Folks, you have no idea how excited I am to bring you the story of fantastic, non binary, queer, cutie Lazarus Letcher!!
Listen. I don’t even remember what my life was like before I had Lazarus in it, even though it’s only via Instagram, they are a beacon of shining light that we are lucky enough to exist on the same planet with.
Lazarus, thank you so much for sharing your story with us all!
Everyone else, be prepared to learn from, relate to and, fall at least a little bit in love with this human:
From my first sip I loved drinking. The warm feeling in my mouth, chest, and tummy – and the lowering and loosening of my shoulders from their ever defensive position.
I started drinking in high school, my freshman year. I lived in Indiana, not the most entertaining or accepting of places. I was Black, queer, and not nearly comfortable enough to know I was trans.
Vodka and yellow Gatorade, a match made in hell but when your fourteen anything will do the trick. The boy I pretended to have a crush on spent the night hugging the toilet while I trailed behind the girl i had a crush on, her house miraculously empty for the weekend. I was the only freshman at the party, SNL was on the TV, and with the magic of alcohol she accidentally kissed me – I was in heaven.
It would be another ten years until I had a first kiss with someone that didn’t taste like booze.
I drank on and off for the rest of high school, loving the false sense of connection alcohol gave me to my peers that felt so far away. Weed was much more my speed, I’d smoke on my long country drive to school and dip out during lunch for more bowls. I think there is a medicinal value to cannabis, but definitely not the way I used it as a hall pass from reality.
I graduated high school, stayed in the closet save for a few friends, and journeyed to my dream school in Minnesota. I got in on a music scholarship, and I was so excited to throw myself into my passions and nerd the fuck out. The school was 95% white and a dry campus. Naturally, I got hammered with my roommate the first night. Gin giggles gave way to her admission that once she found me on Facebook she’d “watched BET all summer so she could learn how to talk Black to me”.
It was a long wine fueled four years.
No one ever said anything about my drinking. Most of my peers didn’t have the years of training I’d had in high school, and were more apt to barf, black out or both. I saw no problem with filling up a sippie cup with wine before heading to a noon music history class, running home before rehearsal for cocktails, or slamming hoagies and beers before midterms. I had some amazing opportunities in college, traveling the country every year with my orchestra and across China, drinking every day and weeping at night while we played Shostakovitch or Mahler. I was an artist, this is what artists do. We drink, we suffer, we create.
My gender dysphoria has been a constant companion in this life, but booze helped quiet it down a bit. My final year in Minnesota, I escaped the winter and studied in Morocco. I lived with an amazing host family in Fez, and relished living in a place where I looked like a majority of the population. Every morning I’d wake up for the call to prayer, eat breakfast with the family, and then walk the winding stone streets of the medina to catch a cab to school. I’d greet folks in French or Arabic as I walked, and relished being read as a dude for the first time since childhood. I’d spend the afternoons on the roof reading, writing, and relishing how at home I felt for the first time in my life.
It was my first time in my adult life I went more than a few days without a drink – lasted three whole weeks and the second I was no longer in the care of my loving Muslim family I was chugging red wine in the shower. The unintentional dry spell I had in Morocco gave me enough clarity to recognize another life was possible – I got the message on gender but wasn’t ready to admit how nice it was to fall asleep and wake up with a clear mind and conscious.
I graduated, worked on a green tea farm in Hawaii for a hot second, and then fled my Midwest roots for grad school and the desert. Liquor seems to be a grad school requirement. Every class was followed with beers at nearby dive bars, the alcohol and grandiose discussions falsely felt like a dream come true. I did well in my classes, made new friends, and joined a band. I felt like I was where I was supposed to be in every area of my life. I knew sleeping in everyday tilnoon, killing a bottle of wine on my own every other day, and my ever present anxiety were maybe problems – but I was too scared to actually make the change I needed to not just survive but thrive.
After about a year in Albuquerque I came out to myself and others as trans. The truths that began to creep through the cracks when my mind was sober in Morocco were now impossible to ignore. Booze helped quiet the cries of my skin crawling off, if only for a minute. Coming out eased the pain some, starting hormones helped, and top surgery lifted a weight off of my chest, but still my need to drink persisted. The day of my operation I begged my partner at the time for a drink, declaring that whiskey certainly was medicinal in this situation. It’s amazing what things stand out as problematic once we admit to ourselves we are powerless over alcohol and start sifting through the file cabinet of memories. Instances like this seemed inconsequential at the time, and now seven months sober I shudder with worry and pity for this human begging for booze after being sliced and diced.
I went through a series of gnarly breakups, the downside of polyamory, and retreated further into booze. My band went on its third tour, this time an ambitious two month international journey. I drank heavily every single day, booze was always free and flowing. To be on stage without a beer was a foreign concept. I prided myself on my ability to barely walk straight but still play a killer fiddle, to this day you can still catch me black out drunk playing a Norwegian Christmas special on PBS. I laughed with my band as we chugged a bottle of whiskey before crossing the Canadian border in case they tried to confiscate it. About six weeks into the tour my suicidal ideation became impossible to ignore and I had to return to New Mexico before the tour was done. I love my band dearly, and no one is going to tell a twenty something musician that they have a drinking problem. I couldn’t see that severe drinking every single day and night, quitting my antidepressants, and having no semblance of a routine was a recipe for mental health disaster.
