A 2003 STUDY by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that around 10% of gay men sampled had used crystal meth at least once in the previous year compared with 0.7% of the general US population, 20% of whom admitted using at least once per week.
"He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who perpetrates it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really co-operating with it."
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
In the US, addiction and alcohol rates for gay-identified people are four to six time higher than the rest of the population, and meeting places are invariably built around drugs and alcohol. In a remarkably short time, a conspiracy of silence enabled crystal meth to become normalised and so thoroughly woven into the fabric of North America's gay social scene that a genuine fear prevailed that not using the drug, or voicing valid concerns about its potentially devastating effects, could result in ridicule, even vilification, leaving one isolated and adrift from the "action".
"For many years, crystal built this reputation as being glamorous, being fun. Anyone who's edgy is doing meth, and if you're not, you're not cool - you're not part of the 'in' crowd, not part of the scene."
~ Dan Carlson [The HIV Forum, NYC]
The code of silence that enveloped meth use across gay America, particularly in the wake of 9/11, dissuaded most from speaking out, allowing meth to flourish and resulting in an epidemic that may one day exceed AIDS' death toll - a far cry from the selflessness and compassion with which gay men rallied around each other during the height of that epidemic in the 1980/90s.
"Crystal is the crack of the gay community and needs to be discouraged on a communitywide level. When HIV/AIDS first emerged, our community rose up to care for one another and taught each other how to care for ourselves and our friends. Crystal use should be no different."
~ Jason Riggs [Stop AIDS Project]
"When we faced similar chaos at the start of the [AIDS]
epidemic we rolled up our sleeves and hunkered down to the work of taking care of our own.The disco anthem of the period, Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves, clearly resonated with gay men of that era."
~ Eric Rofes, Ph.D. [US AIDS activist, 1954-2006]
"In the old days, when we were fighting HIV, we were going out and we were doing AIDS education and we were fighting to save lives. It’s kind of the same thing - we all need to go out, spread the word, let everybody know that meth equals death, and that there is healing that can be achieved from everything.”
~ Russell Beasley [Southern Voice]
This time around, had gay men really become so callous and uncaring that they simply didn't give a damn what was happening to those around them, even their "friends"?
"There is no such thing as recreational use of crystal meth," wrote Gary R. Cohan MD in +hivplus in 2003. "Users cannot limit their intake voluntarily. That is why we all need to speak up against partying with crystal, no matter how unpopular we think our opinion may be. Don't condone its use by apathetic indifference or casual ignorance. When you tell someone that it's uncool to do crystal you're not being a right wing, anti-
drug zealot, you're being a friend. And just as friends don't let friends drive drunk, friends don't let friends do crystal."
"Tina is the passport into a close-knit 'in-crowd' where, too often, they support each other in their delusions."
~ Mickey Weems [Ohio State Universary]
Meth has thrived at least in part because the ghettoised connectedness that defined America's inclusive gay social order and cultural identity up to the 1990s dispersed and fragmented amid a succession of equal rights victories which resulted in increasing acceptance and, in turn, a merging with the shallow, competitive, self-absorbed, mainstream consumer culture, spawning a dumbed-down "soundbite generation" with ever-decreasing attention spans. Today, the social diseases of apathy and indifference infest the idealised gay lifestyle which invariably salutes conspicuous consumption and glorifies the vacuous and the trivial while paying lip service to - and even frowns upon - meaningful values like truth, integrity, compassion and comradeship; a fertile environment, in fact, for a new and deadly virus to emerge and flourish...
"Our unique, revolutionary contribution to modern life has been co-opted, homogenised and marketed as just another off-peg lifestyle, and marketing is now so powerful that even intelligent people will no longer be the bright, creative, subversive people that they once were; they'll be hollow-eyed drones so exhausted by the non-stop pursuit of sex that they'll have nothing to contribute towards social change."
~ Rupert Smith [Gay Times UK, October 2005]
Fretting about the size of our 4x4s, the number of pixels on our plasma screens or whether we are on the so-called A-list, many of us lose sight of, and avoid rather than confront, the things that really matter as we race ahead of ourselves rather than focus on the now. And with the rise of the emotionless vacuum of cyberspace, no longer do many of us regard each other with reverence but as transient commodities from which to extract our selfish needs, then dumping wholesale and moving onto the next sucker.
