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David Stuart

Chemsex in the city - it’s every gay man for himself

By David Stuart | @DavidaStuart |

Originally published in FS Magazine by GMFA

Wanna hook-up? Top or bottom? (answer incorrectly and you’re written off).

Into chems? (answer incorrectly and you’re written off).

Fit, sorted and masculine? Careful how you respond – a limp wrist or ‘average build’ will also have you written off.

And let’s not even get into racial exclusion on hook-up apps.

It’s tough being single and sexually available in 2016 (dare I say ‘romantically available’). We have slut-shaming and PrEP-shaming in our newsfeeds, dating dialogue has been reduced to “you’re hot” and “send cock-pics”, and the most romantic thing that happens on a Saturday night is stroking the back of the guy you’d been snogging as he vomits a little too much G into a filthy nightclub toilet bowl. Who said romance is dead?

Mention your desire for monogamy on a first date, and you can practically hear the chorus of proud gay men accusing you of betraying the fight for non-heteronormative relationships. What’s wrong with open relationships? Well nothing actually, except the deafening defensiveness that can accompany them; a product of our difficult fight for liberation, I guess.

HIV OK, but hep C and you’re written off. Sexually assaulted at a chill-out? It’s your own fault for doing too much G. There are the ‘good gays’ who are consistently good at 100% condom use and demonstrate perfect safer-sex role modeling, and the ‘bad gays’ who let the side down by doing chems and promiscuity, spreading disease.

It really can seem like it’s every man for himself.

Even some HIV prevention campaigns have promoted this ‘every man for himself’ theme. Some suggest the onus for staying HIV-negative lies with the individual to use condoms, not their partners. And it kind of makes sense; if every HIV-negative man took responsibility for his own safety/condom use/ability to negotiate risks at all given times, then we have ended the HIV epidemic 30 years ago. These campaigns, though noble in concept, ignore the fact that we are not always, consistently, 100% of the time, capable of self-care. They ignore the fact that we all have moments and seasons of poor self-worth, vulnerability and poor judgement. They ignore that many of us can even be self destructive during difficult seasons of our lives. One might argue, that addressing HIV in our communities, starts with brotherhood, caring about our lovers’ well-being, looking out for each other, not just the individual looking out for himself.

There can be a lot of unkindness in Chemsex too. The sex can be mind-blowing, but are we going to bed with people who might feel dreadful about the encounter in a few days? Are we being complicit in any drug problem they might have? Are our shags going to be in a Chemsex support clinic next week, regretting the mind-blowing encounter? Or enduring a devastating comedown, alone and miserable on Monday? And if so, is that our responsibility, as their shags?

No. It’s every man for himself, remember.

Unless we believe in a little gay brotherhood, unless we ensure that everyone we shag will remember the encounter days later, with a big smile, no comedown, no addiction problem and no diseases to remember us by. Just a big smile, for that generous, intimate, respectful, sexy encounter.

I’m saddened at the number of gay men disclosing regretted sexual encounters when they’ve been too high on chems to remember the incident. Too many PEP prescriptions are written in clinics for these circumstances. When a guy comes to a clinic, saying he took too much GBL, knows someone had sex with him, but can’t remember exactly what went on... it’s just awful. We rarely hear the word rape, or assault... but that’s what it is. What’s worse, is the sentence we hear in most of these cases: “It’s my own fault, I took too much G”.

Bullshit. If a woman wears a short skirt, she is not “asking for it”, nor is it her fault. And if a guy is struggling with chems, the very least he can ask is that his gay brothers, lovers, or chill-out party guests acknowledge that he is too high to be consenting. “No dude; you’re a bit high, I’d prefer to wait till you’re clearer-headed.” That’s a sentence I wish occurred more than “It’s my own fault.”

Online hooking up, normalised chem use, stigma, shame, judgement, and inherent vulnerability; life can be hard as a single gay man in a big city. And it can often seem like it’s every man for himself. I know it’s not true though. I see gay brotherhood in support groups, volunteers flooding to gay charities to help their community, queer performance groups addressing challenging community issues, open-mic events at gay bars, queer film screenings, thriving gay sports clubs and other gay community recreation.

And I know I’ve not helped much, vomiting some of my anger into this column. Apologies. I’m as guilty as any of my gay brothers, of moments of unkindness, seasons of selfishness. I’m a fragile gay man, and sometimes my needs scream so loud, they can deafen my empathy for others. I’m good now, but I can’t be sure that life won’t throw me a curve ball, that there aren’t more seasons of difficulty for me ahead, during which I’ll be selfish and hurt, perhaps self-harm or experience condom mishaps, miss my HIV medicines, or slip up with chems. Or be cruel to my gay brothers online or in bed. I hope not; I’ll work hard to be busy and happy and productive, but if I slip… please don’t be cruel or shame me. I’ll need your empathy and kindness to heal. I’ll need some of that awesome gay brotherhood that got us through 30 years of an HIV epidemic, that we can be so good at.

But while I’m good… I will be kind, generous and brotherly, even when I’m challenged or upset by others. It’s not every man for himself at all; it never was. It’s every gay man for, and with, each other. #GayBrotherhood