A gay man hopes the story of his crystal meth addiction will help save those still in the closet about their own drug problems.
"That Means You're a Queer!"
Child psychologists say the love we receive as children creates our foundation. In this respect gay men are born twice. The first birth is joyous-into the arms of waiting parents. The second birth offers conflict. After announcing their sexuality to friends and family, gay men wonder if anyone will hold them at all.
Jay Dagenhart was born and raised Catholic in Richmond, Va. When he was 16, his boyfriend gave him a ring, which he wore on his ring finger. When he told his mother, she stayed home from work for a couple of days to recover. Then he told his father.
"That means you're a queer," his father said, giving voice to a shame Dagenhart would carry with him for years. "You're a queer! If you ever bring a man home, I'll kill him!"
To their credit, Dagenhart's parents adjusted. Elizabeth Dagenhart quickly found the words to address her son. She and her then-husband even attended Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) meetings. "I didn't know anything about homosexuality," says Jimmy Dagenhart now. "But within a year I learned a lot, and Jay did bring his boyfriend home. He was tall, Italian, good-looking, polite and smart. Everything you could ask for."
But Jay couldn't shake that first reaction or the idea that something was wrong with him. He hunted for validation. "I needed a father figure," he says now. "I needed a mentor."
Instead he found a banker in his late 50s. The man shopped frequently in the department store where the then-21-year-old worked. One day the man called the store and asked him to lunch. A relationship formed. The man lived in another town with his wife and kids. When he came to Richmond on business, he visited Dagenhart, whom he'd set up in an apartment.
The arrangement quickly turned dark. The older man insisted Dagenhart phone him and write him every day. He also insisted the younger man not engage in any romantic relationships.
Their union consisted of cold exchanges. "If he came into town for lunch," Dagenhart says, "he'd come to the apartment, and I'd blow him. We'd go eat. Then I'd get him off again. If he was in town for the night, I'd get him off and we'd go to dinner. When we came home, I'd get him off again. He'd sleep, and in the morning before he left I'd blow him. Maybe we'd have breakfast, and if we did sometimes I had to get him off after that."
Dagenhart felt sick. He didn't know how to end the relationship. The shopping, the clothes and the apartment all served as validation. "The material things helped me say, "I'm somebody,'" recalls Dagenhart. But his relationship with the older man felt like prostitution.
Eventually Dagenhart fell in love with someone closer to his age. When the older man found out, he showed Dagenhart a list of stocks placed in a trust that could be his when he turned 30. But he would need to remain loyal. "The dividends on those stocks would have paid $6,000 to $10,000 per month," says Dagenhart. "That was my chance to sell my soul. But I left. I went with my new boyfriend."
He left Richmond and wound up in New York, where he experimented with drugs like cocaine and Ecstasy, then eventually settled on meth. "It was great at first," says Dagenhart. "It seemed to take away all my guilt and shame. Then I lost my mind."
"It Had to Be the Guy on Crystal"
It's 10 o'clock Friday night. "Billy" has been sober for 78 days. "Tommy" has been sober for 12. Phillip has been sober for more than two years. Darren has been sober for 73 days.
Sometimes their ranks swell to as many as 15 or 20 members for a week or two. "These young guys show up," says Phillip. "Then they disappear. They go back to the drug because it's so hard to kick."
Tonight there are six regulars. The meeting follows the format of Alcoholics Anonymous. "Speed is my master," they read aloud. "My name is __ , and I'm an addict."
Tonight they remember their first 10 days of sobriety. The consensus: The first 10 days are like hauling yourself up from the darkness of an earthen pit by your fingernails. Gravity works against your every motion, then things get worse. "After the first 10 days," says Billy, "when the voices stop and you realize everyone's not talking about you, then suddenly you have to deal with what is. And that's a mess."
With the exception of Dagenhart, most of the men don't want their real names published (pseudonyms are printed in quotes). But they don't mind letting a reporter sit in on this Crystal Meth Anonymous meeting so the public can learn more about the drug's dangers.
"Once it shifts," says Tommy, "you never get back that original high. I'd go to the bathhouse, and I couldn't leave. I couldn't stop having sex. I'm fairly well read and educated, and the next thing I knew I looked like a hustler. Then I'd wake up-that's what coming down is like, waking up-and I'd have seven to 10 days of depression."
The 2014 Philadelphia Spring Guide