Drugs and Partying for Mental Health: When the Gay Parties are Over

Gay man with low moodIn Sydney, gay party season is upon us. Last week I saw the video for the Mardi Gras Party (that’s the main party, the one that is being hashtagged #theresonlyoneparty on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram).

It’s a cool production – lots of smooth muscular flesh, costumes and glamour set to a kicking n operatic back-beat mashup – and no doubt it captures the excitement and anticipation of getting ready for this year’s night of nights.

Not everyone likes to party. And the video portrays an undeniably youthful scene even though I have noticed a fair number of attendees aged fifty, sixty or seventy plus on the several occasions I’ve been to the Mardi Gras Party. So it would be nice to think that these events are for everyone, regardless of age, in keeping with the aim of SGLMG to be a beacon of diversity and acceptance and LGBTQI rights.

Are you ready? Want to see it? Here it is:

Sydney Gay Mardi Gras: Are You Ready?

Anxiety, Depression and Mental Health: The Other Side of Gay Party Culture

Everyone who goes to parties makes decisions about how they will enjoy themselves. But those looking to have a good time occasionally come crashing down afterwards. These are the other stories about party culture that, as a counsellor, I hear often enough to know that we also need to prepare our mental health for the party season.

It’s important to remember that not everyone at that party is in such a great state of mind when they arrive. Some participants have been having a really tough time of life. They might have recently left a relationship and be struggling with the emotional repercussions of that, or grieving the passing of someone they love. They might have lost their job the same week or have an existing mental health condition like anxiety or depression that is currently affecting them. Some people just don’t feel very good about themselves (many people describe this to me as ‘low self-esteem’) but still try to get out and enjoy their lives nonetheless. And partying can be a way to escape from life’s worries for a time. The trouble is that the come-down can sometimes be difficult to take.

Drug use is virtually considered the norm at dance parties in Australia and the Mardi Gras party is no exception. And every year the party medical volunteers care for those who accidentally overdose, have a bad reaction or take substances that they thought were reliable. If you or someone you know ever has a bad reaction to drugs, seek help immediately. ACON has produced a Partying at Home Guide with some good advice.

Gay Party Hangovers: Coming Down After Using Drugs

Another outcome of the exuberant use of drugs  – e.g. alcohol, ecstacy, crystal meth, speed, cocaine, GHB – is that on the days following party weekends, many people experience a significant drop in mood and severe symptoms of depression, anxiety or paranoia. Sometimes these are so bad that they are accompanied by thoughts of not wanting to live or even actively suicidal thoughts. Whether someone has a pre-existing mental health condition or they are just having a bad party hangover, the advice is the same: seek medical help from GP or go to see your counsellor. Don’t delay until the symptoms worsen. It’s important to put a risk management plan in place.

The Mardi Gras Party is a celebration. It’s a celebration of diversity, a celebration of sexuality and liberation. It’s an opportunity to come out and enjoy being who you are with thousands of people who will, hopefully, appreciate your uniqueness. So I’d say it’s a celebration of life as well. Look after yourself and look after your friends this party season. If you are worried about someone, help them to get support and care. That way we can all look forward to partying again together next year.

How do you prepare your mental health for parties? How do you look after your friends? I welcome your suggestions!

Sizing Up: When We Compete with other Gay Men in Gay Communities

gay men arm wrestlingGay Community is a hotly contested topic. Many argue it is exclusive and divisive and some even question its existence. How do gay men respond to the expectation to compete with other men?

Recently I wrote of growing up gay in Queensland in the 1970s and 80s. I attended an all-boys school which encouraged us to replicate 1980s Queensland masculine norms of behaviour: aggressiveness, competition, toughness towards each other. It was not exactly an environment where one felt safe or encouraged to show sensitivity, cooperation, support for one’s schoolmates and it did not feel like much of a community. The guys in this video from Glee are dressed quite similarly to the way we had to dress at my school, but the sense of shared fun and safety conveyed is a world away from what I experienced as a 17 year old: a bunch of guys enjoying each other’s company in an atmosphere of inclusion and safety with the new guy being sung to by his love interest. Quite surreal, and it would be fair to say that this would have been one of my ‘dreams’ as a teenager back then:


Gay Men, Anxiety and Belonging

Often I find myself in counselling conversations with gay and bisexual guys who have an understanding of competition between men as something that is genetically or biologically determined. ‘This is the way nature made us, to compete’ they say. When I hear this, I wonder ‘but is this the way you want your life to be?’. In any case, there are examples of cooperation and collaboration amongst animals as well. We have all heard of ‘survival of the fittest’ but it seems Darwin was not just talking about brute force. Recent research indicates that altruism and kindness are also important factors for evolution. Penguins flock together to protect their young and vulnerable against the cold. Meerkats guard each other against predators and various species of apes help others in their group and share without expectation of reward.

Gay identity is a relatively new concept established in the last 40 years or so. Gay people have developed communities over this time that offer them support when they find themselves left out of mainstream ways of living. However there is no question that some gay men find their scenes to be highly competitive, and this goes beyond the question of finding a partner. Sometimes the effects of this competition are described to me as ‘not feeling as good as others’ or ‘feeling less as a person’.  I’ve spoken to men, for instance, who have told me about accumulating huge credit card debt through buying clothes, expensive holidays or cool technology and other accessories so as to fit in with their peers and feel more comfortable in their gay networks. Others have responded to the anxiety of competition by taking drugs to feel more relaxed or ‘part of’ the atmosphere. At at conference I attended in Paris last year, Neal Carnes, an American researcher, spoke of the sense of belonging some gay men achieve through their use of crystal meth.

Exclusion and Competition in Gay Community

Men in large cities like London, Melbourne, Sydney, New York and San Francisco have suggested to me that the competitive aspects of gay mens networks may be more extreme in these metropolises. As a tourist in such places, one might experience adventure, but how is it to live there as a gay man? Are there expectations to wear certain clothes or have a particular body shape or ‘look’ or dance a certain way? One man told me that unless he was regularly ‘manscaped’ (had his body hair removed according to a certain fashion), that he would not be able to find a sexual partner, let alone a relationship. And I have been contacted by a number of men of Indian descent who told me that gay men in Melbourne only like white skin. So the sought after inclusiveness of gay community becomes, ironically, exclusive. Many gay men feel they struggle to meet the standards that a particular gay culture seems to enforce. What started out as a space where we could be free to be ourselves becomes a place of comparison.

What are your experiences of competition between gay men?
Do you have some stories of gay community, or personal examples of cooperation between gay men or men generally?
How have you managed to establish your identity? Through competition, through cooperation or in other ways?

You are welcome to share your thoughts and comments here. If a conversation would be helpful, contact me for an appointment.