Of Meth and Men

In public, gay men once called meth "Christina" because it sounded like "crystal." The nickname was soon shortened to "Chrissy," then changed again to "Tina" by the time Rod Rushing finally decided to get rid of the bitch.

Rod and Tina had been up for a night, maybe two, three or more, and hard rain was pouring down when Rod sought shelter -- and help -- at Addiction Research and Treatment Services, a clinic in City Park West. In 2003, more and more gay men were showing up at ARTS with meth addictions. They were all assigned to Bob Dorshimer's caseload.

Bob took Rod to the clinic's conference room, where they sat down for lunch. It was the first food Rod had eaten in days.

As he ate, he talked with Bob about the rising popularity of the "party and play" scene in the Mile High City. Men who craved meth-fueled sex could find each other by surfing websites and chat rooms or cruising the bathhouses in town and searching out the party. But Bob could see that the party was about over for Rod.

"I thought to myself, "Wow, look what meth is doing, look what meth has done to this man,'" Bob remembers. "It had taken away his job and his career; he was homeless, and all he had left was meth."

Bob told Rod that kicking the addiction would be a long, hard journey, one that would require a full commitment.

In the months that followed, Rod kept relapsing -- but Bob never gave up on him. Rod would get a job and get a place -- and then get high, get laid and get fired. He drifted in and out of a couple of support groups for meth addicts. The other people in those groups were always straight, and explaining his meth/sex addiction to them was uncomfortable.

It seemed that everywhere he looked for help, a heterosexual was looking back. Everywhere except at his sessions with Bob.

"I can't be the only gay guy trying to get off meth," Rod said. "Where are all the boys I partied with?"

Today, finding gay sex and meth in Denver is so easy that even an evangelical from Colorado Springs can do it. But finding gay-geared treatment to kick the addiction is not.

"Gay men are showing each other how to use crystal," Rod said. "So it only makes sense that gay men would be the ones to show each other how to quit." And three years after he first went to Bob for help, Rod is leading the way.

Rod was born in a small Illinois farm town in 1958. His father joined the military and left town; his mother was unstable, and later diagnosed as bipolar. When Rod was in the fifth grade, he was raped by a boy about five years older. Rod remembers thinking that it was normal behavior, that everyone did it -- but he also knew it wasn't something that people talked about.

Rod started experimenting with drugs early, popping his mother's Seconal, a barbiturate he thinks she got from her dentist. He was smoking pot and drinking before high school. By the time he was a sophomore, he'd moved on to acid and Quaaludes.

In 1974, when he was sixteen, Rod told his mother he was gay. She didn't take the news well, and he left the farm for the city. In Chicago, he lived with a Puerto Rican drag queen for a while and then with a couple, working as a go-go boy and a bartender. Rod was partying a lot, falling in and out of friendships, but he remained a self-described "spinster."

He got a job running Medusa's, a new after-hours club owned by a friend. It was only open two days a week, but the popular party spot paid well. Rod worked with people he loved and felt he was doing something positive for the city, because the place attracted such a diverse, peaceful crowd.

Then AIDS hit.

"My best friend started getting sick," Rod recalls, "and I tried to take care of him as best as I could for a while, but it started to spiral down from there. I thought, 'My God, I'm a much bigger slut than he is, and if he gets this, I'm going to get this.'"

People in the neighborhood were wasting away. Some of Rod's friends lost up to a third of their body weight and had no energy. Rod had to wear gloves, a gown, a mask and a head scarf to visit them in the hospital. Watching their bodies convulsing kept him off sex for a year.

But one day, the pressure got to him. "Fuck it," he thought, and he became far more promiscuous than he'd ever been before.

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Luke Turf