The Emotions Issue: Colin Weil

Meth’s an ugly drug. Sure, it may seem like a real party, but Tina’s had a devastating impact on gay communities. In an effort to curb it’s catastrophic affects, producer Colin Weil and director Jay Corcoran have teamed up to bring us Rock Bottom.

Following six meth-users over three years, the documentary explores not only meth’s damage, but the state of the gay union, in general. Now in an extended release at New York City’s Quad Cinema, Rock Bottom sheds some light on post-AIDS fear, a generation’s crossroads and the difficult task of establishing healthy relationships.

See what Weil had to say for himself, including how his own experiences influenced his decision to produce the movie, when a gay man needs to learn to grow up and why it’s so fucking hard to find a steady date, after the jump.

We’ve also included a trailer for the flick. And be sure to roll on by tomorrow to read our interview with Corcoran.

Queerty: What made you want to get involved in this project?

Colin Weil: I’ve been public about the fact that I had a meth problem starting – the really early stages were in 2001 after 9/11, but it was really 2002, 2003. 2003 I had a very significant struggle with the drug. I was very fortunate that with the love and friends and family and good therapists and the program at GMHC, I got myself out of it. And I escaped virtually unharmed – I didn’t get HIV, I didn’t lose my house. About six months after I stopped, Peter Staley launched his anti-meth campaign. It was the first time I started thinking about what my experience represented in terms of the community. With Peter’s campaign and the statistics that were starting to come out, I started to feel like there was an important story happening in the community.

I was working with Joe Lovett – who produced the film Gay Sex in the 70s and who has been producing AIDS films for twenty years. He put AIDS on 20/20 back in the 80s. I went to him and I said, “I think there’s something happening here”. Coincidentally, Jay Corcoran had approached Joe a week earlier because of what happened with Raymond, who is in the film and is a very good friend of Jay’s. And Raymond had disappeared and when he resurfaced and when Jay found out what had been going on, he realized that this was the next chapter in the story for him. He had already made two films about AIDS.

QT: You think this is definitely an AIDS story?

CW: It’s not just an AIDS story, but it’s an important story because of the AIDS relation. If nobody were spreading a disease, it would just be a train wreck story.

QT: Well, it’s not even just about spreading the disease. More than a few people [in the movie] talked about how you burn out from being afraid. “It’s the perfect post-AIDS drug,” somebody said.

CW: People with HIV are perhaps more likely to embrace the positive aspects of the drug. I don’t think I really understood it going in, but what has become clear to me over the course of making the film is that one aspect of using meth is that you have this euphoric effect and you also have this hyper honesty: this reflection. It’s warped on the one hand, but I think there are really important truths that we reveal to ourselves and perhaps other people.

I think that what meth is revealing in the community is these deeper issues in terms of AIDS fatigue, self-loathing, shame around our sexual desires and how that manifests. I really hope the film [starts] a conversation that we’re afraid to have. It’s a conversation about how judgmental our community can be; how the body culture impact individuals. And, again, I’m not talking about all gay men – I’m talking about a subset. But it’s unfortunately a subset that has the ability to maintain the HIV epidemic, because it only takes a few people cross-pollinating with the general population. The younger generations are much less likely to practice safe sex because they don’t really understand what AIDS is and they don’t fear the disease. We know that’s the problem with some younger gay men – they are just ignorant. They may not ever touch the drug, they may have no clue about the drug, but they may come into contact with somebody who in their meth use contracted HIV and they don’t know that and it’s right after you are infected that you are the most contagious. That’s how we’re maintaining these numbers. I’ve been doing AIDS work for almost 20 years and I think it’s unbelievable how the community – the visible, public gay male community – have sort of stopped talking about the disease for the most part.

It’s that whole thing that we’ve moved to HIV: a more palatable idea to think about than AIDS. For all of the good reasons that we have to protect and support people living with HIV and living with AIDS and try to destigmatize AIDS – in doing that, there are people who don’t think it’s a big deal.

Because the discussion is so much more about HIV, there is no discussion of AIDS anymore. [We] are not trying to protect people from HIV, we’re trying to protect people from AIDS. I think as a community, we have to be willing to question everything we’ve done in the recent past. To whatever extent there’s been a benefit for a great number of people, there’s a group of people who did not get benefits from these efforts. We need to get into that corner somehow. We think the film is a piece of that story, but it’s by no means the only problem in that story. Again, just as many or more people or more people who aren’t using meth are getting or giving HIV because of their attitudes[about] safe sex.

