by P. Kristen Enos

(Originally posted Oct 17, ’09. All rights reserved. Do not post or excerpt without permission.)

After over two decades of being openly lesbian, my experiences have proven that I’ve shocked more people by telling them that I’m not an alcohol drinker. Sometimes it’s actually awkward enough that I usually add that it’s been that way all my life (meaning, I’m not a recovering alcoholic.)

I honestly don’t consider a glass of alcoholic as drinkable liquid. You might as well suggest that I drink a glass of ammonia. And to me, it’s no more controversial than the fact I don’t drink coffee either. I’m not adverse to having alcohol cooked in my meal, and I do like an occasional rum-flavored desert. But that only happens like once or a twice a year.

Ironically, it started because of religion. Around the age of eight or nine, I became Baptist because of the neighborhood church I had attended, the fire and brimstone kind. Along with the Ten Commandments, I had the moral principles of a spinster schoolmarm including, of course, the rule of don’t drink alcohol – which didn’t really matter since I was underage.

When I reached the age of about fourteen, I finally realized that I didn’t have the personality for religion. So I eventually allowed myself to relax about the behavior I tolerated in myself and the others around. All except the alcohol thing.

That last part completely baffled my parents, who almost always had an alcoholic drink at dinner. What they didn’t realize was that they had inadvertently helped my lack of interest in alcohol.

As a teenager, it was my chore to wash and dry the dishes after dinner every night. Since Mom was an excellent cook, specializing in doing dishes from scratch, there were usually a lot of items to clean up. And more often than not, when I’m doing the final “dirty dishes check”, I would see a glass on the counter and not be sure if it was clean or dirty. The quickest way to tell if it needed cleaning was to do a simple sniff, and I would usually get the smell of stale beer or wine. Not at all pleasant for someone who had no appreciation for the stuff.

So when my family was transferred to (West) Germany during my senior year of high school, it was a “wasted” opportunity since the legal drinking age was 16. While I went to high school parties where alcohol was consumed, I was again the uninterested party.

Then I went directly to living in the dorms for my first year of college at University of California at Irvine, where I was regularly exposed to the “fragrance” of pot from other rooms on our floors. And of course, there were parties that had alcohol available. I still attended to have fun; I just simply didn’t drink any alcohol as part of my own activities. The only thing I miss out on are drinking games, which was hardly something to cry over in my mind.

And irony on top of irony, during college, I had to manage a concession stand where we would serve beers for basketball games and concerts. I know how to pour beer from tap with minimal foam. I just don’t drink the stuff. Of course, my aversion could have been reinforced in those years to many, many hours of after event clean-up duty, that included emptying trash cans filled with cups of stale beer. I assure you it’s a nauseating smell.

It was also amusing that I used to organize parties and potlucks with the task of having to buy drinks. I would look at bottles of wine in the stores and be absolutely clueless of what to choose. So I usually went for the prettier bottles. I didn’t have any complaints and I found out from a training bartender that it’s a pretty safe rule to follow.

When I started going to gay and lesbian dance clubs with friends, I was always the designated driver, which was a role that continue to this day if the possibility of needing one occurs.

And when I say “possibility”, I’ve realized that the close friends that I have now aren’t really drinkers either. Again, not because any of them are recovering alcoholics. It’s just not a past time or a beverage that factors into anything that we consider to be part of our regular lives.

Now, when I think about it, more and more, I’m convinced that the ‘shock’ factor is more around the revelation that it’s me, because with my personality, people would think otherwise.

I’m extremely liberal in my views, have a pretty ‘live and let live’ attitude about people’s excesses around me, and am hardly considered a prude. In fact, I was once told by someone that she thought I had the dirtiest mind of anyone she ever knew. (Given that she was a theater actress, I thought that was a dubious achievement.)

So it makes me think that people’s view of drinking alcohol was synonymous to how conservative you were – unless substance abuse problems were part of the picture. And especially if you were liberal, you wouldn’t tell yourself ‘no’ to what are usually viewed as the simple pleasures of life.

I remember at a recent party, I would be in conversations with similarly liberal people from subjects like at what age did we lose our virginities. I don’t remember everyone’s answer other than having to clarify if “freshman” meant college or high school. (And in fact, I think the answer may have been junior high.)

During the course of the evening, someone was raving about a particular alcoholic beverage they were drinking and insisted that I have a taste. I simply declined, which was usually enough to end the matter. But this person persisted and asked if I just didn’t like the type of beverage it was. So I clarified further that I didn’t drink alcohol at all. In less than five minutes, that person ended up “moving on” to chat with other party attendees, as if we had nothing further to talk about.

It was hardly the first time I’ve noticed this pattern with people.

About two or three years ago, I was finally convinced that it was the contrast to my personality that really shocked people the most.

Shortly before then, I had been a bus rider for a few years, which is very, very unusual in Southern California, which is so well known for its car culture. It wasn’t a case that I couldn’t afford car payments, I just had different financial priorities at the time. It became a departmental joke about how people could literally see me walking up the block to and from the bus stop to the office building.

Well, I have since bought a car and do the regular commute with everyone else. One day, when I took a co-worker out to lunch who happened to be an outside of work friend, we were chatting about the no-alcohol thing for some reason.

It was then she laughed and confessed to me that during my bus-riding days, someone from the department actually approached her to ask about why I took the bus to and from work. This person, (whom she didn’t name and I didn’t ask but could sense didn’t really know me), asked her point blank if the reason why I rode the bus was because I got my license taken away for a DUI, (Driving Under the Influence – usually of alcohol.)

And though I laughed at that, my biggest concern was making sure my friend did tell this person that was not the case, without going into the whole non-alcohol thing.

After all, I have a reputation to maintain.