James Wharton: SOMETHING FOR THE WEEKEND
This is a tough read. James Wharton writes about the world – an “Underworld” – of gay and bisexual Londoners who hook up on Grindr and party in each other’s homes for long nights and whole weekends, off their heads on psycho-active drugs. The drug of choice is “G”, also known as “Gina” (GBL, liquid Ecstasy), which is fast-acting and gives a terrific high, but there’s also crystal meth (“Tina”) and mephedrone (“Meow Meow”). G is mostly swallowed in very small amounts, but some users “slam” (inject) it. An overdose will knock you unconscious. Wharton woke up from one overdose to find himself being raped. The serial killer Stephen Port subdued his victims with G. In London somebody dies from an overdose of G every twelve days.
Why do gay guys take these risks, only three decades after the peak of Aids? Lots of people, gay and straight, settle for promiscuous sex to ease the pain of a failed relationship or the failure to find a loving partner. But for many, Wharton says, it’s just hedonism, the pursuit of fun. Pre-Aids it was amphetamines and poppers that were used to give sex an extra boost. Back during the “Summer of Love”, the mid-1960s, it was pot and “acid” (LSD). Aldous Huxley was experimenting with mescaline in the 1950s (and took LSD to hasten his death from cancer in the week of Kennedy’s assassination). In Queen Victoria’s time opium was widely used by both the upper and lower classes.
James Wharton quite rightly extols individuals and groups that offer support to those severely affected by addiction and those struggling to detox themselves. And he urges the rest of us not to be judg-mental, an appeal that will fall on many a deaf ear in Europe as well as in Bible Belt America. People of my generation (78 next week) came up (and came out) through the Sixties and quite a lot of us will have experi-mented with "recreational" drugs, so let us not now, amid the comforts (or discomforts!) of old age, throw stones at the younger folk who fall for the more dangerous temptations currently on offer. If we believe – which I hope we do - in Freedom and the Pursuit of Happiness for everybody, then I guess that includes the freedom to ingest substances which enhance sexual pleasure, even at the risk of an overdose that may expose the user to victimhood and death.
In the early years of Aids, reviewing for LAM in Shepherds Bush, I read The Plague Years, one of the first books about the “new” epidemic carving a swathe through the back rooms and bathhouses of New York and San Francisco. Later came Randy Shilts’s encyclo-pedic And The Band Played On, which was made into an all-star movie. Something for the Weekend is a similarly grim book, full of grim statistics, but if society can offer support rather than condemnation, the gay community will weather the Chemsex crisis as it has weathered HIV. It has to. But it’s gonna be an uphill climb.