JUNKIE POOFTA WHORE

JUNKIE POOFTA WHORE

I grew up in a small, somewhat redneck, country town. Heroin was in the news and we had heard of cannabis but our little town knew nothing of the realities of either drug. The dominant theme of the popular narrative was that drugs entrapped you. The “soft” drug cannabis appeared to be harmless but its use led quickly to craving for “harder” drugs with heroin at the top of the food chain.

By the time my peers and I were nearing the end of our schooling, we were skeptical of this narrative but had no information aside from the abstinence propaganda. Then a new family moved to town, a highly successful professional couple from Sydney and their children immediately debunked our last doubts about the government line by introducing us to cannabis. None of us developed instant addictions and none of us progressed instantly to heroin use. What did happen was that we never believed another word of any government health message concerning drugs.  

Eventually I worked out that even though my body was bisexual, my heart was definitely same-sex attracted. Being gay in the 1980s and 90s meant dance parties and poly drug use for lots of my peers. I discovered my drug preferences were for uppers only: speed and cocaine. These two drugs meshed well with my work as a sex worker. They didn’t affect my boundary setting at work, they enabled me to work effortlessly at odd hours of the day and night and in social escort situations they helped me avoid awkward silences.

The added advantage of being a sex worker whose clients were gay men was that drugs were often provided by the client as part of the job. However, there were also strict and unspoken rules about sex work and drug use. The most important was this: even though you might be expected to use drugs during the service, you couldn’t turn up for a job if you appeared already drug affected. Sex workers who were thought to have drug “addictions” were either shunned by clients or expected to charge much less than other workers. This put a brake on my drug use. My main interest was to make money, free drugs were a bonus but I wasn’t going to let my drug use in any way diminish my income. 

I wasn’t working as a sex worker when I first identified that my drug use might be verging on "problematic". I had got a job that paid extremely well but also meant long hours with shifts going from 6:00 pm to 6:00 am. By a lucky coincidence it also involved easy and often free access to large amounts of cocaine. Cocaine was useful and fun but when I started setting up lines next to my bed so I could do them when I woke up I decided it was time to quit. So I did. I also quit that job and went back to full time sex work.

Along with my return to sex work, I went back to using speed every now and then. However, speed became harder and harder to get as the market shifted to a new drug: ice.

I wasn’t that impressed with ice; for me it had a hard metallic edge that I didn’t like. But soon it was the only form of amphetamine available, so I used it. Ice had now become the drug de jour in the gay population and for male sex workers within that population. We were beginning to see a small number of (at times very spectacular) “crash and burns” associated with its use. Several of my peers were by now accepting payment in either cash and/or ice and some clients refused to book unless your service provided both sex and ice.

For a while it seemed like half my peers and half my clients were having problems with this drug. Around this time my own use got fairly constant. I started mixing myself a shot before bed so I could blast first thing in the morning. I again decided to quit cold.

With cocaine this had been relatively easy. I stopped using cold and walked away from the drug completely. With ice it took me at least six pretty scary weeks to actually stop using and another 18 months before the cravings went away. With cocaine I had promised myself five years before I would consider doing it again. I did the same with ice but ended up not using for ten. 

In the time that I didn’t use, I watched the “first wave” of ice use pass over my community. It wasn’t a pleasant time and I won't write about it in detail except to say that the only effective, positive actions came from users themselves. I lay blame for the negative effects squarely at the feet of the people who had been pushing the “all drugs are bad and all drug use is bad” message for the previous 30 years plus. A more useful message might be around what I now know to be true for me; some drugs affect me more than others and some types of use are unhelpful to my life goals, so my life goes better if I avoid them. 

While it is true that many of my friends, colleagues, clients struggled with their ice use, as I struggled with mine, I am appalled by government-approved demonisation of ice and by how little they have learnt or are willing to learn about the realities of drug use. As people who used drugs, we had proved over and over again with each new drug that the messages around the evils of drugs were simply not true. 

There are other myths that deserve debunking. That sex work and drugs always go hand in hand is, again, simply not true. That people who do sex work do so only to fund their drug use may be true for a few people, but not for most. That people do sex work because their drug use means they are unable to work in "straight" jobs is laughable! It ignores the broad skill base that sex workers must possess and the considered choices that people make in their lives.

You cannot expect people to make sensible rational decisions based on propaganda. People need facts to make decisions on what works best for them. When some of us did experience problems with our drug use, we had nowhere to turn to for answers but within our own community.

It is lucky that people who use drugs have worked to build strong, supportive communities, to combine our lived experience with evidence and to develop ways to help each other. If decision makers listened more carefully to the community of people who used drugs, they would learn how to fund assistance that actually works.

PASSING OFF THE PAST - CHRIS'S STORY

TESTED - CARL'S STORY

TESTED - CARL'S STORY