This article is the third of a four-part series on meth in the gay and bi community. Read parts 1, 2 and 4.
Asterisks below indicate names that have been changed to protect identities.
Once, at a weekly dinner with close friends, one of Jesse’s pals, Alex*, admitted something: He had recently tried meth for the first time. Jesse thought he knew his friends pretty well. They all lived in California, had professional high-level jobs at successful companies, had known each other for years and most had tried other drugs like marijuana, ecstasy and cocaine. But their reaction shocked Jesse.
They got upset. One of them called Alex irresponsible, another told him that meth would ruin his life just like it had ruined so many others in the gay community. Another pal, one whose cocaine and alcohol use worried Jesse, said he couldn’t stand to be around someone so reckless and threatened to leave. Jesse couldn’t believe it. He stood up for Alex, imploring them to listen, saying their reactions made it more difficult for him to speak honestly.
Jesse’s experience isn’t isolated, though. Many meth users and rehabilitation counselors agree: The emotionally charged rhetoric against meth has blamed and shamed its users into silence, hindering our ability to understand the complex role the drug plays in people’s lives.
We spoke with former meth users about their experiences. Their stories alternately reinforce and challenge popular conceptions of meth and its users.
1. Greg*, New York City (51)
Greg is a marketing manager at a large medical company who earns a six-figure salary. Inside his bedroom closet, he keeps a heavy cardboard box filled with coke, speed, ecstasy, Viagra, a vial of GHB, meth and a pipe. Once a month, he pulls his mattress next to his living room couch, plays porn on his TV and laptop, gets on hookup apps and invites four or five guys over to smoke meth, take GHB and fool around.
He started using meth when traveling to New Zealand with his long-term boyfriend back in 2013. They went on a hook-up app looking for cocaine (or as they called it, “C”). But when their hookup showed up, he brought meth, thinking that “C” stood for crystal. After some discussion, they all tried it and enjoyed it very much.
A few months after returning to New York, Greg and his boyfriend tried meth again when a hook-up brought some to their apartment. After that, they started using meth nearly every weekend and, after being introduced to GHB, began using meth and GHB together. They’d start smoking on Friday night and use it continuously for 24 or 36 hours while having sex with one or two other men. Then they’d rest most of Sunday and return to work on Monday, getting about nine or ten hours of sleep each night during the early weekdays, to be fully recharged by the next weekend.
Two years after they started doing meth, Greg and his boyfriend broke up for unrelated reasons. Greg stopped using the drug the following year but started up again soon after.
Now, when Greg hosts PNP parties, he and his guests will either orally ingest the meth in powder form or smoke it. He’s not a fan of snorting, and he hates needles so he never injects, although he’s happy to let others inject privately in his bathroom just as long as they don’t leave any trace.
He’ll also set 90-minute timers to help his guests pace their GHB use. He asks everyone not to ingest more than one and a half milligrams during that time and will remind everyone to drink water in between so they don’t fall into a catatonic state or get dehydrated.
A few times, when guys have fallen into a catatonic state, he has asked them to leave his apartment after they sober up. He doesn’t want to foster a situation where a person might overdose or be so out of it that they’re not even aware of the sex they’re having.
“I like to keep a nice buzz where you’re still communicative and talking,” Greg says. “I don’t like being shit-faced. For me and fortunately for some of the people that I play with, that’s important too.”
Greg regularly messes around with some of his PNP guests. He has had some of them over about five to 10 times now. Although he prefers masturbation, dirty talk, porn and oral sex, he makes condoms available if his guests want anal, though he says most of his guests prefer condomless sex.
He doesn’t judge. He takes pre-exposure prophylaxis, reminds his guests to pack and take theirs, too, if they stay the weekend. He also talks openly about STDs and HIV status to keep his guests thinking about it. But he also worries about some of his guests when he sees them get especially high.
“A couple of the regulars I’ve talked about, they’ve disappeared off the face of the globe,” he says, “and usually I’ll find out later they’ve gone into rehab.”
He has been using meth recreationally for three years now and is happy to provide a place where others can try the drug in a somewhat supportive and caring atmosphere.
“I know for an absolute fact that my discussions about how I use it has, especially with younger dudes — they kind of semi-admire the approach I take to it. But,” he adds, “I’ve said that I haven’t developed an addiction only because of my genetic makeup, the nature of who I am and who I’ve developed into now. There’s a lot of combinations that go into that.”
When he hears people stigmatizing meth or meth users, he’ll often speak up and say that he has tried meth and that not everyone ends up dying, prematurely aging, losing their teeth or wrecking their lives. Some people, he says, can control and monitor their use without letting it negatively affect their work and personal relationships.
