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Can I blame gay culture for my drug addiction, please?

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?

It 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?

Gay Men and Substance abuseSo 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 governmental 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.




  1. Carole Ann May 20, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    First, how fortunate you are to have Charles for a friend although I wonder if Charles is not the sensitive message of this story, finding his true image inside your soul.

    I especially like your putting forth the idea that we are all, at the end of the day, responsible to and for ourselves.

  2. Pattywack May 20, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    I’m so busy living for today that I don’t have time for the past.

  3. Miguel May 20, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    In part yes; any phenomena behaves in some manner in proportion to some cosmic rule I believe; so let us start in the beginning; we know that human beings for the most part are a “blank tablet” in their first few years; culture will determine what is acceptable behavior or deviant behavior; children pick up subtle messages; we grow as young adults and still we are a product of various social forces; example the church, the family, etc; self-esteem in born early; so if we behave like the masses, we get praised; positive reinforcement also adds to a sense of self; a sense of whom we are.

    I am not sure gay children get a chance at a healthy life; or a chance to develop as healthy adults; knowing no boundaries; fearful of intimacy; feeling less then (second class citizens); humans behave according to how they feel about themselves; if we think we are worthless and helpless, we behave accordingly; and in so doing we hurt each other; we lie, we cheat, we manipulate; for many, the only way to exist; people who love themselves and truly respect themselves do not end up is some dark corner self administering drugs and hiding to have sex; but this behavior is difficult to change; IF I believe that I am broken; I will behave broken and in so doing continue the vicious cycle of a broken world and a whole lot of broken hearts.

  4. Sean McShee May 20, 2011 at 10:03 pm

    While blame may be useful in a court case, it is always counterproductive in matters of health. In terms of health, a more useful framework, is someithing like, “how can I improve. what change should I make, etc” As soon as you start thinking blame, you’re not focusing on health.

  5. Sue May 21, 2011 at 9:21 am

    You are man–gay that is.
    Love to you Mark.

  6. Jon Markle May 21, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    The word, “blame” jumped out at me and drew me to your editorial, Mark. I found myself in total agreement. Oh sure, certain biological, environmental, psychological, spiritual and social factors can predispose a human being to just about any illness or disease. But, we are ultimately responsible for how that progresses and, more importantly, how we address any issues — our recovery. I do not blame anyone for my addiction. And my recovery from it is my responsibility. If I continue to participate in those things — “people, places, playthings” — that are additive to my predisposition, then what do I think will be the result?

    While there may be some arguments which debate the high propensity of gay men to addiction, there are none that I’ve seen which say we are not responsible for our own individual and personal recovery . . . just like the rest of the human race.

  7. rod rushing May 22, 2011 at 8:50 am

    thanks for the nod on the book. I need some inspiration. personally, i don’t blame gay culture. i was always the biggest mess of anyone i knew. i do believe that my low self-esteem and my mental health did play an important role in my substance issues. and they play just as important a part in my recovery.

    i always enjoy your perspective mark. keep up the great work. i reposted this at on the ten…

    happy spring…

  8. Gary W. May 22, 2011 at 10:19 pm

    I don’t find my drug addiction a mystery. My beliefs about drugs before I became addicted were arrogant and ignorant – Never in a million years did I thing it could happen to me. It happened to people who used heroine, crack or where alcoholism ran in their family. In my 20’s and 30’s none of those things applied to me. It started with ecstacy which I thought was non-addictive. The problem was I loved to get high, I can’t stress this enough, I love the feeling of being high. After a short while one pill wasn’t enough so I graduated to more drugs and ended up with a masters in crystal meth. Crystal meth is highly addictive, even for people who wouldn’t necessarily become addicted – if used enough times I think most people would get hooked.

    My social life when I first came out was focused around night clubs where knowingly or unknowingly I got involved with friends who were of like mind. I am shy and introverted and the drugs helped me overcome these feelings But the problem was I loved to get high so after enough years I was hooked on the drug and sex go-round.

