By criminalising drugs, narcotics have become associated with and responsible for all sorts of crime. Their use has become branded as immoral (despite everyone's commonplace consumption of alcohol, nicotine and caffeine, even though they too are drugs) and addiction is seen socially as a form of weakness, corruption and decadence. While a heteronormative virtuous society can stand back, look at the victims of drug addiction and smugly say “I told you so”, does that ‘underclass’ sit back and judge the majority for their reliance on a glass of wine after a heavy day, or their sneaky cigarette “even though they’ve quit”? Or even people overweight, addicted to food and unable to break lifelong bad eating habits?
Morality is a subjective concept. While for some people, these ideals have movable goalposts that can adapt and change, dependent on external social influences, other peoples’ are absolute and unconditional. So if you present drugs as a question of morality, as society ascribes us to do, there will be some who completely concur with the prescribed hegemony in condemning drugs in all their forms, while there will be others more open to coercion. With gay people, whose questions of morality have already been challenged with the acceptance of their sexuality and subsequent coming out, I would argue that their early forced movement of the goalposts may well mean that they are more malleable in terms of societal morality.
In relation to the increased consumption of drugs amongst gay people, this can clearly be attributed, at least in part, to the Pink Pound. Gay people have more disposable income than their heterosexual counterparts due to their lack of dependents. While straight people hit their late twenties and early thirties, settling down to start a family and making investments in their futures as “a family”, gay people are frequently either wholly financially independent or co-dependent with just one other. To gay people, little luxuries are more affordable, even if that little bag of white powder costs £50+.
Unlike all other minority communities, the gay community unusually has its nightlife at its centre. While religious minorities come together to worship, the gay community comes together to drink, party and celebrate. In its very nature, this communion of likeminded individuals has a ‘drugs atmosphere’ at its centre, whether that’s alcohol or something stronger. The gay community may not be centred round religious rites, but even religious rituals can hold the consumption of a drug at their centre; Christians consume alcohol as part of the Eucharist, Rastafarians smoke cannabis as a spiritual custom – these rituals and the social aspects of these communities is what binds them together, connecting disparate and scattered people through the action of sharing this ceremony. Of course it’s a broad claim to say that gays going out clubbing is like a religious ceremony, but anthropologically speaking they are very similar. And so is their sense of drama; Christian churches use vast open spaces with booming acoustics, organs and choirs to instil awe and wonder in its congregation. Clubs use large spaces, flashing lights, smoke machines and heavy bass to do exactly the same. And while the consumption of the Eucharist is meant as a physical inclusion of everyone in their service, so too is the participation in the social actions of drinking and (for some) taking drugs.
Of course this use of drugs isn’t as widespread as I’m making it sound. The party-culture and subsequent drugs-affiliation isn’t all-encompassing. The frequent going-out and partying through until sunrise is mostly embraced by single people; those in relationships don’t tend to imbibe as much at all, and when people settle down, naturally their tolerance for late nights, hangovers and comedowns decrease. But the incidence of single gay men is much higher than the incidence of single straight men or women, or even lesbians. Is this to do with the human male’s natural reluctance to commit, which is exacerbated by the joining of two together? Maybe (though this argument will be explored further in another article), but the longer a person is single in western culture, the more they publicly put themselves in situations to meet new people, which invariably in the gay community involves going out on the scene.
Of course this exposure to narcotics and its associated culture means a rise in the instances of accidents, overdoses and addiction, this is part of the territory. Arguably of course, all of these could be easily combatted and addressed by a regulation of drugs in the same way we do alcohol and nicotine, but we have lived in an era of narcotics prohibition for a century now and I don’t expect that to change within my lifetime. However, as long as gay people go out partying (and by golly, do they like to party), drugs will feature amongst themselves or people they know. Whether this is a good or a bad thing is wholly subjective, but this is true for the whole of society, whether gay, straight or wherever people sit on the spectrum, in whichever culture, in whichever religion or group.