Category Archives: Sexual practice

@pansyguild’s ABUNDANCE down under

On my recent trip to Chicago, I met the wonderful young scholar and performer Ivan Bujan, who introduced me to @openengagement @pansyguild‘s project ABUNDANCE: Ancestral crops as performance, research and healing.

Pansy guild

@pansyguild describes themselves as a group of indigenous and black queers who grow things, based in Chicago, and ABUNDANCE is a seed bomb project spreading the word that queers are abundant, rooted and thriving.

Ivan gave me a seed bomb from the Abundance project and asked me to plant it somewhere significant back home (N.B this involved breaching Australian customs regulations….but for this cause I was quite happy to transgress the law…)

This weekend we had plans to catch up with a bunch friends at St Mark’s Park, which is a beautiful spot just south of Bondi Beach, where our dogs all hung out to do doggy things, play and frolic.

St Mark’s Park is located in the ancestral lands of the Eora people. You can read about the   far-reaching and extraordinary indigenous history of this area here

After white invasion and the British colonisation and settlement of Australia, this secluded park on the precipice of a cliff just south of Bondi Beach became a popular spot for men looking to hook up with other men for sex, fun and whatever else.  It was one of my favourite spots to cruise over the 1990s and early 2000s, and I had quite a few hot times there myself.

I was unaware that over the 1970s, 80s and 90s, dozens of men were assaulted, beaten, and numerous men have been found dead at the bottom of the cliffs below the park.  It has since emerged that these men were the subject of brutal homophobic violence and murders carried out by local youths – murders which were neglected (and in some instances allegedly perpetrated) by officers of the NSW Police force, recent investigations have revealed.

Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) produced an excellent and very disturbing documentary on the topic last year, which you can access here to find out more about this horrific and violent history of homophobic violence, official neglect and police corruption.

So, as we headed out to the park this morning,  I thought this would be the perfect spot to SEED BOMB with queer abundance.  I got my friend Brent Mackie to film the occasion.  Check it out lovers! xx

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Filed under Affect, Erogenous zones, Eroticism and fantasy, Masculinities, Police, Policy and programs, Sexual practice, Sexual Sociability

Unharm Queer Contingent Resources

safer_dancing_guidelines

Click here to access the safer dancing guidelines developed by rave researcher Newcombe, way back when….

rover bum

Click here access our analysis of the G care principles we extracted from our research with the ACON Rovers

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My critique of Chemsex discourse: chemsex, a case for gay analysis – where i attempt to reframe the chemsex problem so that it recognises the agency of drug user  (image courtesy of local artist Leon Fernandes ❤ )

 

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Filed under Devices and technology, Engagement with medicine, Erogenous zones, Eroticism and fantasy, Medicine and science, Online meeting sites, Parties, PNP culture, Police, Policy and programs, Self-medication, Sexual practice, Sexual Sociability

@quitgrindr : constituting wholesome, respectable gays, bit by bit, every day…

Well, I’m devastated to discover that @quitgrindr on Instagram has blocked me!
Was it something I said?? 😱 or, heaven forbid, *did*??
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Luckily I managed to screen cap a few of my personal favourites from among its many, nasty little gems:
Do visit @quitgrindr on Instagram some time if you want a good belly laugh. I can guarantee hours of hilarity 😝
And remember:
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#homonormativemuch ??

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Filed under Devices and technology, Erogenous zones, Masculinities, Online meeting sites, Police, Sexual practice, Uncategorized

Party Playgrounds

A Decade of Drugs In Gay Sydney – Changes, Impacts and What’s Next?

I’ll be speaking at this ACON event at the Imperial Hotel with other chemsexperts Adam Bourne,  Toby Lea, and Garrett Prestage this evening. Don’t meth it!

