The Fabulous Queerness of the Vodka Soda


Posted 2 weeks ago in Food & Drink Features

Cirillo’s

Pride Month is celebrated each June to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall Riots in Manhattan. The first public gay rights demonstration in Dublin took place on June 27 1974. It’s been 50 years since then, and Pride is now known by many for a proliferation of rainbow flags and parades. It is also dominated by one drink and one drink only: Gay Water, also known as vodka soda lime.

When I came out as bisexual, I braced myself for the typical clichés: pop diva remixes, twinks in mesh tanks, bears, and drag queens towering over me deserving generous tips. But nothing prepared me for the Vodka Soda obsession gripping the queer community. Every time I hit the bar, I’d hear the entire spectrum of The Gays ordering Vodka Sodas.

The queer community is pretty synonymous with vodka. The neutral spirit has been embraced by gay clubs and personalities for decades now. Vodka companies, like Smirnoff and Absolute, are among the most market-saturating supporters — and, at times, lobbyists — for their LGBTQ audiences.

Absolut, for example, started referencing LGBTQ culture in the 1980s, when mainstream culture was full of ‘perfectly acceptable’ homophobia. The vodka is a founding sponsor of the GLAAD Media Awards and an early sponsor of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Absolut has donated more than €40 million to gay and lesbian centres such as OUTserve, OUTFEST, and God’s Love We Deliver. In Ireland, it has sponsored the Dublin Fringe Festival, The George, and countless pride events.

So it’s easy to see how the drink was embraced by generations of queers who saw themselves represented by vodka in a way they hadn’t been by any other spirits business before. Also, it’s one of the few spirits not associated with cis-het masculinity. The imagery around whiskey and tequila is more masculine, while vodka is seen as kind of femme-y with a c*nty edge.

Vodka Sodas are the bread and butter of queer bars, with many putting them on special to attract larger groups. It’s a general generalization but a very common drink choice. There’s an unspoken symbol here. A symbol of belonging. Ordering a vodka soda lime in a straight bar can also be a way of communicating queerness in straight spaces. Since the days of the hanky code and beyond, queer people have always found ways of indicating their queerness through subtle codes. Clear phone cases equal bisexual. Have a carabiner on your keys? Lesbian, no doubt. Ordering an iced coffee in winter – gay. Ordering a vodka soda lime – definitely gay.

The “masc” dom leather daddies order them alongside the girlies. Bears, otters, and jocks down the nearly odourless elixir almost exclusively, especially the ripped ones. LGBTQ+ folks everywhere are guzzling Vodka Sodas, earning the drink the nickname “gay water.” In more female-dominated spaces, it’s also called the ‘skinny bitch’ according to Jules Mahon, the Beverage & Hospitality Director of Michael’s and Big Mikes as well as being an active member of the Dublin queer community.

It is, in part, a vanity thing. Drinking a Vodka Soda says, ‘I care about my body, but not enough to miss out on the craic. Here’s my 100-calorie statement.’ Traditionally the queer community, especially the male aspect, has been very fitness orientated. So, it’s easy to see how the drink gained traction in the gym-focused community. This gay water is the precursor to the hard seltzer summers we’ve lived through. The reign of gay water continues through them, even hitting the shelves in the USA with Spencer Hoddeson’s canned Vodka Sodas, aptly named “Gay Water.”

Words: Shamim De Brún

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