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A cautionary tale about Chemsex

Photo by William Randles on Unsplash

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I caught up with author Cameron Yorke to talk about his triptych of books The Chemsex Trilogy.

The Chemsex Trilogy of books documents a fairly turbulent period of your life. When did you decide to chronicle your experiences?

The initial idea came to me one night while I was high. We were sitting around a friend’s kitchen table, discussing my financial situation, and he suggested selling a few drugs for the next few weeks to supplement my short term income discrepancy, and I jokingly quipped — ‘Yeah, sure! I could write a Secret Diary of a Drug Dealer book about the whole experience!’ — not dreaming at that stage for one minute that I would either deal drugs or write the book.

Later, once in prison, and with plenty of time on my hands to reflect, I decided that it might be a good idea to write about my entire experience in the hope that it might help others in similar circumstances. I originally intended on writing the one book, but now I’m on my fourth volume in this series.

In recent years there’s been a number of books, plays, and documentaries exploring the appeal and the impact of the Chemsex scene. What does your trilogy of books add to that narrative?

There have been a few attempts at explaining Chemsex through various art forms, but I don’t think any of them have offered a balanced perspective, looking at it from all angles.

When I first started writing the books, I wanted them to be entertaining as well as factual. I certainly didn’t want to write a ‘poor, poor me’ missive, but instead a humorous yet factual and informative series which highlighted the process of addiction from introduction right through to recovery. I also want the books to serve as a reference to friends, family and loved ones of victims, who, having never been exposed to this culture, might also be searching for answers and understanding.

How hard was it for you, sitting down to write the books, looking back at that period of your life with sober eyes?

Surprisingly, not difficult at all. This is a period in my life of which I’m not proud, but the biggest battle was in wrestling with how much of the story should be told, and in how much detail, and how much should I omit in order to protect my ‘reputation’ and keep my friends.

Once I’d started writing, I actually found the entire process cathartic. It forced me to examine actions and reactions, why I’d made some of the decisions which led me down this path, and what I could have done to stop it. It shocked me — looking back, how emotionally and physically drained, and how vulnerable I’d been at the point where I was introduced to Chemsex. Many of the others around me at that time were in the same boat. At the time, I had no idea my state of mind was so fragile.

Later, after my release, I realised ironically that had I not written the books, no-one would have known about my prison term and deportation in the ‘real world’ as I’d been fortunate in having no press coverage during my trial at all.

It’s taken me nine months to gather the confidence to be able to discuss the full extent of my punishment. People who have read the trilogy have presumed that I was writing about others and not myself, initially it was convenient for me to hide behind this.

I finally came to the conclusion that if my friends were going to reject me because I’d been caught and punished for the drugs — when at the height of my indulgence they were all participating — then I didn’t need them as friends. These battles have been more difficult than the actual writing of the books.

How would you describe the different periods covered by each of the books in the trilogy?

Chasing the Dragon is all about pressure, experimentation, and indulgence. It tells the story of how various factors led me to experiment, and then to become more deeply involved. The biggest problem with this drug is that it makes you feel so good, sex become a euphoric experience, and for a few hours you lose all inhibition, all pain, you feel attractive, desirable, and wanted again. When those factors are missing in your life, the temptation to do it more and more becomes extremely difficult to resist.

Candy Flipping covers indulgence, addiction, and arrest. It demonstrates the failings of the legal system in general, the ambivalence and laziness of the Metropolitan Police, and the incredible impact austerity measures have had on the Crown Prosecution Service and the legal profession. I also discuss addiction — the psychological addiction to Chemsex. The assumption that Crystal Methamphetamine is physically addictive is an absolute myth, propagated by the government, and adopted by users as an excuse for bad behaviour.

Double Bubble covers arrest, sentencing, and incarceration, and is an exposé of the short-comings of the British penal system, and also explains why I’m convinced that the drugs themselves are not addictive.

My new book The Deported deals with incarceration, deportation, and new beginnings, discussing re-entry to society, coming to terms with life in a country in which one hasn’t lived for decades, self examination, lessons learnt, and the best way to rebuild one’s life. This is the one of which I’m most proud. It will be available for purchase on 1 August 2018.

There will be a lot of gay men reading your books who will be familiar with some elements of the Chemsex and PnP scene. Would you describe your books as a cautionary tale?

I would hope so — if they stop people from going through what I did then I’ll be happy. I’d also like to think that they’re a reference point for partners, friends, and family of victims in gaining an understanding of the culture so that that they can better offer support and assistance in breaking the cycle.