I got home and worked on fixing my mental health and making friends. Every social interaction I had was centered around alcohol, and connections quickly fizzled. I got back to trying to finish school. I was done with my course work and had moved on to working on my thesis, a deep dive into transphobic violence that rocked me mentally and spiritually. I would roll into breweries as soon as they opened and begin to “work” on my thesis. Chugging beer and soaking up the sun as I wrote hollow words and chased research rabbits for naught made me feel like Black trans Hemingway. I constantly wondered why my thesis seemed to be going nowhere.
In October of 2017 I started skating on my rock bottom. I got dumped, for good reasons, and was already in the midst of battling suicidal ideation. I didn’t leave my room for days at a time, bless my roommate for delivering tea and toast to my room. I felt utterly stuck in every area of my life – I’d cut off all of my friends and isolated myself within my final relationship, my thesis was going nowhere fast, and my body seemed to be betraying me even after all the steps I had taken in my transition to make it a home.
I sat down and made a list of all of the times I’d really let people down, including myself. Every time I’d hurt or been hurt, every regretful conversation, every missed opportunity. They all involved alcohol. After writing the list I rewarded myself with a beer.
The final day of November my band played a benefit show for the trans women detained in Cibola’s immigration prison. It was an audience full of beautiful trans folx, and we played our hearts out. I’d stopped drinking for the entire week, a record of mine save for Morocco. The second someone offered me a beer I was off to the races. I told myself it would be just the one that night, but I chugged two over the course of our set, and another two after for good measure. I drove home – cruise control on, gum battling my yeasty breath, and my eyes fighting sleep. I woke up hungover and not quite sure how exactly I made it home. I was disgusted with myself. I remembered the list I’d made, remembered all of the promises I’d made to myself in the previous months to not drink at least three days a week, I remembered telling myself I’d stop after one beer the night before.
I was, I am, powerless over alcohol.
I quit drinking, thought doing it for just December would set me right. The first week was hell. I was desperate for some sort of support, some system to help me get and be better for myself and for my community. On one of the shows I was watching at the time a character around my age joined AA, and it looked a lot less cultish than what I had read. I finally decided to give it a shot. I worked the day of my first meeting. Someone came in and asked if they could leave some growlers of beer for the staff that they weren’t going to finish. I almost yelled “get behind me Satan!” and took my ass to a meeting as soon as I got off. The coworker I was with that day grew up in the rooms of Al Anon and was so helpful in getting me ready for my first meeting telling me, “you’ll never be in a room with people so different from you that you have so much in common with.” I sat in the back of the meeting, surprised at the turnout, and when it came to be my turn I said finally, “I’m Lazarus and I’m an alcoholic”. I didn’t want to believe the words, but after listening to the other folks in the room I knew that was my truth.
Sobriety is the best thing that’s ever happened for me. The first months weren’t easy. As an old timer told me when you get sober you start to feel better. Not as in feelings of joy or exuberance, but you can actually feel for the first time in a long time. It took awhile to get used to these new fangled things called emotions, and it was hard. I desperately wanted to find an inpatient program, knowing that a change of environment and responsibilities would really help me establish a solid foundation for my sobriety. It proved to be impossible as a trans person. The whole LGBTQ community suffers from higher rates of addiction than cis and or hetero folks – trans folx of color being especially vulnerable. What brick and mortar LGBTQ establishments exist around you that aren’t bars? What LGBTQ events have you attended that aren’t centered around substance abuse and its celebration? My entry into the queer community was through the doors of a bar. Every treatment center I called had never had experience with a nonbinary patient let alone a trans patient. Even the ones touting to be “LGBT” friendly seemed to think the T was silent. The system has to be changed. I got lucky that I was able to find and maintain a support system where I am, and I’m truly blessed with the community I’ve found here in my sobriety. A lot of my trans family is not so lucky. The recovery industrial complex isn’t built for us, and that needs to change. We need a place and space to heal, and I’m dedicating my life to that.
All of the amazing things in my life – a loving partner, my Master’s degree and my PhD acceptance letter, my queer and trans community of color, all of my art – these things are all maintained and improved by my sobriety. In therapy I’ve realized that I was using alcohol as a barrier between myself and love. I took all the messages I’d internalized in my tenure as a born again Christian trying to pray the gay away, and all the messages that I was unlovable I’ve received as a Black weirdo in the Midwest, and transferred them over to alcohol.
I am lovable, I can love, I am worthy of a life worth living. I am not alone.
Today I’m reliable, I’m honest, I have the hard conversations, I show up for my community, I show up for myself. Sobriety is the greatest gift I’ve given myself, and for the first time I actually like this person I’ve become. I’m one grateful fucking queer.
Lazarus Letcher was born and raised in the Midwest, living and thriving in Albuquerque, New Mexico. They are a graduate student in the University of New Mexico’s American Studies program – studying Black transgender studies, queer Indigenous Studies, and liberation movements. They are also a sex educator at Self Serve Sexuality Resource Center, and a musician. Find their music on their Band Camp and their band Eileen & the In-Betweens. Also, if you want to see what they’re up to beyond music, head on over to their Instagram @L.Nuzzles