By Rachel Woodward, May 23, 2017 —
The William Fairman and Max Gogerty documentary Chemsex depicts the lifestyles of gay men in London who engage in chemsex — sex that incorporates drug use. The film is tough to watch. It is uncensored and evokes fear and discomfort, as the film graphically depicts men having sex while using drugs.
The film starts by dealing with what it means to be a young, gay man living in London, bombarded by the chemsex lifestyle. A heavy population of gay drug users use apps like Grindr to find and solicit drugs and sex from other men. Chemsex follows a group of gay men during the course of a year as they move in and out of the community, deal with the anxieties of being HIV-positive and struggle with addiction. The film analyzes the community’s drug use and examines different paths to rehabilitation.
Near the beginning, I was concerned that the film was romanticizing drug use and sex as the men explained the reasons they indulge in chemsex. About halfway through the film, the topic of these men being HIV-positive emerges and the mood changes dramatically. The reality that these individuals risk their lives with each sexual encounter in order to get high and have sex is something that allows this film to break boundaries. It’s then able to educate viewers about the epidemic surrounding gay men in London.
The most shocking part of this film is the candid portrayal of drug use and the sad reality of the individuals whose interactions with sex and drugs have led them to become addicts in other parts of their lives. The age differences among the men interviewed is interesting because it allows audiences to see how the cycle of chemsex begins and ends. Watching the individuals repeat their addictive behaviour is frustrating and heartbreaking.
The documentary explores the deeper motivations behind drug use during sex and the escape that chemsex provides. Though it is hard to watch at times, it’s an important narrative for an epidemic that needs to be talked about.
Chemsex will screen as part of this year’s Fairy Tales Queer Film Festival on Friday, May 26 at 7:00 p.m. at the Plaza Theatre.
For tickets, visit fairytalesfilmfest.com