Beer Helped Me Express My Identity—And Then I Stopped Drinking Beer

November 02, 2018

By Grace Perry, November 02, 2018

When I think about first dates, I think about beer. It goes like this: I arrive a few minutes early, wearing my honeysuckle scent and black jeans and leather jacket—I’ve put in the effort. I’m fidgety and anxious. I need a beer and quick, so I order a Bell’s on draft. I take a few sips—just enough to quash the anxiety. It works. Once she arrives, I watch my pint glass empty sip-by-sip. I’m nervous, so I drink too quickly. As I get into the final quarter of my drink, I evaluate whether I want to order another. The pint is my makeshift hourglass for the date. Beer is integral, it turns out, to making a good first impression as a cool girl who knows about cool beers and cool bars and wears cool jackets. I want my date to believe I’m a Beer Girl.

Who is the Beer Girl? The Beer Girl is cool. She can hang. She doesn’t mind the extra calories, because this IPA is dynamite. The Beer Girl will just have whatever Half Acre you have on tap. The Beer Girl likes to get drunk slowly—over six hours, like a rising tide, letting the booze wash all over her, nice and easy. She likes the happy, warm buzz of beer, not the rush of liquor. The real-life Beer Girl loved Drinking Buddies upon first viewing, but the more she thinks about it, the more annoyed she gets with Olivia Wilde’s character. She’ll go to your band’s show. The Beer Girl fucks! Beer gives the Beer Girl a touch of masculine swagger, because, as we all know, beer is for boys.

Masculinity has been used to sell beer for decades. Take Miller High Life’s 1975 Super Bowl commercial: Rugged dudes take on the mountains, skiing in dangerous conditions that only the manliest (not to mention whitest) men could, before relaxing by the fire with a High Life with other scraggly men. By 1992, beer and masculinity were so culturally intertwined that Saturday Night Live parodied it in the (super homophobic) 1992 sketch, “Schmitt’s Gay”. Still today, beer commercials follow a predictable formula: A bunch of dudes party it up, maybe while watching a sports game, surrounded by women with gravity-defying breasts. Dos Equis’ viral marketing campaign, “The Most Interesting Man In The World,” sinks all its money into the notion that beer is butch. The Most Interesting Man In The World is who every white, masculine man strives to be in the autumn of his life—or, at least, that’s the idea.

Despite beer being inherently genderless, thanks to a lifetime of social conditioning, navigating a beer list with ease was an extension of my androgynous energy.”

But masculinity isn’t just for men. As a ‘90s-tomboy-turned-grownup-lesbian, I’ve come to not only love, but count on the way beer makes me feel less feminine. I can literally grasp this cultural token of masculinity. Yes, I know that beer has no gender. Neither does wine or liquor or food or glassware, or any other nonhuman object you’d find in a bar. But gender is so pervasive in our culture with that we assign degrees of femininity and masculinity to all kinds of inanimate objects—baseball hats, teapots, sandwiches, belts, pillows, lamps—mostly based on their appearance and who tends to enjoy them, or to whom they’re being sold. Even some combinations of hops, barley, yeast and water can seem girlier or manlier than others.

The forefront of my brain knows that such categorization is subjective and deranged, that “beer is for men” was invented by Don Draper-types to sell it. And yet, on a subconscious level, I bought into it. I like that drinking a beer makes me feel like a tomboy. When I order a beer—especially something craft and local, a brew that flexes my beer knowledge—I feel a little more butch. I take comfort in this simple way of expressing my boyish disposition. Despite beer being inherently genderless, thanks to a lifetime of social conditioning, navigating a beer list with ease was an extension of my androgynous energy.

I did, anyway. Approaching 30 means it’s time for your body to make a bunch of arbitrary decisions—ranging from irritating to debilitating—about how you navigate the world. This year, my body decided it no longer likes beer. Well, my taste buds still do, but it’s after I drink a pint when my body feels like garbage. Certainly not a life-threatening condition, no, but a few months ago I threw in the towel and stopped drinking beer altogether. Giving up drinking beer still feels like a small loss of self, a forced abandonment of my drinking persona.

Like many queer folks, I carry a heightened awareness of the way I present my gender to the world.”

At first, I straight-up rejected this truth. Smash cut to me, on a date, ordering an Oberon knowing full well I’ll have to hoover some Tums later. I wasn’t ready to sacrifice my Beer Girl identity. I worried that drinking anything else would be an indication that I was too femme, according to the girl sitting across the table, and figured a little heartburn was worth the vibe I wanted to portray.

I liked the idea of being a Beer Girl—maybe more than I actually liked beer—because of that cool, masc confidence associated with it. That may sound vapid and contrived and, to beer lovers, absolutely besides the point. But like many queer folks, I carry a heightened awareness of the way I present my gender to the world. It’s not all-consuming, but a sort of latent buzz that rattles beneath the surface of my skin at all times. It’s a buzz that non-hetero folks and, even more so, non-cis folks carry around at all times, ears perked.

Like most queer women, I fall somewhere in the middle ground of the spectrum of high femme (think Cara Delevingne) and hard butch (Orange Is The New Black’s Lea Delaria). I slide around like a bead on the spectrum, depending on my mood, or how I want to present to a certain group of people or environment, or for fun. Like a lot of people (LGBTQ or not) do. Sometimes—back when my body allowed it—I liked drinking a heavy, brewed-by-dudes-with-beards beer, both for how it helped me effortlessly slide to the butch side of the spectrum and for the taste, duh.

In losing my ability to enjoy beer, I lost a tiny bit of freedom to pick and choose how I present to others.”

In losing my ability to enjoy beer, I lost a tiny bit of freedom to pick and choose how I present to others. In the same way that beer is branded as manly, we’ve historically been told wine, cider and cocktails are for women. From the Wine Mom trope to the Sex And The City gals gabbing over Cosmos to the endurance of gendered wine marketing, pop culture and advertisers insist so all the time.

Confined to these things, I default to girliness when I drink. It’s not that I dislike non-beer drinks—honestly, I’m a sucker for bougie cocktails—it’s that I no longer have the option to embrace the boyish energy that comes with holding a cold pint of beer. I loved how that made me feel: secure, confident, self-assured (side effects, coincidentally, of being a little tipsy). It’s not because men are inherently more confident than women, but because finding an external self-expression that matches our internalized identity feels so damn good.

Smash cut again to a sticky-floored and rainbow-walled gay dive bar with a date. We were killing time before our jukebox picks played “Bitch” by Meredith Brooks. After a gin and tonic or two, I finally confessed. I told her I’d ordered that Oberon on our first date, a few weeks prior, wanting to butch it up, despite it making me feel sick. What she did next was absolutely called for: She laughed. “Aww!” she chuckled. It wasn’t an adoring “aww,” it was a “that’s deeply, deeply stupid” one. Sometimes, verbalizing your insecurities is all you need to realize how silly they are.

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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