This detachment from intrinsic values is ruthlessly exploited and promoted by gay media, particularly magazines and websites which indiscriminately compete for gay and mainstream advertisers hungry to milk the pink pound, and invariably at the expense of their patrons' intrinsic core values. In London, scene mags aimed at gay youth long ago morphed into crude, hardcore porn mags crammed with ads for bareback videos and page after page of explicit escort ads alongside vapid, one-size-fits-all safe sex ads and zealous campaigns for the "morning after" quick-fix regimen PEP, commodifying and devaluing sex to its basest and most meaningless level. In the US, bland, vacuous newsstand mags and community freesheets have long given free reign to Big Pharma's airbushed-to-perfection antiretroviral ads which dishonestly and irresponsibly mask the drugs' disfiguring and shocking health-impacting side-effects which take an entire, legally required page of dense text to explain.
"Former editor, Nigel Edwards, noticed a definite shift towards consumerism in the [UK] Pink Paper's editorial policy around the...same time that gay activists claim the queer community became increasingly 'apathetic' and 'difficult to stir'. It's difficult to conclude that one had no bearing on the other."
~ Chris Morris [Positively Healthy]
Buying into a shallow demographic meant being key players in the conspiracy of silence that shrouded meth use, and US gay media has long ignored the devastation wreaked by AIDS and crystal entirely or, at best, paid scant lip service and downplayed their threat.
"It's hard to find any mention in the gay press of the devastation of AIDS. Everybody is living with it, active, surviving. Except that's not the truth. The truth is the drugs wear out. The truth is that when they do there's nothing, there's nowhere to turn. The truth for gay men In America is that when they exhaust what the medical system has to offer, it is still a terminal illness. It's an inconvenient truth, but one nonetheless."
~ Here Magazine
While magazines like Out and Instinct have got rich off the back of ads for AIDS meds and circuit party events - which, for many of their readers, have provided a gateway to meth and, in turn, HIV - rather than educate their readers to its potential dangers for fear of contaminating their illusory, sanitised, Photoshopped worlds, they instead equate the gay urban lifestyle exclusively around rampant consumerism, sex, and more aesthetically-perfected eye candy than the issue before; factors which in themselves fuel low self-esteem and negative self-perceptions among gay men, steering many in the direction of drugs like meth just as socially irresponsible American fashion magazines did to anxious, weight-conscious women in the 1960s.
Adding salt to their wound of denial, magazines like The Advocate and Genre have openly derided anti-
meth campaigners for daring to suggest that crystal meth is a gay problem, period. “It's great they're paying attention to it but they're not reaching the people they need to reach with all this finger-wagging,” said Bill Henning, editor-in-chief of Genre. “It's the same sort of anti-sex, antidrug argument that's been going on in the gay community for years.”
Refuting the very existence of a meth epidemic, New York's Gay City News journalist, Duncan Osborne, cashed in on the subject with a book, Suicide Tuesday, in which none of his arguments or observations were based on firsthand experiences of using meth. Nor did Osborne embed himself in meth-friendly environments like nightclubs, sex parties or saunas while compiling his research. Instead he conjects and makes loose assumptions based around what he has borrowed from existing reports in gay and mainstream media coverage, which he lazily and tiresomely sums up as "hysteria".
"Major gay media dropped the ball in response to HIV some 25 years ago. We haven't learned anything when it comes to gay epidemics. They seem to turn their head and look another way. It's shameful that The Advocate only gave meth a cover story after a Newseek cover story a month before."
~ Dr. Ken Cimino [Author, The Politics of Cystal Meth]
Few can deny that it is silence that enabled crystal meth to spread like wildfire throughout gay communities, or that the failure to stigmatise meth up to the advent of the Meth = Death campaign in 2003 created a crystal culture of acceptance and coolness.
Gay media's disregard for, and trivialisation of, crystal meth is put in perspective by their mainstream counterparts who, far from promoting hysteria, have served to educate and spread awareness where previously little or none existed. The comparative apathy of the gay press is all the more glaring and self-defeating when measured against the growing chorus of respected clinical psychologists who now openly cite crystal meth as the biggest scourge facing gay men today, including:
• Michael Majeski, who believes that meth is the catalyst for at least 80% of seroconversions currently occurring across the States;
• Tony Zimbardi, who calls meth the number one cause of HIV transmission: "[Crystal] is the number one cause of HIV transmission. We're not finding high rates of new infection among gay men who aren't crystal users," he says;
• Jim Peck, who told The Advocate: "Across the country, health care providers are just at a loss. They've never seen anything like it. They don't know how to treat these people."