For some, the idea of injecting drugs is taboo. But there’s a reason some gay and bi men do it. Users say slamming makes you feel sexual, horny and engaged with everyone around you. In 29-year-old Liam McClelland’s words, the powerful euphoria created from injecting drugs, made him ‘just want to be fucked.’
Sitting down on a dreary day in South London, there is much I recognize inMcClelland’s story.
From messages he received on LGBTI youth and dating sites, including offers of money and drugs, to the isolation of growing up gay in a small town.
His story is one that not only those who use chems to enhance their sex life will recognize but anyone growing up gay in a society where it’s legal … but not always morally acceptable.
McClelland’s story is part of Gay Star New’s chemsex series into ‘high’n’horny’ and ‘party and play’ culture.
Sharing his journey through this world, McClelland paints an ugly picture.
One where it is just too easy to fall, one domino after another, into a weekly routine dominated by days on end of chem-fuelled sex.
This story and video contain references to sexual abuse, HIV and drug use.
McClelland was at school at a time when Section 28 was in full force. The UK legislation, introduced by the Thatcher government, prevented teachers and local authorities from ‘promoting homosexuality.’ But what that meant in real terms was teachers having an overwhelming fear of losing their job, and choosing to just not talk about LGBT issues.
Facing bullying not only for being gay but for being a Christian too,McClelland reached out for help. However, instead of teachers tackling the bullying they offered him counseling.
This is the first time McClelland faced a couple of key factors common in the stories Gay Star New’s chemsex series has heard.
McClelland knew there was nothing wrong with being gay, but being told that there was gave him his first concern with those in authority.
The offer of counseling would not deal with the root cause of the problem: the bullying. Talking support was an offer akin to putting a sticky plaster on a fragile piece of glass.
Liam (far left) as a youngster
McClelland’s introductions to drugs is not dissimilar to many in his generation. Hanging around with the alternative crowd or the ‘greebs’, not too unlike a townie, emo or any other British teen subculture -McClelland discovered booze and weed while still at school.
Next on the menu, albeit a little later on, was ecstasy.McClelland describes the intangible euphoria as one of the best feelings he’d ever had. But for his, and other chem users this thought process can plant a seed for more experimentation.
‘Why can’t I feel like this all the time?’ McClelland found himself asking himself.
Drugs are an escape
People use drugs for different reasons. Aged 16,McClelland sought to escape bullying and a confusing relationship with his sexuality. Later, further emotional strain was added to the mix.
After leaving school, he fell out with his parents. Though he continued to study, he moved away from home and into a small bedsit, with four others: something he describes simply as ‘an experience.’
‘It was fun, I just did what I wanted. There were no consequences.’
Leaving home for the first time is always a learning curve, but at a time where the minimum wage for under 18s was £3.60 ($4.75, €4) – there was a steep financial strain.
This all happened at a time when ‘the internet became a thing.’ With websites popping up like Gaydar and Fitlads, even in a little North Derbyshire village, gay men were suddenly more accessible.
It was via a websiteMcClelland was first approached and offered money and drugs in exchange for his body.
‘Why the fuck not, I’ve not got to do anything – they are just photos of me with my clothes off. Cash and drugs are on offer, this is a win-win,’ he recalls thinking.
With no sex-education or PHSE [personal health social economic] lessons at his school, Liam had never been told that this kind of behavior is exploitative.
Navigating this online space alone, McClelland found his link between chems and sex.
Groomed into losing your virginity
‘My first experience of gay sex was with a considerably older man when I was underage. That abuse of power impacts future decision making.’
McClelland was trying to do was reach out to other gay men because he didn’t want to feel alone.
He was looking to find other young gay teenagers to help him work out what the hell was going on with his sexuality.
At this vulnerable time, looking to place his trust in the arms of someone who could help, he was taken advantage of.
Recounting his early experiences of drugs and sex together McClelland remembers a series of photo shoots he did.
‘As soon as the second, the third line is gone: “Do you want a gin and tonic? Do you want a beer?”
‘When the inhibitions are getting lower [then the photographer says] – “I’d really like to do this to you” – for an extra £20 quid? ($26, €22) Ok yeah, whatever.’
Liam got into these photo shoots because he felt, his body was something he controlled. However, he now realizes the drugs stripped away that control.
His abuser knew the drugs would lower his inhibitions and allow him to push Liam further than he’d be willing when sober.
