Tweaker.org is one of the finest harm reduction websites around dedicated to delivering respectful information to gay and bisexual men who are partying with crystal. Speedometer caught up with Kevin Mosley, who is a counselor with the Stonewall Project and one of the masterminds behind tweaker.org, to tell us more about the site.
How long has tweaker.org been around? A little bit about the history....
In 1997, the Stop AIDS Project posed a very important question "What are the most important issues around HIV transmission among gay men?" Merchants in the Castro and SoMa mentioned speed as something that would ultimately affect their customers and thus the business in their venues. Stop AIDS Project then took the question to a larger audience when they created "talking walls" in the Castro, SoMa and on their website; the community at large were encouraged to offer their answers to the same question. At the end of this outreach effort a social marketing campaign addressing speed and HIV was born.
The first part, the Crissy campaign (above) featured different images and messages which appeared in gay bars, sex venues and bus shelters in the Castro and SoMa meant to encourage discussion and raise consciousness about the link between speed use and sexual risk taking. Part two was launched when tweaker.org went live! In 2001, the Stonewall Project was funded to create a peer-based outreach program and opted to pursue tweaker.org as a web-based arm of this outreach. And in 2002, with the help of a project team made up of peer educators, volunteers and staff, the website was re-launched with a new face, a new focus and newly invigorated passion. While we've taken some of the site in different directions since then, we've definitely been building on the original work all along.
Speedometer: The tweaker.org website is huge.
Kevin Now, it's like a monster. This is really computer goober stuff, but I encourage people visiting tweaker.org to use the site map option, that'll show you everything so if you are looking for something specific you'll find it.
What kinds of needs is tweaker.org trying to address? What are the main goals?
The main goal of the site is to provide information as accurately as we can about what meth is and what its not and what it does and what it doesn't do.
Why people use, why people might change their use, stop their use, whatever.
The site offers all sorts of information, but as many sides of information as possible- so it's not pro or con, a yes or a no, an anti or a pro stance...to give gay and bi guys who do use, may have used, have stopped using, have never used meth...information so they can make decisions about what they want to do, or not do, or change.
We try to keep it as nonjudgmental as possible. I don't think we always hit that mark, but we are constantly re-writing it and taking it apart to keep it fresh and on target.
What would you say is different about tweaker.org?
What's different is, all along we have come from that harm reduction stance. The website visitor has got to decide what they are going to do- here's some information and here's some tools to choose from, to discard. The harm reduction stance kind of throws the power of decision making back on the potential consumer of the website- of the substance. We don't have that meth=death angle and we don't have "you gotta stop" as the message, or "You'll ruin your life!" Those messages work for some people. I think that those kinds of messages are more useful in drug use prevention- scaring people into never using. That's not our target audience, our desired audience is guys who do use on some continuum- and so that's how we are different. I am not harshing on the anti-speed messages, the anti message has its place in the harm reduction continuum, just like abstinence is in there, its all in there.
The site is for queer guys, it has stuff around sexuality and sex which is different than most drug education sites. You bring in a lot more stuff than just drug information, it is relevant to what guys actually do when they are high and how meth fits into a lot of guys lives...
Thank you. And that is I guess our un-spoken goal or mission, as well, is to look at meth use as more than when someone, anyone, uses meth....its not all that they do. You know what I mean? The day before they used they might have been at work...people have lives that include the drug use, so the website tries to look at how drug use fits into your whole life; your sex life, your work life, your family life, your boyfriend life, whatever, your life. Does it fit? Does it not fit? Are you making room for it to fit? How does one navigate through? To simplify, when someone uses speed that's not all that they do-even if that's sort of the way a lot of our culture looks at it. Our culture says "You are a drug user and that is all that you are" which to me is absurd, because no one is just one thing, period. So we try to address as much of one's whole life as we can. We've also got some information on there for people who don't use but have people who do use in their life. That's part of it, as well. Because if I use and my friends don't, they deal with me and the impact back and forth.
Okay, besides the site map, which comes highly recommended.... If someone was new to partying with crystal and he went to your website, where would your recommend he surf first?
New to it? Like really new to partying?
Yeah, like I snorted speed a couple times.
I would visit crystal and your body which is a little cute flash animation cartoon character that we call Sweaty Guy who drops his drawers at the end, so there is the excitement of an animated penis. As you scroll over him different organs pop out and there are bits and pieces of information about how meth impacts different organs and systems of our bodies and sort of explains what it does. Not, "It's bad!" It gets into what speed can do over prolonged use, but it basically just explains what's happening in your brain or in your kidneys when you use, regardless of whether its your first time snorting or your 100 million and eightieth time injecting. It's the same impact on the body. And that's important information for people to have. We feel the effects of meth when we use but we don't feel all the stuff that's happening on the inside, you don't consciously experience what your kidneys are going through, so to have that information is important.
