I lost my girlfriend to an epidemic I didn't know existed. How could this happen?
I have attempted to block out a particular moment from this past winter and have utterly failed. Mere months have passed, yet that moment — along with the few months that preceded it — have aged me enormously, and I’m only in my twenties.
It was a Thursday. I remember because it was Dollar Drink Night at my local gay club in Toledo, Ohio. Thursdays, for the Toledo homosexual community, are the night to go out. Not only are the drinks cheap, but the single women and men are seemingly infinite. We go to socialize, to drink, and, if we’re single, to find someone to wake up next to on Friday.
That particular Thursday, I ironed my best button-up and prepared to hit the scene with my best friend and my girlfriend of nearly a year. The three of us laughed and gossiped and we sipped a couple beers. Just a carefree evening among friends. I left the two of them in the living room and excused to myself to the bathroom to finish my pre-club rituals. I began tearing up the cabinets, looking for my tweezers.
My girlfriend and I had lived together for several months at that point, and she was infamous for borrowing my tweezers and not returning them. I reached for her makeup bag to look for them, but what I found instead made my heart stop. I attempted to formulate words, but my mouth suddenly became so dry that nothing could be articulated. Something dripped down my cheek, and I realized that I had started to cry without knowing.
"Baby," I choked out. "Could you come in here?"
She wrapped up her conversation and bounced into the bathroom. Her face turned nearly transparent when she saw the beige makeup bag in my hands. I pulled out the plastic bag that lay on top. It contained cotton balls, a shoestring, one of my spoons, and two syringes.
Heroin, until that moment, had not been a familiar drug to me. Although, in hindsight, I’m forced to remember a moment from a class I took my final semester of college. During enrollment, I needed a filler course. Flipping through the course schedule, I noticed that David Halperin, one of my favorite professors (and an expert on gay culture) was teaching a class on the AIDS epidemic. I remember learning that those in the LGBTQ community are prone to heavy drug use.
No sooner did I learn this than I dismissed it as propaganda. Everyone used drugs recreationally; it's not like we all had a problem. In fact, there wasn't a single person I knew at the time who hadn’t dabbled in illicit substances. I could remember weeks leading up to finals, my friends and I twitching, wondering when we'd last slept, as our supply of uppers ran low. And most of my friends were straight women. I hadn't had much experience with the gay community at that point, but drug use was clearly a hetero phenomenon as well.
It wasn't until my ex girlfriend's problem surfaced that my eyes opened to the epidemic of drug use in my community. According to the Center for American Progress, up to 30 percent of gay and transgendered people abuse drugs, compared to about 9 percent of straight people. Gay men, the study says, are 9.5 times more likely to use heroin.
A few of my gay male friends had suffered violently from cocaine addictions, and I watched so many of the lesbians in my community attempt to conceal alcoholism. It was right there all along. Hard drugs had been taking down my community, and I hadn't even noticed.
Gay life, at least in my city, is a party life. From Thursday until Sunday, we're sashaying into bars and clubs, getting our fill of drugs, alcohol, and dancing. The drinks aren't always cheap, but we don't care. We've worked hard all week to celebrate the weekend. There are so few places where obvious homosexuals fit in. I could easily pass as a sixteen-year-old boy, so my Midwestern town doesn't exactly embrace me. I've endured more glares and snide comments than I can count. Keep reading ...
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