Liam as a teenager
Falling into chemsex
Fast forward Liam’s life a few years. He ‘swallowed his pride’ and move back in with his parents when they set up a new home in the town of Loughborough, northwest England.
At the time he remembers thinking, ‘Maybe a new space is a cure for all of this?’
Liam is now part of a 12-step recovery program. Within the program, the concept of moving to recover is sometimes called ‘doing a geographical.’
You could describe it a little like ‘changing deckchairs on the Titanic.’ Essentially, problems have a habit of following you, no matter how much you refresh the furniture.
It wasn’t long before Liam, back on the same websites as before, came across the first of the so-called ‘unholy trinity’ of chemsex drugs: Mephedrone, or to him, M-Cat.
Liam said at this time in his life the drugs began getting harder, and the sex? ‘That was getting more adventurous.’
This was also a period in his life where he describes relative periods of calm, too. The geographic isolation of the countryside spread out those instances when he used drugs, especially for sex.
However, McClelland then moved to London.
The city changed everything
Moving to London was where he first encountered the more stereotypical association with the word chemsex – the high’n’horny hook-ups and chillouts.
Not long after moving in: ‘Someone suggested to me, if you’re into sex and drugs, try these websites.’
McClelland found his inbox full with messages and offers.
‘I felt powerful with people wanting to be with me. I was feeling invincible and needed.’
And this is how he first tried slamming. He describes it simply as a ‘fucking amazing warm rush.’ As a more passive sexual partner at the time, it made him just want to find someone to fuck him.
Yet again though, McClelland couldn’t really afford the drugs needed for slamming. Again, he mostly relied on his partners to supply the drugs, ‘chipping in’ when he could.
The first time he slammed, he remembers turning up to a party with a regular chemsex partner he trusted. He describes the scene as immediately ‘heavy’. Three other guys are already there and it wasn’t long before someone asked ‘if someone wanted a slam.’
Looking back now, he says the decision to slam ‘unlocked a side of chemsex that was destructive, and it only got worse from there.’
Eventually, as he describes in our interview, this took him to the extreme of slamming at home on his own – feeling isolated with anxiety attacks, just wanting to escape.
Liam as a teenager
‘I knew it was HIV or Hep C’
Towards the end of McClelland’s chemsex journey, he was going to parties and using every weekend. He describes a false sense of invincibility after getting numerous HIV negative results, getting checked every six weeks.
Until he got a phone call from Loughborough GUM clinic.McClelland says it their insistence that he ‘did not have sex with anyone’ that made him immediately realize that it was serious: ‘Everything else you can treat.’
After traveling back for the check-up, the doctor told him he was HIV positive.
In a state of shock, he remembers being asked, ‘Would you change anything?’
At the time, he said ‘no.’ After all, he was having fun. Reflecting now, he offers another opinion
Knowing what he knows now, he wouldn’t have gone bareback or introduced others to drugs. But there are other things he’d change that really strike me.
‘I’d have changed clause 28 when I was back at school. I’d have made sure I understood what a healthy relationship was. What exploiting people’s vulnerabilities was. If I’d have had that confident sense of myself, it could have carried me through.’
Labelled as a ‘bad gay’
Now in a 12-step program, McClelland says he’s going to have to live with the label ‘bad gay.’
‘It’s this generation’s AIDS crisis, chemsex is destroying the community and young peoples lives. And it’s not talked about within the community.
‘Yeah, have a bump … Have a dance around, that’s acceptable, it feels like it’s part of our heritage – that’s bullshit!
‘No, [our hertiage] is the right to be treated as equal as our peers. The drugs are nothing to do with that.
‘I thought growing up, that drugs were something we’d earned. And within the community that’s fine. Party drugs? That’s OK – oh, you had a little too much last night? “Whoops!”
‘But chemsex, and when you’re known for slamming and party and play – there is this ostracizing action that happens.’
We’ve spoken to experts around this world as part of this series of articles. Something that they say, time and again, is how our LGBTI community needs to give those who engage in chemsex compassion.
It’s a striking comment to compare the early days of the AIDS epidemic with chemsex, but perhaps like those early years in the 1980s, we are at the start of our community’s understanding.
We know little about chemex’s true impact – on individuals or the wider community. It’s not far fetched to predict that stories like McClelland’s are more widespread than we think they are.
This article is part of the Gay Star News Chemsex Series. Read more stories, support and see the videos on our chemsex section.