Interview with Sky
PREFACE: My quit experiences is a project Shift MN has been carrying out since August 2018 . After collecting both general and specific data on the experiences of lgbtq+ folks based in the metro area with tobacco, we are using our various platforms to highlight people’s stories and bring attention to the issue. Bold quotations are the words of our interviewee.
It was a warm Wednesday evening when I’d called Sky, but I doubt it was comparable to the warmth of the small Texan town they’d grown up in. A place where the simple life was ubiquitous, and cigarettes were too. “It had been such a prevalent thing throughout my whole life, that it was very normalized. My mom smoked right up until she found out she was pregnant with me, and I’m the eldest of 3 children”. That was when they’d first been exposed to tobacco. When cig breaks intertwine with family gatherings having a smoke is going to be considered normal, however it did pique some curiosity of 12/13 yr old Sky. “I had a friend who was a year older than me. He had access to all things like that, and he’d already been smoking for years before then. I know that it was definitely pre-planned… like we’re going to meet up at this person’s house and we’re gonna hang out for a minute... (okay well i have the cig here we already talked about it and you said it was cool).” Unfortunately for them, the sticks smelled better than they tasted (we’ll call this the coffee effect).
Eight years ago they made the big move to Minneapolis, almost the polar opposite of their hometown. Sky got to experience all the wonders of winter, including stepping into sub-zero temps for 10 mins of faux bliss. “6 months after I moved to Minnesota, I was bored, and I didn’t want to pay that much money. I don’t like standing outside when it’s cold and gross... and I don’t even want to be outside” - Their first winter here This was a factor in pushing them to quit all together.
Eventually, it became Summer of 2011. They’d decided to quit for good. “Okay I’m done, this is kinda whack.” When I asked what physical or mental changes they noticed, breathing won hands down! “The one big thing that I did notice was oh, I could breathe a lot better. I could take bigger, heartier breaths” ones that they didn’t regret at that. However there was a time roughly 3 years ago when they’d relapsed after a really rough day. “I went to a gas station, and I was like ok cool I’m just gonna buy a pack and go home... I was like astounded by how much they cost.” In spite of a terrible day Sky had only smoked half of one, given the rest away to a coworker, and added cost as another reason to quit for good.
4 years ago they did try vaping, sticking to the nicotine-free flavors to fulfill that oral fixation. It was something they only used a couple times a week, until it had gotten stolen. Afterwards they saw no reason to replace it.
Moving away from their hometown was definitely a factor that made quitting easier, although it seems that the hardest part altogether for Sky was being queer. In terms of specific patterns they’d noticed around their cig use, gathering in queer spaces and the communal use that comes with was what stuck out the most. “A lot of people are both social drinkers and social smokers, they kind of do both together. And that’s something also very prevalent in our community … seeing those things go hand in hand. They also noticed this same trend with folks trying to stay sober. Somewhere down our community’s timeline, substances became a heavy part of our culture. It is difficult to deviate from them when they have a such presence in lgbtq+ spaces. Choosing to be sober or nicotine-free can often feel isolating, especially with most of the lgbtq+ specific places we have here in the metro area being centered around nightlife. It can feel as if one is missing out due to the exclusion. “It’s just super normalized. It feels defeating sometimes to see it be such a big part of queer folx lives, because it seems as if every queer person smokes... a lot of my friends now are thankfully trying to quit”
So how did cigarettes become a queer coming-of-age phenomena? (Especially within a community as close as ours) And who allowed them to sit with us? The only ones who benefit from our heavy usage are the corporate tobacco companies who sell us these products. The ones who come into our clubs and bars with an array of coupons, the ones who take up space in community specific events to feign solidarity, who queerbait their content in an attempt to appeal to our pockets, who have successfully infiltrated our community with products that do nothing but harm our bodies.
What is the best way to fight? As a small organization we ask ourselves this often, although there are times we wish we did not have to. Being lgbtq+ is a battle in itself, especially with the visibility we have and the security that is not [yet] guaranteed. The power and disposable resources corporate tobacco have access to can be intimidating. They have such a wide reach that feelings of unproductivity, or that organizations with missions similar to ours aren’t doing enough, creep up from time to time. I asked Sky what they’d like to see from a community specific resource such as Shift MN. They simply said *The only thing I can really think of is utilizing these community spaces… creating these open discussions. To spread awareness is really important and crucial.* As for words of encouragement for folks embarking on their own quit journeys: You have the ability to do this! Even if you are unsure, there are other people going to be rooting for you… who’ll be in your corner and support[ing] your decision.
If you are lgbtq+ and a former smoker interested in sharing your experience [and being reimbursed] as part of our ongoing project, let us know.