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I Flung Open The Closet Doors And Walked Straight Into A Gay Bar

Sean Paul Mahoney is a gem. His writing on sobriety, creativity, and life as a platinum level gay addict is over at Seanologues. Sean’s story is incredibly inspiring. I think you’ll love this story about how he came out, went out, and learned to live one day at a time without drugs and alcohol.

“You’re so free! You’re so uninhibited! You live exactly how you want! You always speak your mind!”
— most straight people to their gay friends, probably

Perhaps the above quote is a tad sarcastic. Okay. Maybe a lot sarcastic. But I seemed to hear stuff that a lot back in my twenties. It was the 90s in Los Angeles, and I was drinking and partying seven nights a week. I had the idea that I was the kind of person who didn’t really care about what people thought: nothing was off limits. This idea was one I had carefully curated. Of course, it was utter bullshit.

Pretty On The Outside, Insecure on the Inside

This persona? It was all part of the act. I remember being decked out in pink vinyl and fur and covered in body glitter for a indie movie premiere. The star of the film, an underrated sitcom actress, said, “It takes a lot of guts to live like you do!”
I thought, “You’re damn right it does! Go me!”

This was followed by shots and— I’m assuming— a blackout and/or a fight with my boyfriend. But for a second, I felt the confidence that I was trying to project. See, despite dressing like disco Power Ranger and having the swagger that IDGAF, I really did GAF. I was riddled with insecurities.

Officially Gay and Already Addicted

My coming out of the closet, which was pretty much the most redundant thing ever, was a shockingly drawn out process. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I was most definitely drinking with and making out with tons of boys, starting at age 17. But it wasn’t until the world’s most horribly timed letter at age 24 when it became, “official.”

It’s all hilarious to me now, at the age of 44, because I was never able to pass as a normal, straight boy. That was like thinking the Pink Panther could pass for a house cat. By the time the conversations were had and the “no duh” press release went out to all my family members, I was already a regular at teen clubs, gay bars, and raves. In fact, when I officially came out, I had already bottomed out from drinking, ecstasy, and crystal meth. I wasn’t even 25. The truth is, I can’t even talk about coming out of the closet without talking about drugs and alcohol.

After my first seedy gay bar at age 17, my sexuality and my drinking and using were joined at the hip. The more I drank, the easier it was to talk to guys. It made everything easier! It was easier to make friends, the easier it was to be all of my big gay self. From there on, getting loaded and hooking up with random guys was the norm and happened in gay bars across the country. And it wasn’t just me. Queer culture of the time really supported and encouraged my addiction. You gotta remember: back in the olden days, we didn’t have Grindr or the internet. We were still listening to C+C Music Factory on cassette, for crying out loud. Therefore, the only safe place to meet other gays was at gay bars.

Being Fabulous Was Actually Not That Great

As much as it was about getting laid and frolicking with other like-minded young queer souls, it was really about getting loaded. I couldn’t never wait to get to the gay bar to start drinking so I usually had several drinks before I even got there. The old black-out-and-wind-up-in-a-stranger’s-bed routine had become old hat by age 23. Pretty quickly, it escalated from innocent kisses on the dance floor to having crystal meth shoved up my ass at a bathhouse. Yeah, sure: I was living my big gay life. Fantastic. But why did I want to die all of the time? Why did I feel tragically alone despite having dozens of fabulous friends? And why did I hate myself despite being this free, sparkly being?

My community, who was all at the bar with me doing shots, didn’t really have the answer, as far as I could tell. I didn’t know any sober gay men and why would we even bother, anyway? We lived largely isolated from the straight world. A world which constantly sent the messages that we weren’t enough, that we were sick, that we weren’t okay.

Can We Please Have A Change of Scene?

So imagine my surprise when I walked into a gay AA meeting in Santa Monica. I was 36, and I’d I finally decided to get sober after 20 years of killing myself with drugs and alcohol. This community room in a tucked-away park was filled with gay men and women who were all laughing and telling the truth. These people, who would become my family in 2009, had the freedom and the frankness that I pretended to have but so desperately wanted. Person after person in those meetings told my story of feeling too weird, too lonely, and too queer to be loved.

The more I came back and the more I listened, the less horrible I felt. I did the Steps and I didn’t pick up and my whole world changed. I didn’t need booze or drugs to feel attractive because for the first time in my life, I loved myself. All I ever wanted was other gay people to like me and to let me know I was beautiful just the way I am. The gay people in those rooms did just that.