Well there’s a statement that we’ve all heard or may even have said in the past. But do we really believe it? Are all gay guys “fucked up”?
Do our actions have any impact on how we see ourselves, see others or have an influence on our choices?
A recent survey by Stonewall shows us that gay men may be more likely to smoke, do drugs, drink more alcohol, worry about our body image and even self-harm.
But is this REALLY down to being gay. Is it down to our surroundings, lifestyle choices or is it just pot luck? Let’s explore the report first and see what Stonewall discovered.
Let's get the stats!
With 6,861 respondents from across Britain, Stonewall’s Gay and Bisexual Men’s Health Survey is the largest survey of its kind ever conducted. Some of the findings are quite interesting: in particular it provides some evidence that gay and bisexual men are more likely to smoke, drink and take illegal drugs than their straight counterparts.
The survey reports that two-thirds of gay and bisexual men have smoked at some time in their lives, and 26% of us still smoke compared with 22% of men in general; 42% of us drink alcohol on three or more days per week compared with 35% of men in general; and 51% have taken illegal drugs in the last year, compared with just 12% of men in general.
We’re also more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, and to self-harm and attempt suicide. Half of us have felt at some stage that life was not worth living, and in the last year 27% of gay men and 38% of bisexual men thought about taking their own life, compared with just 4% of men in general. Thankfully, not all thoughts lead to actions, but it’s nevertheless worrying to learn that 3% of gay men and 5% of bisexual men attempted suicide in the last year, compared with just 0.4% of men in general.
Some other stats show that Britain’s gay and bisexual men are more likely to be physically fit and healthy, with over half of us having a normal body mass index (BMI) compared with under a third of men in general – however, almost half of us worry about the way we look and wish we could think about it less.
If we are to believe these results, they show that we gay men may drink a bit too much, put too much powder up our noses and find it difficult to be happy with our body size. But is this because we are gay? And does it stop us from being happy?
“It’s easy to say that gay men do unhealthy things because they are gay,” says GMFA’s Matthew Hodson. “But we need to remember that plenty of heterosexual people do unhealthy things too, like drink, smoke, take drugs and have unprotected sex – it’s not just about sexuality”.
Are we more likely to do these things because we are gay? “Well for some things, our sexuality probably does play a role. Gay men are more likely to take drugs, for example, and that behaviour is likely to be self-perpetuating. If you’ve got friends who take drugs, you’re more likely to be offered drugs and to take them than if you don’t know any drug users. Also there’s some data which suggests that gay men hang on to habits longer than heterosexuals,” Matthew adds.
“Lots of people stop smoking, or give up drugs, when they have children and, although some gay couples do raise families, it’s not as common as it is for heterosexuals.” You could also argue that gay men are more prone to excessive drinking, smoking, drugs and unprotected sex because such things are more readily available to us than our straight peers.
“You’re always going to have people who throw themselves into a hedonistic lifestyle,” says Matthew. “For some people it will only be a short phase, for others it may be a life-choice. Drugs and alcohol aren’t good for you, they can damage your liver, kidneys and heart. And they can also lead to men making unhealthy decisions about sex that they wouldn’t make if they were sober. If you start to feel that you’re not in control, if you frequently wake up regretting what you did the night before, or not remembering, it’s a sign that you need to take action to turn your life around. It may not be easy, but there is help available.”
The scene of the crime
We live in a world where prejudice and lack of acceptance of our sexuality still exists, which is why many gay men feel a stronger sense of belonging when we’re out on the scene. While we may feel it necessary to show restraint at work, with family members, and when we’re at the local supermarket, café or cinema, we can be ourselves on the scene.
For many of us, our social lives revolve around clubs and bars and that’s partly to blame. “I’ve run drug and sexual addiction groups where people have said, ‘We’re gay men, what do you expect? It’s what we do,’”explains Alison Hunt, a psychotherapist working with addictions groups at Terrence Higgins Trust.
