I’ve been meaning to update the five or six people who still read my blog on how my studies are going, since, well, the whole reason I’m here in Blandiego is the studying. But, actually, no, I haven’t been studying. And no, I haven’t been doing meth. I’ve been doing all sorts of other things, like teaching and obsessing over gay marriage and untangling myself from the absurd red tape caused by an ill-fated attempt to take a class cross-registered at UC-Irvine. (Irvine use punched cards in the registrar’s office. Still. Really. When I dropped the class I was cc-ed — for realz — on five emails from various admins at two campuses, because no one has figured out how to use the Interweb to connect the two schools.) I’ve also been collecting all sorts of fun stuff about crystal meth, because that’s what I’ve switched my focus to. Yeah — I came here to study assimilation and sexuality on the US-Mexican border and now I will be studying the gay meth “epidemic” in California.
This is what happened: I went to check in with one of my committee members. I had planned on working on a study on HIV-prevention among MSMs in Tijuana. I had spent two and half years studying Spanish and US-Mexican border issues (and theory), and I wrote my Master’s thesis on “Hybridity as Cultural Capital on the US/Mexican Border.” (Wanna read it? I’ll email it to you. And then I will list you in my Outlook contacts in the “masochist” category. Not that I have a category with that name. Really.) So, I was ready, more or less, to do a big ethnographic project of the such. But my committee member told me that the project that I was going to join and study (I was going to study the study, as it were) didn’t exist yet, for a host of reasons. But before I got to freak out, I was offered a number of other projects that I could hook up with, and I jumped on a large study of HIV+ gay men who use crystal meth.
I guess the questions would be: Why did I jump on this? Well, there’s one pathetic reason: My Spanish sucks and will suck for years — I’m convinced I have cognitive deficiency when it comes to languages — and so I’ll never be able to do the sort of psychodynamic interviewing in Spanish that I wanted to do. I could have done it with a translator, which had been offered, but it would have been a barrier/filter that I didn’t want to have to use, let alone totally rely on.[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tG5odfNmzqM]
Then there’s the not-at-all pathetic reason: The meth situation in California’s gay communities is … gee, what’s the right word? Explosive. Dynamic. Epidemic. Increasing. Contagious. Confusing. Bizarre. Sexy. Dangerous. And it’s on the tips of everyone’s tongues, gay and straight. This is partly because of the recent, massive “Me Not Meth” campaign from the California Methamphetamine Initiative, the anti-meth arm of the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs. There are billboards all over the gay neighborhoods of California. There are ads on the sides of buses and in the Bay Area subways. There are 30-second TV spots running during, heh, “Desperate Housewives.” And I haven’t seen such a wide-spread concerted public health effort in gay bars since the early 90s: there are posters in every gay bar I’ve visited in the last month, and many of them also have “I lost ME to METH” drink coasters, too. The ads are the topic of conversation everywhere, and not always for the reason they’re meant to be. The recovering addicts in the ads are, um, kinda hot. As a friend said to me last weekend, “If they want people to stop using meth they should use guys who aren’t so attractive.” The man on the coaster (above) is especially cute; he looks like a cross between Jake Gyllenhall and Ryan Gosling. Yum!
Some people are simply pissed off by the campaign because they think that it unfairly singles out gay men, and this will, supposedly, lead the gays to be further stigmatized. In typical fashion, San Diego’s own Gay and Lesbian Times led the charge here:
Now, this is a necessary campaign – meth addiction is an epidemic in the gay community, and, the fact is, meth use is a risk factor in the spread of HIV/AIDS. It eliminates inhibitions, alters judgment, wreaks havoc on one’s personal and professional lives, and has dire health implications.
Another fact to consider, though: meth addiction doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t single out a gender, race or community – but this ad campaign does.
The important question that must be asked is: does this ad campaign do more harm than good? For the vast majority of heterosexual TV viewers, what message does the campaign send about our community?
Again, it’s no secret: meth is a problem in the gay community, as much as it’s a problem in the straight community, the Latino community, the Native American community, the black community – the risks are as monumental for us all.
But, the well-intended ads, inadvertently we think, send a mixed message; one, that meth abuse is a problem exclusively in the gay community; and two, that the gay community is characterized by drug use and HIV/AIDS.
Why do I use the word “typical”? Because the GLT tends to get their facts wrong, and this is just another example. Here’s the Los Angeles Times on March 14:
The drug, commonly known as “crystal” or “tina,” has been a popular party drug in gay circles since the 1990s. A statewide survey, also released Thursday, found that crystal meth use was 11 times more common among gay men than in the California population overall. Fifty-five percent of 549 gay and bisexual men surveyed said they had used the drug, compared with 5% of the general population.
So, um, meth is not “as much as [of] a problem” in the gay community as the straight community. It’s 11 times worse. That is 1100% worse, if you want to play with the numbers. The GLT is so embarrassing. There are some problems with the “Me Not Meth,” but they aren’t in their focus on gay men. At all.
Anyway, I’m very excited about the shift in my project, and I’m excited about getting my qualifying done. That involves a lot of reading and writing, and then I can write my proposal, which will include, in some form, the following paragraph:
… the governmentality of public health helps to construct gay men as, what I call, risky subjects: neoliberal and sanitary subjects, sexual citizens with a political ethos that connects gendered behavior and subaltern sexuality to a moral regime that promotes individualism and responsibility within, ironically, a culture of hedonism. Since its appearance in the early 1980s, AIDS has been at the center of contestations over biopower, as those who might have, do have, and will probably contract the disease are disciplined, punished, and quarantined. Public health—as well as its surrogates in private healthcare, the ever-increasing number of activist NGOs, and aligned law enforcement agencies—has been charged with not just the modification of behavior, but also, and perhaps more importantly, the construction of subjects. These subjects are not just healthy citizens, healthy Americans, but also productive citizens, responsible, happy, and normal. But what sorts of subjectivities are actually produced? And how? People who are “at risk” for HIV-infection, whether they are men who have sex with men, IV drug and crystal meth users, sex workers, hemophiliacs, or anyone from a disease-ravaged nation, are made into risky subjects with hypercognized biology, bodies, and behaviors. But this is not necessarily (or not always) a negative form of state oppression, despite the tenor of much of the literature on governmentality, the modern form of statecraft that is probably most pronounced in processes of public health. Rather, the history of AIDS shows that both resistance to and collaboration with the governmental public health project has resulted in a slow and steady pushing of the subjected into the subjectors. The public health project is subverted and mutated as the HIV-positive become doctors, gay academics devote their research to HIV and AIDS, and activists, recovering addicts, and former sex workers are professionalized as employees of NGOs and state agencies. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that that there are deeply negative effects of becoming a risky subject, for the mental health ramifications are as potentially insidious as they are deeply under-recognized.
Ya know, in case you were wondering about my theoretical perspective on the whole thing.