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Filed under Devices and technology, Drug dogs, Engagement with medicine, Eroticism and fantasy, Masculinities, Online meeting sites, Parties, PNP culture, Police, Self-medication, Sexual practice

Thinking with Pleasure

I’m off to Norway to give some workshops and a couple of talks about my research at the University of Oslo.  I’m excited to have the opportunity to meet researchers and students from the schools of public health and medical anthropology there.  I’ve organised the workshops around my work on pleasure, digital sex, HIV prevention and harm reduction – and I’ve attached the outline here: thinking-with-pleasure-norway-workshops.  It will be a great opportunity to workshop these pieces so I can pull them all together, as they’ll form the basis of the monograph I’m due to deliver by the end of the year: The Gay Science: Intimate Experiments with the Problem of HIV

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Filed under Affect, Antiretrovirals, Devices and technology, Engagement with medicine, Erogenous zones, HIV behavioural surveillance, Masculinities, Medicine and science, Online meeting sites, Parties, PNP culture, Policy and programs, Self-medication, Sexual practice, The statistical imagination, Uncategorized

Sensationalising the Night-Time Economy

So, I’ve been thinking about the mass media’s investment in sensationalism as a way of growing its markets; the way this dynamic structures the narratives that get told about drugs, sex, nightlife, crime, etc; and the sense in which sensationalism is also productive – it mediates, amplifies and circulates affects and desires around the law and its transgression.

In this sense, sensationalism could be said to amass publics that ramify the erotic thrill of transgression, even as it intensifies popular investments in the policing of public order (cf. classic moral panic theory).  This process is not merely a matter of representation, but cultural and economic at once, deeply entangled and emanating from the prerogatives of capitalised media.

If we turn to the night-time economy, that object of sensationalised reporting, intense moral panic, and popular entertainment in recent times,  you could argue  that its survival and mass appeal materially depends, in part, on a process that paradoxically also produces it as a problematic object of governance, singling it out as the proper target of authoritarian intervention: an object that requires forceful policing in the name of public order.

Stanley Cohen famously argued that moral panics creates folk devils. I take this to be a material process of production, and not merely a question of discursive representation, in the sense that the world is now populated with folk devils. They are among us, the common folk.  And they come out at night.

The expected response to these figures from the right is to scapegoat them, and from the left, to deny their reality.

But instead of exiling these figures, disavowing their desires, declaiming the processes that produce them and our own implication in them, the only constructive response to this situation – a response that Isabelle Stengers would call diplomatic, in the sense that it does not deny but rather seeks to acknowledge the materiality of media as a generative element in the ecology of desires – is to affirm what is common in the making of folk devils, to account for their presence, and to actively engage these figures in the construction of problems in a way that multiplies and transforms general capacities to engage in public life.

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Filed under Affect, Erogenous zones, Police, Policy and programs, Sexual practice, Theory

Gay Sex and Drug Use Demand Better, Less Phobic, Forms of Attention

Review of Chemsex

(2015, dir. Gogarty & Fairman, Pecadillo Pictures & Vice Productions)

 

3 December 2015

Our relation to drugs is highly ambivalent ­– and understandably so. The Ancient Greeks captured this instability with their concept of the pharmakon, which they used to refer to those things that can function as both poison and cure: their identity is unstable.

The instability of drugs has been used again and again to condemn them. We’re much more comfortable attributing stable identities to drugs and categorizing them as either good or evil. But as Isabelle Stengers has argued, our desire to categorize drugs definitively “allows the question of the appropriate attention, the learning of doses and the manner of preparation, to be done away with”.[1] This is a problem, because the propensity for a drug to be good or dangerous depends precisely on these considerations.

 Chemsex, Intimacy and Paranoia

I was reminded of the fundamental ambivalence of drugs when I watched Chemsex, the recently released documentary that explores gay men’s use of drugs for sex in London, UK (dir. Gogarty & Fairman, Pecadillo Pictures, 2015).