“When you challenge that, people can think you’re challenging their sexuality, which you’re not, but the things have gelled together.” “A lot of gay businesses do a great deal to support and build communities, and I’m grateful for that,” says GMFA’s Matthew Hodson, ”but the gay scene, for the most part, is business-led.”
FS asked readers via Facebook whether a sense of community still exists for gay men. Many of you think it’s mostly about sex – and think this is a bad thing. “All the gays at my college are sex-mad alcoholics so I think there is little community,” replied Jack. Ben agreed, saying: “The sense of community is lacking. There are things about the scene which I think are welcome, like gym going and looking after oneself. The excessive drinking and drugs and sex can bugger off in favour of something nicer though.”
“Sadly the sense of community has been lost. Gay culture now appears to revolve around sex. I have been looking to increase my circle of friends for a while now but sadly it would seem all guys want are fuck buddies,” replied Michael. “I think the majority of gay men are fake and looking out for one thing. But there are some genuine guys out there. It’s just a shame that everything has to focus on how many men guys sleep with. I think it gives gay men a bad name,” said Alex.
Others believe a gay community still exists, you’ve just got to look for it in the right places. “There is still some sense of community here, though it tends to be with the older 40+ generation and our venues more than the youngsters in theirs,” said Paul. Rod agreed, adding: “I think amongst the older generation who had to overcome prejudice, fear and misjudgement there is still a community. And in more rural areas there are stronger genuine gay communities. I think in the cities the commercial bar/gym culture is taking over, and this is what much of the public think of as ‘gay culture’.”
So is the gay scene to blame? “Some people get strength and support from the gay scene, but others find the gay scene just as unwelcoming and intimidating as any straight bar. And it’s obvious that if you’re hanging out in bars and clubs you are going to be surrounded by people drinking, taking drugs and copping off with each other, and you’ll be more likely to be doing the same.” So what should gay men do? “It’s probably healthier if you can maybe look past the gay scene every now and again. There are social groups out there that doesn’t involve alcohol, drugs or random sex. There’s more than just the gay scene to the gay community.” adds Matthew.
Who’s judging who?
So how about body and looks issues? According to the Stonewall report, we are more likely to be healthier but lack self esteem. Is this down to being gay, and are we more likely to be happy if we are ‘gym fit’? “It’s true that lots of gay men worry about the way that they look, and gay men are more likely to exercise regularly and less likely to be overweight than their heterosexual equivalents”, says Matthew Hodson.
“I think it’s wrong to assume though that all the guys with gym fit bodies are confident and happy. Sure, some of them are, but I know lots of gay men who go to the gym because they are insecure about the way that they look, or their ability to fit in or find a boyfriend. Again, I don’t think that this is unique to gay men. The pressure that is placed on gay men to look a certain way, or to conform to a particular ideal, represents nothing new for women. And I think that there is an increasing pressure on heterosexual men to have perfect buff bodies now.”
Sona Barbosa, the Counselling Team Leader at the GMI Partnership, “A lot of gay men have assumptions and beliefs about gay culture from what they see in magazines and other media, which is often just a stereotype of what actually exists. Many people I speak to are fine with the way they look, they just worry more about how people think they look. There are those who think they need to look a certain way to be liked or loved and this can lead to them having sex with any man that shows an interest. This can be dangerous emotionally, as well as physically. The important thing is to encourage people to try and get out of the mindset of the ‘gay’ stereotype and start thinking more about how they feel about their bodies”.
Matthew adds: “Fear of ageing is so prevalent that we joke about people having an actual age and a ‘Gaydar age’. I can’t help but feel that the failure to value getting older has a negative impact on men’s willingness to lead a healthy lifestyle, whether that’s about not taking drugs, or about consistently using condoms.”
Mind of matter
According to the Stonewall report, we gay men are also more likely to be depressed or try suicide. Why is this? Homophobia is widely blamed for higher rates of depression and suicide in gay men. Dr Ilan H. Meyer of UCLA says: “The higher rates of mental disorders and suicide among gay people likely result from the extra stress associated with living in a homophobic society.”
