In my 20 years in and out of the program, half of my sponsors have been women and half have been men. The only woman who could really handle me for any length of time was an African American lesbian (I’m a straight, white woman); she sponsored me for three-and-a-half years.
Most of my other lengthy sponsors were men. There is nothing in the Big Book that says that the men should stick with the men and the women should stick with the women when it comes to sponsorship. And even if it did, what about if you’re gay? Since the point of same-gender sponsorship is to avoid potential romantic complications, having a same-sex sponsor would obviously present the same possible problems in this case.
Like I say, I understand the underlying theory (even if, when AA started, most women had male sponsors): The intimate nature of the work and the sharing between a sponsor and a sponsee could easily lead to romantic or sexual feelings on either side. But such is life! People crush out on their doctors, psychiatrists, bosses and priests. I know of straight men who have been sexually abused by their straight, male sponsors. The bottom line is that alcoholics have deep-seated issues with sex, relationships and power. We have issues with feelings. Period. There is no safety in the arena of a 12-step program aside from good boundaries, clean motives and personal integrity.
I admit I have fallen in love with a male sponsor before. When you are newly sober and craving validation, and here is a parental figure you respect, who loves you, who’s there for you … and if he’s attractive too? BOOM. Perfect storm. Despite my feelings, he was one of the best sponsors I’ve ever had and he never crossed a boundary.
But have I ended up sleeping with a male sponsor? Yes. After I relapsed, somebody who sponsored me briefly prior to my relapse invited me over and the inevitable happened. But I was completely compliant. I knew exactly why I was going over to his house. Looking back, I wonder if I picked him partially because I was attracted to him.
My sponsor now is a bisexual man. I feel completely safe in telling him anything. I was raised primarily by my father, so I can hear and take suggestion much better from a man. Right or wrong, that’s just the way it is. And because I was raised by a man, I’m quite assertive, loud and some might say even a bit masculine. I think the key to sponsorship is finding somebody you trust, respect, will listen to and can relate to. Gender and sexual orientation should not be the primary factors. It is one alcoholic helping another.
If you’re a woman and the idea of having a male sponsor makes you uncomfortable, then don’t do it. But don’t furrow your brow and wag a finger at the woman for whom it does work. There can be intimacy and safety between a man and a woman that is totally devoid of sexuality. My relationships with my male friends and male sponsors have allowed me to see men in way that is not sexualized, but that is intimate, and that’s been a real gift.