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My most ardent wish is that the books will raise awareness of the factors involved, so that the government will become better informed in formulating policies, instead of just sticking band-aids without any understanding of a problem which has deep and wide-ranging ramifications.

Not everyone who explores Chemsex and PnP follows the trajectory that you’ve followed. Were there any specific factors that shaped your story, or is Chemsex a slippery slope that could lead anyone down a similar path?

When I really started to examine my ‘path to destruction’ I realised that the only reason I became involved at all was because of issues with confidence, low self-esteem, work stress, depression, and anxiety. Like any drug — whether it be alcohol or something stronger — when you have a healthy, sane, balanced state of mind, you can handle any stimulant in moderation and walk away from it. I was using drugs, and Chemsex as a support mechanism to stop myself from sinking into depression — self-medicating, if you like — and it was then that I started to become more and more embroiled in the whole process. Like many people I met during this process, I was convinced I didn’t have a problem, right up until the end when I found myself in ‘forced detox.’

What do you hope that people feel when reading The Chemsex Trilogy?

I hope that they will identify with the issues discussed, and feel empathy for the people and stories within the narrative. I hope that I will have frightened them enough to discourage them from becoming involved in this epidemic. If they’re victims of it already, I hope they feel inspiration, and gain support in knowing that they’re not alone in this battle, as well as encouraged to use the support channels to find out where to get help. Most of all, I hope that people see the humour, and enjoy reading the books.

Visit Cameron Yorke’s website

The Chemsex Trilogy

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Health

Sunday Surgery

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Photo by Jesper Aggergaard on Unsplash
Photo by Jesper Aggergaard on Unsplash

Are we living in a post-HIV world?
In recent years we’ve seen a seismic shift in the effectiveness of treatment for HIV, as well as the emergence of PrEP — medication that prevents you from acquiring HIV.

This combination of factors has contributed towards a dramatic change in the attitude of gay men towards HIV, health, and sex.

It’s been difficult for public health policy to keep up, but it’s also difficult for older gay men like me to get our heads around the changing landscape of sex.

Official reports indicate that AIDS has killed over 35 million people worldwide. It’s estimated that around the world there are currently over 37 million people living with HIV.

In June of 1981, when the beginnings of the HIV pandemic were first being identified, I was approaching my ninth birthday. Lucky I guess, too young to be impacted by the first devastating waves of the virus that killed so many young gay men.

As I was beginning to discover sex, the public health messages very strongly articulated that sex without a condom equalled death.

It’s a bit hard to describe how that constant fear of infection and death shapes your view and experience of sex. I guess I’ve got no way of knowing what things would have been like without that — I like to think that it might have been something like San Francisco in the 70s, or a long, lust-filled summer on Fire Island.

I survived. I was careful. I was lucky.

It wasn’t until I saw the 2003 documentary The Gift that I became aware of the fetishisation of HIV, and a growing movement of men who embraced the risk and health consequences of fucking without condoms, of letting guys cum in you, the thrill of raw, or ‘bareback’ sex between men. It was an uninhibited hedonism best captured by the porn of Paul Morris and Treasure Island Media.

It’s easy to judge and disapprove of risk-taking behaviour, but there was something incredibly compelling about this type of no-holds-barred sex — no fear, no care for consequences.

The improvements in medication and the emergence of PrEP have now made bareback sex the norm. Not only in porn — where it’s now highly unusual to see anyone using a condom — but also in everyday life.

Health professionals sensibly remind us that condoms are still worth wearing as they protect us from a whole range of sexually transmitted infections, not just HIV, but the reality is that for many men sex is better when you don’t have to wear a condom.

For me, it’s a bit of a mind-trip that testing positive for HIV is no longer a death-sentence, that you can have sex without a condom and not worry if one of you might have the virus. That you can have no-holds-barred sex, with no fear, and no care for consequences.

It’s fantastic that today’s young gay guys, who are just beginning to discover and explore sex, don’t have to worry about HIV. Obviously they need to learn about it, they need to have access to PrEP, and they need to understand the full gamut of sexual health, but it’s just part of life.

Let’s not forget our history, let’s not forget the people we’ve lost, but let’s be thankful that young guys today are growing up in a world that’s something a bit like San Francisco in the 70s, or a long, lust-filled summer on Fire Island.

We may now be living in a post-HIV world.

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