It’s the dangerous end of this spectrum that the documentary Chemsex takes as its principal focus: the film sets out to investigate what it describes as a “hidden healthcare emergency” in London. We’re introduced to guys who slam [inject] the amount of crystal meth that would last most users several days in a single hit. We see disturbing interviews of men in the midst of crystal meth psychoses, or in the throes of the intense euphoria having just injected methedrone (a drug rarely seen in Australia, unlike crystal meth).

While the film presents footage of a variety of different drug practices, it’s injecting (rather than the much more common habit of snorting, or smoking methamphetamine) that features most prominently in the film, and the eerie soundtrack by Daniel Harle trains the viewer to lump all these practices together as the same, disturbingly abject and sinister, phenomenon.[2]

For those unfamiliar with gay fetish scenes, this effect would be compounded by the documentary’s graphic footage of gay BDSM activities and group sex.

For those less fazed by such practices, the participants’ openness to allowing straight male documentarians to film them is probably the real source of astonishment. But then, when people are high on psychoactive drugs, they’re prepared to do a lot of things they’d normally be reticent about, as Chemsex in general amply demonstrates.

 Relocating Partying

The topic has received a flurry of attention and alarm in British public health circles recently, but the phenomenon itself is not new: it’s been a source of concern and excitement in urban gay centres in the West for over a decade.

In the early 2000s drugs such as crystal methamphetamine and GHB replaced ecstasy as drugs of choice for a subset of gay men, while the internet replaced socializing as the most common way of looking for sexual partners. In this context, it became possible to party at home and cruise for partners without going out in public. Activities that once took place at saunas, dance parties and cruising grounds were gradually relocated to private homes and became much easier to organise and more accessible from these locations. The communal pleasures of the dance-floor gave way to the erotic intensities of sex on drugs, which – for many enthusiasts – seemed to cut to the chase at any rate.

But many of us gays miss dancing, and the changing geography of gay partying has also given rise to new dangers – indeed, sometimes very serious ones. It’s hard to know when to ‘call it a night’ when there’s no risk of the DJ stopping playing, and drugs like crystal meth can keep you buzzing for days. Not only is crystal easy to integrate into domestic practices and everyday routines, it seems designed for repeat administration (just ask truck drivers or computer workaholics). In short, it’s frighteningly easy to become dependent on it for a range of different purposes.

Meanwhile, taking too much G can cause users to lose consciousness, become comatose and (in the worst-case scenario) die. Unlike some clubs and dance events, private homes are rarely equipped the right care and emergency services to prevent these occurrences. In their own ways, then, each of these drugs demonstrate the critical significance of “the learning of doses and the manner of preparation”, to recall Stengers’ comments.

 Sex in the Era of HIV/AIDS

There’s a lot to be learnt from Chemsex about the complexities of gay sex in the wake of the HIV epidemic, which has ravaged this community for the past 30 years. Despite the availability of effective treatment and much better therapeutic prospects for people living with HIV, gay men are still processing the traumatic effects of the epidemic and its cultural impacts on sexual desires, fears and intimacy. For at least some men, drugs seem to provide the most ready-to-hand contemporary solution to the age-old question, ‘how to have sex in an epidemic’. (But this must ultimately an indictment on the state of sex education today, which tends to be organised around reproduction rather than the practicalities of achieving sexual happiness, especially when it comes to the desires of non-heterosexuals).

For some gay men growing up in this context, drugs facilitate a process of what psychologists call ‘cognitive disengagement’ from the many fears and stipulations associated with having sex in the shadow of HIV/AIDS. [3]

For other gay men, these substances are simply valued for much the same reason that many in the wider community value alcohol: They can make sex more fun, sensual, intense, uninhibited and/or easier to negotiate.

The film does an excellent job of conveying the difficulty of fostering intimate or effective relationships when the process of arranging sex is divorced from other social contexts, as it is on digital platforms – and the dangerous effects of the isolation some men experience as a consequence.

We meet David Stuart, the founder of the pioneering program at 56 Dean St (a London sexual health clinic) that provides much-needed services to gay men who find themselves in trouble as a result their drug use for sexual purposes combined with this sense of isolation.   As Stuart reports, hook-up apps and websites have made chemsex much more visible and easier to access in the course of looking for gay friends or sexual partners in the city.

