You’ve seen her on the apps: Tina, or T. Or perhaps she took the form of the ice cream emoji, or went by “PNP”. Meth use in the gay community is far reaching – and no one form of recovery works for everyone.
By Barrett White
Online dating apps such as Grindr are a great way to meet individuals in the gay community, but you may notice a few guys who are looking for someone named Tina. Keep scrolling and you’ll notice that, inexplicably, there are multiple others whose autocorrect must be capitalizing all their Ts in their bios and descriptions, and frequent references to ice cream.
If you’re starting to think that this must be some kind of code language – you’re right.
This knowledge is old hat to those who have been on the apps for any length of time. Those signals: “Tina”; the capital Ts where they don’t belong; PNP (meaning “party n’ play”); or the term “chemsex” (a portmanteau of chemical and sex); all refer to methamphetamine use, usually in conjunction with sex. Oftentimes, the ice cream and diamond emojis are also used.
Meth is a highly addictive drug, and within the LGBTQ+ community, usage disproportionately affects gay men. Using meth enhances sex drive and lowers inhibitions, making it particularly desirable for individuals seeking prolonged, uninhibited sexual experiences – which is precisely why it has grown in popularity on hookup apps. But unsafe usage can easily lead to needle sharing, which is a known propagator of HIV and hepatitis, among others.
And once you hook up with Tina, the breakup is never easy.
“We have a really robust recovery community in Houston,” says Susie Loredo, an Addiction Services Social Worker at Legacy Community Health, citing roughly 2,500 weekly recovery meetings around the city each week. “But Houston lags behind other large U.S. cities in terms of meth-specific programs for adults.”
Another problem, Loredo continues, is that the lion’s share of meetings available in Houston are abstinence-based, meaning that one is expected to completely abstain from using substances while in recovery from day-one (be it alcohol, drugs, sex, or in this case, meth). That’s a problem because not all people recover the same way, and not all people can stop cold-turkey. For some, the opportunity to gradually work a recovery program could be the difference between a successful recovery and a relapse.
When referring patients to recovery, Legacy social workers such as Loredo take the patient’s profile into heavy consideration, helping to determine what type of recovery program might work best for the individual. Many recovery programs are 12-step, based in the belief of a higher power, such as God. While ideal for some, this environment is not a fix-all for a broad and diverse community.
“Many people have religion-of-origin traumas,” Loredo says. “That’s a really loaded issue for many people in the LGBTQ+ community. Some of them have been rejected by their religion of origin, and I think that’s kind of a big ask when you’re newly sober, or even considering it.”
Another recovery program that Legacy may refer patients to includes SMART Recovery, a small group setting in which “participants find and develop the power within themselves to change and lead fulfilling and balanced lives guided by [SMART’s] science-based and sensible 4-Point Program.”
Other organizations in the city, such as Montrose-based Houston Harm Reduction Alliance (HHRA), are also working to decrease the negative side effects of substance use. For them, the mission is based in reducing harmful behavior. HHRA advocates for safe needle usage, for example. They are able to do so by offering a judgement-free environment with testing for HIV and hepatitis, while operating an underground needle-exchange program. Needle exchange, while not legal in Texas, is a CDC-recommended practice.
“We show respect to our constables,” says David Duffield, President of HHRA. “We try to get clean needles into the community. One-and-a-half of 10 new HIV diagnoses, and 2 of 10 hepatitis diagnoses come from IV drug use.”
HHRA has been advocating for the legalization of needle-exchange programs in Texas for years. Duffield says that further stigmatizing of the community only leads to more unsafe behavior. For those currently struggling with substance use, the connection to judgement-free testing and care is vital for recovery.
If you are currently struggling with substance use, please consult your Legacy physician for a referral to one of our social workers, or consider joining a program near you.