“I don’t doubt for one fucking minute that part of my drug-taking last year was a therapeutic thing to help me get through my pain and disconnect for a while about what was happening with my ex,” Greg says. “But when I think about it now, I think, ‘I just fucking love it. I just enjoy it, and this is a good reward for me.’”
“Not that I advocate for meth use. I advocate for recreational drug use.”
2. Wade, Las Vegas (44)
As a young man, Wade enjoyed ‘90s-era circuit parties and clubs. He had tried ecstasy plenty of times at music events, but the first time he tried GHB, the drug’s effects made him feel ill. So a friend suggested that he try some meth to counteract the G. It worked, and Wade started using meth occasionally.
By his mid to late 20s, Wade became a DJ, traveling to different U.S. cities each weekend to play circuit parties, and he began regularly using meth during weekend gigs to stay energetic — at least, that’s what he told himself.
“The DJ is the star of the show at a circuit party,” Wade says, and partiers would just walk up to him at the DJ booth and hand him free packets of meth and other drugs. He devised covert ways of breaking up and snorting the meth right there in the booth. After gigs, he’d go to after-parties and smoke it.
Eventually, his weekend use bled over into his daily life. He spent more time getting high and having sex than practicing his DJ skills. He began hallucinating, imagining that he saw red laser pointer dots in his bedroom and in the sky, even when he wasn’t high.
Sometimes, after gigs, masturbating alone in his hotel room, he’d think that the guests next door or across the street were listening to him or having loud sex, and he’d press his ear against the wall or look out the window to catch them.
A few times, after going to the airport to catch a flight, he’d spend hours masturbating in a toilet stall, trying to proposition others for sex. A few times he even missed his flights because of it.
Interestingly, his preference for mutual masturbation and blowjobs made it so that he rarely had anal sex while high. And when he did, he wore condoms to reduce any potential contact with feces. He attributes these behaviors to keeping him HIV-negative while addicted.
Wade began having “knock-down drag-out fights” with his boyfriend of two years, who complained about Wade sleeping with too many other people. Wade himself didn’t like how daily use made him feel. He had stopped going to the gym and had become thinner and less muscular.
Eventually, his boyfriend gave him an ultimatum: stop using or their relationship was done. Wade saw a therapist and admitted that he doubted whether he was actually in love with his boyfriend. He actually pined for an old flame and had hopes of running into him again one day.
“You’re not waiting to love him,” his therapist said. “You’re waiting to love yourself.” That’s when Wade realized his self-destructive behavior wouldn’t get him where he wanted. “I didn’t like myself,” he says. “Even though I was quote-unquote ‘out and proud.’”
He had grown up in the small rural town of Carson City, Nevada, during the ’70s and ’80s, a time during which his stepfather talked very openly about wanting to kill gay people.
Though he continued to see his therapist, Wade also used intermittently throughout the next three years. He stopped his daily use but found it hard not to use while DJing on the weekends. As a result, he had to quit working as a DJ even though it was his life’s dream; he didn’t want the temptation.
What finally convinced Wade to stop using was the dying wish of his mother. On her deathbed, she said that she wanted him to stop using drugs and go back to college. His use drastically declined afterwards; he began attending Crystal Meth Anonymous meetings; he threw himself into school; and he became a Buddhist. He used meth once a year for a couple of years. Eventually, he stopped altogether.
“I don’t believe that once you’re an addict that you’re always an addict,” Wade says. “I understand why some people need to believe that.”
Wade still drinks on occasion, even though many recovering meth addicts avoid substances altogether.
3. Carlos, New York City (52)
Carlos considered himself a late bloomer. After serving as a U.S. Army intelligence officer, he started college in his 30s, much later than his peers. During school, he fell into a crisis: It was the ’90s, his life wasn’t where he wanted it to be, he had lost several friends to the AIDS epidemic and still felt the pain of being molested as a child by his cousin and later being rejected by his family for being gay.
He tried his best to keep up his studies and personal health, but he found it hard to let go of the stress. Then, one day, his boyfriend brought some meth. They had both tried it before, but that night they tried it together. Carlos found it incredible.
“I thought it was hot, and I thought it was great, and I thought it was the best thing for me at the time,” he says. Carlos says it helped him cut loose sexually. “What it did was it masked all my problems that I was dealing with at the time. It became an escape. It was very powerful.”
He originally started doing meth only on weekends, then occasionally during the week and eventually every day. He never injected it, but he did it every other way. Afterwards, he spent a lot of time having sex in people’s apartments and in gay bathhouses.
