Beers I Drank From Ages 14 to 20 That Made Me the ‘Man’ I Am Today

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Goldschlager with Natural Ice Chaser

It seems ridiculous in retrospect, but I honestly didn’t think I was going to get as drunk as I did. It was the day after school let out at the end of my eighth grade year, and some of my friends from the neighborhood and I were plotting for the summer days to come.

“We should get drunk!” one of our friends said. “Come on, you guys have been drunk before, haven’t you?”

Everyone in the group was of different ages and young life experience, but we all lied and enthusiastically said we’ve been drunk before even though most of us hadn’t.

Being newly teenaged is so strange in this way. You’re too young to have done half the stuff you lie about doing and everyone seems to know the truth about each other’s lives but we all just act as if that’s not the case. Better not to show all your cards until you have to at some point.

One friend offered to steal a bottle of liquor from his parents’ liquor cabinet. “Something from the back,” one of us said, “That way, it takes them a while to figure out it’s gone.”

Another friend said he could snag a few beers from his older sister. Then, we agreed to meet by green electrical box a few streets over that we always hung out around the following night to take turns taking shots and drinking beers.

When the next night came around, we all took our spots around the box and started passing around the bottle of Goldschlager our friend stole from his parents’ liquor cabinet. The stinging cinnamon sweetness of the alcohol made it feel more like a candy you’d dare your friends to eat than something that could alter your mental and physical state in any way. The bottle made its way around our little circle a few times, then one of us suggested we take a “Natural Ice break” because they were getting tired of the flavor of the Goldschlager. We only had three cans of beer, so we passed those around the same way we did the bottle. In a little less than two hours, we took down the entire bottle of Goldschlager and the three beers. We hung out around the box making jokes and listening to the radio of the boombox we always carried around with us. Every second of laughter made my head feel as if it was going to float right off my body, and I could barely dance without tripping over my feet. But there was something about the way the laughter came so easily and my body feeling so light that I didn’t want to let go of.

After a while, we were all exhausted and, though we didn’t know what to call it at the time, we were wasted. We all walked to our separate homes, and by the time I got to mine, I felt like I was dying. I walked up the stairs to my mom’s room where she was sleeping off a night of drinking of her own, and I told her I wasn’t feeling well. She yelled at me to go downstairs because she didn’t want me to throw up on the carpet, then brought me a blanket and bucket and advised me not to try to run for the bathroom.

“Just use the bucket,” she said. “And we’ll figure this out in the morning.”

I threw up twice that night, and swore to myself I’d never drink hard liquor again. The next day came, and all my mom said was that it doesn’t take a lot to get drunk when you’re young, so it’s best if I just drink a little then wait a little while and see how I feel before I drink more. I liked the feeling of the night before, but at that moment, I wanted so badly for her to tell me I was wrong, to say that I was grounded, to call my dad and tell him what happened so he could be upset, too. I knew I did something that required correction, and I was angry she didn’t want to correct me.


By the following summer, the one after my freshman year in high school, my friend group got a lot larger. And we had all been drunk several times over. I made friends at school, and I made friends by going to local punk shows almost every weekend. Somehow though, I still never made friends who were exactly my age. The other punks I rolled with ranged in age from 16 to 19, and they weren’t as interested in staying in and watching movies like I did with my school friends almost every week. They were constantly looking for a party, which means I was also constantly looking for a party, or they were planning on throwing one at whoever’s house was going to be free because their parents were going away or whatever.

Every punk party — whether it was in Ft. Lauderdale or Lake Worth or North Miami — had the exact same drink options. Either you were drinking Mickey’s or you were doing shots of Jack Daniels. I imagined there was some weird punk obsession with choosing the nastiest beverages in existence because we were above the creature comfort of drinking something that actually tastes good. I’d carry those little Mickey’s barrel bottles in my hand feeling so grown up. I’d take swigs off of them with a kind of flare I thought screamed out that I was just as tough and cool as anyone else at the party. When the craving arrived, I’d tuck the bottle into the crook of my underarm to pat my jeans down for my pack of Marlboro Menthol 72s and Bic lighter, then I’d hold my Mickey’s and my lit cigarette in the same hand until I was finished with both. Without fully realizing it, I adopted the demeanors and behaviors of the dudes who surrounded me a lot of the time, and it felt good to be one of them even if I really wasn’t.

