Directors: William Fairman and Max Gogarty.
The quest for sexual euphoria is examined as a sad acting-out of disenfranchisement and addiction issues in Chemsex, an achingly intimate and insightful study of a self-destructive sub-culture amongst London’s gay male community.
Backed by global web presence VICE, documentarians William Fairman and Max Gogarty do not flinch in their depiction of a party scene that combines the immediate nature of social media contact platforms with the availability and acceptance of chemicals such as crystal meth (or ‘Tina’), GBL/GBH and mephedrone. Their camera is afforded access to ‘chemsex’ events, in which men of all ages from all social strata ‘slam’ their drugs of choice and partake in orgies with predominantly anonymous partners sourced online.
Fairman and Gogarty present subjects for whom the sex/drug party culture and ‘hook-up’ network has become the singular controlling force in their lives. Each young man relates a story unique and moving in the telling, but which ultimately ends in the depths of depression and that moment of realisation that addiction is upon them. When these instances of clarity are captured on film, it proves undeniably profound; the bravery each subject exhibits in recounting shocking moments of often life-threatening self-abuse makes for heartbreaking footage.
Chemsex also reveals the unhinged personalities for whom young, naïve men seeking validation via a drug-induced haze represent a gateway opportunity to anti-social behaviour. Several of the subjects recount evenings that have veered dangerously off course; one recalls having a cocktail of drugs forced upon him only to awaken hours later battered and bruised on a bathroom floor. At its most shocking, this predatory element is personified by those who partake in HIV transmission as an extreme form of sado-masochistic practice.
The inevitable regret, shame and humiliation that chemsex partygoers experience is central to the documentary’s raison d’etre. In addition to the dungeons and dance clubs, Fairman and Gogarty also visit 56 Dean Street, the U.K.’s only clinic for mental and sexual health issues amongst the LGBTQI community. Here, health worker David Stuart deals with addicts of chemsex culture, while acting as narrator-of-sorts for the production. Himself a recovering sufferer of substance abuse and emotional trauma, Stuart is a square-jawed embodiment of newfound health and maximised potential, his very presence sending a none-to-subtle message as to just how much better a sober life can be.
Those of a weak constitution beware, as the film graphically captures both the free-spirited sexual highs and needle-and-vein desperation that is inherent to chemsex culture. More challenging still is the raw emotionality of the subjects who tell their stories. As shocking as the details of chemsex life are revealed to be, it is the universality of the struggle each of these men face that ultimately defies orientation and gender. The note of hope that the film ends on can and should be felt by everyone.
Read our two-part feature The History of LGBT Cinema in Australia here.
Chemsex will screen as part of the 2016 Mardi Gras Film Festival. Session and ticketing information can be found at the event’s official website.
The film is being distributed in Australia by Bounty Films.