    One of my favorite slogans in Program is “one is too many and a thousand is not enough” This perfectly describes my relationship with drugs. No longer am I ignorant or arrogant about drugs. After being close to deaths door I was able to get sober. I owe my life to CMA or at the very least an A Program- without it I Shirley would not be here:-/

  9. Lert May 24, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    A great read and introduction to a new resource – thanks Mark!

    I did want to respond in general to my thoughts around blame and the gay community.

    Accepting responsibility for one’s recovery as part of the process that allows one to work on their relationship to drugs is clearly important. Blaming others, or the community that surrounds you, is probably equally hindering.

    That being said, I know that in my own communities drug use really is glorified (along with the sex and partying that comes with it). Combined with an enabling culture and environment (bars, websites, etc.), rather than an emotionally/socially supportive one, anyone who might be likely to suffer from addiction will probably be much more susceptible.

    This is a good reminder that it’s important not to see gay men who have challenges with substance use as total victims of gay culture. That being said, working towards more supportive, welcoming and engaged communities (that don’t necessarily focus so much on drug use) is still a super important goal. If we don’t keep looking at, and reflecting on, the communities we create then we run the risk of simply laying blame for all those gay men who were exposed to the culture and succumb to it. There are tons of us who can manage our drug use without it becoming problematic – this is so great and I hope those of us who *don’t* end up abusing substances will think about being a little more supportive of those who might!

  10. Paul Overstreet May 31, 2011 at 10:17 pm

    Only if you was influence by Gay friends but that part of the crowd you was in. not the community as a whole
    Remember that not all the community is not in favor of Substance abuse
    Least not me in my individual way never follow the IN or OUT Crowd
    Been a loner most of my life and became a leader when I seen the BS of the community not stepping in to save our on kind
    I am a GAY MAN but doesn’t need poppers or IV to give me the strength through sex I like mine naturally LOL
    No Pain no gain if you asked me

  11. barry August 12, 2012 at 8:42 pm

    Interesting read, sounds like my story, never realizing I was addicted until I was totally caught up in my addiction. Maybe I did realize I was addicted but I loved the effects of drugs so much that I thought I never wanted to give them up. One thing I didn’t realize was that the drugs loved me more than I actually loved them. They became a huge part of my life, the lifestyle, was pubs, clubs, parties until I needed sleep and then recover from the sickness to start the process all over again for years on end. Drugs and Alcohol aided some poor lifestyle choices which I made, ending me up in prison, rehab, counselling, hospitals and eventually I ended up with HIV. I am now trying my hardest to live a lifestyle which doesn’t consist of any kind of mind altering substance and try to keep up on a program which consists of an aftercare program, counselling and AA & NA Meetings. These I feel help me overcome my addiction on a daily basis and without the support of family, these groups and my counsellor I would find it impossible to refrain from that lifestyle. I could never cope with facing myself, being gay in a community where its considered immoral but with the love and support I have learned to overcome this fear and finally live at peace with myself. I am determined to keep going in this direction and hopefully someday my life will finally make sense and I will be content with what the future has in store for me, but for now living is a daily process and just for today I will abstain from all mood altering chemicals and repeat this process as this simple program is what helps complicated people overcome this disease.

    Thoroughly enjoyed what I have read and could relate to the insecurities, the loneliness, unhappiness, self centered behaviors. The uncomfortable feelings of meeting someone without being intoxicated in one form or another and then the lack of dignity and self respect brought upon by the addiction. I am beginning to understand that addiction feeds off of thoughts and feelings and finally leads to the immoral and irrational behaviors which would never be carried out if the disease of addiction had not been introduced by oneself upon themselves. What started off as experimentation, wouldn’t have escalated if we as people could overcome our insecurities, difficulties, past trauma’s and social inadequacies with some other method, instead of trying to hide them and bottle them up from the world by using substances. I realize now that life is for living and in order for someone to live their life they need to be comfortable in their own skin and by making the world a more welcoming, accepting place there is a possibility of this happening. Live and let live without passing judgement as who are we to judge each other!

  12. Rev Billy Sundae July 6, 2014 at 12:56 am

    Doin drugs is bad and will make you go to hell! Dont do drugs boy.

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