Carlos used meth for five to six years. Incredibly, during his years of addiction, Carlos maintained high grades in his film and television classes, using meth sometimes to conduct late-night study binges. He graduated near the top of his class, and afterwards he held down a professional job producing TV ads. He’d use meth, go to work and think, “Wow, I shouldn’t be here because I’m really fucked up.”
Every time Carlos looked in the mirror, he didn’t like what he saw. Although the drug made him feel better, he actually felt hopeless and unfamiliar to himself. He knew he should stop, but he couldn’t. Over time, he resigned to the idea that the drug would kill him, and he welcomed it. He felt so broken, he just wanted all of it to stop.
“I got caught up,” he says. “I couldn’t get out of the rabbit hole.”
By the time he turned 40, he had been using meth for six years and reached a point where he had been using every day for several weeks. “I just looked horrible, my finances were horrible, my home looked like shit, my poor dog was left alone many times,” he says. He had woken up a few times in the hospital, amazed that he hadn’t died. One day, he woke up naked in a parking lot; whoever he was with had just left him there.
After four days in the hospital, Carlos called an ex of his in Alcoholics Anonymous. He had no other family or friends to turn to. “I was dying, and I needed someone to hold my hand,” he says. He started attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and, amazingly, he avoided a relapse, partially because he was convinced that he’d die if he ever touched it again, and he didn’t want that.
The boyfriend that Carlos began using meth with eventually left him for another meth addict. Later, he overdosed in a hotel room. He’s just one of several lovers Carlos has lost to meth. “To meth,” Carlos clarifies, “not AIDS.”
Carlos has now been sober for 12 years and works as part of a meth working group within ACT-UP New York. In the group, he advocates for meth user rehabilitation, coordinating efforts between medical organizations for increased information sharing. He chose to speak openly about his experience because he continues to face stigma and rejection even after 12 years of sobriety.
“Because I’ve been out about it and have spoken about it, I’ve been at the other end of stigma. I’ve been judged, I’ve lost a lot of things even though I’m sober more than a decade. People still judge you. I’m an activist. I’m not going to let this define me.”
4. Paul, Detroit (47)
Paul was 31 when his gay brother introduced him to meth. They smoked it together off of tin foil on the street outside The Cock, a cruisey gay bar in New York City. Paul had already done lots of cocaine to keep pace with his club-hopping New York friends, and he heard meth referred to as “super coke.” It was cheaper and lasted longer. Even though he had social anxiety, meth made him feel sharper, bolder and more daring.
The first night Paul used meth, he began chatting with a drunk gay couple at the bar, followed them home, smoked meth with them and all three of them had sex together.
After that, he became a “weekend warrior.” He’d buy $50 bags every other weekend, smoke it on Saturday night, sleep on Sunday and then wake up for his work week on Monday. At the time he was open about his use with his brother and pretty much everyone he knew because he considered it so great.
After about a year, a friend of his introduced him to Ian*, a 50-something lawyer who supplied meth to lots of other gay men in the city. Ian worked right across the street from Paul’s salon, where he was a hairdresser, and he introduced Paul to “Party and Play” or “PNP” — a subculture of using meth and hooking up with guys online. Ian’s PNP parties helped Paul open up sexually for the first time in his life.
“For me, to have sex was this kind of thing that was really kind of scary,” Paul says. “I was always fucked up when I had sex. It was hard for me to have sober sex already.”
Paul grew to love Ian. He considered him a kind, protective friend who introduced him to an entirely new world. He had a nice apartment, he would keep his computer connected to a hook-up site online and invite another four or five hot guys over. Paul enjoyed the parties but never contacted anyone besides Ian outside of them. It helped him keep the meth use compartmentalized from the rest of his life.
At the parties, Paul would do “booty bumps” (anal ingestion of meth) with “trail mix,” a combination of meth, GHB, water and ecstasy, squirted into his anus. The PNP guests never slammed (injected) meth; they considered that taboo and the sign of a true addict.
Over time, Paul no longer felt like he could tell his brother and friends about his use. One weekend after he’d been using for two years, Paul had no urge to stop using meth before his work week started. It was the first time he knew he had a problem.
He increasingly felt sketchy, ashamed, sleep-deprived and twitchy. He experienced auditory and visual hallucinations and would create stories about what other people were thinking. As a hair stylist, his clients would sometime ask why he was sweating, shaking, looking wild-eyed, acting weirdly or why he had lost 45 pounds. Paul would lie and say that he hadn’t had much sleep, that he was working too much, had cut carbs out of his diet or was on allergy meds.
“People knew that something was wrong, but nobody knew what it was.” He distanced himself from his friends and family. Those who did see him didn’t know enough about meth to recognize the signs of his abuse.