At one of the parties not too far from where I lived, I was going for a Mickey’s in the giant, bright red backyard cooler when I bumped into D. We apologized to each other, then immediately struck up a conversation about ourselves, who we were there with, and what we did when we weren’t at punk parties. She was easily one of the hottest girls at the party, but my attraction to her was dampened by the anxiety I had about being attracted to her. During our conversation, I kept trying to sneak little glances at her thigh through the slit in her already wildly short, plaid skirt, but she kept touching my forearm as she spoke which made me even more anxious to look.

I’m not sure how much time went by but at some point, my friends called me back to them, and I had to leave her. We all stood around and listened to music and cracked jokes about each other until we had to leave. I slipped away to go to the bathroom before we left, and D followed me in. She grabbed my wrists, then kissed me so hard I thought I might fall over. It shocked me, but instead of saying anything, I just turned around and walked as fast as I could back to my friends. I was too scared to talk about how excited it made me, so I pretended I was irritated by it instead.

Coors Light

There was always Coors Light in D’s fridge because that’s what she and her roommates always drank. I never asked why but they were in college, so I figured it had something to do with cost and I knew Coors Light was a lot cheaper than a lot of other beers. And that’s what she would always give me to drink when I went to see her because it helped “set the mood.”

Not long after she kissed me, I ran into D again at a show where she asked me about that night at the party. She explained she got the feeling I was “into girls” and into her because of the way I looked at her when we were talking. She was right about both, but I was terrified to admit she was, so instead of agreeing, the best response my mushy, 14-year-old brain could come up with was “I mean, yeah, I think you’re cool.” We exchanged numbers and AIM screen names. I didn’t have my own cell phone at the time, so I told her the times it was acceptable for her to try to call me — always after 8 p.m. since my mom was usually passed out by then, but always before 11 because I didn’t like to stay up too late. I told her to not even try on the weekends because even if I could talk, I was rarely home to get the call.

We talked on the phone and on AIM for a week before we realized she and her roommates lived within walking distance of my house in a small apartment complex that was kind of hidden from view if you weren’t familiar with the area. It was another couple of days before she invited me over. We were on the phone talking about music, as usual, when she asked me if I knew who Sleater-Kinney was.

“No, I’ve never heard of them. But I can ask [my friend’s older brother] to burn a CD for me tomorrow.”

“You can come listen to some of their stuff at my house, if you want,” she replied. “I’ll be home around 4, and we’ll have the living room to ourselves to play it as loud as we want.”

That one day turned into another 100 days of doing the same thing. Of getting home from school and work and immediately walking to D’s apartment to hang out. In the beginning days, everything was new for me. Making out on her and her roommates’ couch, making out in her bed, undressing her and touching her body, learning how to make her come. I thought she was a patient teacher, though I know now it was more that she knew exactly what she wanted and knew I would do as I was told. She’d show me where she wanted to be kissed or licked or touched, she’d explain tempo and pressure, she’d take my hands in hers and show me the softest spots on them and say “Here, when you hold me, hold onto me with this part.” And I’d do what she asked.

I wasn’t ready to be touched the same way, because I wasn’t as in tune with my body as D was. Years of fatphobia from my family and the world around me and the fact that I never, not once in my life felt like the girl my body was telling me I was, made me hate my body. From what I could see, D loved her body. She moved in it with a kind of ease I didn’t even know existed.

She was the first person to whom I admitted both of these things after drinking five or six Coors Lights with her on her and her roommates’ couch one Saturday afternoon. And she didn’t push me to be any different.

She complimented me, as she usually did when I was feeling down about the way I looked, and then said, “You know, you don’t have to be a boy to be like a boy. There are so many ways to be, and you can choose your way.”

It was the first time I’d ever heard anything like that in my life.

Vodka and Soda

This was my mom’s drink.

This is not a beer, because she didn’t drink beer. She said beer and brown alcohol made you fat, so she tried her best to stay away from both of them. She started drinking heavily when I was 12-years-old, and by the time I got to high school, it felt like she was always drinking, and I never got any confirmation that she wasn’t. Her alcoholism drove us apart and was a contributing factor to her early death at 62, but that’s not why I’m bringing up her drink right now.

