ANTON JOHNSON examines the drug-fuelled LGBT sex parties attended by the nihilistic and disposessed
A NEW subculture is developing. Back in October 2014 Patrick Cash, the journalist and initiator of the open LGBT community event Let’s talk about Gay Sex and Drugs, addressed a meeting of Unite London and eastern region LGBT committee. He talked about the rising problem in urban areas such as London of “chem-sex” parties and related activities involving men who have sex with men.
I am not going to go into the technical areas of the drugs used in chem-sex here, but over the years there has been a rise in the use of chemicals by gay men during sex. This has been in concert with “chill-outs” held in private dwellings.
At the time Patrick spoke to our committee I had no experience of chill-outs or the mobile phone applications used today by gay men to meet and date — such as Grindr and Scruff. I certainly had no experience of chill-outs or chem-sex meet ups. That all changed in February of this year when I invited someone who was in need to take up my spare room in my flat.
This person presented himself as a seasoned traveller in the world of the phone app Grindr and the chill-out scene — in fact he met his boyfriend at a chill-out. He was a proponent of chem use in sex and believed that the growing concern was fuelled by those who either could not handle the scene or couldn’t access it. He said it was driven by a desire to restrain gay men from exploring sex. He believed human nature should be allowed to take its natural course with a nihilistic outlook — right-wing and individualistic.
He introduced me to Grindr. Being an inquisitive chap I wanted to find out what it was all about. He wisely advised me that I may find Grindr a disappointing experience because of my age and how I looked. He also explained that invites to chill-outs would really not be coming to me, again because of my age and manner (small talk is not one of my strengths).
Certainly he was not disposed to inviting me to one or taking me.
Chill-outs are organised through the phone apps or Facebook and I observed my flatmate frequently going off to such parties that would last for days.
I found Grindr limiting, and he was right — I certainly was not having a great deal of success. I would send a message and if I got a reply it was to ask how old I was. If there was to be another reply it was asking “How much I would pay?” and what chems I was willing to provide.
Needless to say, the invites to chill-outs were not flooding in. I did a bit of research and messaged men of different ages. Regardless of their age I got either no response or a similar one to those described.
The app is an online market place, with people either selling or seeking drugs. Grindr is run by a private enterprise, which has been quick to clamp down on nudity but slow to clamp down on drugs.
So I discussed the chill-out scene with my flatmate. He explained to me that they were better than clubs as those attending could be screened so that there was a good mix of guys — “tops/bottoms” and that they looked good. The problem with clubs, as he explained, was that anyone could be there including the old and “ugly.”
The parties tend to be hosted by guys in their 40s who have their own place and could host. They would provide the chems required — though I later learnt that sometimes those attending contribute to a “pool.”
Just to be clear I am not writing this from an anti-sex agenda. Many will know my record on advocating sexual freedom. I have been involved in organising on SM Pride in the 1990s, defending sex workers’ rights and building support in the movement when the famous London club FIST was closed by the police in 2002.
But following the presentations at Let’s Talk about Gay Sex and Drugs events along with the discussions, my observations and experiences of Grindr I am getting a real sense of the scale of the issue and concern, which I did not fully appreciate a year ago.
The screening out of people based on how they look is narrowing social interaction. Interestingly it was explained to me that those who attended these parties in the main were accountants, doctors, web designers or similar professionals, never was a train driver or bus driver mentioned.
Theories have been put forward that the use of chem-sex arises from negative experiences of sexuality when growing up. This is a factor, though not I believe a blanket explanation. I grew up in a very different time to someone born in the 1980s and ’90s. I have not felt the need to use substances to experience intimacy (when I was younger). Nor do I believe any other blanket theory can be provided.
I would also like to suggest that this recent phenomenon is a symptom of the current system we are labouring under. As someone who has been involved in working for LGBT rights both in the community and labour movement I find it troubling that people are seeking to bury themselves for days in houses, potentially putting themselves at risk, shutting away the wider society.
These are not private house parties of friends. These are events organised on the internet and through phone apps with strangers, and with money being exchanged. Is it another aspect of disillusionment, a sense that given no security in employment, housing or community make it impossible for a community to be safe and grow?
There is a bigger role for LGBT trade unionists and bodies to play in this debate than simply adding their name and giving a donation, as valuable as that it is. I believe this scene is growing because of the wider conditions and challenges gay men (of all ages) are finding in the current environment.
Trade unions and progressives in the LGBT campaigns and old-timers like me should not ignore but be taking part and challenge the nihilistic, discriminatory views, personal yet regressive, being played out in this scene, which are not confined to the chill-out, as I found out, but in other dealings of life that affect respect for others. So I call on LGBT trade union colleagues to get involved in these discussions on a growing issue where really only the rich and the dealers are the winners.
Unite London and eastern region LGBT committee supports the monthly Let’s Talk about Gay Sex and Drugs events held at Ku Bar in Soho
nPatrick Cash’s new play The Clinic is now showing at King’s Head Theatre, 115 Upper St, London N1.
nAnton Johnson is greater London Association of Trade Union Councils LGBT officer.