Next, I'd have them visit crystal and your life. It's just chock full. That's one of those sections the site map is good for. It explains drug use versus drug dependency, it breaks down the different ways people use crystal and has detailed information on how to reduce the harm if you are shooting, smoking, snorting or eating your drugs. So I'd recommend those two sections for beginners... that info can be key.
If a guy wanted information about managing his substance use, where would you send him?
The forum. In the forum there is a topic that's called 'support for guys who wanna quit'. Now, I know the word quit is in there, but that's the easiest way we could nail it to separate it out the other 7 forum categories. Not everyone who posts to that topic is quitting, or saying that you gotta quit, it's not that angle at all. It's peer support. That's where people talk to each other about how they are managing or how they are not managing. Guys talk about what they need, what worked, what didn't work. That's a good spot on the site.
There is a section called crystal and your life that includes tweaking tips for party boys. We cuted it up and wrapped it around this 1960's stewardess air travel kind of model which has a couple of different sub sections, like "prepare for departure", "taking off", "in-flight entertainment", "coming in for a landing", and "reservation cancellation". In the tweaking tips there is lots of information about managing use, tapering and monitoring yourself, and taking care of yourself and playmates.
Do you find that people are surprised that there is such as thing as planning your use? Or planning your party, is that a new concept for most people?
Yeah. Its new for most visitors to the site and on the other side of my work life where I do counseling at the Stonewall Project, absolutely, that concept is new for most guys. It's a matter of making the plan, I am not going to say its easy... sometimes making the plan is the easier part of it- easier than doing and keeping to whatever plan of action one might have around substances use. Sometimes a plan changes when the chemistry in our brain changes. So that's the tricky part....sticking to the plan, but it can be done, and it can be done really well. To me, if you are gonna use drugs that's the way to use drugs, even if it's a daily thing, plan the mother fucker out...I'm sorry...I mean... plan the thing out. Because then you run the game and it doesn't run you.
There is some stuff on your site that I think a lot of people would find really controversial. You have really detailed stuff on different routes of administration, you have a section called weights and measures...I noticed you have a really cool part of your site that's for feedback you've gotten on your different media campaigns and your website and you put it out there. The good feedback you've gotten and you put it out there when people call your site the devil.
The feedback section is called love us or hate us.
If you have noticed, what parts of the site are most controversial?
We hear "You are teaching people how to use!" "How dare you tell people how to inject! You should tell them not to do it." We get that feedback and I respond to them and thank them for their comments and explain why we do what we do. Thank you. I kind of simmer down for a minute and then I respond. And it kind of is controversial a little bit. It's similar to Jocelyn Elders and condoms in school, really. I mean, people are going to do what they do, so why not give them tools and information about how to do things in a way that is less harmful in the long run to them?
Also, people totally rail on our logo, the little devil head guy. People dig it or they hate it.
I saw you added a new section on crystal and sex... it's really cool, would you mind telling me a little bit more about what that section is about?
Here's what we tried to do. We have always had the crystal and sex page... you'd go there and it had this LITTLE paragraph about sex and then it went right into HIV and STDs. Which are a part of sex lives and prevention messages and stuff and that's just part of the deal... but tweaker.org had nothing really about sex - sex on speed, sex off speed. It took us a long time to talk about it, write it, rewrite it, get input and all that and the first chunk about sex that went up is the for guys who are wanting to have sex without speed, maybe not forever and not only, but to work that into their combo pack, once and awhile or forever. So the section is about how to go through that process. Really what we are addressing is how difficult it can be to have sex off speed once one has had sex on speed because it's a totally different experience- so that's on there in as kind and gentle a wording as we could come up with.
There's some really concrete tips in that section, really practical stuff.
For guys who want to have sex without crystal it may mean that right now you can't go back to Blow Buddies or the End Up or Mission News or wherever you made your speed sex hookups if you are trying to learn how to have sex not using. You might have to avoid...it's that classic "avoid the stimulus" kind of thing. And re-learning intimacy might be part of it. What is intimacy? What did it ever mean to someone? What does it mean now? What might it mean in the future? I am not going to say we did a perfect job because we didn't, but it's a huge huge topic to cover in a website... on a website you gotta keep things tight and small because of the attention spans of every reader...its click click click click click.
There are a lot of things we have planned and will add to those pages, including a "sex on speed" section that'll include things like what the allure is, why is it good, why we do it, that kind of thing, its coming. And if anyone has any suggestions about that let me know...
I really liked the advice/info about forging new neural pathways and retraining your brain while you are alone jerking off ....without the pressure of a partner- experimenting and experiencing- just really practical stuff...how to re-frame sexual pleasure for yourself in body and mind. How did you guys come up with that stuff?
Some of the tips came from the behavior change counseling work we do with clients on the Stonewall side of things. Retraining your neural pathways can be done, and it sounds all fancy, it's really changing the thinking around behavior at the same time as you are doing a behavior- and it comes back together and it's going to be something different. It's not going to be what it was before the speed use and it's not going to be what it is now, it will be something different. And letting that be. And that's part of it.
