Working in a bar means working long hours. Working those hours means working at weekends. Working at weekends means missing the club nights I used to attend every weekend, every week. Now I work. When I finish work, though, just as dawn drifts into view, one of the first things I do is scroll through Grindr. The sound of multiple messages stuffing my inbox gives me a slight perk. I'm half expecting a knight in shining armour to emerge through the digital murk, but alas, that idea is quashed by the H&H group fun dispatches I'm bombarded with. H&H, for the uninitiated, is Grindr slang for "high and horny." As I flick through these early morning communiques, I'm always left asking myself two questions. Firstly, is my profile picture too provocative? Secondly, and probably more importantly, is there really a big, underlying drug issue within the gay community?
Now, I'm not going to lie here: I'm no saint. About a year ago now, I lived in an basement flat underneath Brick Lane, and the place was in a constant state of after partying. Music thudded for far longer than it should have done and there were strangers continuously parading round a place which by then had started to resemble a squat.
The thing was, though, that these parties —even if they went on for longer than they should have done— normally occurred after we'd been to insane club nights. They weren't orgies. There wasn't crystal meth on the kitchen table. Nobody was participating in bareback group sex.
It seems like more and more people in London are swapping chemsex parties for 'actual' parties. These events have become popular because they're easily accessible and technological advances have made it incredibly simple to either host or attend a party. Getting hold of drugs is easier, too. The drugs that are fuelling these nights are mephedrone, cyrstal meth, and GHB. I heard a new nickname for G recently — satan's urine.
This combination of sex and drugs isn't a new thing, per se. Obviously, orgies didn't suddenly emerge in the last few years. When I asked a friend of mine what he thought about the chemsex scene, he pointed out that the mingling of sex and drugs had previously —though not totally— been linked with wealthier gay guys who had the financial reach to get hold of drugs. Now that narcotics are both cheaper and easier to access, we're seeing younger, less well off gay men getting involved. It's not entirely financially motivated, though.
Gay people are becoming disillusioned with the current club scene. Soho, another friend of mine says, is "a shit heap" now, and the gentrification of east London has hit the community hard. Given that, it's no surprise that, "gay guys are finding themselves spending Friday night to Monday morning in older guy's flats," as my friend puts it, "clinging onto the last shot, or scrape of a bump." We've all been there.
Have we overdosed on gay clubbing? In a way, yes, but it goes further than that. It's sad to be told by one of my friends that they've never participated in sex sober. He's either been drunk or high on a dangerous cocktail of hard drugs. It's an even sadder time when I can't even tell you one good night out I have had in the last three months, other than in pubs.
As someone who'd found the kind of clubs where the chemsex scene congregate imbued with a kind of dingy energy, I wanted to speak to other people to try and work out exactly why chemsex is as big as it is and what effect that's having on the gay scene in London. When it comes to gay nightlife, the model, and transgender role model, Johanna Londinium was my first thought. She said, "The type of drugs have changed. People used to be out on ecstacy, cocaine and ketamine. The mood in the clubs was one of sexy fun, euphoria and an appreciation of music. Nowadays people are into different drugs, crystal and GHB being the main two. The atmosphere can feel a lot darker. It's almost emotionless with a heavier sexually charged energy."
I feel morbid as I write this, thinking about how thriving and full of life the scene once was, how the after parties would be filled with people that just wanted to have a good time and have fun. I have so many friends, myself included, that had to take breaks away from London for our own sanity because there were so many parties. Now people are only in clubs to find a group — or to wait until peoples' Grindr statuses start changing to 'Looking for group'.
Shedding a positive light on a tragic issue, Johanna stated that of course, this is a typical generalisation we're making because not all club nights are like this, but it's definitely harder to fill a party than before.
In the last few months there has been a huge increase in discussion of the taboo topic of chemsex, thanks to VICE and other platforms like the Guardian. Although there has been an obvious rise in cities such as London and Manchester, I sometimes wonder if people outside of the cities most of the media focuses on actually give a shit? Small towns aren't affected by this, so why would they care? As long as us gay people aren't slamming in their small-minded village it's a not a problem they have to deal with. It just gives homophobic people more ammunition to fire insults towards the gay community, and it reignites the stereotypical view that gay men sleep around. It makes gay people unforgivable. But this needs to be an issue highlighted by the government. Could you imagine if the tables turned and this was a pandemic in the straight community? The gaycommunity affected by heartbreaking and chilling statistics: four gay men are being diagnosed in London everyday with HIV. One in five people living with HIV don't even know they have it. Our government has cut sexual health services by 50%, in a time when they're needed the most.
[vice_embeds src='//embeds.vice.com/?playerId=YjMwNmI4YjU2MGM5ZWRjMzRmMjljMjc5&aid=vice.com/vice-special&vid=dya3RheDryR4fGL3KcJEZ-A5xPyWOOwX&embedCode=dya3RheDryR4fGL3KcJEZ-A5xPyWOOwX&cust_params=embdom%3Dhttp%3A%2F%2Fwww.vice.com%2Fen_uk%2Fvideo%2Fwatch-the-trailer-for-our-new-film-chemsex-422%26topic%3D%26aid%3Dwatch-the-trailer-for-our-new-film-chemsex-422%26auth%3DVICE+Staff%26keywords%3D%26ac%3Dyes%26country%3Den_uk%26contentId%3Ddya3RheDryR4fGL3KcJEZ-A5xPyWOOwX&ad_rule=1&description_url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.vice.com%2Fen_uk%2Fvideo%2Fwatch-the-trailer-for-our-new-film-chemsex-422&autoplay=1&share_url=//www.vice.com/en_uk/video/watch-the-trailer-for-our-new-film-chemsex-422' width='1004' height='565']
We can be fortunate enough that there are still clubs filled weekly, buzzing with people wanting to have a good time. These parties are ones that have their niche, ones that have been around long enough, with a stand-out reputation that they don't really notice any adverse affect in the face of the rise of chemsex. In correlation to a rapid increase in people only going out to sex-orientated parties, clubs like Fire in Vauxhall, and Heaven in central London still bring in swathes of punters weekend after weekend. In my own domain, east London, clubs like Dalston Superstore and East Bloc are still popular and influential. Here in the east we've seen that even though gentrification is a means of destroying heritage and history, there's still scope for the new to emerge: we've said goodbye to the Jointers and hello to the Glory, a venue that always delivers.
It isn't all bad. It isn't all dead. We can be thankful also for pioneering club nights that never let us down. Think Sink the Pink…have you ever had a shit time there? Dirty Diana always proves to be a fun night, and we can thank Jodie Harsh for her ever popular club night Room Service every Thursday…girl did good with that one, and of course there's Beyond at the Ministry of Sound. Both Room Service and Beyond bring the glamour and the sexy men strutting around in their jock straps. Inside a club rather than a bedroom.
Let's not focus on the death of gay clubbing, and lets not solely blame it on chemsex. There'll always be problems in any scene. And more importantly, there'll always be people willing to work with and around those problems. Nightlife doesn't just vanish.
Chemsex support is available in most sexual health clinics. 56 Dean Street offers one-to-one chemsex support; visit chemsexsupport.com. Antidote (London Friend) offers drug and alcohol support for the LGBT community. Call 0207 833 1674.
CHEMSEX is released in the UK on Friday the 4th of December. To see a full list of cinemas showing the film, click here.
CHEMSEX will be released on DVD and On-Demand in the UK on the 11th of January.
To read the rest of the articles from our Chemsex Week —a series exploring the people, issues and stories in and around the world of chemsex— click here.