Straight to Work

Canada is a country of labourers; a nation of hard working loggers, fishermen, farmers, and miners, toiling away in remote rural environments. To Canadians, these men are deemed rugged, resourceful, and above all heterosexual. However there is something we tend to overlook: some of these heterosexual men are having sex with one another.

These men are working in majority male-only environments remotely perched in the corners of our most rural landscapes, and on Vancouver Island such men have existed for a long time according to the anecdotal evidence available. Some might suggest that anecdotes are little to go on as evidence, but I disagree. Sometimes, these narratives of lived human experience are all we have in the face of a research void. Through these narratives we are learning that there are men having sex with men in a “MSM Vacuum;” a sex space that exists in isolation from and without connection to the social and cultural norms and expectations of men’s sexuality. Studies have explored this idea of a stand-alone MSM vacuum, such as research around rural gay experiences, incarcerated men and their sex practices, and the sex practices of men in the military. However, no research seems to have been done about specific rural work-based male-dominated labour environments.

Instead, these moments exist in a vacuum where the activities taking place within it are not connected to the outside world, and therefore divided from social expectations on sexuality, gender roles, and societal norms. For many of these men the key to entering into this vacuum is through the use of substances, such as alcohol, marijuana, or other harder drugs. If consequence-free MSM sex is the box, then the use of substance is the key to unlocking it.

This substance use could be interpreted in many ways. Does intoxication provide freedom from consequences in the decision making process? Does it lower a guard around secret sexual preferences, or create a heightened state where impulse control decreases? Or is it the absence of available female partners? Without more formidable research into the topic, this might be something we are left wondering over for a long time. The two consistent pieces of this MSM vacuum that have been shared with me thus far are a) this vacuum occurs often after substance use, and b) the use of condoms or other prevention barriers are virtually non-existent within these spaces.

With that in mind, how do we in turn create approachable HIV/STI prevention programming for MSM when some of these men identify as straight, and the prevention messages are directed toward gay/bisexual identified men? Accessing and engaging the varied MSM populations has always been a challenge in HIV work, and looking at men in this MSM vacuum might offer some further insights into how we can implement sexual health programming that is approachable to any and all men that engage sexually with other men. Perhaps HIV/STI prevention work will go further if we explore how sexuality is something more internal and experiential than longitudinal; perhaps straight men having sex with other men are simply straight men having sex with men.

samuel salvati

Author: Samuel Salvati, Men’s Wellness Program Coordinator, AIDS Vancouver Island

**Please note that the material presented here does not necessarily imply endorsement or agreement by individuals at the Centre for Addictions Research of BC

Social Space, Sexual Identity and Substance Use

In many big cities, the main social scenes of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) communities centre on gay clubs and bars. These spaces allow individuals, who may feel socially isolated, a safe venue to express themselves outside the heteronormative (heterosexuality as the perceived norm) spaces of daily living.  In recent years, the selection of safe social spaces for LGBTQ has increased, but clubs and bars still remain a cornerstone. As such, many LGBTQ people see going to these bars and clubs as a cultural norm. Unfortunately in many cases, social spaces such as these may foster and incorporate the use of alcohol and recreational drugs into that cultural norm.

Research shows sexual minorities have greater substance use rates than the general population. Since 2008, we have coordinated the Centre for Addictions Research of BC’s High Risk Population Surveys, a project interviewing active drug users in Victoria and Vancouver.  Last year we published a paper based on this data in the journal Culture, Health & Sexuality examining substance use and sexual identity. Would sexual identity signal increased substance use in a group of active users, or would the fact they were already using drugs cancel out sexual identity’s predictive effect?

What we found was that even among active substance users, sexual identity was still a strong predictor for certain types of drugs. Mainly, the social drugs of alcohol, ecstasy and ketamine were found to be more likely used by lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB)-identified than straight-identified participants. In addition, LGBs reported greater negative impacts to areas such as finances, health, and social lives from ecstasy and ketamine than straight participants. The social nature of these substances leads one to think back to the social spaces that dominate the LGBTQ communities and how many revolve around the use of alcohol and associated substances. Even among active users, the resilient effect of sexual identity remains.

Tremendous strides are continually being made in expanding the options for LGBTQ to meet and socialize in venues that are welcoming and safe outside of the club and bar scene.  Success has been experienced by Vancouver Coastal Health through their ‘CALL Out!’ project as well as the Trans Youth Drop-in, strengthening socialization and engagement in these communities.  As well, local queer resource centres such as QMUNITY in Vancouver continue to foster social connections for all ages through a variety of groups and activities. As the focus on bars and clubs as the main spaces for socialization continues to diffuse, along with the increasing social acceptance of LGBTQ individuals, it will be interesting to see whether sexual identity remains a predictor for substance use in the future.

clifton chow Vallance Kate-

Authors: Clifton Chow, Research Affiliate, Centre for Addictions Research of BC; Kate Vallance, Research Associate, Centre for Addictions Research of BC

**Please note that the material presented here does not necessarily imply endorsement or agreement by individuals at the Centre for Addictions Research of BC