In this piece for The Desert Sun, Palm Springs' Desert AIDS Project CEO Allen Reese discusses the links between depression and crystal meth abuse in the gay community.
Reese writes primarily to make two points. The first is related to the importance of the harm reduction approach and to stress that it does not condone or promote the use of illegal drugs. The second is related to the need for greater understanding of the role of mental illness in contributing to the drug problems facing the gay community. Concerning this second point, Reese writes:
As stated in The Desert Sun, "Perry Halkitis, a New York University psychologist specializing in the study of HIV/AIDS and drugs, says the root cause of meth addiction for many gays is not sex or partying, but deeper problems of isolation and low self-esteem, particularly if they are HIV positive." Halkitis goes on to state that "users are often experiencing mental-health problems. You have this really vicious cycle - HIV, meth, depression."
Meanwhile, Joe Riddle at Ex-Gay Watch uses Reese's piece as a starting point for a discussion of moral values in the gay community. In a post called "Taking Responsibility for Our Lives," Reese says he's encouraged that folks like Reese are taking up the discussion about drug use, but he says that Reese emphasizes low self-esteem as a cause of the drug problems, whereas "I'd rather we emphasize self-control and personal responsibility".
Riddle concludes his post in this way:
If I thought my only options were to be a drug-addicted slut or ex-gay, I'd choose ex-gay every time.
I'm no prude, and I'm not saying that gay people need to hold to moral standards we find arbitrary--but I do think engaging in a dialogue about creating a more meaningful life is a great idea. Let's have fun (life is fun! sex is fun!), while remembering to love ourselves, and each other, and act responsibly.
I want to make two points about Riddle's post: first and foremost, that it's an exemplar of the sort of courageous advoacy of responsibility in the gay community that I feel is so urgently necessary in our midst (e.g., as I wrote about in this column); second, that it's a step in the right direction, but it falls short of a truly integral balancing act that is most effective for shifting gay culture.
First, I want to applaud Riddle's post for striking a fair-minded tone and stressing values (self-control and responsibility) that often get shortchanged by gay writers. The blogger correctly notes that Reese identifies low self-esteem (among other mental health issues) as contributory to crystal addiction, and Riddle does not attempt to say that such issues are irrelevant or unimportant.
Second--and this is not so much criticism as it is a suggestion for further refinement of ideas--Riddle's post falls short of embracing all the relevant values that are important to shifting gay culture. Riddle emphasizes self-control and responsibility (fine and important values, for sure), but says little about self-esteem and pleasure-seeking (seemingly conflicting values that are every bit as worthy of consideration).
Riddle says: "Sometimes we out gays are reluctant to encourage responsible behavior in our friends because we don't want to be viewed as another moralizing voice." However, he then turns around and speaks negatively in reference to "drug addicted sluts," the sort of rhetorical flourish that is unlikely to persuade anyone that his is anything but another moralizing voice to tune out.
Aside from saying that he prefers to emphasize responsibility over self-esteem, Riddle offers no persuasive case that self-esteem isn't every bit as important a consideration as the values he prefers to talk about. In fact, Reese's original post in The Desert Sun refers to studies, research, and expert opinion which point to the prevalence of mental health issues, especially depression among HIV positive men, which contribute to crystal meth abuse. In the face of this reality, if public health officials simply insisted on personal responsibility without addressing the underlying mental health issues, this would be, well, irresponsible.
The challenge before the gay community, and before writers tackling the issue of crystal addiction in our midst, is to walk a fine line by balancing multiple competing values ... and ultimately, to show how they may be put together. Can writers find a way to talk about morality without moralizing, and talk about the joy of sexual freedom without condoning self-destructive narcissism? Can the gay community enjoy exciting and exploratory sex lives ... and be responsible and sexually mature at the same time? These are among the challenges before us.
The direction that I take in my own writings is to bring conflicting values together through a progressive spiritual evolutionary perspective. My vision is of a world where we live with an awareness of the Unity of All Being ... and reach outward to embrace as much of the world as possible as a mirror of our higher and true Nature. In a fragmented world where everyone is convinced that their own values are the only ones worth taking seriously, embracing Spirit can mean walking a tightrope between seemingly competing values in the search for a higher Unity. This is a topic to which I will repeatedly return.