Alex Hopkins spent years writing about chemsex on the gay scene.  Only later did his experiences give him a fresh perspective.


“Hey man, you want some Meph?” I don’t hesitate before joining a sexy Latino guy in the toilets, where we stand in line with other guys rampantly sniffing as the house music punctuates from the adjacent room. Mephedrone is readily available on the gay scene in the big city. Sure, you’ll get frisked on your way into the club, and there are notices on the walls warning against GHB, but everyone knows that without drugs, this place would be dead. 

What is being spoken about though are the drug casualties. In the last few months, there have been deaths at nearby saunas. Then there are the deaths that don’t get so much media attention: the body in the corner of a chillout, or the man who dies alone in his sleep. Better to take the stuff in the clubs people are saying - at least help’s on hand if you get into trouble. And you can’t miss the advice: medics stand at the edges of the dance floor like grim reapers; the previous week I saw someone who had taken too much GHB being escorted from the sauna. It took four men to get him in a wheelchair (GHB can double your strength), and that was after he almost cracked his head open in the shower.

But back to the club, and the toilet cubicle I’m now standing in with the nameless guy who is sticking a grimy key into a split bag and then jamming it in my right nostril. What am I doing here? I’m a journalist who has spent the last four years writing about what I’ve referred to as “gay hedonism”. I’ve attended conferences talking about how these drugs lead to unsafe sex and the rise in HIV rates. What’s wrong with these men, I’ve asked. They need to get a grip. Take responsibility. Grow up. And now here I am about to take a huge bump of M. Am I just another hypocrite?

The previous year I interviewed many gay men about chemsex. I transcribed their words and let them speak for themselves. Listening back to the interviews was difficult. These men - aged from 18 to 45 - spoke with admirable honesty about the “party and play scene.” They told me how they wouldn’t sleep for days, that they’d lost jobs, forgotten friends, lost themselves. Some claimed they’d caught HIV while slamming Crystal. One young man tearfully explained that he’d been targeted by older, wealthy gay men, who would give him with drugs so that they could practically rape him. 

“Sex on chems is much more intense,” one said. “After I tried it I couldn’t go back to sober sex.” Another, his self-loathing palpable, spat: “I became an animal who didn’t give a shit.” What was a chillout like, I asked? “Imagine a non-stop casting,” one man replied. “Or a roomful of half a dozen people in the dark lit only by the glimmer of their Smartphones while they’re on their apps looking for the next big dick.” But there were also parts of these stories that sounded attractive: the promise of great sex, the lack of inhibition, the sense of (false) intimacy. These are all powerful things, and this was what I was experiencing, once again, in that club - and at the chillouts and saunas that I’d go to afterward. There’s always been a part of me that wants to push past limits. Maybe that was what I was doing, trying out what I had heard. When does “research” become just another word for “self-destruction”?

chems.jpg

But perhaps the bigger part of me was doing this because I was no different from the men I’d spoken to - much the same as the people I had once written about - rather judgmentally. All of the men illuminated the same theme: loneliness and isolation. A need to belong. Escape. The search for fulfillment. It was this, after all, that had led me to drink my body weight in Jack Daniel's each weekend since I was 18. How easy it is to take that to the next level with the new drugs that are available on the gay scene in every European and American city today - substances that are arguably more powerful and dangerous than any that have gone before. As one guy said to me: “Hitler allegedly took Crystal. It was used by Japanese soldiers to keep them awake during World War II. You’re telling me that taking this is going to end well?”

For me, it all ended in the worst comedown of my life after hoofing a whole bag of Mephedrone.  I’d crawled home alone, unable to comedown while battling suicidal thoughts, one too many times. I’d stopped myself before I fell in and got completely lost. Many do not. I got off lightly: my experiences are nothing compared to the trauma of those men I interviewed. Their words ring in my ears every time someone offers me “just a little bump.”

What can we do to help gay men who are trying overcome addiction to chemsex? More and more studies are looking at the problem. Gay communities are working closely with healthcare professionals and the authorities to seek solutions; this is all progress, yet no definitive solutions have been found. Perhaps we can start to move forward by following the example of those men who demonstrated such courage in speaking to me so honestly about their experiences. By encouraging an open dialogue we can share our shame and our fears and build more positive ways of relating to one another - and in doing so, we can begin to feel a little less alone. That, after all, is what we all want, isn’t it?

 

 


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