How do you convince friends that their perceived salvation in meth is, potentially, a one-way ticket to oblivion? You can't. You must leave them to experience this for themselves. But first they will laugh at you. Then they will belittle and scorn you. And then they will cast you out for not joining them on their joyride into hell...
In recent years, North America's gay community has turned the full glare of the spotlight on crystal; one fierce enough to disperse the hype and expose the ugly, shocking truth for all to see. Across the US groups, individuals and activists have mobilised to demystify, deglamorise, stigmatise and relegate crystal to the league of dirty drugs like heroin and crack cocaine where it belongs, making it socially unacceptable to have meth as anyone's friend - nor its presence on the dance floor, in the sauna or in the bedroom - a moment longer. The message being heard loud and clear and far and wide is crystal clear: allow "Tina" to seduce you and she will damage your body, enslave your mind and, ultimately, kill you.
California is testimony to the horrendous, gut-wrenching toll of meth abuse. LA may be America's largest city, yet its gay social scene has always been a wilderness devoid of direction. Some LA clubs have geared themselves exclusively around meth, not opening until the tweaker-friendly time of post-3am. Elsewhere, Chicago's gay dance scene - the home of house music - has long since died a cancerous death; New York's once-thriving after hours scene has been snuffed out; San Francisco's famous Universe is no more; even Miami Beach's once-legendary club culture is a ghost of its former self. Tina's pervasive legacy still lingers in most US cities, seducing and devouring the life-force of their respective communities, stealing minds, hearts, and souls. West Hollywood, The Castro, South Beach, Chelsea, West Halstead...
The ugly truth speaks for itself, yet the biggest tragedy of all is that America's sometimes brutally competitive and underlyingly superficial gay social culture provided the fertile breeding ground for this to happen...
"When I was in my teens I was going to kill myself. But just as I was about to do it, I said a prayer: 'God, if I'm not supposed to die today, is there some purpose to my life?' I thought he hated me, but he gave me a miracle. That day I told him I would see where this life would take me. Listen to me, those who stand where I once stood. I've cried your tears, felt your loneliness. You need to live; there is meaning to your life. There's a whole community that has felt your pain. Come out to yourself. I'm further down the road; I can see things you can't see. Come down the road; be 50 one day..."
~ Tim Breitzmann [The Advocate]
How many more young men are condemned to be entrapped by this drug and cut down in their prime, having been drawn to the gay lifestyle in search of acceptance after a lifetime of being deceived by their judgmental, disapproving environment into feeling unworthy and unloved? And just how far has gay society advanced when the grim legacy that is being handed down from one generation of gay men to the next is one of risk-filled sex, epidemic diseases and soul-obliterating toxins, and the realisation that some of the worst discrimination and hatred they will face will be from other gay men?
"The real culprit is a community of people, so often marginalised and criticised by mainstream society, turning their angst inward against one another, rather than using it to create a panacea from the world that would torment them."
~ Here Magazine
Our inaction and indifference today condemns others emerging fresh to the scene to a bleak, uncertain future. Ironically, in 2005, Time revealed that in many schools around the States it is now profoundly uncool to be seen as anti-gay, and that today's college campus gays have much potential to succeed and excel. One day each will depart the accepting environs of college life and enter into a less secure and unforgiving world in which their quest for a sense of belonging will pressurise and deceive many into playing Russian Roulette with their lives, jeopardising their physical and mental health in order to conform to a so-called gay aesthetic and social ideal.
"I strongly believe if more emphasis was placed on mental wellbeing, tackling feelings of isolation and building a sense of community amongst gay youth, fewer people would suffer from such a victim mentality and the numbers of young men being diagnosed [with HIV] each year would fall."
~ Joe Chown [Positive Nation]
Will the pain of one generation be passed on to the next, with meth and HIV the final bullets in the gun for many of today's gay kids and teens? Or will we choose instead to lead by example and address and correct how we have allowed gay culture to emulate the mainstream's dumbed-down, shallow values, dehumanising our spirits, devaluing our principles and eroding our creativity and potential before our world implodes?
"There are very few age-appropriate gay activities for a 14-15-year-old. There's no roller skating, bowling or any of that kind of thing... It's internet, gay porn, gay chats."
~ Bryan Olsen [Emory College Junior]
Perversely, while homophobia has been in steady decline and as US gays have become steadily more integrated into mainstream society, many young Americans seeking solace and acceptance in the scene have evolved to develop layer upon layer of impenetrable body armour to create a hardened, invincible image while feeling ever more inferior and isolated behind the masks that hide their despair.
With many gay men petrified to reveal even a glimpse of their true selves through a chink in their armour, the biggest threat facing upcoming generations comes not from outside, but within.
With a succession of gay rights secured, no longer do gay men feel an instinctive need to stand side by side in solidarity. Fragmented and immobilised, if gay society is to truly empower itself then it must identify and confront the underlying issues that drive so many of us to divisive, self-destructive behaviours in the first place, be it via drug abuse, unsafe sex, and hypermasculinity. Before gay America demands that mainstream society lets go of its homophobia, it must first let go of its own.
"As a great poet wrote, 'We must love one another or die.' That means finding new ways of protecting one another from the (HIV) virus, accepting one another’s infections and imperfections, and learning to endure our self-hatred and emptiness rather than seeking oblivion in sex, drugs or drink."
~ Walter Armstrong [Editor, POZ magazine]
It comes down to individual choice whether or not we continue providing the fertile ground that allows meth to breed so easily, snuffing out our light, controlling and leading us on a fast-track to annihilation. Or we can choose to reject meth in favour of what it seeks to detach us from: love and respect, for ourselves and each other.
Life or meth? The choice is yours... •
• Some of the issues and opinions raised on this page are expanded in Founder's Letter and Healing Addiction