What the film neglects to mention, though, is that chemsex remains a minority practice within this population,[2] and that many app-users remain quite capable of exercising what they believe to be the best judgment.

Chemsex also provides us with rare accounts of what people enjoy about sex on drugs and the happiness and connections it has allows some men occasionally to develop. Rarely, though, does it take these accounts at face value. More often they seem to be framed as delusional. But this is it’s mistake. These ‘good’ experiences are precisely the reason that some men continue to use these drugs in full knowledge of their dangerous possibilities in some situations.

Against the idea that drug use is always the product of some state of reckless abandon, there is fascinating footage in the film of the careful lengths some men go to arrange group sexual encounters that are consensual, pleasurable and free of unwanted dangers.

One fellow organising a sex party at his home even goes to the trouble of drawing up a detailed timetable to schedule his guests’ G consumption as a way of ensuring their safety. Indeed, the film could have said much more about the techniques and ‘manners of preparation’ some gay men have devised to occasionally enjoy the pleasures of drugs, while keeping themselves and their partners relatively safe from harm. Indeed, these techniques are much more interesting and important to their practitioners than the film seems prepared to give them credit for.

 Unconstructively Moralizing

Unsurprisingly, normative morality about both sex and drug use is centrally at play here. Chemsex is framed in such a way that the many pleasures associated with illicit sex and drugs are only ever allowed to emerge as dangerous. The spectacle of non-normative sex and illicit substance-use gives the film an ominous tone that works against a more constructive treatment of its subject matter.

If you want to get a sense of how moral fears about gay sex are being exploited to frame our emotional responses to Chemsex, imagine setting the film’s creepy music as the soundtrack for a documentary about the activities and excesses associated with popular mainstream events like Melbourne Cup, or St Patrick’s Day, or Anzac Day. I guess it would make a good comedy. But most garden variety, casual drinkers just wouldn’t take it seriously. Nor should they.

By treating the drugs it deals with as inherently bad, and stabilizing the pharmakon in this way, Chemsex ultimately fails to find an appropriate “register of attention” to deal with its subject matter. For this reason, I worry that the film runs the risk of doing more harm than good, by further marginalizing the vast majority of occasional users (not to mention casual sex enthusiasts).

This is a great shame, because people’s emotional and social circumstances change, making them much more vulnerable to some of the situations the film deals with, which are undoubtedly concerning.

Despite the (presumably) good intentions of the directors, what Chemsex demonstrates most powerfully is that the complexities of gay sex and drug use demand much more careful, creative, open and intimate forms of attention.

Ultimately, Chemsex sells gay men out and deprives gay drug users of even the slightest sense of agency by portraying them as inevitable victims of their own – “pathological” – sexuality.  In this sense, the makers themselves put it best: “It’s a horror story”.

 

****

The original, truncated version of this review was published in The Conversation

Footnotes

[1] Isabelle Stengers (2015) In Catastrophic Times: Resisting the Coming Barbarism. Lüneburg: Meson.

[2] Rates of injecting are much higher and have increased much more steadily in London compared to Sydney gay men, among whom they have remained stable at around a third of the 11% of gay men who have used crystal meth at all in the last six months in community samples for some years now. In 2014, only 4% of gay men surveyed report regular use of crystal meth (defined as ‘at least monthly’). The findings of these surveys are presented here.  Some experts attribute the higher rates of injecting among gay men in London to the availability of the drug mephedrone, which is much more painful to snort than most other uppers, but rarely a part of chemsex practices in Australia.

[3] See Race, K. (2009). Pleasure Consuming Medicine: the queer politics of drugs. Durham: Duke University Press, Chapter 7.

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Filed under Affect, HIV behavioural surveillance, Masculinities, Online meeting sites, Parties, PNP culture, Police, Policy and programs, Self-medication, Sexual practice