Is This The Gay Community's Newest Threat?

gay, lesbian, heroin

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.

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But when I'm with my friends at the gay bar, we don't have to worry about those conservative stares. And because we spend so much time there, and we're comfortable, we drink … and we keep drinking. We feel more social and extroverted with each drink, and a line of whatever substance just allows us to keep the party going. We then turn to the patio to chain-smoke a pack of cigarettes. Our entire weekends are littered with substance abuse. I'm no stranger to blowing lines of coke off the back of the toilet at a bar. The lights flash, the bass hits, and I attempt to choke down nasal drainage with a slew of vodka-based dollar drinks. I find myself dancing next to a beautiful girl and wiping my nose in paranoia, but it's clear from the way that her eyes roll back into her head that she is riding a similar high.

But that's coke, not heroin. Heroin isn't exactly a party drug, so I wondered how my ex girlfriend latched onto this hard-living sector of the LGBTQ community. As it turns out, the Center of Disease Control explains on their website that hard drug use — heroin included — is prevalent among the homosexual community, not only due to excessive social lifestyles, but also because of stigma associated with sexual orientation. Alcoholism and heavy drug use "can be a reaction to homophobia, discrimination, or violence they experienced due to their sexual orientation." Basically, we're self-medicating.

A recent article in a Toledo newspaper asserted that the prevalence of heroin in the LGBTQ community is a result of its easy accessibility. The logic is, if it's so easy to score, how bad can it be?

Now, I know many heterosexuals, too, who have chosen to self-medicate with prescription pills or illegal substances. Turning to drugs to numb pain isn't solely a homosexual behavior. But the ridicule, rejection, and even disownment that gays and lesbians frequently endure just makes us that much more likely to fall down the rabbit hole. My ex certainly experienced a lifetime of fear and emotional trauma, as she struggled with coming out of the closet in her twenties.

Simply put, LGBTQ community members make great candidates for drug addicts and alcoholics. We're trying to escape the pain of coming out of the closet, as well as keep up with those in our social groups. Neither of these are excuses for substance abuse, but they certainly makes sense. Perhaps the continued acceptance of LGBTQ members will lower the number of victims and allow us to painlessly come out of the closet and seek social company in integrated situations. Until then, however, we will continue to self-medicate.

As for my ex, in the end, after months of withdrawals, a terrifying relapse and overdose, and anonymous groups (I was by her side for all of it), she chose her relationship with heroin over her relationship with me. It's amazing how much you grow up after finding your girlfriend hunched over your bed, not breathing, lying next to a spoon, with a cotton ball on her arm. I had became more of a parent than a girlfriend, as I desperately clung to her sobriety. I confiscated her phone and watched for two weeks, as dealer after dealer tried to get in contact with her.

Now, I can put down a bottle and even decline a line, but, unfortunately, this is not always the case for those in both the heterosexual and LGBTQ communities. We have a long journey ahead of us.