I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Crystal Meth Crisis among Gays

The Washington Post's article today regarding the widespread and increasing abuse of crystal methamphetime among gay men breaks no new ground, and is anything but news to most gay men living in New York, Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco or any other city in the U.S. with a sizable gay population (as well as, alarmingly, in some places in Europe, such as London).

Crystal meth is a powerful menace wrecking the lives of countless vibrant, productive gay men. Any gay man living in a large metropolitan area likely knows at least one, and probably more, previously healthy, good-looking, intelligent, stable and productive individual whose physical appearance, health, professional life, financial stability and personal relationships all deteriorate and decay at an indescribably rapid rate as they fall further and further into the grip of meth addiction.

The onset of the addiction is as rapid as it is potent. People who begin using "recreationally" -- a weekend here, a weekend there -- commonly find themselves, without warning, using on a weekly basis, then on a daily basis. Biologically and psychologically, this usage is incomparably destructive. "Tweaking" binges, where the user remains awake and without food for as much as 5 or 6 days at a time, become the norm. Quickly, this drug and the activities which follow it become all that matter, the central focus of the addict's life, and everything else dies from inattention. The Post article documents the standard parade of horribles, including long-term brain damage, nerve damage, and a permanent dopamine deficiency in the brain. The dearth of serious, long-term studies likely means that there are harms yet to be discovered.

What is so notable is that the magnitude of this crisis far exceeds the attention it has received -- both generally and among gays. Given the devastation which crystal wreaks on thousands and thousands of poeple in the nation's largest cities, and given the prominence which casual meth use enjoys in certain aspects of gay culture (bars, circuit parties, sex clubs), the meth crisis among gays has lurked dormantly as a community secret, albeit an open one.

With American gays and lesbians trying to convince their fellow citizens that they ought to be included as equal partners in every civic institution, including marriage, the last thing any gay person wants is to publicize a gay cultural phenomenon which feed the worst stereotypes and fuel the most vicious demonization campaigns of their enemies. The well-founded fear that the James Dobson's and William Bennett's of the world will exploit these sorts of problems if they become publicized causes gay people collectively to stifle and hide anything that can be said to reflect poorly on gays as a group.

The truth, of course, is that the incidence of crystal use by gay individuals is no more of an indictment of gay people collectively than rapists or wife beaters are to straight people collectively. Nor is the use of this drug by some gay people any more of a reflection on the value of gay relationships than the use of cocaine or crack is on straight relationships. At this point, that ought to go without saying.

Nonetheless, for a group of people which perceives that it is fighting for basic liberties which have been denied to them (and who are fighting to preserve the ones they have managed to obtain), publicizing serious problems among the group members (or among the "community," if one can speak of such a thing) is a risk they cannot take.

And so horrendously destructive problems like the meth crisis get swept under the rug and ignored, lest they undermine the political effort to secure equality for gay people generally.

At bottom, this entire sad state of efforts illustrates, yet again, the prudence (never mind the justice) of finally acknowledging the existence of gay people in America and extending to them the right to participate fully in all of its institutions.

Gay people, of course, are not going away, no matter who wins the argument. The only options are to include them fully and equally in the panoply of rights, institutions and communities which comprise the nation, or have them continue to exist in subcultural enclaves where, to varying degrees, they are kept at a distance, excluded, and forced to constantly fight for greater inclusion.

Doesn't every society have an interest in minimizing the number of citizens who are ostracized, excluded, and unable to participate in the society's institutions? To be sure, the primary blame for growing meth abuse lies with those individuals who chose to use the drug and who then allowed its addictive tentacles to consume their lives. But be that as it may, American interests would be much better served if certain segments of the country did not feel that they had to hide unpleasant realities because they were battling for basic freedoms.

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