One of the most brutal and hard-hitting documentaries of this year, William Fairman and Matt Gogarty present an emotionally compelling film about the lives of those affected by chemsex. Chemsex is a term used to refer to the use of drugs in a sexual context, often indulging in methadone, GHB (gammahydroxybutrate) and crystal meth. This emerging scene is known to be developing within London. The city has become a hub for drug use. Chemsex leaves nothing to the imagination and provides an honest look at a worsening epidemic in the gay community.
Chemsex targets the use of drugs in the gay community, attempting to answer why they engage in these activities, despite being fully aware of the danger. Is it just extreme hedonistic wants or does the issue go deeper? For many, chemsex provides a sense of euphoric escape for a community which is still afflicted by HIV and homophobia. The film focuses on the extreme subculture that’s soared in popularity in the last few years. This growing phenomenon can be attributed to the popularity of mobile apps such as Grindr that make anonymous sex much more possible, at the click of a button.
Interviews from men who have all been affected by this epidemic hit hard, as you learn that many want to escape this way of life, however have found themselves too deeply entwined to free themselves. David Stuart, one of the interviewees, is an advisor at London’s Soho Sexual Health Clinic on Dean Street who attempts to find the much deeper causes for this substance abuse. Dr Stuart feels that chemsex is causing a medical health emergency in the gay community as the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C begins to increase due to the lack of protection in chemsex weekends.
The film’s message is not one of education, but one that looks at the anguish and isolation these individuals endure, forced to come to terms with the consequences of experimenting with such dangerous drugs. Whilst the film provides a powerful story through (at times unnecessary) graphic images and intimate interviews, it fails to inform the audience on how to protect yourself if you do engage in chemsex. Neither does it delve into the reasons why these men engage in transgressive activities nor the benefits these men gain from chemsex, which is only glossed over. These issues can lead to the stigmatisation of a community, encouraging scaremongering from the media by putting out such a cautionary message, yet the filmmakers’ concern is with those who are already involved, rather than preventing this altogether.
Nonetheless, Chemsex provides an honest account of these men’s lives who struggle to break away from this scene. It is a sad film as you witness the struggles these men face as they try to free themselves of this consuming addiction, but is an engaging one, too, that really humanises its subjects. At times it can be tough to watch, yet what you get from the film is a complex understanding of these men and the mountains they face every day.
Image courtesy of The Telegraph