What If We Built It… And No One Came?
By bob k
There are some parallels existing between the LGBTQ+ and the secular communities in Alcoholics Anonymous. Both are outliers in a sense, or in multiple senses perhaps. Many in the traditional recovery community don’t quite know what to make of either group. Obviously, we have supporters. On the other hand, some mainstream AAers do a poor job of veiling their prejudices, while a great many are overtly hostile without shame.
Some substantial percentage simply wishes that we’d just all go away.
By forming separate freethinker or LGBTQ-friendly meetings, we have gone away without really going away. Introduce yourself in a mainstream AA meeting as “Bob from Whitby Freethinkers” or “Diane from We Agnostics” and there is at the least a subtly different reaction from that received by “Peter from Keep It Simple.”
When my friend Bridget, a self-described “purple-haired queer girl” (of 28) was trying to navigate to sobriety in the choppy waters of conventional AA meetings in Oshawa, there were problems. Hearing that men should sponsor men and women should sponsor women, she asked “Who should sponsor me?” There were no volunteers, nor even suggestions. She found understanding, a sponsor, and sobriety (two years April 11 – YA BABY!!) at the Whitby Freethinkers.
Both gays and atheist-agnostics have felt similar vibes within the rooms. The traditional member struggles to verbalize what would be the simplest of solutions – Why don’t you just go away?
Freethinkers often are asked pretty directly: “If you are uncomfortable with the God idea, why don’t you form your own godless organization to pursue sobriety?” Google Translate is not required to realize that recommendation is another way of saying: Why don’t you just go away?
Rarely does it even dawn on the speaker that his words are of the unkindest sort. “If we wanted to form our own godless sobriety organization, do you not think the idea would have occurred to us? But thanks for welcoming us to leave. By the way, you might consider waiting twenty minutes or so before making your speech about the tremendous inclusivity of Alcoholics Anonymous.”
Similarly, it’s best to leave a bit of time between the “choose your own conception of God” injunction or the “We’re spiritual, not religious” palaver, before closing with the extremely generic “Lord’s Prayer.” It was written by a Jew, you know? Pray tell.
The AA traditionalist finds himself trapped in a largely unwelcomed era of political correctness. He is somewhat pressured to feign tolerance for the gay community. In 2020, overt hostility has fallen out of fashion. At least the damn atheists can be more directly invited to fornicate elsewhere. After all, they are openly defiant and in denial about “no human power” etc. “God could and would if he were sought.”
There it is in black and white, ya damn Christopher Hitchens wannabe!
Not wanting to be seen as prejudiced, it’s a trickier business suggesting to the multi-lettered demographic that they just go away? In an era when folks like Jordan Peterson become heroes and sell a zillion books – I’d KILL to sell a zillion books! – for refusing to use gender neutral pronouns, it’s understandable that the average GM retiree wishes that we could return to simpler times. In the olden, golden days were they just not all homosexules??
Group autonomy is a wonderful thing.
We atheists and agnostics are forming our own AA meetings all over the world. Sadly, they are least likely to be found in the regions where they might be most needed, communities like Bibletown, Jesusville, or Redneck Gulch. Large cities have their share of fundamentalist mouth-breathers, but bigger populations offer a broader range of choice as well as more liberality regarding higher powers or sexual preference.
Urbanity = refinement of manner, suavity. Synonyms = sophistication, diplomacy, cultivation, worldliness.
See the connection?
The queer community has had its challenges with mainstream religion – homosexuality being an unnatural act, and all that. Freethinkers are the allies of the LGBTQ community. I am reminded of the most emotional AA meeting I’ve ever attended – the inaugural gathering of Kawartha Freethinkers.
The desire for a non-religious meeting was not the motivation for all who felt a need for a “freethinking” meeting. Two gay men felt that they would find less prejudice here. They did. A feminist-activist had her own, and not unique, objections to fundamentalism and much that’s in AA literature.
The Kawartha Freethinkers – AA Agnostica
In Peterborough, Ontario, one encounters some of the small-town thinking more stereotypically represented in the southern United States. Decent folks are openly wary of queers and nonbelievers.
It just ain’t right!
