was not only normal but necessary for any form of fun.
I was in an environment that pressured me into also thinking that drinking was not only normal but necessary for any form of fun.
I have clear memories of getting dressed in the mirror before a party or a hook-up and experiencing dysmorphia. Was my ass too big because I’m Black? Was it too small for the same reason? How could I dress more feminine and hide my then-undefined queerness in order to appease the men I thought would bring me short-term satisfaction for my self-image? These men were typically hypermasculine, in fraternities, and sometimes, not Black. I spent the entire first three years of college in this personal hell. Every night out and every time I wanted to pique the interest of a man, all I can recall is the drunken steps to and from the parties and the loneliness that inevitably came from those nights.
I can remember one night in particular. A multicultural frat was holding their annual party at a local bar. I bought a new wig, new clothes, and before I even reached the pregame, I had drunk a majority of my personal stash. There were going to be guys there that my friends had convinced me were hot and important enough that I should be interested in. I couldn’t say no as I identified as bisexual at the time, so what would have been my excuse? I did the same thing I did every night: Got to the pregame, stood with my chest out so drunk I couldn’t stand in place too long, and once I got to the bar, it was even worse.
After we went back for an afterparty, I ended up alone in a room with a guy I told myself to pretend to like. He was giving me attention, he was saying all the right things, but I knew deep down, he wasn’t a girl, so it would never truly feel right. Luckily, my friend had left the afterparty to come looking for me, and we left together before I made another mistake with a guy.
Vodka was always my drink of choice, no matter the flavor, and I preferred it straight. If a boy wanted to dance, I snuck a drink. If I wanted to feel confident while wearing a crop top, I took a drink. If someone texted me to hook-up, I took a drink or maybe several.
Sex was dirty, and my perception of myself was even dirtier. But I had no real explanation as to why.
A few weeks later, I finally had a girl interested in me. That is when my body image first began to shift, but I still was insistent on drinking before any night of sex or romance. When I was first with her, I drank again. For years, I had waited to confirm my gender and sexuality but, because of the alcohol, I can barely remember any of it. It truly took away the parts of my youth that I was most excited to explore as a young Black, queer woman.
For years, I had waited to confirm my gender and sexuality but, because of the alcohol, I can barely remember any of it.
Since having more sex with fellow queer-identifying people (rather than the straight, cisgender men who I had to endure racialized, sexist, and homophobic sexual encounters with during my first few years in college), I’ve learned the ways that my body can be loved and appreciated without being romanticized or stereotyped. As a result, I have recently started my journey with engaging in sobriety before my sexual encounters. I’m tired of having to numb myself in order to get across who I am. But now, I’m left quarantining — isolated, newly identifying as a lesbian, and having to experience a new type of internal struggle I haven’t faced before.
I wish I had all the answers. I wish I could say that I’m completely and consistently sober, but oftentimes the internal homophobia and shame from being a lesbian gets to me. Not only do I have to deal with the stereotypes that come with being Black — being aggressive and predatory — but being a lesbian shares those same stereotypes. I worry about what it’ll be like to date in the outside world once quarantine is over and I worry about how I’m perceived across computer screens on virtual dates. And so, I fall back on drinking, and it’s honestly scary.
Being a Black lesbian has a specific loneliness that is hard for others to understand, but it’s something that I’ve been coping with my entire life. It feels like each respective community, Black and LGBTQ+, has a limit to their understanding of my identities. But it has helped me to pinpoint these feelings that I have long been trying to remedy through alcohol.
When I do feel like relying on that rush of alcohol again in place of confronting that loneliness I had troubling naming my whole life, I instead try these affirmations: I am not alone, I am worthy of care, my body is a home above all, and there’s no warmth like the warmth of loving yourself.
I am not alone, I am worthy of care, my body is a home above all, and there’s no warmth like the warmth of loving yourself.
I’m not saying any of these issues can be solved with affirmations but they’re a formative step to adjusting to your body, especially if you spent all these years unfamiliar with it and curating it for other’s consumption. I choose every day not to succumb to that need to use alcohol to burn away my warped sense of self. It is a choice, a formal decision to acknowledge that I deserve better for myself.