We know that about half of new infections occur [when] the person with HIV knows [it]… They’re not knowingly infecting, they’re knowingly not protecting their partner and leaving it up to partners to protect themselves. That’s an attitude that I believe was created by the way that we handle supporting and protecting people living with HIV and concerns about people being prosecuted, being quarantined. I think that we have created this attitude that it’s up to the negative party to protect themselves. Today you have young people who just don’t know better. And then you have somebody living with HIV who has been trained to assume that the people are taking care of themselves, so there’s no conversation. Without that conversation, you have transmission.

QT: Were you in a relationship while using?

CW: I was not in relationship. What the drug gave me was access to a type of intimacy – a type of emotional intimacy with a physical intimacy that I was – I had turned 35, I was single and I was having trouble connecting emotionally with gay men. I was dating [but] I could never seem to have emotional and physical intimacy together. One of the things that attracted me to meth was this very intense connection that I had with a couple of people. I was aware that it was obviously heightened by the drug, but at the same time it was also real. I think that part of the experience – it manifests differently for different people. That’s what becomes the target – that’s what you start chasing.

QT: Have you dated since?

CW: I have dated since I got clean, yes.

QT: How does it differ?

CW: It has been frustrating and disappointing, as it was before. Obviously I have my own issues and I’ve had a lot of challenges in my life – I haven’t really been in a place where I think I’ve been available, because as soon as I got clean, I started making this film and it’s been all encompassing for the last three years. At the same time, I think there are – certainly for my generation, for being 40, being gay and male and single and middle-aged, there are a lot of inherent challenges in that. I have a lot of friends who are in relationships and I get that it works for them, but it’s not a relationship that I would want to be in. I have a lot straight friends and I see their relationships – long-term, children – and I have a fairly intimate understanding of these relationships. I [know] what kind of relationship I want to be in, but I don’t see it very often in the gay community. I don’t see monogamy very often. To me, a relationship has always been about monogamy. Not as a judgmental, moral thing, but because that’s the way I understand how to maintain the kind of emotional bond that I want to have. I’m willing to make that sacrifice and I don’t accept that someone can’t make that – I get that it’s a sacrifice, [but] I think it’s free will and a choice.

I don’t find a lot of men who think that. Not that there aren’t lots of men who do and God knows there are lots of monogamous gay couples out there, but nothing in how we commune via HX and Next Magazine and via the bars and the clubs, none of those things promote that kind of [relationship]. I think that’s also a big piece of why meth is happening, where it’s happening and how it’s happening. How else do we connect? There’s still such a premium on that kind of nightlife and the online. And online is really a key piece of it. Without the internet, it would have been much less likely that so many people would have found out about this hot sex scene and this drug.

QT: So how can we stop this?

CW: I think there are two aspects. I think awareness is key. For people to make the decision to stop, they have to become aware of what they’re giving up and make a decision if they want that back. Whether it’s some sort of intervention or just something helping them recognize that – in a twelve-step program or therapy. I think that one thing that is very clear is that recovery happens in stages.

Everybody has to be aware and on the look out for signs because you never know when you have a chance to intervene at an earlier stage. I think that some sort of therapeutic experience is really critical for anyone who is using, so they really have a chance to reflect.

I think there’s just a lot of self-loathing [in the gay community]. There’s a lot of shame around our sex, our sexual behavior and I think that’s what has to be lifted for people who think [meth] is a great idea. If you have happy, love-filled sex, you’re not going to go searching for an alternative kind of sex. I’ve heard enough stories from people in relationships who use meth outside the relationship.

We have to ask ourselves – I know that I’m going to get a lot of flack for [this] – we have to ask ourselves if we’re too selfish. Just because you can do anything, does not mean you should do anything. Monogamy is not a moral, judgmental thing, but some might say it’s a practical solution to keeping a relationship together because of the challenges that are inherent in having an open relationship. I think that meth is proof of that.

We have to still maintain priorities – people rely on us. I feel like gay men – had AIDS not happened, I think the generation of men we lost to AIDS who did all of that and they probably would have tapered off. My generation is the first generation to hit 40 as a critical mass. We’re the first gay men to move into our forties as a group and we’re not largely dying. The question is, “What patterns are we setting?” Are we distinguishing our forties from our thirties from our twenties? Again, many individuals are, but the visible community that you can access when you land here from Peoria – the visible community is doing the same thing. It’s this very sexually oriented culture. I don’t think that’s sustainable.

At the end of the day, it’s most important to get people talking. Also, I think the other thing mentoring is a really critical piece. I think for people your age to know and being able to visualize stages in your life is really important. My generation – we didn’t have that as a group. People who were forty died, nobody got to fifty when I was twenty-five – this idea that we literally don’t know what it looks like to grow up, I think is really a challenge for some people. It just feels more comfortable for some people to stay “young” and sexy. I think this film can help people rethink priorities on that front.