Mark S. King

Can I Blame Gay Culture for my Drug Addiction, Please?

Filed By Mark S. King | May 22, 2011 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: drug abuse, recovery

After a lifetime of sporadic, recreational drug use, I became a full-blown crystal meth addict ten years ago, and then eventually got clean and sober in January of 2009. But why would I, or anyone as engaged in life as I was, morph into a drug addict?

Thumbnail image for Gay Men and Substance abuse.jpgIt seemed an unlikely turn of events for a gay advocate and outspoken community leader living with HIV. Was my drug addiction some sort of post-traumatic stress from the AIDS horror show of the 1980's?

Maybe it pre-dated AIDS and resulted from the stress and shame of growing up gay. It's easy to understand why anyone who came of age believing they were perverted (and going straight to hell) might need a stiff drink. Research indicates that gay men and lesbians are more likely to smoke, drink, and use drugs. Was I born this way, Gaga?

So I was immediately drawn to the new book, Gay Men and Substance Abuse: A Basic Guide for Addicts and Those Who Care for Them. I thought the book might bolster my hypothesis that I was a victim of gay culture and doomed from the start.

Because, my dear friends, even after more than two years living clean and sober, I still jump at the chance of blaming my behavior on something other than myself.

Alas, the book is a helpful, informative guide but it doesn't let me off the hook. It hasn't the least bit of interest in finger pointing. Instead, it offers practical information and advice about addiction, treatment, relapse, and recovery - written specifically for gay men and their families. I would strongly recommend it for gay lovers or allies trying to understand the addiction and recovery process, and required reading for those working in the field.

I spoke to author Michael Shelton, M.S., C.A.C., about the ways in which addiction and recovery are different for gay men, and he pointed out the importance of family support, and the fact that gay men often don't have it.

"The number one precipitant for a person seeking help is family," Michael told me. "If they have no close relationship with their family or a significant other, there's no one on their back telling them to get into treatment."

But what about gay culture itself? Michael wasn't ready to make blanket pronouncements about gay culture's perils, but he did note the connection between our preoccupation with sex and the almost mythical sexual reputation of drugs like crystal meth.

"We absolutely have created sexual monsters" he said. "I see these guys every week (in my practice), and the only way they can engage in sexual contact with another man is through the use of substances."

Michael does allow that gay media plays a role in this hyper-sexuality. "The norms of our community say that one of the primary goals is hot sex as much as possible. Gay male culture is a hyper sexual culture. Pick up any gay paper and notice the sexual content."

Michael was quick to add that "this doesn't deny the fact there are many long-term gay couples," but that statement didn't fit my agenda - Gay culture contributed to my addiction! I had something to blame! - so I ignored it and called my gay BFF Charles to announce my findings.

"Charles!" I began. I had caught him at a subway stop waiting to commute home from his government public health work. He does the green thing. "It's no wonder I became a drug addict, Charles."

"Really? How do you figure that?" he asked.

"Because I've been such a totally gay man!" I was lightheaded with blame deflection. "And being gay is all about hyper-sexuality and taking steroids and looking hot and dancing on boxes at circuit parties, just like I did. Oh, and don't forget sex parties!"

There was silence for a moment. I could hear a garbled announcement on the subway speakers at his end.

"Well, that pretty much negates my life," Charles finally said, flatly.

Charles has never been fond of drugs. His sex life has been more conservative than mine, meaning, in the realm of sanity, and his party days consisted of dance floor celebrations that ended before last call. He's never seen the inside of a sex club.

"Oh Charles, I didn't mean-"

"Your view is so small, Mark. You think when you stopped that behavior and going to those places... did you think you had reached the far limits of gay culture?"

I was properly chastised. "Yeah," I said. "I felt like that for a while."

"Then welcome to the rest of the real world, Mark. Say hello to all the gays who have real lives and real jobs and are standing at subway stops waiting to get home to feed the cat. Is that not gay enough for you because I'm not stopping at a bathhouse on the way home? I'm going shopping later to find a hippie outfit to wear to a touring production of Hair I'm seeing tonight. I'm thinking love beads or pooka shells. Gay enough? Or should I shoot up meth during intermission?"

"Yes, yes, Charles. You're plenty gay."

"Gee, thanks. My train is here. Talk to you later."

Charles did his usual stellar job of pointing out what should be obvious to me. My self-centeredness and limited viewpoint keep getting in the way. There hadn't been room in that view for other gay men who enjoyed lives without drugs or alcohol, or who were capable of using moderately.

There is a saying among people like me that we are not responsible for our addiction, but we are responsible for our recovery. It suggests that I should not blame myself for how I got in this predicament, and while I'm at it, I probably shouldn't blame my local gay dance club, either.

My road to recovery as a gay man looks remarkably like the road everyone else must take - paved with equal parts honesty, open-mindedness and a willingness to keep trying. That willingness, no matter how much I try deflecting and blaming others, is entirely up to one person.

That would be me. Big, flaming, gay 'ol me.

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Brad Bailey | May 22, 2011 2:47 PM

Well-said, Mark. I've been clean and sober for twenty years and still have to remind myself of that. Thanks for sharing.

Eric Payne | May 22, 2011 4:43 PM

Excellent commentary. I was especially intrigued as I've been considering making a submission for a couple of months now, tentatively entitled Lance Loud Ruined My Life.

There was this little pocket of time, at about the same time I was graduating from high school, where a Lance Loud-esque persona seemed to be de rigeur for gay men: loud, boisterous, an exaggerated bitchy femininity and, of course, party... party... party!

