(I've been debating whether to post this, most of which was written last week. I've decided to go ahead. We'll see whether it was a good idea or not. It rambles. I suppose it's a rant. Oh well. I warned you. If you prefer, skip it and read about my glamorous vacation.)
Two of my favorite blogs, QueerJoe and Tricky Tricot, recently referenced an article in The Village Voice about the use of crystal meth in the gay community. And boy, did it stir up some debate. This is a good thing.
I'd read the story myself before they posted it, and found I agreed violently with Patrick Moore, the author. He goes beyond merely saying "Drug use is terrible," (that not being news, certainly not to the Voice's readership) and tries to get at the underlying reasons why meth has become such a problem.
His conclusion, greatly simplified, is that gay men are inclined to use drugs not from an inherent moral failing, but because they are often desperate for solace in a world that at best ignores them and at worst seeks to eliminate them.
This is the passage that struck me. Moore is writing of his own experiences with drug and alcohol abuse:
"Had I looked deeper, I would have seen that I had always felt self-destructive and isolated, even from other gay people. I believe many young gay men* still feel that way."
The italics are mine.
I'm going to say something that may be very unpopular. And I don't care. I'm going to say it anyway.
I know guys who have taken or do take meth. A lot of guys. To a man, they have corroborated Moore's point that men who use it are usually doing so to achieve a feeling of connection - of bonding deeply, if temporarily, with a partner. Of belonging to the group of gay men who are desirable and desired. And every one of them made it clear that this feeling was something they couldn't achieve without the drug.
Moore twice brings up the feeling of being isolated from the gay community in his article, yet dwells more on the pressure from the wider, straight world as a negative force on gay men's lives.
Without in any way wishing to disagree with him that homophobia is omnipresent and powerful, I wish to offer the viewpoint that a good deal of the damage suffered by gay men comes from other gay men.
Here's an example, a personal one, of just how supportive gay men can be of each other.
I was sorting photocopies in the office hallway the other day when my ears pricked up at the sound of my name. In an office nearby, Colleague A was saying that the t-shirt I'd worn that day showed off my chest, and he was surprised to see that I have a solid build.
I was startled and so flattered that I blushed. Then Colleague B replied, "Yeah. But I guess when you're short and bald and have a face like that, you have to do something."
Colleague A said yes, that's true.
I wasn't suprised, though. When our office has reason to divide into groups - sitting at department events, going out after work for drinks, etc. - the gay men go off by themselves, and I'm not invited. I don't look like they do, or act like they do, and a tacit point had been made well before this conversation that gay or not, I'm not one of them.
Happily, I've had years to come to terms with the fact that I'm not and never have been a Pretty Boy by mainstream gay standards. I'm not blond, hairless, and slim as a willow. I've learned to take comfort in being caviare and catnip to the minority who like men who look like me. As much as one can, in this day and age, be at peace with one's physical appearance, I am.
But it takes years, and a whole lot of crying and hurt feelings, to get to this point. Some guys never get there. The fact is, and this never seems to be mentioned, that there are a lot of gay men who come out and aren't received into the fold with rapture.
These are the guys who aren't particularly good-looking, who may have a weight problem, who are shy in a club setting or aren't quick with a witty remark. These are the guys who happen to be the wrong race at the wrong time, or can't afford to live in the proper ZIP code,** or don't look right in the jeans that are the thing to be wearing this week.
There is a gay ideal, shamelessly pushed and promoted by those who market to the gay community (including our own press) that is as unrealistic for most of us as the supermodel ideal is for most women. Physical perfection is requirement number one.
Don't believe me? Take a look at the covers of gay books and magazines over at Amazon and count the number that feature some variation of a muscular, bare torso on the cover. And I don't just mean books about bodybuilding or sex. I mean books about cooking, decorating, childcare, philately, beekeeping, Esperanto...
The muscular, white, shaved and oiled torso has become universal visual shorthand for "gay." The logical conclusion? Don't have one? You're not really gay.
Some men can't handle this, and no wonder. When the world at large doesn't want to include you, it stings when those who are supposed to be (if nothing else) your comrades in oppression also make it clear you may not join the can-can.
When I was talking about this with Buzz the other day, he made a good point: "Do you really want to be invited to that party?"
No, as it happens, I don't. At my most muscular, I was given a pass to explore the fringes of it and found it dull. But the fact remains that except for persons temperamentally inclined to a hermetic life, everybody needs to feel that he belongs somewhere.
For many guys, it seems like the only place to belong is that perfect circle of shirtless men on the dance floor - the ones who will definitely be photographed for the party pages of the gay newspaper. Everything seems to point to it: you're here, or you're nowhere.***
And when you want desperately not to be nowhere, what's more tempting than a drug that will make you feel your God-given flaws have been erased by a Photoshop filter, and allow you to feel you have a right to membership?
Hell yes, pressure from the straight world at large takes a toll on you when you're gay. And so, sometimes to an even greater extent, does pressure from the gay world.
*I have news for you, Patrick, so do many older gay men. You know, the ones over 23.
**In Boston, I found "Which ZIP code do you live in?" to be the second most common question at gay parties, the first being "What do you do?" If your field was sufficiently impressive, you got to go on to question two. The South End (the gay ghetto) straddled two ZIP codes, only one of which was consdiered fashionable. Shades of Lady Bracknell. And people wonder why I don't miss Boston?
***Yeah, there are other subcultures within the gay culture (like the bear and leather communities). But some don't fit into those, either, and in my experience they can be just as elitist - at my first and only visit to Bear Pride in Chicago, I was openly snubbed for being too thin. Meanwhile, the gay press (when it speaks of them at all) usually implies that they are decidedly second-best, a lunatic fringe.