A gay man hopes the story of his crystal meth addiction will help save those still in the closet about their own drug problems.
Darren tells the group he watches a lot of zombie movies. He thinks his fascination with ghouls stems from the similarity between zombiefication and crystal addiction. At first everyone in the group smiles at this observation. So does Darren. Then he enacts the transformation.
"First," he says, "you slacken all of your facial muscles."
He falls silent, his jaw muscles no longer working, and the rest of the group falls silent too, as Darren's performance turns creepy and sadly familiar.
His eyes grow hollow and hard. His head lolls forward like a drunk's. His limbs look heavy as stones sinking into mud. When he reanimates himself, the men in the room smile joylessly. So does Darren.
Then it's Dagenhart's turn. He laughs dryly. "My first 10 days of sobriety," he says wonderingly. "I had so many relapses. I had first 10 days all up and down the East Coast."
Dagenhart tells the group he recently went to the bathhouse for the first time in many months. He was horny and lonely so he went to Club Body Center at 12th and Chancellor streets. He didn't use crystal, though the drug was readily available. He disclosed his HIV status to everyone, though no one asked.
"The first four guys were gonna have sex with me without finding out my status," says Dagenhart. "Then when I told them, they turned away. But the fifth guy was on crystal. He was willing to do whatever I wanted. It figures."
The group laughs.
Dagenhart tossed CMA literature over the walls, into the private rooms where men were having sex.
"Did you get any reactions?" Phillip asks him.
"Yeah," says Dagenhart. "Some of them laughed."
"I Liked Being the Candy Man"
Dagenhart first used crystal meth in 1990, but his boyfriend at the time was a trust fund baby who favored cocaine. Those were great days for a man with Dagenhart's insecurities.
The relationship lasted four and a half years. His boyfriend had a beautiful place in the Hamptons. They ate in the finest restaurants. They bought whatever they wanted. "I was an arrogant little prick," says Dagenhart, "even though none of those possessions were ever really mine."
He tried crystal again in 1998 and quickly found himself addicted. As with many gay men, Dagenhart's use of crystal-also known as TINA-was inextricably linked with sex.
Crystal meth users meet on the Internet, in bathhouses and at cruising spots around town. Dagenhart says crystal is often readily available in bathhouses. "It's a great place for a dealer to set up shop," he says. "What police officer is going to go in there, wear a towel and risk getting his ass grabbed?"
On the Internet the transactions are arranged with the formality of a stock trade. PW found men looking to hook up for crystal and sex within seconds in AOL chat rooms, and in only relatively longer time periods through Craigslist and squirt.org, two online meeting places.
Men interested in combining anonymous sex and drug use employ the acronym PNP, which stands for "Party and Play." They rarely post pictures of their faces but often put up pictures of their penises. "This focus on the body among my people," says Dagenhart, "is so damaging. There's such a focus on huge muscles and enormous cocks."
Albert Luciano, a gay man who works as a substance rehabilitation and mental health therapist in the heart of the Gayborhood, estimates that maybe half his clients abuse crystal or suffer full-blown addiction. About 25 percent of his clients who use crystal tested positive for HIV since starting to use the drug.
PW's Holiday Guide 2014
PW's Taste of Philly 2014
Election Day 2014: Tues., Nov. 4