Preparing the Gay Star News series on chemsex has been emotionally exhausting. I’ve been overwhelmed with how many people have come forward wanting to tell their ‘high and horny’ stories.
And all of this has confirmed to me the importance of telling those stories.
For a long time, we’ve viewed the ‘party and players’ as a small subculture within our community. But is it really a niché within a subculture?
Too often our community labels users of drugs for sex as examples of ‘bad gays.’ They’re the ones who don’t conform, who scare our heterosexual companions with their deviant ways.
That serves the conversation about chemsex a massive injustice. It is way more complicated than that.
Going forward, the conversation about chemsex needs to go beyond party and play experiences, which so far have been at the center of the majority of sensationalized news stories across the media.
Instead, it needs to be one about the whole LGBTI community’s relationship with both drugs and sex.
The two are intrinsically linked for LGTBIs in particular. We’ve fought long and hard for sexual liberation, whilst managing a deeply rooted use of drugs in our party scene.
Stop finding ways to split good and bad gays
LGBTIs turn to drugs to escape. Something I know from preparing this series, as well as my own experiences.
For some, the need to escape comes from growing up sharing something: a confusing struggle to comprehend our identity.
That shame that we’ve internalized is such an important part of this narrative too (Matthew Todd’s book Straight Jacket is a fantastic explanation of this, by the way.)
When we grow up being told that queer is bad we seek a way to feel good.
Many people sharing their stories over the next fortnight will give these kinds of accounts. We stumble across drugs and are suddenly only one bump away from the confident euphoria we’ve always been seeking. Is it any wonder drug use can become an easy fix for a problem that deserves a much more complex response?
And that’s why I’ve also spoken to people about the good forms of shame, too.
Damien Killeen, of the London chapter off the Impulse group, put this very succinctly. What I took away from my conversation with him is that shame can be useful. At least until someone is taking drugs. At that point, compassion needs to take over.
He is right.
It’s easy to say, ‘I’ll never get addicted’ or ‘I won’t use drugs and those ones that do? Yuck.’ But it is more complicated than that.
When all of us are just one stumble away from knocking a set of dominos down, pushing us into a weekly addiction, never misunderstand the fragility of the situation.
Our community needs to own the response to chemsex like we did with HIV
The way our community responded to HIV offers parallels and lessons we can take forward as we start to understand chemsex.
That’s a separate article in itself, so I want to focus on one that during the HIV epidemic we eventually, absolutely nailed.
Back then we had an incredible compassion for people with HIV. This crisis deserves the same from all of us.
Why? Because speaking to some amazing human beings for this series has been incredible – and heartbreaking.
Most have faced some kind of sexual assault, a blurred line of consent or a trauma as part of their chemsex story.
Much of this happens at high and horny parties. This was well covered by 2015, UK-based documentary, Chemsex. But as our series begins nearly two years after that landmark piece – have things improved?
Our stories hear more of the same pain.
And with open mic nights like ‘Let’s Talk About Gay Sex And Drugs’ popping up in cities across the world, and further need for support groups, I would disagree with anyone who says we are at the beginning of the end of a chemsex scene.
We are at the very early beginnings of even starting to comprehend it
App culture is making drugs more easily available.
We’ve heard tales of young people swapping sex for drugs because they can’t afford them.
There is an increase in sexual assaults, deaths and violence in chemsex environments. This is far from over.
We need to stop putting a sticking plaster over drug use by stigmatizing those that use. Instead, we need a conversation about drugs, sex and shame.
Let’s see chemsex as a term for all drug use linked to sex and relationships: From parties to one-on-one encounters to sitting at home high and endlessly scrolling on Porn Hub.
This is all chemsex.
We can all find compassion in stories
My approach to this series has been inspired by the Let’s Talk About Gay Sex and Drugs events. They are open mic events where once a month you can talk about your story without stigma or shame.
The stories I heard while attending the London event, along with those I’ve heard preparing this series, helped me realize that people using drugs shouldn’t be stigmatized.
It’s too late to use the historic ‘shame’ approach, that tells people drugs are wrong – for anyone using drugs.
By the time people are looking for escape and using this doesn’t work. At this time, they instead deserve our empathy and ears.
Yes, we all need to understand the risks of drugs – but we should at the same time be focusing efforts on addressing internalized homophobia.
So if you want to do one thing to help our community tackle a growing crisis; tell your friends that there is no shame in them sharing their stories of drugs and sex with you.
Jamie is Gay Star News’ Young Voices Editor – Follow @jamie_wareham on twitter
This article is part of the Gay Star News Chemsex Series. Read more stories, support and see the videos on our chemsex section.