In the 90s, there were plenty of opportunities for me to sero-convert. What kept me negative was luck, and wanting only to top, and iron discipline in my practices. That discipline (and my guilt the few times I lapsed) came from the memories I have of people who had become poz before anything was known about the virus expressing to me, especially while managing their live with AIDS, how urgently they wanted me to stay negative. I remember arriving at a play party in 1993 in San Francisco and seeing and greeting Max who was there socially, and how immediately, out of nowhere, he put his hand in a bowl of condoms, grabbed a few, and handed them to me and telling me to make sure I always had some and to use them. He hadn't gone much beyond small-talk before that. Don't do this, was the message from the ones sick and dying, we know better now. Stay healthy.
At the same time, plenty of urban poz and PWAs at the time were creating a rebel mystique about how HIV / AIDS was another marker of having been thrown out of society and being counter-cultural if not outright edgy and hot. Of course HIV created its own aesthetic of danger in the communities that had it, and poz people deserved it because they were not garbage to be shunned, as much of society was treating them at the time. They were still sexual and alive and worthy and their sexuality was real and valid. But personally, I found glamorizing the punk of HIV / AIDS, (yes, at the time still also AIDS, you couldn't really hold the AIDS part back much) to the point that people WANTED to earn that bio-hazard tat, well, too much. I carried Max and other older men warning me in my head with me for years. Don't fucking be stupid. You know better. Many voices out there trying to keep us negative young men negative. "Don't end up like me." They would be disappointed and heart-broken at one more person to worry about and maybe lose, and I looked up to them.
I am thinking about that now because while HIV became manageable, the other thing I encountered first on that trip to San Francisco, meth, is not. It's been in my life 25 years now peripherally, and recently has tripled in force as I have become close to a number of people who are barely managing, or trying to climb out of a relapse, or fucking succumbing to it. They are, in my opinion, spectacular human beings whose addiction is stopping them from being the forces of light they have every right to be in this world that so needs their light. Meth is now closer to home than ever.
Here in London fucking club drugs are fucking everywhere, utterly normalized, as is binge drinking. One of my closest friends here told me how he literally can't go dancing any more because the drugs make him feel so awful in the mornings. When I tell him one can dance sober, he dismisses me: it is not the same, and sober it is so much less it is not worth doing. In this culture, a month of being sober is considered a feat of fortitude enough to justify fundraising for doing it. And yes, it gets to me: sometimes I feel like my abstinence means something is wrong with me. That is just how being a social species works.
New friends always wonder a little when they find out I don't and haven't done club drugs, tell me a little MDMA would be fun, discuss the quality of coke to be had openly. I'm pretty sure that if I smoked a little hit of meth at a "chill-out", just once to know what it was like, just a smoke man, nothing major, inhaled once, all under control, and then had sex with some guy for the next 8 hours, most of my gay friends would pat me on the back, and only my straights would be worried. And maybe they shouldn't be worried. Maybe it was only a little hit just to find things out. Doesn't mean I'll go out of control right away. Totally overblown worry. Lots of guys do a little meth on weekends. Right?
Yet yet yet yet. I know so many gays for whom it is no longer a little fun treat, especially now they are sober. Losing relationships, jobs, NA meetings, relapses. Seared in my brain is this memory of standing on a street in New York and hearing this amazing person tell me "You know, the weirdest thing about addiction is how it makes the outrageous seem like a good idea. Injecting yourself with tap water because you are out of sterile seems totally normal all of a sudden."
I was horrified to hear there was such a thing as a bare-backing party in 1992, or that they knowingly allowed bug-chasers. But then I got told I needed to be cool and respect bodily autonomy and other people's decisions. Now I look at the remnants of that sex&death edginess (thanks, Treasure Island Media), take my PrEP, and smirk at guys excitedly talking about wanting "toxic poz loads". Shut up, asshole, there's no such thing anymore unless you are dumb enough to be with someone dumb enough to not take daily meds and lose the undetectable status.
Slamming is now the frontier here for the out there and cool, the tragic messes to be revered for their plugged-inness and the reality they are serving, away from us bourgeois sell-outs to marriage and suburbia. The guys I am close to I mentioned before truly do not want to do it any more, but they seem utterly alone in there. The one thing I am not hearing is anything inside their culture even trying to hold them back. There seem to be no Maxes, nobody who has been there, telling them it is a bad idea, or even metaphorically yanking a syringe away from them in some sense.
On the hook-up apps there is barely any filter, anybody moderating for what we KNOW are the keywords: chill-out, PnP, HnH, High and Horny, Slamming, Slam, Zlam. I see them every time on my grid, they reach out to me even though my profile says fuck no to that. I know tech, I know what is a real effort and what is half-hearted lip-service (surprise, they are doing only the latter). I know a bot could filter all of the profiles better than they are even trying, and filter chats real-time, and flag them up for review instantly, but nobody in charge of the comms seems really desiring to do and be this prescriptive. How would they, why would they--I remember the Marketing dude for one big hookup fetish website, previously Marketing dude for another hook-up website, being at every major gay fetish party I was at for 3 years on two continents, eyes wider and buggier every time, until I did not, and have not, seen him around for the last few years. Facilitating chemsex makes the sites money over facilitating sober sex, and if they are on it themselves, because everyone is, because everyone can handle their drugs on a weekend, right, why would they clamp down? Why would our culture clamp down? It's just a bit of fun. A little release. Adults can handle it.
Twenty years ago there were voices from inside the community telling us to stay negative, not just external agencies and helpful initiatives. I remember going into cruising spots and finding community workers handing out condoms. I am not hearing, or hearing of, voices from inside the sex and especially chemsex community, on-line, off-line, organically saying, don't do this. It will kill you. I've been there. I barely got out. Stop.
We knew where men had sex and showed up. We know where the fucking dealers live now. Everyone knows who they are at the parties.
They say nobody proselytizes against a sin more than reformed sinners, but sometimes it feels to me like meth is bucking that trend. I hope it is just me being so out of touch with this culture I do not know where to look.