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Understanding Transgenders, Substance Use Disorders

Beck Gee Cohen

Beck Gee-Cohen strives to teach clinicians how to better understand the transgender community, especially around substance use disorders.

This article originally appeared at 

Beck Gee-Cohen thinks he was put on this planet to teach clinicians how to better understand the transgender community, particularly around substance use disorders.

Gee-Cohen, a transgender man in long-term recovery, spends 75 percent of his time on the road training and teaching. “It’s an important time right now—to be a voice, to be authentic and to let the community know they’re not alone in recovery,” he says.

“These are hard times for the LGBTQI community. I’ve had close friends in recovery who have relapsed and some who have died, most as a result of escalating anxiety, depression and fear since the November election,” he explains.

His path of advocating for his community began via his own recovery. After years of bartending, Gee-Cohen, who is originally from Los Angeles, found himself becoming friends with a patron in a California bar where he bartended. The patron, who happened to be in recovery, became a good friend and eventually invited Beck to move to Bozeman, Montana to help open a restaurant.

“In that moment, I felt like there had to be more to life than this, meaning more than hanging out on bar stools. There was nothing bad in my life but I somehow knew bad was coming,” he says.

In Montana, his recovery friend took him to a 12-step meeting, after he broke down on a hike. Gee-Cohen laughs, remembering his first meeting. “I felt like I shouldn’t be there and that it was where I belonged all at the same time.”

Recovery brought a sociology degree and then a master’s degree in addiction counseling. With the education, he knew he had to share his passion and experiences as a member of the LGBTQI community.

Gee-Cohen understands more than most the added layer of shame and stigma that accompanies a transgender person in recovery. In 2005, he says he entered recovery identifying as a gay woman who carried a dangerous secret, dangerous because a few years later the secret nearly took his life.

“I was five years sober, had just graduated from graduate school and taken a job in Minneapolis,” he explains. “One day I walked over a bridge, over a freeway and just stood at the railing wanting badly to jump, because nobody knew the truth about me.

“But standing there, I had a moment of clarity, one that saved my life because I suddenly knew that there was help out there for me. That was six years ago.”

Gee-Cohen was worried about how his recovery community would react when he came out to them as transgender.

It turns out his worries were unfounded because he has been “so accepted” by people in recovery.

“We change each other’s lives in ways we never know when we’re in recovery,” he says. “We form true relationships that focus on our heart connections.”

Getting started in advocacy was an “amped-up, pink cloud” experience because it was such a natural next step in his recovery journey.

“I was so excited to be completely honest about my own recovery and to learn how to be real all the time, through the good times and the bad,” he says.

Gee-Cohen sees his roots in advocacy work in the LGBTQI community sinking deeper as time goes on. “I’m not just a person in recovery and I’m not just a trans person in recovery but these are the parts of me that reach out to others,” he explains.

“LGBTQI people are still being harmed, especially in rural communities; there’s still so much work to do even though we’ve come a long way.

“That’s why it’s so important to teach others how to better work with the community so that my LGBTQI siblings have a chance to recover.”

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