Positive Life NSW Blog

Poz Gay Men talk about Meth

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One might be forgiven for believing that methamphetamine and its pernicious and corrosive social influences are carrying us inexorably towards badness, madness and social chaos.

Recent media stories demonising and stigmatising meth users in the Sydney Morning Herald (Landmark report sparks warning over Australia’s addition to ‘mind-eating’ ice), the Sun Herald’s (Ice is everyone’s problem) and the Australian Crime Commission’s Report have done nothing to foster enlightened debate and spectacularly failed to understand the complex reasons why people use meth and other party drugs. Nevertheless, both HIV-positive and HIV-negative gay men continue to use meth from time-to time, and have been doing so for decades without developing an addiction. This response to the recent hoo-ha, will counter the one-sided hysteria and describe another meth reality.

To get a contemporary perspective on meth, I particularly wanted to hear about the motivations for using meth; about strategies to control use and keep lives on track; and about harm reduction and risk reduction techniques used to mitigate transmission (of HIV, HCV and HBV).

This article is based on interviews with four HIV-positive gay men, ranging in age from the mid-thirties to the early fifties. All are employed and hold down senior positions in health, corporate and research sectors and three of the four have post-graduate degrees. All were remarkably frank with me about their meth use and how it fits into their lives. It was a privilege to talk with these thoughtful men.

I have divided their responses into content areas. Each paragraph is an individual’s response.

On motivation

I’ve used drugs and alcohol all my life - since I was fifteen. Meth just happens to be my drug of choice. It’s part of my culture and it gives me a lot. It allows me to be free and to explore various aspects of myself and others. It’s an enabler, giving me freedom and space to be expressive. It’s not just about sex; it’s about celebrating and enjoying life, but not at the expense of other things that I enjoy. I have no judgements about meth use, either my own or others’ use. Meth is neither good nor bad! I like to let the experience have its own truth, whatever that may be.

It’s the sex that comes with meth use – it’s carnal, uninhibited, piggy and euphoric. My body relaxes and it allows me to get fisted. I can’t do that when I’m not on meth. I just turn into a total pig-bottom. Meth is something special that I look forward to for special occasions, that is, maybe every six months or so. Just talking about it makes me feel good.

I use meth for the staying power. I’m a ‘top’ and it enhances my performance. I have no problem maintaining an erection on meth. It works really well and I can fuck for hours. I’m happy and so too is the ‘bottom’.

Meth helps me disinhibit. I have social phobia. It improves my self-confidence and my social skills. It’s a tool of release and I use it to dissociate myself from the everyday hum-drum of life - to relax, to escape and to have fun. It changes my focus of thought, gets rid of day-to-day worries. I first used meth in 1994. If I couldn’t get meth, it wouldn’t make too much difference to my life.

On ritual, injecting and planning

Using meth is ritualistic. This includes the hook-up, the context, getting the drug, having a ‘taste’ and partying together. That can be having sex, dancing or just going out with a group of guys and girls and having fun.

I blast and only use meth with other guys, for prolonged play sessions with 2-5 guys, maybe a couple of different groups of guys during a session. Sometimes I end up in a sex on premises venue. I prefer to get someone else (a top) to blast me and that fits in with me being a ‘bottom’. The ritual includes the carnal intimacy, the excitement, the good porn playing and the connection. When it’s over, you sit around chatting in a relaxed and euphoric state. But planning is important and I make sure I’ve arranged for time-off work to fully recover.

I like to blast. I get the house cleaned and ready and the equipment we’ll need for the play scene. There’s a routine I go into and it works like clockwork. I make sure there’s food in the house and that we’ve got enough of everything (including HIV meds) on hand.

On balance and personal rules

I see drugs generally and meth in particular as a facilitator, a social and sexual lubricant. It’s not about sabotage and self-destruction, it’s about pleasure. But, it’s also about balance. When you lose the balancing act, that’s when you’re in strife and life starts to unravel. How I live my life is not meth dependent. I don’t want to become an addict. When I was 15 I observed the impact that drugs and alcohol had on my family. They had problems with substance abuse, so for me it’s about maintaining control – and controlling obsessive behaviours. I believe that these life skills can be learned and taught.

