Youth, Taking Flight Amid Hazards
The mixing of sex and drugs stirs old memories and new concern.
I saw an article the other day in Gay Star News titled, “Chemsex will define a period of our gay history.” The subhead stated, “Stop stigmatizing people who engage in chemsex and help them share their stories.”
Yes, we must stop stigmatizing destructive behavior. Wait, what? Was the writer on drugs? Judging by the accompanying photos, one might assume that those affected by chemsex (or PnP for party and play, terms I never saw before) are all young and attractive guys with buff gym bodies. If we’re going to combat stigma, what about stereotyping that appears to glamorize harmful activity? Are the editors worried that more realistic photos would get fewer clicks? I don’t need a lecture from people sexing-up self-destructiveness.
Yes, addicts should receive help. The use of party drugs is not new. Only the lingo and the recreational drugs of choice have changed, along with the mode of access. A lot of people I met in 1980 when I moved to DC were dead within a few years; drugs played a role along with HIV. Some would boast and laugh about the drugs they were taking. I remember put-downs I got from men now long dead for not being part of that scene. But I was not celibate. I was lucky. Their ghosts are with me still.
Now some guys use PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) as a magic shield as they party away. Mind you, I defend PrEP against its critics. A life-saving medication should not be rejected because it prompts carelessness in some. That just means we have more educating and persuading to do.
We need to mix truth-telling with our compassion. As it happens, a straight relative of mine wrecked his marriage and his job with crystal meth. He survived. I wish more of the party guys I knew in my twenties had lived; they could provide sorely needed mentoring now.
Much has changed over the years, and much has not. In my youth there were no social media or hookup apps to get us in trouble; nor was there Uber to ferry us to out-of-the-way places. The powerful devices in our pockets are both useful and hazardous. But “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” goes back at least half a century.
I know a gifted gay teen whose parents worry about the dangers he faces. Their worry annoys him. This dynamic is also not new. I cry to think of any harm coming to him. But I do not show him my worry. That, to be honest, is what parents are for. He is just starting to date. He needs others with a bit of distance to whom he can turn for supportive, noncoercive advice.
The fact is, at some point, like all of us, he has to fly on his own power. One hopes that when he does, he will have assimilated the right mix of love, knowledge, and wisdom to see him through, and summoned the strength and guts to care for himself. It gets delicate, dealing with desire while trusting one’s resistance to the downward pull of the crowd. At least now there are more community resources to turn to. I pray that someday he can look back, grateful for heeding his own voice, and for help that was there when he needed it.
I saw him dance on Saturday. His joy in expressing himself was as wonderful to see as his talent. He is proud of his makeup skills. On his face, he told us, were foundation, blush, bronzer, mascara, eye liner, eyebrow pencil, lip liner, and a few other cosmetics I don’t recall. He has natural good looks, but this is his creation. His indulgent father sighed, “You have fifty dollars on your face.” For Sunday, he designed special eye makeup to attend a matinee of Aida at the Washington National Opera. He is charting his own star.
Back in his living room, my young friend whirled and kicked a leg up high. Who knows what insights and possibilities ride on a fledgling artist’s wings? A debut awaits, just over his horizon. Goddess keep him safe, with our help and his own.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. Email Richard