“I’m drug friendly and think in the right hands they can be great accents to human activities. But, if you get so high you get lost in the maze room at the bathhouse, you need to go to bed,” I inadvertently started giving advice to a younger version of myself when talking to a friend about our mutual experiences in bathhouses and the gay drug scene. In particular, I was wincing at the novice way I, about a year ago, once, clumsily but knowingly, put over a quarter gram of crystal methamphetamine into a lube dispenser filled with about two milliliters of saline solution. I mixed the solution, sort of shrugged at the inadvertently large quantity I dropped into the dispenser when I had meant just for a much smaller amount, and inserted it into my body. The initial burn is part of the paradoxical pain and pleasure component of most drugs, and the ensuing black out was disturbing. After all, methamphetamine’s very nature is to increase awareness, often to unbalanced and paranoid levels, and the notion of blacking out and coming to was, until this point, reserved for alcohol and downers in my head.
But, there I was, approximately two hours later with no recollection whatsoever as to the events that transpired. More amusingly, or frighteningly depending on your perception, I was stark naked with an erection, obsessively fumbling with it in a literal blackened maze on the top floor of a bathhouse. And, the most bizarre aspect of this situation is that every time I heard someone approaching me in the dark, supposedly the motivation for my being in this situation in the first place, I would anxiously move away from the sound without any sensible reason for my withdraw. After all, it was me who went into this building. And, after all, it was me who made the decision to engage in the other activities commonplace in this environment. But, it was also me who did not realize that I could, potentially, reach nearly idiotic levels of babbling and incoherence on something that would always deliver an alertness and self-awareness with much greater intensity than nature.
In retrospect, I find this story amusing thanks to the innocuous conclusion of it. Logically, as I am writing this memory, I suffered no long-term or serious consequences due to this behavior, most notably incarceration or death. Yet, I am left with lingering feelings of discomfort with telling it so candidly without mitigating the situation aside from conceding that I was being a typical male, searching for yet another sexual conquest, always trying to one-up myself in intensity and ecstasy.
This discomfort, however, does not come from the supposed immorality of my actions. Rather, the unease I feel at telling this story involves the ethical question posed by drug use. That is, if a man can manage risk in his life, make some poor decisions, but otherwise come out of those situations unscathed and no worse for wear with incredible stories to tell, is that man not, in essence, living? Even so, would stating this fact too carelessly let addicts fall back into their addiction or endorse something that, under the wrong conditions or motivations, can destroy someone’s life? Wherein lies our ethical obligation to be both honest and responsible stewards of our community?
“We went on opening night to a club, and we had to queue for hours,” my friend, “Ethan,” begins to tell me about his own similar experience in London. “Even though we had our names on the guest list, we had to wait for hours. So, we started sampling the sweeties [drugs] to relieve the boredom and the freezing December cold.” Being a Philadelphia area native, I quizzically look at Ethan with my unfamiliarity with British slang. “Disco biscuits, ecstasy, MDMA, and breakfast, special K, ketamine,” he explains.
“The club was in what had once been a Victorian underground meat store for the meat market above,” he continues, ignoring my obvious smirk at the metaphor of having a gay dance club in the same location as a meat market. “I remember that we spent hours exploring what we thought was a vast subterranean labyrinth. We thought the place was so awesome that we dragged a bunch of our friends down there the next Sunday only to discover that we had been so twatted [high on drugs] that we hadn’t realized we had been going in circles all night the week before and had just been wandering backwards and forwards in between dancefloors.”
Immediately, I start laughing and drawing hilariously parallel narratives between Ethan’s story and mine. We both laugh over how idiotic, at times, we were on drugs and how, in retrospect, we still have unease in acting like it was anything but a net positive experience. Even so, we both simultaneously acknowledge the inherent danger drugs are to those more reckless, or rather less lucky, than we were.
“Some of my best and most enduring friendships were formed in k-holes. Even now, I get guys in their thirties thanking me, who at the time were little more than kids. My nickname used to be Daddy Ethan: not because I was a gay ‘daddy’ but because I looked out for them and sorted them out when they were a mess in clubs, but I never tried to take advantage sexually. It was quite funny, because a lot of them were escorts or worked in porn. So, a lot of my contemporaries assumed I was f*cking them all. But there was never anything sexual,” Ethan says.
I automatically nod in agreement, for I had been the one to introduce several younger men to drugs myself. After all, I would not take advantage of them anymore than they would be taking advantage of me, and at least with me, I would explain the biological and chemical processes going on each time they did whichever drug they wanted. So, if they were going to do it, I would say that at least it was with me and not a sexual predator. Ethan agrees.
“Those not in the know reasonably assumed that ‘Daddy Ethan’ signified some sort of control over ‘my boys,’ whereas all it meant was that [these young men] saw me as a reliable father figure they could go to. A guy simply blurted out one night that I was his ‘gay dad’ and from there ‘Daddy Ethan’ just stuck as my nickname. I’d always warned him of the drug [and the danger inherent in gay drug culture.] But, I had said, ‘Look, if you are going to do it, come to me and I will teach you how to do it properly.’” Ethan seems to rationalize my own actions regarding men several years younger than my own age while simultaneously implying that the men he engaged on this level are now older than I am currently.
“One guy asked me not long ago why we never had sex [during our club days.] Even though we have slept together quite literally hundreds of times [in different environments but with drugs we never did.] I said it was because he was a friend and it would have been an abuse of trust.” Ethan reflects on the inevitable inter-generational intercourse, both literal and figurative, that occurs regularly in the LGBT community. Was he ashamed of his actions, or afraid of his peers dismissing him as a man who should know better?
“My attitude was basically that people could think whatever their seedy little minds wanted to think. If they bothered to ask me, or indeed the guys involved, they would have been told the truth. But, few people even bothered to ask,” he answers. “It would have been a betrayal of them and my own principles to take advantage.”
Yet, just like me, bare-assed in the unlit maze atop a bathhouse one Saturday night, Ethan also seems to cautiously remember certain aspects of his more interesting background.
“I once met up with this hot Brazilian guy and got wrecked on coke and LSD. It was damn hot sex, too. Only, at some point in the proceeding, I started tripping and was convinced that a giant scorpion with nine tails was trying to f*ck my ass.
“The guy being the scorpion.”
This article first appeared on Josh’s own blog here.
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