As a queer individual that has grown up in the club circuit, and having done my share of drugs as well, I can tell you first hand the devastation I’ve seen wrought by drugs.
Now, it’s no secret that the gay community has long been one of the largest consumers in party drugs since the beginning of gay liberation. After years of oppression and inability to be open about our sexuality, we now take great pride in our ability to drunkenly stumble our way of through our personal dance floors and pay $1.25 for a vodka tonic. It’s really is a time to be alive if you’re a queer individual.
Sex and drugs are just a couple of Grindr messages away at any given time. As I explored the darkest corners of Grindr and the individuals that have slipped into these cracks, I found much more than just a good time, but rather found the counterculture of “PNP” (party and play).
In fact, the epidemic has become so widespread throughout the US, that Grindr has gone as far banning certain words from the app in an attempt to deter its users from chem sex. In order to grasp this growing epidemic, we must first understand what chem sex and PNP culture is and what they entail.
Crystal meth works by stimulating the central nervous system. It is much stronger than cocaine and can be ingested, snorted, smoked, and – in the case of many of those who partake in PNP culture – injected, which is called slamming.
This results in feelings of extreme euphoria for users for hours or even days at a time. Its side effects can include – but are not limited to extreme anxiety, paranoia, unpredictable behavior, extreme weight loss, and elevated blood pressure.
Within the gay community, it is used as a stimulant to participate in long sessions of sex, which is where the term party and play is coined.
Because of the extreme effect that the drug has on the nervous system, lapses of judgment becomes prevalent amongst its users and in many cases, leads to unsafe sexual practices which increases the risk for sexually transmitted infections such as HIV. It is also common for users to share needles when slamming, which is the leading cause of new HIV infections in drug users.
It’s important to note that like all drugs, this particular drug is prominent within marginalized communities; not specifically because of race or sexuality, but rather because of the socioeconomic status of the users. Because marginalized groups have less opportunities to receive an education on healthy sexual practices and drug abuse prevention, these social problems become rampant within these communities.
In the PNP subculture within the gay community, this narrative of minorities struggling with drug addiction is highlighted as users look for a place to fit in and explore sexually with-like minded individuals who also slam.
Of course, because this is an unhealthy sexual practice with extreme repercussions to the users health and psyche, the results of this attempt to find a community within the PNP culture leads, in many cases, to a deadly end.
Because of gay dating and hook up apps’ attempts at vetting words and phrases such as “PNP”, users have taken to using code words and emojis to attract other users to themselves for PNP sessions.
Strategically placing capital ‘T’s in user names or diamond emojis allows users to bypass the system and find potential chem sex partners. In fact, this has become so common, that dozens of people looking for chem sex can be found on gay dating apps at any given time.
One Grindr user in the El Paso area explained his nine year addiction to slamming as a “horizontal experience.” He shared that he’d tried every method of using crystal meth, but that slamming was by far most intense and satisfying in regards to enhancing his sexual experiences.
I asked how often he slammed, he said “daily.” I asked if he was actively looking for sobriety and he answered, “No. There’s no help for people like me. Especially not in Texas. The stigma is just that I’m a junkie so I’ve just been waiting for something to happen to me”.
The normalization of this counter-culture reinforces the spread of this epidemic and leads to more members of the LGBTQ community to experiment with this drug. Upon further exploration of the internet and PNP culture, I also discovered chat rooms dedicated to crystal meth.
Zoom is a site that works like Skype. Users can input a room code and instantly join a group video chat of 40+ men smoking and slamming meth while performing sexual acts on camera.
This method of creating a community centered around drugs and chem sex has made the PNP culture a nationwide phenomenon that allows its users and members to interact effortlessly via the internet, while avoiding any media coverage or intervention from the government.
With that said, it’s important to also recognize that I do not in any way feel that the mass incarceration of any of those involved in this counter culture would help anyone besides those who run private prison companies, who clearly profit financially by the criminalization of drugs such as meth.
It is clear that crystal meth and the PNP culture have become so heavily integrated and normalized within the gay community that the mass education on the subject could be the only hope to isolate this growing epidemic.
It is my personal belief that the government is (like in the 80s with the AIDS epidemic) failing the gay community by refusing to act or acknowledge the ongoing problem of chem sex and meth use within this marginalized group.
Users struggling with addiction need resources and education on drugs, rather than just the old “say no to drugs” slogan.
The resources and education are necessary in isolating the issues that continue to plague marginalized communities across the country. Viewing drug addiction as a criminal problem rather than a public health problem creates a negative stigma that then alienates users and reduces their opportunities and chances at sobriety.
In El Paso, the surge of PNP culture is obvious. The New York Times named El Paso as number three on the national list with the highest percentage of gay and bisexual men living with HIV, and although PNP culture and HIV are not mutually exclusive, the numbers of Meth users engaging in unsafe sexual practices reinforces the ongoing problem with new infections in El Paso.
The so-called ‘War on Drugs,’ declared decades ago, has not only failed but rather served as counterproductive in helping those who struggle with drug use and the problem seems to see no solution in the horizon.
At this moment, the words of David Wajnarowicz, an AIDS activist, continue to be relevant. “IF I DIE OF AIDS, FORGET BURIAL, JUST DROP MY BODY ON THE STEPS OF THE FDA”
As addiction continues to plague the LGBTQ community and body counts increase, we must hold those who did and continue to do nothing, accountable for their silence.
Guest Contributor: Chandelier Kahlo
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