Here’s something everybody should know about gay men: We like to disappear. We like to numb the feelings. We like to be anywhere that’s not here. We like to, quite simply, get fucked up.
And you know what? We’re damn good at it. We’re the best. It’s estimated that about 20 to 30 percent of the gay and transgender population abuse substances, compared with only 9 percent of the general population. Does that surprise you? It shouldn’t. A lot of the LGBT community may be out and proud, but most of us still got issues.
Last night, as I was drinking a Skinnygirl margarita in bed, I started to think about all the boys I’ve been friends with and/or dated who clearly had drug and alcohol problems. It might not have seemed like it at the time because we were all having so much fun getting lost in the haze of gay mistakes, but it’s obvious to me now what was really going on there. Some boys, even with their cheerful dances to Beyoncé songs and their vodka sodas, were quietly coming undone, while the rest of us were simply trying to come together.
I was a sophomore in college the first time I ever accompanied a gay friend to an NA meeting. My best friend at the time had just told me he had an addiction to cocaine, which was shocking because I didn’t even know he did coke.
“Are you on it all the time?” I asked him in his San Francisco apartment.
“What about last Sunday afternoon when we were just at my house watching TV? Were you on it then?”
We sat there and cried a little bit. Then we hugged each other and set off to an NA meeting. It would be my first but certainly not my last.
Fast-forward a few years later: I stage an intervention for a close gay friend who has a drinking problem, and it actually works. He gets clean. Never takes another drop again. I accompany him to AA meetings for moral support and feel completely overjoyed to have my friend back.
Then something happens that I didn’t expect: we start to drift apart. The friend who I got back is not the same. We’re not the same. And despite the damage his substance abuse did to our friendship, a sick part of me misses getting fucked up with him. Sometimes we would take these white oval pills and lie in his studio apartment wearing kimonos, all blissed out and googly-eyed, while listening to Fleetwood Mac. I missed that. It’s embarrassing to admit such a thing—shameful even—but it also helps me realize something very important, which is this: Even the most present of the gay boys likes to disappear sometimes. No one is above it.
It’s difficult, especially living in New York—a city that encourages you to burn the candle at both ends—to call out a person for drinking and doing drugs. After all, you like to do those things, too, right? Hell, I remember once greeting a date by feeding him three Vicodin and whisking him away to a midnight showing of The Shining. (Ah, the stuff of gay romance!) But it’s different; it’s always different when you’re dealing with someone who has an addiction. Maybe I’m sensitive to it because my mom was or is an alcoholic (she’s been sober for five years), so whenever I see someone ordering that extra unnecessary drink, my radar goes off, and I immediately put myself at a distance.
In my experience, though, I’ve noticed that there’s a general lack of judgment among gay men regarding our drug and alcohol use. I think it’s because we understand that there’s an undercurrent of sadness running through every gay man’s life and, at the end of the day, we’re all just doing what we have to do to make it through.
Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because we’ve spent our whole lives being judged by other people, and now we feel like it’s our time to be left alone.
A few years ago, one of my best gay friends and I stopped hanging out so much because we were both going through shit and whenever we saw each other, it felt like we were looking into a cracked mirror. He was unhappy, I was unhappy, and we were dealing with it in unhealthy ways. One day I finally just texted him: “We’re both doing a lot of drugs, aren’t we?” He more or less copped to it and eventually I got better and he got better. Still, I look around today and see plenty of gay men who are in some sort of pain and ready to disappear. Once you’ve been in that place yourself, you can see it in everyone.
I have a lot of problems with gay culture, with how others treat us, and how we treat one another. It might come across as annoying and critical, but I promise I have the best of intentions. I guess all I’m trying to do here is understand why it can be so hard for someone to make it through. I’m trying to understand why this underlying depression is so present in gay life and if it’s possible for us to ever stop getting swept away. I’d like to think that it is, but then I remember being stoned in a kimono and holding my friend’s hand in a church basement full of gay addicts, and I realize that we have a long way to go.
We might be here, we might be queer, but some of us just aren’t getting used to it.
Previously - Stuff to Live For