We Need to Talk About the Queer Community's Meth and GHB Epidemic
Our nonchalant attitude towards this problem is just as detrimental as the drugs themselves.
Imago | Christian Ohde
Anthony "aCe" Pabey is a Chicago-based DJ, producer, rapper who co-founded Men's Room—a queer sex-positive dance party that takes place in iconic leather bars, defunct porn theaters, and other venues around the city. Last month, Pabey joined us for a roundtable discussion on the state of gay nightlife in the US, where he first shared his growing concerns over the widespread use of drugs like crystal meth and GHB in queer communities.
Per the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in the space of one year, from 2014 to 2015, meth use rose from 5.7 to 6.4 percent amongst people aged 26 and older, and from 3 to 3.3 percent amongst those aged 18 to 25. Meanwhile, in London, meth users who inject the drug while having sex jumped from 20 percent in 2011 to 80 percent in 2012, according to LGBT drug-and-alcohol support service Antidote. In response to this growing problem, hookup apps like Grindr and Scruff have gone so far as to ban words associated with drug use, such has "meth" and "party."
GHB is also a substance that Pabey has noticed becoming increasingly visible in the scene. Research on GHB use in America is slim, but a recent VICE article described the substance (along with meth and mephedrone) as part of the "lifeblood" of chemsex parties—drug-fueled group sex sessions often organized on gay dating apps. In 2015, Buzzfeed reported that emergency room doctors in San Francisco have been encountering the drug with increasing regularity, particularly amongst gay professionals. According to the same report, the number of deaths from the drug in London more than doubled from 2011 to 2015.
Below, Pabey opens up about the problem of hard drug abuse in the gay community, and explores its relationship to contemporary hookup culture.—Michelle Lhooq
Anthony "aCe" Pabey: The queer community is facing an epidemic that no one is really talking about: the widespread use of hardcore drugs like meth and GHB in connection to sex and partying. These substances are becoming increasingly accepted as the norm in the daily lives of many of my friends in Chicago—where I DJ and throw parties—as well as across the country.
Hookup apps are where I personally have encountered the most people suffering from addiction to these drugs. Every time I log onto them, I am asked multiple times if I "parTy" or "pNp"—code words for doing meth and/or GHB while fucking. This interaction occurs so often that no one bats an eye. We ignore this person and move on as if they don't exist, ignoring the lives of those who suffer from addiction—if we aren't addicts ourselves.
Our nonchalant attitude towards addiction is just as detrimental as the drugs themselves.
But in the late-90s and early-2000s, to me, it felt like these drugs were not as prevalent in gay nightlife, with the exception of the circuit party scene, where queens would make annual pilgrimages to multiple US cities for these large-scale, multi-day events. These drugs—along with some imodium, so you don't shit all weekend— would fuel the afterhours and orgies that accompanied these circuit parties. This was at a time when many queer people were living in fear from the AIDS crisis. I truly believe many gay and queer people turned to heavy drug use to deal with that fear.
Now, in 2017, the circuit party legacy is a fading memory like a Queer as Folk episode. Hardcore drug use has become less about marathon parties and long weekends, instead thriving in the hookup culture of daily queer lives. With advancements in medicine such as PrEP, for today's young queer generation, the fear of HIV has almost disappeared, resulting in people being more willing to engage in hookup culture and drug-fueled chemsex parties.
MDMA and ketamine are the drugs that people in the underground are most comfortable talking about, thanks to articles about how these substances can treat people with PTSD. Even the medical community is now rallying around these drugs.
We have moved away from the notion of community, collective preservation, and protection.
But nobody wants to talk about how hardcore drugs are destroying our community. These drugs are still taboo and frowned upon by the majority of American society, but their use is not a secret on the apps, where code words like the capital T (for "Tina," meaning meth) are hanging in the air constantly.
The epidemic I speak of is not simply about addiction or heavy drug use. Rather, it is the result of a complex system of queer human interactions, contemporary hookup culture, and technology's effect on the ways we treat and view each other. Our nonchalant attitude towards people suffering from addiction is just as detrimental as the drugs themselves.
Part of that nonchalant attitude comes from dating apps. For one thing, the apps are notorious for normalizing "sexual racism." It's common for people to wear their hate, ignorance, or ill-advised notions of gender and race on their sleeves—by specifying things like "no fems, no fats, no Asians" in their profiles. Preferences on a dating app profile have become the new, cynical version of the gay "hanky code."
This discriminatory atmosphere has only allowed the epidemic to spread. We fail to recognize that the epidemic of hardcore drug use among the queer community is fueled by the rate at which we write off other human beings. We have moved away from the notion of community, collective preservation, and protection. It sometimes feels like we have forgotten about all the victims and survivors of the AIDS epidemic—the heroes of the 80s and 90s who fought for you to be proud.
In order for us to take steps towards addressing this epidemic, I ask you to first reprogram yourself out of the dehumanizing effect of technology and information overload, and find empathy. Put yourself into an addict's shoes, and think critically about how this person has come to this point in their lives, instead of writing them off as another messy queen. Understand that for some people, addiction is a lifelong battle, or stems from family issues, or is a coping mechanism for racism, misogyny, and transphobia.
Examine how you interact with other human beings. Do you care about other humans' suffering? When you see someone on the floor G'ing out, are you that person who helps to get this person up? Are you here to have uncomfortable conversations with friends and strangers?
Call and visit with your friends, lovers, and ex-lovers. Stop just texting them. Intimate human interaction and contact is the beginning of change and healing.
We are in an epidemic. How will you address it?