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APRIL 29, 2005
Denial River runs deep
A circuit party incident shows just how rampant drugs
aw among gay men — and just how indifferent we
seem to have become when people fall out from them.
By MUBARAK DAHIR
T'S A PICTURE-PERFECT
Saturday afternoon on South
Beach the first weekend in
March. There isn't a single
cloud in the azure blue sky
This particular weekend, hordes of gay men have
come to South Beach for Winter Party. At
the Surfcomber Hotel, the site of this
year's pool party, hundreds of handsome
men in seductive swimwear are hanging
out by the pool, bumping and grinding on
the makeshift dance floor, parading their
rippled abs and bulging biceps.
I'm standing with a friend soaking up
the sea of flesh when our attention turns
to a particularly muscular man with a
hairy chest who's wearing a red ball cap.
He's absolutely stunning, but it's not his
body that grabs our attention. It's his
inability to walk without stumbling.
"He's really screwed up," my friend
comments. "From the look on his face, it's
probably tina," he says, though the man
might just as easily be high on any number of "designer" drugs, such as G or K.
A Winter Party volunteer, wearing the
signature pink T-shirt that helps them
stands out in the crowd, approaches the
unsteady man and asks if he needs help.
I overhear his friends dismiss the
"It's OK." they say 'We're his "friends."
Minutes later, there is a commotion in
the packed crowd.
The muscular man in the red ball cap
has collapsed. His apparently unconscious body is slumped, limp in a white
plastic pool chair.
Four pink-shirted volunteers have surrounded him now One of them has two
fingers on an artery in the muscleman's
neck, as if she is checking whether or not
he has a pulse.
A band of volunteers heaves the chair
up, and together they carry the unconscious man away. As they push through
the crowd, the woman keeps her two fingers on the man's neck, and his pulse.
The crowd hardly pauses, barely seeming to notice that someone has been carried past them. The dance beat cranks,
and the bodies continue to gyrate.
IT'S NO SECRET THAT DRUG USE,
particularly crystal meth, is rampant at
circuit parties all around the country
When I mention the pool party episode
to my gay friends, and comment I may
want to write about it, the response is
almost universal: Big surprise, stop the
presses. And the drug and crystal problem is hardly limited to circuit parties.
It's all around us, on a daily basis, and it
is wrecking gay men's lives every day —
financially physically and emotionally.
But what strikes me most, perhaps, is
the nonchalance surrounding the issue.
It's become so routine, many gay men
don't even seem to notice it, or perhaps
they just don't pay attention to it anymore. Obviously, the drug use and crystal
problem involves a serious issue of personal responsibility.
But I can't help but think that there
must also be a collective consciousness to
this problem, if we as gay men — as a
group of people who have staked the
claim that we are connected to one another in some sort of bond that forms a community — hope to beat it.
In the early years of AIDS, gay
activists combed the streets and the bars
and the bathhouses, armed with condoms
and safer sex fliers, gently reminding
other gay men that all our lives were at
stake. In our newspapers and our magazines, at our offices and in private homes,
people were talking to each other about
the risks and perils of unsafe sex, and the
need we all had to help each other stay as
safe as we could.
It didn't save everyone from HIV, or
replace the personal decision-making at
the moment of truth. But there was, at
least, a recognition that we were all in
this together, and that we needed to hold
each other's hands, literally and figuratively, because even with the best intentions, we are all human, and we all slip
To some degree, aren't we all supposed
to watch out for each other? Particularly in
places like Miami and Fort Lauderdale, or
the Castro or Chelsea or Provincetown, or
any of the other gay ghettos where we've
congregated by the droves to create our
own little gay Meccas, our insular, protected, safe spaces where we can fashion the
kind of world we think is better than the
places we came from.
Aren't these places, at least — the
places where we've worked so hard to
make being gay so easy — supposed to
come with something more than crowded
bars and naked pool parties?
Or have we created places where we
are so callous to each other that we no
longer notice, or care, if our community
is partying itself to death?
After the pool party, much later that
evening, I get a poignant reminder about
why, as gay men, we need to care about
and care for our own.
THE NEXT DAY, SUNDAY, MARCH 6,1
am at Winter Party's beach party, right
on the gay beach at 12th street.
The enormous swarm of muscled
men dwarfs even the crowd at the previous day's pool party. It's another bright,
hot Florida afternoon, and everyone
seems to be hanging out shirtless and in
I have my camera in my hand, and I'm
taking pictures to publish in the gay newspaper that I edit in Fort Lauderdale. It's
something 1 do frequently at such events,
and I understand that different people
have various comfort levels with their face
being shown in a gay publication.
Initially, I assume that is why so many
people decline to remove their sunglasses
when they agree to have their picture
taken. Then I ask a smooth young Latin
man in white pants and a sailor's hat to
pose, and he gladly agrees.
Lean and well-defined, he looks
adorable in his little outfit on the beach.
But he would look so much cuter without
the dark sunglasses that hide too much of
his face. I ask him to remove them, and
he emphatically shakes his head no.
"I can't show my eyes," he tells me.
"They're a mess."
Soon after, I come across the muscled
man in the red ball cap from the pool
party the day before, the one who had
been carried away in the chair.
He, too, is wearing
Mubarak Dahir is
" editor of the
Express Gay "News
and can be reached at
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