In 1996, finding himself HIV positive, struck down by pneumonia and with CD4 count of just 20, Nicolas Gurreri cashed in his pension and prepared to die.
Planning to go hell for leather in his final months, Gurreri stumbled down a path that would lead him to chemsex.
However, thanks to the success of the new HIV triple therapy regimes he made it through those tough months. But in the years that followed, he continued his pursuit of living life to the ‘full’ and developed a habit that would haunt his weekends for years to come.
Growing up in US town of Buffalo, NY, near Niagara Falls he was teased at school. Studying outside of Chicago, he moved to London in 1985 for a study abroad year, before eventually, finishing his degree and relocating to the UK capital.
It was here, for 18 years, he used drugs to enhance his sex life. At the same time he battled HIV and a crippling depression brought on by the trauma of growing up gay in a Catholic family and losing his husband to AIDS in 1992.
Now aged 53 we sat down in a quiet coffee shop near the Gay Star News offices in Bermondsey. Gurreri tells us about his addiction, how the drugs have changed and why he has since become clean.
‘It was fun at first’
‘I used drugs to go clubbing at first, the sex [on drugs] probably started in 99.’
‘My friend brought back someone, and so did I. Then we invited some people from Gaydar too. That was before apps.’
At first, Gurreri would host parties every few months. He describes this time with a certain amount of fondness: ‘It was fun back then because it wasn’t so extreme.’
Back then, he clarifies, ‘people weren’t slamming.’
That’s the act of injecting drugs so they hit your bloodstream faster. It is just one of the trends Gurreri has seen develop over his years.
Back when he first begun, he says no-one would call the group sex sessions ‘chemsex’ parties.
They were simply known as chillouts and after-parties, with groups gathering after the clubs closed, where people had sex. But they had all the hallmarks that go along with the ‘party and play’ scene Gay Star News has heard much about over its chemsex series.
‘Occasionally guys would steal your drugs and take things from my flat but it wasn’t enough to make me want to stop having the parties.’
Photo supplied by Nic Gurreri, with friends in 1999
Drugs gave me a sense of belonging
Anyone who uses drugs will usually give you a reason why they do them. It may be experimentation, but Gay Star News’s chemsex series has found a simple desire to escape is a common theme.
‘Drugs turned me from an introvert to an extrovert. Clubbing and taking drugs gave me a sense of belonging.
As Gurerri speaks, he describes how the drug landscape has changed over the years.
At first he was using party drugs ecstasy, coke and ketamine. But when the drugs changed, he says, ‘so did the sex.’
The unholy trinity of chemsex drugs – G, mephedrone, and crystal meth (Tina) – that make you intensely horny, ushered in the changes.
‘Sex on drugs was exciting at first and allowed me to cross boundaries and explore my sexuality. But as my use increased I became more and more isolated and found myself craving intimacy and connection with another human being.’
Gurreri gave accounts of using all of the unholy trinity but it’s the crystal meth he found the most problematic.
‘I decided to stop using crystal meth in 2005 as I had several friends die from it. I also had horrific comedowns from crystal. However, I continued my sex parties at home using coke, pills, and G.
‘Being off the crystal meth did allow me to engage more with the world. In 2006, I joined the London Gay men’s Chorus as I always loved to sing. This was a positive force in my life and I still love it. I also enrolled in classes and workshops in the college of psychic studies as a way to get in touch with my spiritual side.’
But just like the way the drug trends evolved, so did the way Gurreri would obtain them. Back in 2010, apps would draw him back to Tina.
Grindr changed everything
‘I used to use Gay.com before Gaydar, which was then very successful for having sex parties back in the day. I initially refused to get a smartphone and thought Grindr was ridiculous. Then I got the iPhone and the first thing my friend put on was Grindr.
Gurreri says dating apps, over and above websites, gave a significant boost to the chemsex scene.
‘When I first started using Grindr people didn’t advertise, being HnH or selling.’ That has changed now, with people more blatant about their drug use.
‘When they first did I was like OMG, why are the police doing anything? You can see right there on their main pic, GMTV [an acronym for G, Meph, Tina, Viagra]. There wasn’t any policing of it.’
The Gay Star News survey that looks into how important apps are to the chemsex scene shows that 82% of chemsex is facilitated to some extent by apps.
David Stuart, the chemsex lead at sexual health clinic 56 Dean Street, writing for Gay Star News says:
‘No population on earth has had hard drugs delivered to them so quickly & universally, as gay men have via apps’
In a statement to Gay Star News about what the app does to police the promotion of chems they say they do not condone the promotion of drug use or unsafe sex in its user profiles:
‘Grindr is committed to creating a safe environment through a system of digital and human screening tools to help its users connect and thrive.
‘Grindr encourages users to report suspicious and threatening activities. While we are constantly improving upon this process, it is important to remember that Grindr is an open platform. Grindr cooperates with law enforcement on a regular basis and does not condone abusive or violent behavior. ‘
Photo supplied by Nic Gurreri, him in 2006
Read David Stuart writing for the series: Chemsex will define a period of our gay history
He blackmailed and stole from me
Looking back at his 18 years of regular drug use, Gurreri tells GSN about how people would steal from him. His description suggests it was part and parcel of hosing a chemsex party.
However, one experience was particularly extreme.
‘One took my credit card and charged for £4,000 worth of stuff, and threatened me.’
Gurreri had hidden his wallet, but falling asleep after a long sex session allowed the perpetrator the opportunity to go through his flat. He says the man who stole from him did wait for him to wake up to make sure he hadn’t overdosed in his ‘G sleep.’ But then as soon as he was awake, left with Gurreri’s wallet in hand.
It wasn’t until later Gurreri realized his wallet was gone. Calling the man who took it to challenge him, he replied, ‘What are you going to do? Call the police and tell them I stole your wallet while you were high?’
‘I was so high, I couldn’t think straight,’ says Gurreri now.
Quitting an 18-year habit
Over the years, Gurreri experienced a number of shocking incidents like the one above. The drugs were impacting his health. His sense of belonging – which had initially drawn him to the drugs – remained unfulfilled by these encounters. Looking in from the outside, it’s easy to wonder why he didn’t quit earlier.
In seeking recovery, Gurreri discovered the importance of finding that sense of belonging in other ways. He finds this both with friends and his family.
Indeed, it was his loyalty to his family that was the driving factor in going sober.
First leaning on his gay sister, he repaired his relationship with his staunchly Catholic parents. Gurreri’s sister explained to them the need to listen and understand the addiction, and not shame him for it. She told their parents, ‘he needs us now.’
With difficult coming outs over the years, including a Thanksgiving HIV announcement, this was always going to be a long, challenging journey.
Gurreri also re-engaged with The Gay Mans Chorus in London. ‘I was still using when I joined initially in 2007, but now that I’m clean, I have a lot of friends.’
Photo supplied by Nic Gurreri, him with friends in 2015
Though he tried on a number of occasions during his addiction, he came off chems in August 2015 and has been clean ever since.
When Gurreri tells GSN about a US trip with the London Gay Men’s Chorus group, when his parents were able to attend and hear him sing, it’s hard not share his emotion at the memory.
‘A lot of the reasons I used in the first place were down to trauma when I was a kid. I grew up Catholic; I was suicidal as a teenager; my parents didn’t accept it.
‘Sometimes when we seek approval and validation, you find that when doing chems with people.’
Signing with the Gay Men’s Chorus, with his parents in the audience, is a testament to how far Gurreri has traveled.
‘Now they support me through my addiction, and I can just be myself.’
This article is part of the Gay Star News Chemsex Series. Read more stories, support and see the videos on our chemsex section.