13th Step Jokes Aren't Funny

13th step AA
13th step AA

I hate to be a buzzkill, but 13th step jokes aren't funny. The whole 13th step concept is weird, shameful, and tragic. I've always been the person who doesn't think racist jokes are funny, or rape jokes, or any type of sensitive subject that is used as the butt of someone's humor.

Growing up I was the one always telling my peers not to say the "n" word when referring to people of color, or the "f" word to describe gay people. I used to get a lot of weird looks and eye rolls. In college a few friends of mine were on an intramural flag football team they cleverly named, "SDIA" which spelled AIDS backwards. Yes, like the syndrome that is caused by the HIV virus. Why did they pick this name? They were going to "infect" everyone in the league and win all their games. I can't make this shit up folks. I remember when I heard their reasoning and saw their t-shirts I was so angry I cried. How could people be so cruel? Did they not know that AIDS is a deadly disease that has killed millions including someone important in my own family? Obviously not.

Joking around about such a deadly disease isn't harmless, it's counterproductive and disgraceful. I think the same applies to 13th step jokes. At one of my regular 12 step meetings, I grabbed a copy of the Intergroup Express - a newsletter that comes out bimonthly and tells of the goings-on in the local 12 step fellowship. On the front page was an article called "10 Types Of People You'll Meet At 12-Step Meetings". I admired the fact that they've come over to the listicle world and I must admit, it does sound like a topic I would write about on my blog, but as I read on, the first person in the list was the 13th-stepper.

Read the passage below:

I don't know about you, but that's creepy AF. Imagine being a newcomer and picking this up. I would run for the hills. Joking around about sexual predators is sick. Or imagine if you actually experienced this. How guilty, embarrassed, and ashamed would you feel? I don't think these are feelings that anyone, especially the 12 step fellowship should be perpetuating.

So where did the term 13 step come from? 

It's obviously not part of the standard 12 steps, but it's a well-known term that people in the rooms use to describe when someone with a lot of sober time hits on a newcomer in a sexual manner. But it can also refer to any type of relationship occurring between two members of the fellowship.

I've read and heard a lot about the 13th step and I saw there is even a movie out about it now that tells the tales of several people who were sexually assaulted or harassed in the fellowship. It seems to be mostly men doing this to women, as depicted in the Intergroup Express article. As if women don't have to fight for their rights and independence enough already outside of the rooms, now we have to shield ourselves from sexual predators while trying to get better from drug and alcohol addiction. There is just something really messed up and patriarchal about that. It reminds me of unwanted glances and catcalls we so often receive on the street making us feel vulnerable, dirty, and ashamed.

One thing I've heard about 13th stepping that infuriates me is "women should look out for other women" in meetings. No! They shouldn't have to and that mindset is just perpetuating and justifying sexual harassment. Sick or not, recovering or not, inappropriate sexual conduct is never ok and you should ALWAYS speak up about it.

The last thing we should be doing is making a joke about it.

There are some people who have suffered greatly because of sexual trauma in and out of 12 step meetings. This is serious shit. By "making light" of their situations and laughing it off, we're invalidating their feelings, their experience, and their pain. By even using the term "13th step" we're saying that sexual conduct is on the same level as the rest of the 12 steps. And don't even get me started about the fellowship supposedly being a safe place and how vulnerable people can be when they are just starting to get sober.

Apparently at young people's meetings, during the reading of the 12 steps they insert 13th step at the end, amongst a plethora of other add-ins including clucking like a chicken (at some of these we balked ..balk, balk balk). When I was at ICYPAA in September the organizers of the conference kindly asked the audiences at each large meeting NOT to say the 13th step part out of respect. (Great!) But (sometimes) they still did it.

There is even a Facebook page called 13th Step Memes, and although they share memes of all kinds of recovery humor, there are a slew of distasteful ones on there. Here is one example:

13th step meme
13th step meme


Ugh - I mean really? These memes, the 13th step jokes, and 13th step language in general are probably scaring people out of getting sober and are definitely encouraging an uncomfortable and unsafe environment for women.

Distasteful jokes in general, whether about 13th stepping, racism, rape, sexism, etc. are never helpful. They are actually always hurtful. So the next time you are attempting to be a decent human being, think about what you perceive to be a joke.