DDN February 2022 February 2022 | Page 15


The ‘ Last night a DJ saved my life ’ session at Constellations heard from speakers across four different continents on the subject of drugs and pleasure on the dancefloor


m a clubber , and I didn ’ t feel the experience of clubbing was particularly well-represented in mainstream narratives and discourses ,’ senior lecturer in criminology at the University of Greenwich , Dr Giulia Zampini , told the Last night a DJ saved my life : a meaningful discussion on the role of drugs and pleasure on the dancefloor session . ‘ There was a lot of stigma and misunderstanding .’
She had launched a project called ‘ People and dancefloors ’ in order to bring clubbing stories to life , emphasising the positives – including taking drugs . ‘ It was quite refreshing to see how people were more than willing to share , coming out about their drug use on camera , which in many contexts – including the UK – can have repercussions in terms of reputations and jobs .’
‘ I ’ ve always been an avid partygoer ,’ Ayodeji Ayoola , a Lagosbased cinematographer , told the session . ‘ But drug use in Nigeria is generally illegal , including alcohol in some parts of the country where you could get arrested for drinking a bottle of beer .’ There was almost no positive conversation about drug use in his country , he said – ‘ and zero conversation about pleasure . It ’ s sad , but it is what it is .’
‘ I share with many drug users and women the pressures of guilt in many everyday situations – the personal is political ,’ said Columbia-based Alejandra Medina of the Acción Técnica Social NGO . Her organisation worked closely with partygoers , party organisers
and the media on issues of harm reduction and pleasure enhancement , and to get across the message that ‘ substance users can actually enjoy themselves without guilt and without risk . As the others mentioned , raving and having fun is stigmatised and seen as immoral , even in the 21st century ’. Her organisation was often condemned for being ‘ promoters ’ of drug use , she said .
Not being honest about the benefits and pleasures of drug use had been a ‘ real disservice ’ to the harm reduction movement , said Mitchell Gomez , executive director of US-based organisation DanceSafe . ‘ People are so heavily propagandised by the drug war , and taught things that are just demonstrably untrue . Even the term “ harm reduction ” implies that harms are intrinsic to drug use . It ’ s deeply concerning to me that we focus so heavily on the harms when the vast majority of people are non-problematic substance users – they ’ re just people who use drugs .’
Many of his organisation ’ s activities , such as drug checking , were less harm reduction than ‘ drug prohibition harm reduction ’, he said . ‘ If there were legal , regulated markets , then most of what DanceSafe does wouldn ’ t be necessary . The existing UN declaration on Human Rights is entirely incompatible with governments telling you what substances you can or cannot use – the drug war is fundamentally an anti-human rights policy . As harm reductionists and public health professionals we need to start being
very , very honest about the fact that most users benefit and receive pleasure from their drug use .’
‘ We need to come out of the psychoactive closet ,’ agreed Medina . ‘ We want to empower our collective right to have a pleasurable experience , and we need to be able to shake off that guilt that ’ s more about the lack of market regulations and the political will to accept that a drug-free world is not possible .’
While the dancefloor was one place where pleasure-seeking was more allowed than in others , in wider society there remained a ‘ double social taboo ’, said Zampini , with both drugs and pleasure itself in many ways still taboo subjects . ‘ We keep pleasure as a dirty secret ,’ she said , partly because of a religious underpinning that pleasure was sinful and something to be controlled or repressed .
Although manifested differently , this was shared across all cultures , she said . ‘ We still carry the remnants of that – this is where we ’ re still at . But we ’ re all driven by pleasure , we ’ re all pleasure-seeking beings .’
People ’ s perceptions of drugs had been framed by prohibition , but it was fair to say that many pleasurable activities , including sports , carried some risk , she continued , and one way to move away from concepts of guilty and risky pleasures was to foreground mental health . ‘ People are passionate about it , and it gives individuals the power to advocate for their own health . So they can say , “ My experience of taking ecstasy is
‘ Both drugs and pleasure are still taboo subjects . We keep pleasure as a dirty secret , but we ’ re all driven by pleasure , we ’ re all pleasure-seeking beings .’
that it makes me feel good ’. I feel we should really harness that shift to transform the discussion . Maybe then we can start talking about healthy pleasures .’
‘ As the years go by there will be change ,’ said Ayoola . ‘ Whether it ’ s slow or fast it ’ s change , and we ’ ll take whatever it is we get .’ DDN peopleanddancefloors . com