This article was published on November 14th, 2016
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Social Services, more than half of all gay men will battle chemical addiction over the course of his lifetime. This incomprehensible statistic speaks volumes on the state of the gay lifestyle; gay men have been deeply affected by substance abuse. It is difficult to make sense of the fact that such a large percentage of gay men end up with drug addictions. Of all the drugs bombarding the community, methamphetamine (meth), is unparalleled and reaching epidemic status within LGBTQ culture worldwide. Amphetamine use is alarmingly elevated for gay men. The gay population is 40 percent more likely than heterosexuals to engage in methamphetamine use. Vulnerable and at-risk gay men have become the perfect targets.
The surprise release of Lady Gaga’s long anticipated single Perfect Illusion caught many off guard and arrived with the most perfect timing. It dropped a few weeks ago; a time in LGBTQ history when methamphetamine use has reached epidemic status. Social media has been blowing up over the release and countless posts referencing Gaga’s new song overtook social feeds around the world. Mother Monster was back, and promised to usher in a new Gaga era; maybe even her most socially conscious era to date. Many were taken with the rock fused track and gutsy, powerhouse vocals. Specific attention was given to one melodic word: amphetamine.
Did Gaga just allude to and reference meth? Moving past the use of amphetamine and finding two possibly layered stories in just this one song is fascinating. The two competing themes interpreted in the song were one of a lover concluding that their relationship was a front, an illusion. The other was that of an individual filling the love void in their life through drug use; specifically, that of methamphetamine.
The realization that people who use drugs to numb their feelings was brought to the forefront. Common threads run through all addicts; whether it is trauma, physical or emotional abuse, bullying, molestation, sexual abuse, rape, or even abandonment and LGBTQ discrimination. Gay men have been struggling with these issues for millennia.
Gay men lack the natural guidance in life that straight individuals take for granted. There has been no expected or natural path them to follow. No foundation with which to build their futures on. Gay men do not grow up being groomed to one day meet a same sex partner, get married, father and raise children as gay men, watch their families grow, and one day come full circle by seeing their children complete the cycle. Not to mention having to grow up with bullying, hate, ignorance, and discrimination due to being a gay man. It is no wonder substance abuse has always been rooted in the gay culture.
While coming down from the drug it is common for users to experience psychosis. Questioning reality or hallucinations is caused by days without sleep and excessive use, the thought that their life was not real, creating a Truman Show-esque reality. Perfect Illusion brought forth what few had ever done; it spoke to individuals, challenged their thinking, and enabled people to feel that someone understood.
Could it have been that Lady Gaga cared so much about the methamphetamine issue and in turn crafted a song that spoke to the subconscious? Realizing that Gaga put so much thought into a song helped bridged the gap between the brain and addiction. Some people had breakthroughs and understood why they were using. Others were touched and inspired by the influence of the song to see the light at the end of the tunnel and felt the power of hope again. It was a form of motivation to finally make changes, to fight harder, and not give up on the meaningful dreams people had in their lives, but have lost hope in. The song is more than a symbol to many fans, and will always be a reminder of how far they have come. The song became a perfect coping skill.
Gaga has, in turn, helped addicts begin the monumental process of saving their own lives. It’s proof that one’s voice can truly inspire and make a difference. Focusing on reality, it is of note that rehabilitation programs can’t automatically take away someone’s addiction. It also means that once leaving treatment an addict is highly likely to use again; to relapse. Relapse is a powerful kind of guilt and shame. It can be seen as failure, but it shouldn’t. Statistically, relapse does happen, but maybe a relapse after rehabilitation will now be the motivation some can use to fully comprehend the value of believing in hope.
There was no expectation that Lady Gaga would release a song that would become a catalyst that could reach them and nudge them into truly dealing with their methamphetamine addictions. Perfect Illusion is a special twist of fate. Many times, over, addicts are looked at as being less than. Stigmas, pity, and disgust rule society’s view of addicts; however, Lady Gaga offered her hand to addicts through the use of song and let them know that they will never be alone. A beautiful and important gesture so brilliantly executed.
Once an addict seeks out treatment and dedicates themselves to recovery they will have an army of coping skills to help combat cravings, but they will also begin to feel hope again. Understanding triggers, and being prepared to fight off relapse any and every time it tries to make its way into an addicts life. Family and friends are an integral part of any addiction recovery program. They are the scaffolding in the journey and need to be open enough to learn how to help and heal along with the addict; no one can ever do that alone.
An addict many times over loses sight of hope and give up on their dreams ever coming true. Everyone is deserving of being loved and valued. After rehabilitation, a new world is opened to an addict and they become a stronger person in the process. Gaga is a living legend, and has left a lasting impact on humanity. Sometimes the simplest gifts can mean the most. With that said, the words ‘thank you’ seem the appropriate gift from the LGBTQ community to Gaga. Thank you for using a musical illusion to save lives.
The song was in no way designed to be the cookie cutter, automatic number one hit that many prefabricated and exploitative artists of today focus on putting out. It is a challenging and rare song that not only drops a new sound onto the pop landscape, but also has social significance. It is a daring song that will never get the credit it deserves; but then again, Gaga never asks for credit. She has paved the way for new sounds and socially relevant music to become more acceptable in the future.
The community should forever be in debt to heroes like Gaga, and the lifesaving work that rehabilitation centers do. Perfect Illusion ends with the words “somewhere in all the confusion, you were so perfect. You were a perfect illusion.” Those words perfectly sum up one’s relationship with meth.
Using temporarily takes the pain away. Yet, it leaves the user bewildered and questioning reality from the psychosis of coming down. It has become that dysfunctional, abusive, and codependent relationship that is just too difficult to break away from. Addiction is no cakewalk and many continue to struggle. Even though addicts can have good days where they feel like they are conquering their addictions; most will still have rough days.
No one ever sets out to become a methamphetamine addict, but the nature of the beast is that the drug is one of the most addictive substances ever created. When an individual is open, transparent, and visible during their entire addiction experience; it can help so many. It has the power to affect people and can shed new light on our understanding of addiction. Even just a few years ago it was rare and nearly unheard of to talk about methamphetamine addiction. It was stigmatized as affecting individuals living on the outskirts of proper society. That stigma was completely wrong and did a tremendous amount of damage. The use of the drug spread like wildfire. As the drug spread so did HIV. Gaga and her song Perfect Illusion have affected the LGBT community beyond comprehension.
Perfect Illusion is a gift to addicts; a gift of life. It has inspired people and unexpectedly given them hope. The idea of a song connecting methamphetamine use as filling the love void has been a powerful motivator. The majority of gay men yearn to find true love and many hope to have a family of their own. They need to hear that love is not an illusion; it is real.
Perfect Illusion has become motivation for some addicts to seek treatment, to make changes, and to give them hope that they will overcome. There will be setbacks along the way. Maybe, just maybe, those rough days and relapse experiences will motivate addicts to use their setbacks as leaning experiences to remain sober.
The power of a song has given the community renewed hope against methamphetamine addiction. Thank you just doesn’t seem enough. It’s quite possible Lady Gaga will feel gratitude and love from her Little Monsters. Looking upon the crowds that will flock to see her concerts and on stage is where the real thank you will be evident. Knowing she has impacted the lives of many gay men who struggle with addiction and seeing the humanity of those in the crowd should touch her as she has touched them.