Fear also has a lot to do with it. “Fear is a bitch,” adds FS Editor Ian Howley. “When I started to realise I was gay, I was terrified, terrified of what people would think, terrified of rejection from friends and family, and when you have no-one to talk to you can easily become depressed. I’m not afraid to admit that I tried to take my life three times in my teens, and it was purely down to not wanting to be gay.”
So how do we beat this? “I think it’s a lot easier growing up gay in today’s society than it was when I was going through my teens. But remember that not everyone has the same ‘gay journey’, so we need to be a bit more supportive of each other”. Ian adds: “We also need some more gay role models to look up to. Obviously people should look at their parents as a role model but they can’t know what it’s like to ‘be gay’ so more more openly gay men like Gareth Thomas and Russell Tovey are needed. Stong, sound, everyday guys who just happen to be gay. This will help younger people become happier and healthier gay men in the future.”
Fucked up sex life?
Many guys think that the only way that depression impacts their sex life is that if they feel down they won’t want to have sex, but it can affect it in other ways as well. Studies have shown that men who are depressed are more likely to take risks in sex that they wouldn’t take if they weren’t depressed. “This means you may be less likely to use condoms or more likely to have sex that you don’t really want to have”, says Matthew Hodson. “Depression can also lead to isolation and loneliness. It’s easy to get shags online with men you wouldn’t normally have sex with because you are feeling lonely. All of this can lead you putting yourself at risk of HIV and STIs”.
Are you fucked up?
So are all gay men fucked up? Of course not. It’s true to say that some gay men have a harder time ‘finding themselves’. This may lead you to drink more as you try to make new mates or to have more sex. Spend more time on the scene. You may also take drugs to ‘fit in’ but this does not mean you are ‘fucked up’.
FS Editor, Ian Howley, says: ”The biggest thing you can do is look at your actions and see if they are affecting your life. So if you think you are drinking too much, then do something about it. If you think you are abusing drugs too much then do something about it. If you are having risky sex, then do something about it. If you are feeling depressed, then do something about it. But don’t think that all this stuff happens to you because you are gay. It happens because you make the choice to drink, smoke, do drugs or have unprotected sex. Being gay is just part of your life and something you need to embrace in a positive way”.
For ideas on how to enjoy the gay scene and be a part of the wider gay community, GMFA have a directory of gay and gay friendly sports clubs and social groups. Visit www.gmfa.org.uk/theguide.
For help anywhere in the UK try London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard: 0300 330 0630
Breaking the habit
These three simple steps can help, according to Anna Fielding, Head of Editorial for the advice website www.thesite.org.
First, reinvent your routine. “If you’re used to dancing with saucer eyes most Saturdays, then it might be wise to avoid clubbing for a while,” advises Anna. “It doesn't have to be forever, just long enough for you to get back in touch with having a good time on your own terms.”
Second, tell your friends what you’re doing, so they’re less likely to wave temptation under your nose. “There’s no shame in wanting to straighten out, either for a temporary period, or permanently,” she says.
Third, find something else to fill your time – avoiding temptation is one thing, but it doesn’t amount to much if you’re left with nothing to do but stare at the TV. Anna explains: “Be creative with your time, and do things your habit would otherwise have prevented.” Like driving a car or talking sense perhaps.
If you need more help, think about trying your GP. “They’ll be able to suggest local support services and in extreme cases can even arrange a detox programme,” says Peter Stevens, agony uncle for gay magazine QX.
Anyone who thinks they’re an addict and wants to help themselves should look up their local Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous – both run separate gay groups.
For information on alcohol, drugs or if you feel you need help, visit www.londonfriend.org.uk
This article is taken from FS magazine issue 132, which was published in October 2012. To read the issue in full, click here.
Follow the author Stuart Haggas on twitter @GetStuart
Follow FS on twitter here.