Last year during the Gay Star News chemsex series, we spoke to sexual health, drugs and relationship experts all over the world.
Almost all to some extent shared criticisms about the LGBTI communities relationship with drugs – but very few would do this on the record.
Afterall, it’s a relationship that for many is intrinsically linked with our sexual liberation. So many of those working in fields that deal with chemsex every day, fear that if their words judge that culture – it may affect their ability to engage with those groups who need help.
But, Matthew Todd is calling time on being afraid to talk about something, that is harming parts of the LGBTI community.
He is the author of Straight Jacket a book that conceptualizes why so many gay and bi men are outwardly homophobic to their peers.
‘There is a lack of understanding about trauma, and a lack of will to talk about problematic sex. Because experts don’t want to shame anyone, they won’t talk about it,’ Todd tells Gay Star News.
The author believes this is leaving a huge void in our conversation about drugs, which though so many find liberation in – so many also turn to them for escape.
And let’s be clear, Todd is not a judgemental character, and would never judge someone for doing drugs. He himself has in his own words has ‘had plenty of sex’ and is a recovering alcoholic.
But he does believe there are similarities to be found in the reasons so many people are both gay and homophobes – and why so many gay and bi men are using drugs to alter their sex lives:
‘Many of us have a baseline anxiety in the trauma of growing up LGBT, one where we did not feel safe. Leading us to internalize the idea that we are a threat to ourselves. Leading us to become anxious about our entire being.
‘So then we go out and trying to soothe ourselves. Whether with an obsession for Madonna or for me films like Wizard of Oz – or with more serious symptoms like eating disorders and chemsex.
These are made up of a mixture of GHB, mephedrone and crystal meth. In some cases, the mostly gay and bi men who use chems, will ‘slam’ or inject these drugs.
‘These drugs are the glove, that fits the hand.’
The ‘holy trinity’ make you talkative, confident and horny. Exactly what so many gay and bi men who grew up struggling with their sexuality and identity – want a quick fix for.
‘They temporarily soothe the very issues so many gay and bi men have or even make them disappear. They can range from social anxiety, an underlying self-loathing about sex, or just feeling inadequate in bed.’
But I’m not ashamed of being gay
One of the biggest critiques Todd’s book gets comes from those in the LGBTI community who simply refuse to accept the concept of ‘gay shame.’
‘I accept it’s a loaded term. But the legacy of shame from growing up is not so much something you recognize every day. It’s not like oh “I feel shamed right now,” it’s more residual than that.
‘It manifests as, I feel really unattractive, I’m obsessed by my love handles, I’m ugly. Or perhaps in a need bitch about people all the time, not trusting your partners or constantly thinking your handsome boyfriend is too good for you. It could be as simple as needing to go to the pub as soon as you finish work. The shame I’m talking about is subconscious.’
But it’s more than people feeling the concept is a personal attack on them. For some, the book feels like an attack on the whole community.
‘People have an aversion to the book because it backs up painful homophobic narratives. Many that have been used to hurt us.
‘Some feel similar to Christian ideas that we are [or should be] ashamed of ourselves.’
Todd says this is then compounded by our focus on creating a sense of pride in being LGBTI.
‘I came out to all of these positive messages of about pride and being gay. But for me, it just felt like this glossed over the real problems – instead of acknowledging them.
And Todd is a huge believer in pride too, growing up it was one of his the highlights of the year.
‘But simply saying you’re “proud” over and over isn’t enough on its own. These problems are here, so let’s talk about them, about why they are happening.’
‘We have to help each other if we want pride to mean anything.’
With so much focus on our communities fight forward, how much time have we spent looking at our own internal problems?
‘Alcohol and drugs are a disproportionate problem within the LGBTI community. And we need to look at it. It’s not about having a war on drugs, it’s about being realistic.
‘Because lots of people use drugs, some for years on end. And addictions are destroying their lives.’
Todd runs ‘A Change of Scene’ with Drug and Alcohol Counsellor Simon Marks. It’s a monthly forum for gay and bisexual men. Topics include chemsex, relationships and life being LGBTI in London.
Working with Marks, Todd’s understanding of how ‘incredibly common’ it is that shame is at root of so many gay and bi men’s drug use has grown:
‘Beneath the surface of the drug use of so many of the men [that come to the group] are stories of shame from family, religions, and school about being LGBTI.
‘We’ve got to be able to talk about things that are damaging us. That’s not being judgemental – I’m a recovering alcoholic, I don’t demonize people who do drink. But some gay and straight people alike, do drink too much. It is damaging and even killing them.’
Matthew Todd’s Straight Jacket, Overcoming Society’s Legacy of Gay Shame is out in paperback now.