This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity
Voice 1: I was in immense, immense amounts of pain when I was at high school, just huge amounts. I was so confused and so terrified. I mean, I couldn't walk down a corridor without everyone yelling gobbler and Mary and poofter and everything, and when I found drugs they took the edge off everything and they just made everything so much more bearable. And I had a sense that I could handle anything in the corridors and anything in the classroom for a long time until I could get stoned again. And when I could get stoned again then it took it all away and it made it somehow seem bearable because I could get away from it all.
So I really do celebrate the kid, Hamish, when I was 15, 16, 17, when I started smoking dope and drinking alcohol, because I think it saved my life, because the other alternative, which of course you see and I've heard of so much for young gay men, is we just kill ourselves. And I'm glad I didn't kill myself. I have a zest for life and a passion for life, still today, which seems to have held through everything, that I really wanted to survive. I have a quiet determination that will fight, and I found it better to fight and to become an angry young man. I was really angry, and I could be bitchy and I could verbally dress anyone down and cut anyone down.
I think it's a where a lot of gay humor comes from, and it certainly was where mine was based. It was based on defending myself from these kids in the hall, in the corridors when I was walking down the corridors at school. I never knew what was... I mean, I always knew. I never knew what was going to come at me, but I kind of always knew that whenever I had to walk down a corridor, I would always know that I was going to get hassled.
And apparently there were other gay kids at the school, but because I was so isolated because I was out, in a sense, none of the gay kids wanted to know me because they didn't want to get tarred with the same brush. And I certainly didn't really want to know any of the pooftie kids anyway because I had to be so staunch, so I was so isolated to fit, so really alone, not having learnt the skills to be able to talk to mum and dad about stuff, or anyone else. And I just, yeah, got stoned. It was so much easier.
Voice 2: The thing is, I think that our alcohol and drug use very much does mirror what goes on in society, and is very responsive to environmental pressures, so that before Homosexual Law Reform the pressures on the individual encouraged alcohol and drug use. The social ghettoization encouraged alcohol and drug use right across our community. It's what you did. You met your friends at the pub and drank, there was nowhere else to go; you didn't go with your friends to cafes, there weren't many then, but to the other options. If you wanted to be yourself, you were in a drinking situation.
After Homosexual Law Reform that slowly whittled away, and so therefore some of the pressures to drink and drug use, with a maturing lesbian and gay population, lost some of its power. You see it still with the younger ones. Younger lesbians and gay men are still coping with all the issues of coming out and integration of their identity and behavior, et cetera, and so are still drinking and drug using as much as ever.
Voice 1: Well, I moved to Wellington when I was 17, and straightaway I was working in a hotel. I was a fourth cook, salad hand and pot washer, basically, and trying to get somewhere. And I met older men who were taken by my youth and innocence, I guess; I don't know. They liked me and I liked the attention. And they used: they drank and they got stoned, and one guy used to hit up and that was when I found speed. I never used intravenously, but I would have speed in a speedball, crystal methadrine it was. It was really nice. But I got carried out of the house with my eyes rolled back, and apparently I OD'ed, but I don't remember anything about it.
And I was living here and there was the Dorian Society. It was the only gay venue of such. It was a Victoria club which was supposedly for older men, I went there too though. At the Dorian Society you could pay $15 on the door and it was an open bar – you could drink as much as you liked, and I followed suit. [laughs] I drank as much as I liked and got laid. You know, that was pretty much what we did. We were just gay men. I didn't have any role models that said that there was any other way to live life. In the environment that I was living in, it wasn't particularly... I didn't see people doing life any other way.
Then I met people and tried to formulate relationships based on being off my head, so none of them really came to very much, I guess. So I just worked and lived and worked and lived here, and got more promiscuous and did more dope.
And a friend of mine suggested that there wasn't a gay escort agency and that maybe we should do that. So we tried that for awhile, but the cute ones, the nice ones, I'd give it to them for free because I didn't really care. [laughs] And the really, really awful ones, I couldn't do it, surprise, surprise, and I just felt sort of revolted and cheap and tacky.
I remember my 21st birthday was a job. I started at the Parkroyal and Oriental Bay, around there, and I was 21 and the bill for dinner and the amount of money I made that night was $510. I can remember thinking: Fuck, I've made it! I thought I'd made it, you know, because I could get that much money in a night. But it was my 21st birthday. That was my 21st, you know? I thought that was pretty sad, as well. Part of me thought it was sad and the other part thought I had made it.
And then a few months later I got my 21st present from my parents, and I thought: God, I really didn't mean that much to them, in a sense. It sounds awful to say it, but I kind of didn't really feel like I was that important.
I'm the youngest of six kids and mum and dad always used to go and visit everyone, and they never visited me. And I used to think it was because I lived in the city and not many of my family did, but really it was because I was gay and they didn't really want to be witness to my lifestyle, so they didn't come and visit. Things like that that I've only learnt about since I stopped tuning out and stopped getting stoned.
Coming clean: well, when I first tried to give it up I gave up everything – cigarettes, coffee, tea, sugar [laughs]. I'm kind of an all or nothing kind of guy, a bit of a perfectionist, and it was a month of absolute nightmare, and I was just mad trying to be in control.