Still addicted, he moved to Los Angeles, opened his own salon, worked seven days a week and began injecting meth while dating a meth-addicted law student. Paul used it every day and got so sloppy with his injecting that blood would spurt from his veins onto his apartment walls. One day, when his boyfriend wanted to slam, Paul just couldn’t stand his own feelings of emptiness and despair. He overdosed on Klonopin sedatives and woke up in an L.A. County emergency ward with his mother and sister beside him.
Paul admitted everything to them: That he was a meth addict, that he had been using for five years and that he had contracted HIV a year ago during a meth-fueled sex bender. His mother and sister went to his apartment to pack up his personal belongings and to clean up the hypodermic needles and blood from his apartment. They helped him move to San Francisco to flee L.A.’s drug scene.
Paul worked at a friend’s salon but was afraid to go to Crystal Meth Anonymous (CMA) — he’d literally stand outside of meetings, afraid to enter. That year was the worst year of his life, he says. He was still very anxious and depressed and felt brain-damaged from the drug. He was too afraid to have sex sober. He relapsed, used meth for an entire week and became suicidal. He told his family.
They moved him to Dallas, and his mother helped him attend his very first CMA meeting. That year, he had another relapse, and two close friends threatened to stop talking to him unless he committed to getting help. He started regularly attending CMA meetings and for the first time in his life felt he could be honest about his use. He made friends at CMA, which he says saved his life, some members of which remain his closest friends to this day.
Paul recently had another relapse after his mother died of cancer, but the skills he learned at CMA and through his therapist helped him to be honest about it with his family and to recover more quickly and with less damage than before. He still attends CMA meetings once or twice a week.
Paul feels that some critics of meth abusers “see people for their actions and not as people. They’re not bad people. A lot of the people who end up using meth are socially awkward, have other issues, have been damaged before — it’s a tool for them to help themselves, because it helps them feel better at first, but there are a lot of amazing people who are just caught up in this drug. Some of the kindest, most gentle, caring, loving people that you’ll ever meet.”
5. FJ, Malaysia (25)
From 18 to 23, FJ — a gay, Muslim man living in Malaysia — experimented with various dugs like cocaine, GHB and LSD. At 23, he lost his world-traveling job as a branding designer, went back to living with his parents and fell into a deep depression. Soon after, he met a guy on a social app who invited him to his hotel room to do bong hits of meth. FJ tried it and enjoyed it.
“I didn’t want to face reality at that time,” he says.
His meth use began as a monthly occurrence but escalated to weekly and then daily use. During one two-week period, FJ spent every night going to sex parties with other meth users, having bareback gangbang sessions non-stop. The dehydration and vigorous sex made his entire body sore. Tired of that scene, he began finding dealers online, placing orders on the app, picking it up in discreet public locations and then smoking it alone.
“I was actively on webcams in chat rooms, smoking meth with other users online,” FJ says. Although he acknowledges the unhealthiness of his use, he notes being online and dealing with hateful commenters who mocked his Asian identity and lean body; the meth made him more comfortable with himself. ”I learned how to tackle bullies, racists and bigots more openly. I learned a lot about accepting myself, which was very unexpected to be honest,” he says.
Despite that newfound confidence, one day, after five months of frequent use, the police caught FJ sleeping off a meth crash in his car in a back alley. He had chosen to sleep there because drug-induced paranoia made him afraid of going home. He had never outed himself to his religious Muslim family. In fact, he’s still not out to them. As a result, he has always felt discriminated against and oppressed in his own home. Meth exacerbated this feeling of isolation and persecution.
The cops searched the car and found a few grams of meth and a pipe. They took him to the police station and let him make a phone call. He called his mother. Soon, his entire family knew. A few days later, his parents sent him to a rehab center. He stayed there for 15 months.
FJ has since been sober for 16 months now. He hasn’t had any relapses, but says “I know that recovery is a lifelong process; you stumble and fall here and there. Even if I were to [relapse] in the future, I know that I have places to go and people to talk to whenever I am in trouble or distress. Before, I felt like I couldn’t reach out to anyone at all, even my family. Gladly, things are different now. Openness and support means everything.”
He’s now 25 and speaks about his recovery and personal experiences at Malaysian schools, universities, drug seminars and public forums. Having suffered from an inferiority complex for most of his life, he says, he never thought he would become a public advocate for drug recovery.
“The general community needs to know why some of us are using it and what can we do to help them — to raise more awareness about it,” FJ says. “The fact that we have stigmas, stereotypes and judgments within the community – it’s like minorities in minorities. These sort of selfish attitudes won’t curb the epidemic. We need to speak more about it, and of course, with more open minds.”
(Featured image by zodebala via iStock Photography)