The house in central St. Petersburg is tidy, functional and rather nondescript. Nine months ago, however, it was entirely different. There was a full SM dungeon in the guest room, replete with cages and all manner of paraphernalia. Strobe lights flashed, techno music blared, and TVs flickered porno images virtually around the clock. Empty syringes, pot pipes and crack pipes littered the furniture. Sex toys were strewn all over. Naked men writhed in drug-fueled sextasy, anywhere, everywhere.
"You'd be just as apt to find a dildo in the dishwasher as a plate," says Lloyd, sipping a cup of hot tea with Splenda at the wooden table in his kitchen. He is nine months into recovery from an extended addiction to crystal methamphetamine. Lloyd is among a growing legion of gay men who are falling under the spell of the stimulant — known as meth, crystal or, most common in the gay community, "tina."
Tina is attractive because it provides long bursts of energy, a sense of euphoria and well being, and it can make you (along with anyone else who is doing it with you) horny as hell. You have to admit, it sounds like fun.
Tina also has the power, in many cases, to take over lives, to drop its users into a cycle of dependence and depravity, to keep them up for days on end, partying and engaging in extreme, often unprotected, sex — followed by cruel crashes that can leave them deeply depressed, even suicidal.
As portrayed in the mainstream media, crystal meth is a rural drug, "hillbilly crack," cooked in trailers and geeking up low-class white folk. Drug enforcement officials and addiction experts generally agree that methamphetamine has yet to deeply infiltrate Florida's urban areas. Instead, crack cocaine maintains its stronghold on the street.
But meth is making inroads via subcultures. At the moment, it's the party/sex drug of choice among many gay men in Tampa Bay. Local substance abuse professionals and gay activists are reluctant to label meth's surge in popularity an epidemic, yet they fear it might become one. Their counterparts in South Florida, however, don't blink when calling it an epidemic there. Gays in many other cities, mostly on the East and West coasts, say methamphetamine has devastated large swaths of their communities.
Experts worry that meth use will lead to the increased spread of HIV and other STDs because of its association with high-risk sexual behavior. They also see a potential for it to spread to the broader club scene, and then to the population at large. It's a scary possibility, which the Tampa Bay health-care infrastructure is frankly not prepared to deal with.
For a guy nine months from death's door — which is where Lloyd says he was last May — he looks pretty good. With his dark hair flecked gray, the waiter looks a bit older than his 36 years. He wears a maroon button-down shirt, jeans and boat shoes with "Joe Boxer" rimming the souls. He's gregarious, even boisterous at times, and by and large looks relaxed and happy.He moved to St. Petersburg from San Francisco in 1993, with a lover more than 20 years his senior. His previous drug use had not reached problem proportions. For quite some time in St. Pete, Lloyd eschewed the gay social scene, choosing instead the domestic life, playing video games and spending time with his straight neighbors. He drank some and smoked a little pot.
He landed a low-paying job in computer services at a large brokerage house. By 2001, he had worked his way up to assistant vice president with an $80,000-a-year salary. He had a house, a Saab, two dogs and two cats, but the relationship with his partner was souring. On a trip to New Orleans for a major gay circuit party, they had a fight. Lloyd hit the clubs alone, dropped a pill that he now figures was Ecstasy, and "pulverized myself on everything. I walked back to the hotel naked in boots, with a jock strap slung over my shoulder."
After returning to St. Pete, Lloyd reconciled with his partner, but started doing GHB and "crank," low-grade methamphetamine. During Christmas 2001, he and his partner split. "I can't watch you destroy yourself," his lover said. This left Lloyd free to do more drugs and rekindle his sexual adventurism. Once a leather boy in San Francisco, he broke out the old duds and started hitting the clubs and bathhouses. Tina became his main drug. He graduated from snorting to "slamming" — injecting it into his veins. Sleepless weekend binges involving little but sex and meth became commonplace. He had no real friends, only sex-and-drug accomplices.
Lloyd began missing Fridays and Mondays at work. He'd nod off in the middle of conversations. "They fired me for performance," he says, "But they knew I had a problem. I would've fired me too."