And I don't know; the emotional stuff that comes up straightaway is just horrendous. I don't know where it all was, but it just started to come and I found myself just emotionally a wreck, trying to find anyone to help me take the pain away. They say that alcoholics and addicts don't have relationships, we take hostages, and I think that was pretty much apparent when I first tried cleaning up. I'd latch onto anyone to help me, ah... help me... just help me [laughs]. God!
And for the first six months of recovery after rehab I just cried all the time at meetings. I'd go to meetings and I'd try and share and I'd just cry and cry. I was so vulnerable; I was just so vulnerable. I didn't know how to cope. I didn't know how to live. People would go for coffee after a meeting, or just trying to be in social situations, and I wouldn't know what to say. Take away all the dope talk and the bitchiness and the old behavior, and I didn't have anything to say anymore. I felt so useless and so less than – so less than other gay men in some ways.
And I had to remove myself pretty much from gay culture because as I understood it at that stage – I now know that it's different – it wasn't really anything that wasn't centered or focused around alcohol and drugs, or it certainly hadn't been my experience, and most of my friends were not alcoholics and drug addicts but they were people who were socially involved in alcohol. So, for the first three years I couldn't really go... I mean, I just had to go to recovery meetings and try and learn about myself; learn about the parts of myself that weren't full of self-obsession or self-righteousness. It's really strange. Early recovery is bizarre. You spend most of the time trying to get over yourself, but at the same time trying to work out who you are. It's really lonely being a gay man in recovery, initially.
Voice 2: I did some research about a year ago, or two years ago now, on the experiences of lesbians and gay men who went through treatment services in New Zealand, and it was not very good, the outcome of that. It wasn't very optimistic. Most of the services, though claiming a tolerance and believing that they were tolerant, had still not extended to homosexual clients the services that they had offered heterosexual clients. For example, heterosexual clients would be offered the opportunity to bring their husband or wife in, to involve their family. Homosexual clients rarely were invited to bring their partner in. Heterosexual clients could bring friends in. Homosexual clients were often not invited to bring friends in. Heterosexual clients are much more comfortable and at ease in groups when there was any kind of group therapy that went on. Homosexual clients were invited into those groups and were expected to talk about themselves, to expose themselves to a group of people who were not gay, and this was very threatening for many.
When it came to looking at what happened after treatment, when they went back into the community, heterosexual clients were more often than gay clients invited to involve employers, or their sexuality somehow was part of the after-care program that was developed and the monitoring that went on. For homosexual clients the fact that they'd be going back into gay-bar milieu or into the kind of, perhaps, gay-centered lifestyle they'd been in before, didn't feature as part of the after-care planning. So there was a discrimination that went on; not a deliberate one, but one out of ignorance. And so, even here in the '90s in a country which is more tolerant than many to its gay and lesbian folks, New Zealand, especially in the liberal humanities, we could still find that gay men and lesbians would not receive the same quality of treatment opportunity as would heterosexuals.
Voice 1: I think also, being clean and choosing to live clean means that it's sometimes difficult to have relationships with people. I mean, my maintenance is that I still go to meetings. I still go to recovery meetings 10 years down the track. There are plenty of people who I've seen in rehab or met through recovery who don't do meetings anymore, and either they drink or get stoned again or they get killed, they die, or they choose other ways of living. And trying to establish a relationship with the limitations that I have placed on me because I'm an addict is often difficult. There's the stuff like I have to... I have no choice but to be completely honest with loved ones. There's not a choice. Resentments are a luxury, judgments are a luxury, luxuries I can't afford because if I go there, if I get involved in all that sort of crap, it just isolates me again, and as someone in recovery that's very, very dangerous. And as a gay man in recovery it's suicidal. So there are certain things that I can't do and I have to be really mindful of.
I'm also extremely vulnerable because I'm a very sensitive person, and trying to develop relationships and things means that you get bruised, so you have to be very careful, I have to be very careful about how I go about things, and that doesn't necessarily change. But I also don't think that that's just for gay men in recovery, I think that that's for gay men period.
Voice 2: If your life is valued enough by society, if you feel good enough about your sexuality, if you're able to integrate that with the other things that you want and get out of your life, then alcohol and drugs will find its right place, and that may be no use at all, and that may be just a moderate use. But if you're really going over the top, then something else in your life ain't right.
When I work with gay men who have gotten to alcohol and drug dependencies, and where things in their life have gotten really chaotic, and I see them as a counselor, the alcohol and drug part of their story is dealt with usually quite quickly and then they get off that because that's not what it's really about. It's about despair or it's about loneliness, it's about grief, it's about fear, it's about distress; that's what it is that they want to work on and talk about. And it's in the resolution of those things that the alcohol and drug use then falls into place, and for many of them they say: Ah! I don't need that. I don't want it.
Others say: I can't control it. I don't have the confidence of controlling it. I'm better without it.
And others are able to return to a moderate use because their issue, the reason why they had to develop a dependent relationship on it has gone.
Transcript by cyberscrivener.com