Patrick Cash is the playwright, poet and activist marking the cultural phenomenon of chemsex through his work. Before his latest play Chemsex Monologues opens in London, he talks candidly to Prowl about his experiences and why he writes so fervently about gay drug culture. The following text was taken from a conversation with Lisa Luxx.
A fascination with chemsex
I’m fascinated by people who take drugs, and their reasons why. Firstly, in a society where those drugs have been deemed illegal by other minds, drug use is inherently a political choice and an assertion of individual agency. In certain ways, chemsex and gay men’s use of drugs could be seen as a consequential Fuck You to a succession of governments that never acknowledged our existence with same-sex SRE in schools. Many of those men in their late 20s and 30s on the chillout scene will have grown up nameless under Section 28. But I’m also drawn to those same men’s vulnerability, and their need to connect. I’ve met many men who had that certain London “gay male distance” to begin with, and then would chatter like lighting dazzles about their dreams and fears once the G hit the spot.
Evidently the sex of chemsex has got people worried in a sexual health sense, but what’s interesting is that, within a gay scene that is often fractured by judgement and the horrible ‘no fems, no fats’ on Grindr, drugs are being used to channel human connection between gay men. The trouble is bonds forged on drugs often tend to fade in parallel with the comedown’s rise. So you could say I’m not actually interested in the drugs so much, as the people taking the drugs, and the real human need to come together, to lower barriers, and to feel wanted and valued, that seems to propel and shape the chillouts’ vortex. Having said all that, I’m also wary of not being tied down to one subject as a writer and so this will be the last time I concentrate on chemsex as major theme. My next play, $uper£iciaL, coming to The Glory in June, addresses pop music, masculinity and drag on the gay scene.
A new art movement
Peter Darney wrote the verbatim play 5 Guys Chillin’, also at the King’s Head Theatre. Dexter Bailey in Brighton has written a play named Edit Profile. Mitch Marion has made a short film named G O’Clock. Leon Lopez made the documentary Let’s Talk About Gay Sex & Drugs. The drag queen Bourgeoise has an act named Do It Again… Quite a few performers tackle the subject in different ways when they perform at Let’s Talk About Gay Sex & Drugs, so queer art is getting a slight chems-lace right now.
I don’t think I could authentically have written this piece without experience of chillouts. And I’m not here to foghorn some Mary Whitehouse moral superiority and pretend they’re not sometimes fucking fun (literally). I’ve always had a problem with those celebrity magazines splaying “My Drink And Drugs Nightmare!” as a headline: the drink and drugs part is generally hugely enjoyable. It’s dealing with the feelings that creep like demons afterwards that’s the nightmarish part. And often those comedown feelings may exacerbate what you were already repressing in the beginning. In my case I wanted an intimate relationship and I could never get myself in the headspace for that intimacy when on the scene. Ironically the relationship didn’t work out because of chems on his part, but that’s another story. As for what the chillouts are like – come see the play!
What the characters represent
I wanted to look at the chillout scene from internal and external perspectives. Therefore we see a man in his mid-twenties have his first taste of chems, and we follow a club night poster boy who’s got a lot more experience at just eighteen. But then we also see the chillouts from the perspective of outsiders to the sex party currency, like Fag Hag Cath looking after her friend Steve, and a sexual health worker named Daniel. Characters within this world include: Old Mother Meph, the archetypal chillout host, the Dealer Adonis, where the name explains it all, and Saint Sebastian, an angelic-looking pornstar. I suppose they’re a cultural evolution in that ten or fifteen years ago we might have seen all these figures as stalwarts on the 24/7 gay clubbing scene: now they’re either split between the superclubs’ embers and the chillouts, or no longer go to the clubs.
The first time I saw somebody go under on G I remember he was riding me during sex, and then closed his eyes, and fell off me comatose on to the bed. I’d been having a great time up to that point, and was more than a little freaked out that he appeared to have suddenly died mid-coitus. There was one time the chillout host gave everybody the wrong measure and only realised afterwards. I’d been the only one who hadn’t taken a shot, and everybody began to drop like flies around me. Seeing somebody spasm under on G is even worse though: people’s eyes begin flitting into the backs of their heads, they run uncontrollably around the flat, limbs twitching. G is such a powerful, dangerous drug, people overdose all the time. Thankfully, I haven’t had personal friends die from an overdose, but you find out about it on Facebook fucking more than you should; someone sharing a photo and a memory of a young, beautiful man taken by a mismeasure.
Silver lining to darkness
I think that depends how you define the darkness. If the darkness is the drugs, then the silver lining is alternatives to drug use. If the darkness is the deaths and overdoses, and then the silver lining is safe use education. But if the darkness is the fact that some gay men have to use drugs to form connections with each other, then the silver lining is looking at ways in which those connections can be created outside of narcotics. That’s why I’ve been running for the past two years, in conjunction with 56 Dean Street, a gay men’s forum named Let’s Talk About Gay Sex & Drugs. It’s for anybody to come and talk about how they perceive sex and drug use in the city, and there’s no judgement or villainising of drug use. It’s become quite popular. And perhaps another silver living is reflecting the lives of guys on the chillout scene honestly, sympathetically and humanely, so they’re not ‘drug users’ but living, loveable people. And that’s what I’ve tried to do in The Chemsex Monologues.
What next for the chemsex scene
I agree with Dr Adam Bourne of Sigma Research, who have conducted the biggest study on chemsex, when he says we’ve got to be realistic and accept that people aren’t going to stop doing drugs. I’ve written a lot journalistically about chemsex and I expect some people blame me partially for contributing to its media furore; it’s true that the same panic isn’t occurring about the vast amounts of straight people taking MDMA or coke. Like me, some guys might naturally leave the scene once they want to find other fulfillment in their lives; like straight people stopping the pill-popping once they begin thinking seriously about kids, mortgage and IKEA. But, as seen in the answer above, there is also a disproportionate amount of harm happening on the chemsex scene.
Education about drugs is paramount, and I wholeheartedly believe Portugal’s path of legalisation is our way forward in dealing with this country’s harmful drug use. As recounted in Johann Hari’s recent book Chasing the Scream, America’s War on Drugs has not worked. So to answer the question: making the scene safe is a big priority, but hindered by the underground shade within which it necessarily operates. What is worrying though is that at 56 Dean Street, the sexual health clinic, they do see guys who have become trapped in the chemsex scene and in cycles of addiction. Enabling these guys to move away from the scene means exploring the very essence of what the gay community is and offers in terms of holistic sexual wellbeing.
The Chemsex Monologues by Patrick Cash is showing at The King’s Head Theatre from Tuesday 17th – Saturday 21st May at 7pm.
£18 (£15 concs). £10 preview Tuesday 17th May