Not so long ago, two “agnostic” groups were delisted and disenfranchised. That all went swimmingly well until, with the help of Ontario’s Human Rights Commission, a satanic pit-bull named Larry K growled them into submission. Decades earlier, the very same Toronto Intergroup had delisted the city’s first gay meeting based on the rather clever pretext that a second “requirement” was being introduced beyond the desire to stop drinking. Let your imagination run wild.
That problem was solved by the meeting’s descriptor being changed to “Gay friendly.” AA ain’t all about the labelling, but it’s a lot about the labelling.
Toronto Intergroup is consistent if nothing else. They successfully delisted the Muckers for being too druggy and gave Bern B. and Moe K. grief when they started NOSMO, Toronto’s first non-smoking meeting. Times have truly changed in many ways. Being oldtimers who were neither gay nor secular, the non-smokers easily steamrolled over the objectors.
In the 1989 film Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner’s character hears an inner voice – If you build it, he will come. Without delving into the details of a nuanced plot, the Iowa farmer plows up a portion of his corn farm and builds a baseball field. The ghosts of disgraced Shoeless Joe Jackson and the other members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox “cheaters” show up and start playing.
Some of us have followed our inner voices to build more user-friendly AA groups targeting either the atheist-agnostic or the LGBTQ+ communities. There are now some five hundred and fifty secular AA meetings. Ten years ago, there were less than one hundred. There have been some frustrations along the way. The third ever Toronto area meeting, Widening The Gateway in Richmond Hill was Jesus-bombed, week after week, by a preachy Christian on a mission to convert the heathen horde. The group ultimately folded after making a strong beginning.
The first-ever secular LGBTQ meeting came and went within a year in spite of the brilliant organizational and promotional efforts of a small group of folks. Andrew H, who made a fascinating presentation at the 2018 secular world conference, drove in weekly from Oshawa to set up the Toronto meeting. Toronto is a huge city with a large LGBTQ demographic and a large recovery community, and the LGBTQ folks generally lean notably away from the religious end of the spectrum. What was the problem?
The Whitby Freethinkers has been a success, operating since 2013. Tom C started a similar group in Ajax in October 2016. That group has floundered. Only a very cheap rental fee for a tiny room has kept the meeting from folding. Some weeks, no one at all shows up. Surprisingly few of the Whitby folks (five miles away) have ventured over to support the meeting.
A few months back, AA Agnostica brought the great news of some intrepid folks bringing an LGBTQ meeting to Oshawa, Ontario. Already, the Rainbow Group is struggling despite noble efforts from a dedicated half dozen within the community, and some empathetic liberals outside the target demographic. The rednecks of the ‘Shwa have not been the problem. The area’s gay recovery community is not too small to support a meeting. We know that’s not the case. Dozens of different people have been at the meeting, from time to time.
If we build it, they will come, once in a while.
The same indifference is prevalent in traditional AA. I love AA – it saved my life. I’ve been really busy and haven’t dropped in for two months, but it’s good to be back at a meeting. Of course, the difference in the indifference is that traditional AA is many orders of magnitude larger. The apathy there is less obvious.
Some of us were in Alcoholics Anonymous long before “agnostic” options appeared. We rightly whined about the religiosity of conventional meetings. We LOVED it when prayerless alternatives appeared. For all too many, the enthusiasm was short-lived.
If someone builds it, we must come, and not just once in a while.
Not just when there is nothing good on TV. Not just when you are not too tired. Not just when you have no hot date, good book to read, or bathroom tiles to grout. We will be crushed if our more personally tailored option disappears.
Let’s not let that happen.
This may be the worst of times for a rant about supporting a cause by attending and supporting the meetings that we want to be there for us. In my defence, it may be that, as my Texas friends might put it, I ain’t quite right in the head. In the meantime, let’s make some effort to search out the needed Zoom numbers and passports needed in the current conditions.
The only thing worse than being on the outside looking in, is being on the outside not looking in.
Bob K has been something of an activist in the secular AA community. He has been one of the most prolific contributors to the websites AA Agnostica and AA Beyond Belief. He co-founded Whitby Freethinkers in 2013 and has made some efforts to support those who have started other nonreligious AA groups. In 2015, AA Agnostica published bob’s Key Players in AA History, a book that continues to sell well. Coming soon is The Secret Diaries of Bill W. We will announce the date of bob’s funeral after the fundies kill him.