Drugs as technologies of the self: Enhancement and transformation in LGBTQ cultures21 June 2021
The consumption of drugs has long been a mainstay of urban queer cultures and it is well-recognised that complex connections exist between sexual minoritisation and desires to chemically alter bodily experience. Yet despite evidence that rates of consumption are higher among LGBTQ populations, research exploring the gendered and sexual dynamics of these forms of consumption is limited and tends to frame such consumption as a response to stigma, marginalisation and discrimination. Against this dominant explanatory frame, this article explores the diverse experiences of LGBTQ consumers, and in so doing highlights both the pleasures and benefits of consumption, as well as potential risks and harms. Contributing to the growing body of ontopolitically oriented research that treats the materiality of drugs as emergent and contingent, we trace the ontologies of drugs, sexuality and gender that LGBTQ subjects generate through specific practices of consumption. Our analysis draws on qualitative interviews with 42 self-identified LGBTQ people from an Australian study designed to explore how sexual and gender-diverse minorities pursue particular drug effects to enhance or transform their experience of gender and/or sexuality. Our participants’ accounts illuminate how drug consumption materialises in relation to sex, desire and play where it enhances pleasure, facilitates transgression and increases endurance. In the context of gender variance, our findings suggest that drug use can transform gendered experience and enable the expression of non-normative gender identities, in the process challenging gender binarism. By considering the productive role of drugs in enacting queer identities, this article treats drugs as ‘technologies of the self’ (Foucault 1988) and explores how drug consumption, sex and gender shape each other across a range of settings. We conclude by reflecting on the implications of our findings for research and service provision, and suggest ways of engaging LGBTQ consumers in terms that address their diverse priorities and experiences.