But I say that as someone who, personally, is much like your friend Charles.

So how did Lance Loud ruin my life? Because, living in both New York City and Los Angeles and San Francisco for a large period of time, the expectation was one me to hit the bathhouses, or the SteamWorks, or the tea rooms, to spend every moment not working in some bar on Christopher or Santa Monica or Castro. I shouldn't be ready to go out on a Friday night until ten, at the earliest, and I shouldn't stop partying until Monday at 4 AM, at the earliest.

That never was me; I guess I just wanted the same thing my sisters wanted... to meet a nice guy and settle down. They were able to do that in their early 20s. Partly due to the expectations gay men had of and for each other until AIDS began its little stroll of New York City and Los Angeles and San Francisco, before branching out to the entire country, I wasn't able to meet the right guy until my late 30s, and he was in his early 40s.

Toward the end of his life, even Lance Loud admitted that, for him, Lance Loud Ruined My Life, though he had no regrets over where his life's journeys had taken him. His one wish was for his parents to reunite and, in a way, they did.

You say:

Because, my dear friends, even after more than two years living clean and sober, I still jump at the chance of blaming my behavior on something other than myself.

Don't feel that way. Yes, gay men spend a disproportionate amount of time in bars and events/parties where recreational pharmaceuticals are just another hum-drum part of the event... almost a "Okay, Charlie's getting the sodas for Friday's party, and Mickey's gonna be scoring the Tina and the pot." It's routine.

For some of us, "social" becomes antisocial. Some unseen, unheard circuit clicks into place and we begin a steady attempt at suicide, but do it at a pace that makes snails seem to be Kentucky Derby stars.

My concern about your statement is your not attending a program, but are keeping yourself clean and sober (two years! Congratulations!) completely on your own.

If so, I realize it can be done, but it's a lot harder, alone. I'd suggest you start with some 12-Step meetings, and that those 12-Step meetings are NOT specifically "gay." From personal experience, I can tell you that being new to the 12-Step process, and attending gay meetings... well, let's just say it's a lot like "new meat" at the bars.

Your friend, Charles, is attending a touring production of Hair tonight? Here's an odd coincidence, so are Bill and I, at The Fabulous Fox Theatre (I didn't add the "fabulous." It's really part of the theatre's name!). In fact, I just got out of the shower, and just realized my wedding ring's in the alcove of the shower wall. Gotta get that on and scoot...

Thanks for your thoughtful remarks, Eric. I typically keep my recovery references generic, but the fact is that I owe a debt to Crystal Meth Anonymous and it remains fundamental to my recovery.

And Charles was there in Atlanta, at the Fabulous Fox, too!

Cary Bass | May 22, 2011 7:50 PM

Hi there Mark,

Having known you in Fort Lauderdale, I've enjoyed reading your blog and watching you grow as you continue in your recovery, as much as I see anyone do the same here in San Francisco, being continuously involved in 12-step fellowship. Miracles happen and we become different people.

I also once thought that my life was basically over when I stopped using, and that I'd become something boring and sad, some antithesis of gay. Instead my world has opened up in countless ways, and I'm able to become an example to others.

God bless you.

I really enjoyed your article, Mark. I think for me the question of blame has not helped much in recovery. We can't blame the LGBTQ community for our addictions. But, there is the reality that our community has a higher that normal rate of substance addiction. I think there are a few explanations (not excuses) for that.

First, the reality of the closet causes increased depression which, like non-LGBTQ people, we sometimes attempt to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. Second, we have not always been historically great at providing sober space for our younger folks. When I came out in college there were some resources for young adults, but more often than that there were the bars and the rugby team. I can't blame those things, but I can say that environment matters. It's one reason I think providing sober alternatives in the LGBTQ community is so important.

I will also say that it the fellowship of other sober LGBTQ folks that has helped me more than anything else to stay sober. The fact it has so much power in my sobriety tells me a lot about how being in non-sober spaces impacted me in the past.

I think this raises an important point about how assumed it is that the gay male demographic is hypersexual and is expected to be promiscuous and particularly liberal when it comes to sex. But, as you learned, there are gays like Charles who aren't into the drug scene and aren't any more sexual than an average straight man - or straight woman, or gay doesn't matter which demographic. I think that sometimes Charles' place in gay culture is lost in the public's perception of the community, and this piece I think shows that that perception of gays being hypersexed and *allowed* to overindulge in drugs sometimes comes from within the community, too. Thanks.

Eric Payne | May 22, 2011 10:25 PM

Before we married, and proudly wear our matching rings, most people had no idea we were gay. In Phoenix, in the area of Glendale in which we lived, a real, honest-to-goodness community existed.

Every Friday, there was a cookout in someone's driveway (it rotated), with a pot-luck going on. After about six months, we were at a straight couple's home, in lawn chairs in the driveway, throwing back some Diet Cokes, when Bill mentioned something we had to do the next morning.

Dave (the "host") said something to Bill about Bill knowing my schedule. I just said: "Well, Dave, doesn't Judy (his wife) know what you're doing?"

The next year, that same couple was canvassing the neighborhood for signatures on Arizona's first same-gender marriage constitutional amendment (the one the voters rejected.) They even stopped at our house to get our signatures, telling us it was "nothing personal" but "marriage is about raising children."

They had no children, themselves.

A year later, they were divorced, lost their house to foreclosure, had their cars repossessed and Dave was living in a pop-up trailer out by the lake in Peoria, AZ.