When Josh Hersh migrated to NYC three years ago, he was heavily overcome with melancholy. Though he had struggled with depression on and off, generationally predispositioned, Hersh pushed to change course. Alongside weaning off SSRIs, last October Hersh made a brave decision to finish out 2018 alcohol-free, an anxiety-inducing experiment for anyone who routinely relies on a buzz for social activities. Holiday parties, birthdays and dates were without booze’s quick comfort, however the willingness for a change provided a fresh discovery for Hersh.
“Even that small window of time changed my life. I haven’t felt this fantastic - mentally and physically - in years. As an introvert and a spiritual person, solitude is my happy place. Where I feel at home,” Hersh explains. “In order to show up fully for the people in my life, I know I need to create the space to recharge. To be still and quiet. Experiencing this period of going alcohol-free has literally lifted my spirits and released anxiety that plagued me for so long.”
Like many touched by the wide spectrum of emotions from comic Hannah Gadsby's beloved "Nanette", the posed question of "Where do the quiet gays go?" took a strong hold on Hersh. Being newly in NYC, Hersh missed past Meetups from life in Chicago, especially a group he started called The Thoughtful Gay Man with a focus on personal growth. He craved more than raucous gay bars for grounds to meet other queer-identified friends and wanted to curate spaces for other like-minded individuals who benefited from cozy environments.
“Truthfully, when this idea to create events for queer introverts came to me, I had no idea whether anyone would resonate with it. Are many queer people even introverts? Is there a demand for low-key, booze-free events? Is NYC a terrible place to launch this?” Hersh wondered. In initial brainstorming, the overwhelming presence of loud club culture in an already enormous fast-paced metropolis seemed the most prevailing option for queer people to gather. However, the response Hersh received was incredibly positive, catching him off guard, much to his delight. “Many queer people - whether they’re sober, introverted, or looking for new ways to socialize - sent messages thanking me for creating these events,” and thus queeret was formed in September 2018.
As a former contributor for HuffPost Queer Voices, touching on the ways queers can show up for each other, Hersh also works as a life coach, a career path that informs the mission and positive message in his event curation. “Psychology and inner work always interested me, but I didn't have the words or clarity about how that could manifest in my life. I decided to go through a coach training program at the International Coach Academy based in Australia and worked, for the most part, with gay men, in a one-on-one capacity,” Hersh tells WUSSY. “Encouraging and rooting for others is a gift of mine, so I enjoyed being able to work with men and see them transform their lives.” Hersh’s attention to fostering self-awareness has provided an entrepreneurial foundation that queeret as a small but thriving group has grown from. His work gently challenges the all too common methods of suppression, projection and substance use to deal with stress, depression and anxiety.
queeret aims to create environments that overall are relaxing and serene, such as qalm a monthly event where over a couple hours, individuals can come and go, enjoy hot drinks (or sometimes delish mocktails), soothing beats and good conversation (perhaps with some prompts). queeret also hosts a book club a la qlub, the 2019 January edition in discussion of a particular book that influenced Hersh in his own self-discovery with booze-free living.
“Rather than ‘sobriety’, I prefer to use a term coined by author Ruby Warrington: ‘sober curious’. Mostly because I’m not in recovery, so I don’t want to speak for people who are,” says Hersh. “This idea of sober curiosity - really questioning why I keep alcohol in my life - is new way of thinking. A few years back, I worked in the wine industry, so drinking on the regular was part of my job. I never questioned the amount of alcohol I consumed. It didn’t seem excessive to me, especially since I considered all drinking as learning.”
Though queeret currently exists as a newer project, Hersh is interested in having other chapters and hopes the options for queer individuals expand beyond drinking as a sole communal activity. Whether trying Sober January, wanting to break booze habits or looking for quieter social activity, the inspiration queeret has brought to the Brooklyn queer community will hopefully be a positive echo in other cities needing a similar refresh of clarity, simplicity and quiet.
Sunni Johnson is the Arts Editor of WUSSY and a writer, zinester, and musician based in Atlanta, GA.