""You don’t do drugs and don’t want to be associated with gay men who do… but that’s no excuse to withhold support or compassion", says David Hudson.
I recently read former soldier James Wharton’s book about chemsex, Something for the Weekend.
In it, he talks about the stigma that many users of drugs like crystal meth, mephedrone and GHB experience: stigma that keeps them from talking about it or asking for help.
I have to admit, I felt some skepticism reading this. It sounded a little like an excuse to not seek help when drug use became problematic.
But that was before I started writing about it and read the comments on social media.
I’m not someone who has personally explored chemsex as a user, but on Gay Star News, we’ve drawn together a series of articles on gay men and their drug use. This has involved talking to many men who have experimented with chemsex, as well as health experts involved in supporting them.
When we posted a trailer video about the series last week on Facebook, I had my first real taste of some of the stigma around the issue.
‘This isn’t a mainstream thing, this isn’t acceptable, and this isn’t representative of the LGBTQI community. Stop trying to normalize illegality. Stop trying to disassociate sexualities. STOP trying to justify your own bad life decisions. Just stop,’ said one person on Facebook.
‘Chemsex is for losers, who don’t have the capability to commit or connect to other people,’ said another.
When we launched the series yesterday, some praised us for our informative journalism. Others accused of us of promoting chemsex.
‘Why are you promoting this? As if there’s not enough destructive/self-destructive behavior in our community,’ said one.
Commenting about a report on an increase in gay men reporting sexual assaults, another said, ‘Any imbecile that believes “vulnerable” gay men are being taken advantage of at chemsex parties has never attended one. Every man that attends these functions is hoping to get higher, taken advantage of and trying desperately to find the next party.’
I don’t believe running news stories highlighting the fact men are dying through their drug use, or being raped and sexually assaulted, promotes chemsex.
At the same time, it would be unbalanced and unrealistic to fail to ask men why they take these drugs. For many people, they will take drugs this coming weekend with little negative consequence other than a comedown.
As part of our series, Gay Star News teamed up with Blued to conduct an online survey. It found one in four chemsex users knew someone who had died at or after attending a chill out party. Two-thirds reported experiencing depression and anxiety because of their drug use. One in ten said they’d had to go to A&E because of their drug use.
These are deeply worrying statistics, but for some people, any mention of gay men and drugs make for uncomfortable reading.
So many of use grow up with feelings of shame around our sexuality that life can seem like an ongoing PR exercise. We want to demonstrate to the rest of the world that we’re ‘just like you’. Those perceived as being ‘bad gays’ are letting the side down or painting the rest of us in a bad light.
Embarking on a series of articles about chemsex feels a little like lifting up a stone and finding something nasty underneath: some people would prefer it if we put the stone back and didn’t spoil the landscape. But too many lives are being screwed up to ignore the issue.
And we know that the ‘just say “no”’ approach does not work.
Again, some of the comments we’ve received have reassured us of this.
‘I saw professional people lose everything and it instilled a deep seated fear in me. I was in an occupation where I was frequently drug tested and it very well may have saved my life by keeping me out of harm’s way. Don’t sit in judgment and say it can’t happen to you, it can seduce anyone given the right or wrong set of circumstances….’ said one.
Another, heartbreakingly, said, ‘My husband of 27 years died this July 4th from overdose of drugs. Guys, please stop killing yourselves and taking the ones who love you with you.’
Ask yourself, how would you react if it was a friend or loved one who told you they were worried about their drug or alcohol use? Would you label them ‘disgusting’? Or would you try to help and find them support?
Should we not extend that compassion to our gay brothers and sisters who we don’t personally know?
Gay people do not live perfect lives. We don’t all have beautiful weddings, gym-toned bodies, successful careers and a fantastic circle of friends. Some of us screw up, take drugs or can’t commit to relationships. Too many of us experience mental health issues.
But being less than perfect is part of what makes us human: just like everyone else.
In the 1980s, LGBTI communities had to start talking frankly about sex to protect our sexual health. Drugs are not new, but we must have the same conversations about drug use to stop people dying or ending up in hospital.