After almost a year and a half of going to D’s apartment whenever I could, I started to crush on A, another girl from the scene who was the same age as I was. We met at a party on the jetties at Ft. Lauderdale Beach where everyone was taking big swigs of vodka out of plastic water bottles and chasing their gulps down with even bigger swigs of Dr. Pepper and Mountain Dew. Everyone was sweating from the top of their heads all the way down their legs, and the spring night humidity was bearing down on us so hard that the moisture in the air felt like a chaser in and of itself. The boombox was blaring Aaliyah’s “Rock the Boat” when I decided to finally pull A away to talk to her about my feelings and ask if she felt the same way. We ended up talking and walking for about 45 minutes before we collapsed together on the sand to make out and hold each other until our friends came to find us and poke fun at us for leaving the group to “neck each other down” on the beach.

Our first official date wasn’t until about a week and a half later when we met up at the mall to get lunch at the food court and meander around various stores we liked until the movie we were going to see together started. We spent the whole time in a googly-eyed stupor, holding hands and putting our arms around each other as we walked from place to place, kissing in corners where we pretended people couldn’t see us. A was much more brazen about sex and her sexuality than I was, but I followed her lead because I didn’t want to seem like a coward. Really, I envied how free she felt to hold onto me and kiss me in rooms full of people, and it made me want more of her and to give her more of myself. We skipped the movie altogether to go fuck in her car on the top floor of the parking garage. Afterward, neither of us could stop smiling as she drove me back home and told me to call her in a few hours so we could figure out when we’d finally see that movie we missed.

When I walked through the door, I felt the best about myself I’d ever felt in my young life, and I was immediately greeted with screeching sounds of my drunk mother asking me if I was a “dyke” or not. I wouldn’t find out until weeks later, but I’d been outed to her by my little brother, whose friend was at the mall earlier that day and saw A and me galavanting around in our lusty teenage trance. My brother’s friend came over to the house that afternoon and asked my brother if he knew my girlfriend, and shit hit the fan from there, I’m guessing. I honestly still don’t even know all the details.

Vodka and soda in hand, my mom kept screaming at me as if I just killed someone she loved. I guess, in a way, I did, but I couldn’t see that in the moment, and I couldn’t understand the reaction. I ran to my room and called my dad, who I had already come out to via my stepmom the year prior, and then packed a bag and drove to his house to stay for a while. My dad wouldn’t reveal this to me until I was much older, but that night, she called my dad endlessly, leaving him slurry voicemails asking if he knew I was a “dyke” and what he intended to do about it. My dad never called her back.

The next day, I skipped school to go to the beach with a few friends to shed the drama of the previous day with the light of the sun and the weightlessness of being in the ocean. They brought two Zephyrhills water bottles filled with vodka, but I couldn’t even smell it let alone take swigs of it again. All I could think of was my mom’s face as she yelled at me and then raised her glass to her lips for another sip of her drink. I never got into trouble for anything I did wrong like I did for being a “dyke” and it was haunting me. There were so many times when I needed a mother to tell me that something I was doing was wrong or dangerous or just generally harmful to my well-being, but she was never there to do that. And this time, it was me who was wrong. Just me. Part of the core of who I was. I’m still trying to figure out what the fuck I’m supposed to do with that.

Miller Genuine Draft

After the blow out with my mom, I spent the last of my high school years trying to be home as little as possible. I spent more time at my dad and stepmom’s house or spent the night with friends or whatever girl I was fucking around with at the time. I dated A for a little while, and then I dated other girls, too, until I ended up in a relationship with someone I’d stay with for the next several years, even after it got stale and unproductive for the both of us. I was out to everyone who knew me, and I became even more militant in my personal beliefs and politics. Gender dysphoria was constantly breathing down my neck, but it was 2006, and I couldn’t identify it or talk about it in a way that made sense to anyone but me. I had no idea why I felt the way I did, and when it got really difficult to even get up and get dressed in the morning, I tried to remember what D had told me all those years ago when she was teaching me how to touch her.

As college started, I made a lot of new friends, but they weren’t much different than my old ones. Most of our nights together were centered around how many beers we were going to drink before we had to go home and get at least three or four hours of sleep before the next day began. Miller Genuine Draft (“MGD”) became our group’s signature drink for some reason I can’t fully remember. I think it was because the advertising campaigns for it at the time were all hypermasculine, so we’d buy it and joke around that we were “real men drinking real beer.” Within a couple of months of the joke starting, we were all able to polish off 12-packs of MGD on our own without falling when we got up to walk or dance or whatever. My drinking never got in the way of my work schedule or my ability to do well in my classes, but I started to feel more and more like I needed it all the time, and with all the emotions I was already dealing with plus the pressure of the people I was spending so much time with, I just gave into the feeling without thinking too much about what I was doing.