You guys have a new campaign, the" Hot Sex without Crystal- Hell Yes!" campaign. Can you tell me a little about that?
Historically, all of our print campaigns have been non-photographic- they are illustrated or they are sort of pixilated, photographic images are background material. So we batted around the idea of glossy photographs of people, more traditional advertising stuff and we wanted the models to be public opinion leaders, not necessarily literally people we might know whose opinion we pay attention to- but people we think we know and model ourselves after. Like famous people who are role models and we do things that they do, consciously or not, like all of a sudden everyone wears gigantic Nicole Ritchie sunglasses. How is that? Because she does it and every magazine puts a picture and then we just do it and it becomes common culture and it's cool. So she is a public opinion leader on fashion... oddly enough... just to use that as a pop culture example.
So we asked, who do gay guys look up to...politicians? Journalists? Activists? How about porn people? Yeah, porn people- we look up to them, we know them as the persona they portray in the movies and they do things that we want to do or wish we could do or have done or whatever and we learn our sexuality though porn, gay men especially I think. So we thought, how's about photographing porn guys and attaching some sort of message to it. So during Pride last year we started contacting porn companies and we hooked up with Michael Brandon who is affiliated with Raging Stallion Studios and he said "Yes! Let's make this happen." He contacted people he knew from different studios. The studios didn't mind their guys working together or that the actors weren't promoting porn or the companies they work for, or that they were using their porn personas and stage names.
So this group of porn stars realized that they would be in town for gay pride weekend and we had a photo shoot. We came up with group shots, combo shots and solo shots. The campaign is up in the huge kiosks on Church and Market and Castro and 18th and it's on our tweaker.org site. In June we are going to be doing baseball cards- collector cards of the individual dudes who were in the photo shoot. One of the models, Matt Cole, did a lot of interviews and there is a pod cast on our site you can listen to about why he was interested in doing the tweaker.org campaign. At our last Tina's café event at Magnet Michael Brandon and a couple other porn guys performed and it was well attended- probably the best attendance we have had at Tina's café, perhaps because we promised porn dudes, you know. Right on, whatever gets people to come together to talk about and think about meth and how it relates to them and how they relate to it.
And the campaign's message...the main belief the campaign is countering is the idea
that your sex life is gonna suck if you stop playing with speed right?
Yeah, the belief that if I quit I will never have sex again or sex will be boring. That's what a lot of people believe. It may be what some guys experience, because it will be boring once and awhile, but if you think about it, sex while you're high can be boring once and awhile too, you know. And we went around and around about the words for the campaign and we decided, let's make it simple. "Hot sex without crystal. Hell yes!" Meaning whatever meaning someone wants to lay on... what it might mean personally to them, like "hell yes, you can do it", "hell yes, it's great", "hell yes, I prefer it" and that's what its about...if a guy wants to make that change... then they can do it. Simple. Some of the models have had their own experiences with that change-some haven't- their participation is no implication that they have PNP'd- but these dudes stepped up to be the public face of this message and I think its really amazing because they work in a very public industry...
The true story section on the tweaker.org site, I love it....where do those stories come from?
They are submitted online, people send us stuff- we get poems, stories, art. Some of them are really powerful. At part of Tina's café events actors have read pieces to bring the words to life. Hearing it is different than reading it. Please send us stuff if you want to.
The true stories section is different than the forum section. How did the forum section evolve, it's amazing, your whole site is amazing, but the forum is really....every little minutiae of speed, life experiences on speed, and the honesty....people really break it down....
Yeah. They break it down. I love it because it is people talking to other people via the moderator, who is me- I'll be honest. You can search the forums for topics and words.
Okay, in your fantasy of the future...where do you see the website going, what's missing or what do you want to see?
Our Spanish translation. It's in its final edit. Its all written and its in the fine combing stage to make sure it is Spanish that is useful to as many Spanish speakers as possible and as strait up and accessible as can be. It's almost ready to go! On the home page you will be able to choose a "tweaker en espanol" option where you can click back and forth from English to Spanish.
I just want to keep the website fresh, keep it real. Keep it real sounds so cheesy, but I mean keep it real as in useful in the moment, as things change, trends change, words that we use change, everything changes, laws change, keep it fresh because otherwise it becomes useless. And again if people have ideas about stuff like that send them in!!!
Seems like your homepage changes all the time...there's always new stuff to check out...
On the homepage there is a box called "New and Noteworthy" and its either new stuff or stuff we want to draw people's attention to. There's always surprises.
If someone wanted to help out at tweaker.org what kind of help and energy would be useful?
The best way to get involved if you have access to a computer is to send an email saying whatever you want to say about yourself, how to contact you and what your interest is to volunteer at tweaker.org....and my coworker Ian will get back to you. If you don't have a computer volunteer team meetings are on Wednesday nights at 7:30 upstairs at Magnet which is 4122 18th street between Castro and Collingwood right behind the parking lot at Walgreen's. The team meets to plan outreach....
Thank you Kevin Mosley, LCSW, you rock!!!!
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