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Wednesday 14 April 2010

How's our drinking?

Posted in: Living Well
By Craig Young - 23rd February 2010

Is there a specific culture of heavy drinking amongst some lesbians and bisexual women? Yes and no...

While consulting Index New Zealand, I was fortunate enough to find one current research project that specifically focused on LGBT substance abuse issues.

In October 2007, Frank Pega (Whariki Research Group, Social and Health Outcomes Research and Evaluation, Massey University) recorded the following outcomes. Lesbian, gay and bisexual alcohol consumption is only slightly higher than straight counterparts. However, we are more likely to smoke, use cannabis, ecstacy, LSD and amphetamines than heterosexual New Zealanders.

Gay and bisexual men were more likely to smoke and drink heavily, while lesbians and bisexual women were more likelier to use drugs. Fewer takatapui and wahine takatapui drank alcohol than their pakeha counterparts, but smoked more and used some illicit drugs more.

From this single research project then, it doesn't seem as if we have significantly worse levels of alcohol abuse amongst lesbians and bisexual women compared to their straight counterparts.

However, is the problem one of age cohorts rather than sexual identity? In her recent biography, UK bisexual journalist Tania Glyde talked about her experiences as a recovering alcoholic and noted that in 'postfeminist' 'lass' culture, it is more acceptable to be publically inebriated than it was for earlier generations of women. While straight women and lesbians alike have greater professional and economic opportunities and sexual agency due to occupational feminism and lesbian/gay/bisexual-inclusive antidiscrimination laws (in New Zealand), the same also applies to workplace psychological stresses, recession anxieties about employment stability and that perennial concern, wage inequality.

Pega's findings are surprising, although considering that there are fewer lesbian pub venues in New Zealand than gay male counterparts than elsewhere, perhaps not so much. As for Glyde's book, she is correct about the 'closet' of female alcoholism, although her own bisexuality doesn't merit a mention in this book, other than incidental. There is no sense of identification with any organised bisexual community, LGBT community or LGBT-specific health promotion and addiction services, which is counter-intuitive, considering that she lives and works in London.

That said, there is a shortage of targeted bi-specific research that focuses specifically on particular issues that face bisexual women compared to lesbians, who often have far more elaborated professional networks and academic and institutional bases for sited research and design and implementation of health promotion and substance abuse intervention projects.

For that matter, though, apart from Alcoholics Anonymous, it seems that the New Right benefit cuts of the nineties, occupational feminism and antidiscrimination laws have resulted in a situation where lesbian voluntary community group participation has dropped while lesbians are likelier to ascend the professional ladder. Groups like Lesbian Alcohol and Drug Action and Straight Dykes appear to have folded as a result, while New Zealand bisexual feminism appears stuck at the assertive identity politics and inclusion demand stage, rather than dealing with bi-specific or bi-related social and existential issues.

Is there a heavy drinking culture amongst some lesbians and bisexual women in New Zealand?

Put simply, without supplementary research, we cannot tell.


Tania Glyde: Cleaning Up: How I Gave Up Drinking and Saved My Life: London: Serpents Tail: 2009.

"Higher use of alcohol, drugs and tobacco in gay, lesbian and bisexual population" Massey Research (October 2007): 18.

  Jean Swallow: Out from Under: Sober Dykes and Friends: San Francisco: Spinsters Ink: 1983.

Craig Young - 23rd February 2010

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