I use meth and I don’t allow meth to use me. For me, it’s a weekend thing. To enable recovery I stop on Sunday. I am employed as a corporate executive and Monday to Friday I’m on work time. During that time, they own me. I’m paid a shit load of money and I think they have a right to expect me to perform. I maintain quite rigid personal boundaries – what I will and won’t do, and I’ve never broken my own rules. I’ve never called in sick on a Monday because of my meth use. I smoke meth and I don’t blast, so the risk of HCV is low. I just won’t go there with basting. I have an addictive personality and if I were to start basting, it might be the start of a dark and dangerous journey and I’ve always had an aversion to needles.

There are ‘triggers’ at the end of a cycle – work commitments are the big one for me. Two days is a good session. There are exceptions to the rules but when that happens, there are trusted friends I call on to help me get back on track. I have personal rules about my use and the main one for me is, don’t let it affect your work. When I’ve broken my own rules, that’s when I know I’ve got a problem.

I schedule a long weekend, so there is recovery time and make sure that there’s no meetings or responsibilities for the week after the play session. I also make sure that any work contingencies are covered off. After a session I get to a point where I’ve had enough. Tiredness (physical and mental) makes me want to stop. Experience with the effects of meth and how long it lasts and the time it takes to recover help me manage my use

On risk reduction/prevention

I usually party with other guys who are HIV-positive. Very few of the guys I play with haven’t used meth. For me, risk reduction is about preparation and planning and that includes the drugs, the equipment and making sure there are enough supplies for the session. It’s about creating a safe space where everybody knows each other’s status. In my case, I’ve got an undetectable viral lead and I disclose and I don’t share injecting equipment. But, when you’ve got 6-12 guys for a play session there needs to be good communication, honesty and trust, particularly if there HIV-negative or HIV unknown guys in the play session. In the scenes I play in, everyone knows everyone else’s status.

I use BBRT for pick-ups, so sero-sorting is part of the process. I don’t exclude HIV-negative guys, but if you’re going into a space where you’re bare-backing, you accept the risks and so should they. I’ve got an undetectable viral load and that’s been a successful strategy for preventing transmission. Hep C is more tough because, unlike HIV, status is undisclosed. I know my HCV status and don’t share needles. However, rough sex and blood is a concern when you stop to think about the risks.

On decision making

Meth has no impact on my ethics. My ethical compass continues to work regardless of my drug use and there’s no difference in behaviour between when I’m drugged or ‘straight’. Other guy’s ethics vary and I’ve also seen guys who aren’t on meth being unethical. In my opinion, meth doesn’t change your actions. You can’t use meth as an excuse for poor decisions. People are responsible for their own actions and decisions.

On shame, self-loathing and community attitudes to meth use

Shame and self-loathing in relation to meth use, inhibits individuals’ abilities to engage in the moment and to be honest and open with others. Some guys tend to close down, loose interest in the world around them and become unresponsive to their own needs and the needs of others. It’s really sad.

The gay community has become judgemental and divisive, especially about meth, and this new prudishness makes it difficult for people to discuss their meth use openly, and for people who may be developing a problem to ask for help or support from their peers. Social media plays a part here as people write nasty stigmatising rubbish, which creates further division and isolates the people who need the support of their community the most.

On sex and the impact of meth on sex and gay culture

Sex for me is a two way thing. A lot of the time I find meth makes the ‘bottom’ very selfish. It’s all about them getting a cock in them and there’s not a lot of sexual reciprocity. I’m versatile, but increasingly I play a top role, because the guys I come across are invariably passive. With the online environment, sex is so accessible, there’s limited conversation, unlike the days of picking up in a bar and taking someone home. I think that gay men have lost the way of conversing with each other. None of the guys I’ve had sex with have become friends and it seems like meth may be a barrier to forming a non-sexual relationships/friendship.

Most of the time I party at home. I wouldn’t feel comfortable going to a bar on meth because people are so down on it.

On dealing with doctors

Docs expect you to tell them about your drug use, but when you do, they don’t react well. Some are very judgemental. Their attitude seems to be, “well if you don’t look after yourself, why should I bother”, which made me decide not to tell another GP about my drug use. Once you say you use meth and you’re injecting, it puts you in a different class of person.

In Closing

Critics will argue that this article is one-sided and doesn’t represent those who may be struggling to control meth use and its negative impacts. I acknowledge this and welcome contact from those who have had a different experience. However, portraying meth as the vehicle of universal destruction is naïve and misjudged - neither stoping people using meth or assisting those with substance abuse issues to seek help. A more enlightened mainstream and community discourse is overdue. Gay men will continue to use drugs and some men will need our support to help them to develop skills to manage meth use.

Also published at GayNewsNetwork 10 April 2015

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