4 min

Crystal meth widows

How speed is helping to spread HIV

When I read The New York Times article, “The Beast in the Bathhouse,” by Andrew Jacobs, I couldn’t help but remember waiting for Martin outside of the Midtowne Spa in the middle of the night.

Sitting on a curb, I asked myself over and again, “What the hell am I doing here, stalking him?” Maybe it was because I was the only one left that cared and I knew he needed help. Every time I ended up at this place, I would try and convince myself this time would be different and I could somehow convince him to end his affair with Tina (you may know her as crystal meth).

I’d become all too familiar with the routine: The party ‘n play (PNP) usually began on a Friday night. He’d spend hours, if not days, on the prowl online or in the bathhouse seeking out new and riskier sexual adventures with countless partners under Tina’s hypnotic trance.

By Monday morning, Tina would release her grip. He’d finally return home, skip work, and begin his list of excuses before falling into a deep depression. I’d sometimes call to remind him to take his meds and to hydrate, hoping his viral load didn’t explode even when I wanted to kill him for using yet again.

And then, I waited. I pretended to trust him. I hoped and prayed it was the last time, like he promised. And when I decided to give him another chance, I’d hold my breath, knowing we would likely end up in the same place four to six weeks later and have to start all over again.

If this sounds familiar, you’re like me – what my friends call a “Crystal Meth Widow.” We’re an ever-growing legion of men tired and worn out from trying to help our friends, boyfriends or partners defeat their addiction and/or new HIV infection.

And no one is really talking about it. It’s a dirty little secret for us gay men. We acknowledge there is a problem, but then our community hesitates to respond. Our hesitation may stem from not wanting to judge anyone – for using drugs, being positive and/or for (God forbid) being sexually active.

It seems as if we’re now in an era where we’re afraid to speak the truth. It’s understandable considering the consequences are losing our dwindling HIV prevention funding or being placed on a federal grant investigation “hit list.”

And let’s be honest, other gay organizations remain silent because it means talking about our sex lives outside of monogamous matrimony – which isn’t an easy sell to non-profit major donors.

Our community needs to wake up to this new HIV crisis. While the White House plans to spend billions on abstinence-only propaganda, they will also not hesitate to cut our prevention and research budgets. And they show no concern in slashing funds that will place those who can’t afford HIV medications on waiting lists.

Imagine that you just tested positive, but you must wait six to nine months before you may or may not become eligible to receive assistance to pay for your life-saving drugs. This is now a reality in 10 states, with another six states across our country ready to implement a “death” list to help balance a budget. And this still is not scaring us away from our PNP escapades!

Are we going to watch each other die on a waiting list or are we going to step up to the plate and take charge of our own destinies? Instead of bowing down in silence, a first practical step is to start talking about sex and drugs more openly and honestly to each other and in our media.

Studies show, and my common sense says, that there is a direct link between crystal meth addiction and the rising HIV infections. If you’re high, you’ll make poor choices. So, questions we must ponder: Why do we implicitly condone its use? Why aren’t there more resources available to deal with the reality of addiction? Why are we using it to begin with? And why aren’t our HIV prevention messages working?

I’ve seen one answer to these questions in the form of “A Community Manifesto: A New Response to HIV and STDs,” published by a coalition of HIV/AIDS organizations in Seattle. The Manifesto states that men who have sex with men must take personal responsibility, and that engaging in unsafe sex with a non-monogamous partner was comparable to committing an act of violence against that person.

The Manifesto set off an unbelievable frenzy of media coverage and conversation in Seattle. Some applauded its boldness, while others said the Manifesto went too far and was placing too much blame on HIV-positive men.

Others said it was more empty rhetoric, while still others wanted specific actions taken. But more important than any single reaction is that people were actually talking about the issues, whether they agreed or disagreed with the Manifesto’s messages.

Similarly, “The Beast in the Bathhouse” is igniting discussion in New York, such as a town hall forum moderated by Harvey Fierstein. Hopefully, they serve as reminders that marriage is just one of many issues that we urgently need to address. And it’s time to drag Tina out of the closet and expose her for what she is really doing to our community.

As “Crystal Meth Widows,” there’s not one answer that could give us back who we lost. I take some comfort in knowing that Martin may recover with help from his Crystal Meth Anonymous meetings and other support groups that take our place. But after a year as a widow, I am determined to not let anyone else I know fall prey to Tina again.

* Calvin Fleming is the northwestern regional media manager for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). He can be reached via e-mail at