One night during the second semester of my sophomore year, a small group of us was drinking MGDs in the backyard of the house some of our friends shared. Everyone brought beer with them when they came. We must’ve had about 80 beers at our disposal. I was having a particularly rough day — I got into a fight with my partner, I got a C on a paper that I thought was solid as hell, and I had a shift at my shitty customer service job I hated going to. I wanted so badly to feel relaxed for a few hours, so I just kept cracking can after can after can. I’m not sure how much I drank that night, but it was well over the 7 to 12 beers I usually drank with them in that same spot most weekends and a couple of days out of the week. I still don’t remember much about what happened that night, but I know the next morning, I was sleeping outside my friends’ house in my car, and I woke up with the worst headache I’d ever had. I tried to put the pieces together as I laid there thinking about how to greet my friends after not leaving their house the night before. But then all of the pain in my body came rushing to my consciousness, and I knew I just had to leave. On the way home, I pulled over to vomit on the side of the road, and when I got there, I crawled into bed for the next 14 hours.

At first, I blamed the MGD for making me so drunk and sick, but after a few days, I was finally ready to admit it was all me. And then, I started thinking about my mom’s drinking and how it started. I worried I was taking the same wrong turn onto the road that led her to drink so much in the first place. My 21st birthday was a little over a year away, and I decided I’d stop drinking that week until whatever my friends and I planned to do to celebrate my birthday the following year. I drank one last MGD that night with one of my best friends at the time and went to bed sober for the first time in a long time.

Diet Coke

It didn’t feel good not drinking when my mind was so busy trying to figure out who I was and what I wanted all the time, but my body felt better than it had in years. Struggling through all the feelings I had about myself, my relationships, my family, and the trajectory of my life without the aid of substances made this truly one of the harshest and cruelest times of my life. I never mentally punished myself as much as I did during the first four months of that year without drinking. And there was no amount of coffee or Diet Coke that could help me through it, but I mainlined both every day as if they wouldn’t be available the next.

It wasn’t until the last day of the fourth month that I finally started seeing a therapist. This was my first time in therapy, and I didn’t think I’d get much out of it. Of course, I wasn’t fixed by the time my 21st birthday came around, but something did turn in me those last seven months before that. I still didn’t have the language to describe the way I felt about my gender, but I leaned into the masculine and feminine parts of myself and the parts of myself that float outside of those categories as hard as I could. I started figuring out how to forgive myself for being so unrelentingly unkind to myself for so many years. I started figuring out how to forgive my mom and my dad for their individual failures as parents and as people as I was growing up. I started getting closer to other friends, finding people who would love and respect me without crossing my boundaries or pushing me to do things I didn’t want to do. I started standing up for myself in the areas of my life where it was the easiest first, then later, the harder ones. I was learning how to clean up the house where my life lived, which was some of the hardest work I’ve ever done. But it still felt better than leaving it a mess.

Bud Light Lime

When my 21st birthday finally came around, I actually wasn’t thinking about drinking at all. I decided to celebrate with some old and new friends at the karaoke night of a diner that was close to where our college was instead of going out to some bar or club like I originally planned the year before. We got there and ate our greasy diner burgers and all kinds of diner pies and, much to the dismay of everyone there, we sang at least four songs each. Toward the end of the night, the waitress came over to ask if we wanted anything else and I asked what kind of beer they had on tap.

My friends looked at me skeptically and, after the waitress finished listing them, one of my friends said, “OK, let’s share a couple pitchers of Bud Light Lime and sing two more songs each and then go home.”

So we did. We sang our songs and squeezed extra lime juice into our freezing cold mugs and drank our BLLs and toasted to each other and to being alive despite the pains we’d all experienced. Despite our parents and families letting us down. Despite our economic difficulties. Despite the forces of the world that were against us constantly. Despite it all.

Bubble Trouble is a series helmed by Autostraddle Managing Editor Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya about the nostalgia, effervescence, and never-ending appeal of carbonated beverages.

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Stef Rubino

Stef Rubino is a writer, community organizer, and student of abolition from Ft. Lauderdale, FL. They teach Literature and writing to high schoolers and to people who are currently incarcerated, and they’re the fat half of the arts and culture podcast Fat Guy, Jacked Guy. You can find them on Twitter (unfortunately).

Stef has written 84 articles for us.


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