The Block

Art & Culture — 2 years ago

Repeater Books: Deep Sniff

Launching our Repeater Books series with Adam Zmith’s Deep Sniff: A History of Poppers and Queer Futures. 


We’re celebrating a new Everpress collection from cult publisher Repeater Books with a very special series of exclusive extracts from their new titles. 


First up is Adam Zmith’s brilliant Deep Sniff: A History of Poppers and Queer Futures. Charting the journey of poppers from Victorian infirmary, through to ‘70s gay bars, to now, Deep Sniff is the story of how poppers found their way out of the lab and into gay bars, corner shops, bedrooms and porn supercuts. 


What begins as an enquiry into the history of poppers, develops, over the course of the book, into a manifesto for pleasure. 


Shop the T-shirt here, order the book here, and you can catch Adam speak at Secret Garden Party on 24th July.

Adam Zmith
Artwork courtesy of Repeater Books

You might say that poppers fumes became incorporated into the body of the gay community; their ubiquity influenced even those who didn’t use them. Like medicines, cosmetics, hormones, processed food, poppers penetrated a people. At the very least, the magazine ads that showed poppers users as muscly men with motorbikes entered readers’ minds – and wielded a kind of biopolitical power, influencing how some of us think of ourselves, as sexual objects and as men. Like Tom of Finland’s drawings, these ads portrayed men who had dinner-plate pecs, leather chaps, and a desire to be fucked. It may seem like a subversive combination, but it created a standard for gay men that was almost as limiting as the standard of being strong and straight. “The biomolecular and organic structure of the body is the last hiding place of these biopolitical systems of control,” writes Paul B. Preciado in his book Testo Junkie. “This moment contains all the horror and exaltation of the body’s political potential.”

Poppers penetrated a people

Let Preciado’s claim that this is both a horror and an exaltation echo through my own book. Like any drug, poppers are a good thing and a bad thing. Or perhaps neither of these things, except when thinking makes it so. The project of my book is not to make a case for or against poppers. My desire is to think through that binary, and others. Poppers vapour is present in our lives, like it or not, usually as just a bit of fun. Few people think twice about poppers. Most people don’t even know they exist, but many are using them. The annual report from the UK Home Office on drugs misuse found in 2016 that one in twelve people had used amyl nitrite. (The Home Office stopped asking about amyl nitrite on subsequent reports.)

The little brown bottles are among us. You might know about poppers because Chantelle from down the road brought them to the corner of the school field and you all sniffed and felt weird and funny and that was that. Or because you worked in a queer bar and poppers helped you to bond with colleagues. Or because you need to sniff them tonight in order to relax your bumhole so you can be penetrated there. You might sniff them when you’re dancing in a nightclub. This use has gone in and out of fashion for decades now. You might have done that in the late 1990s, when Ecstasy fell away. You could have been huffing the stuff in a sex club in the 1970s in San Francisco, and never imagined that the craze for poppers would have lasted this long or indeed that there would be a book about them. You might have poured a bottle of them into a big glass of Coca-Cola, shook it up for the fizz, and inhaled the sweet popping vapour for an extra kick. Or maybe you like to drip the stuff onto a sock which you roll up and place in your mouth. You might do that especially if you have a kink for feet, and you use someone else’s sock after they’ve worn it for a few days… Humans and their objects are versatile. You might swallow the liquid, but then you’d be dead.

The Deep Sniff T-shirt

You might be a woman or a non-binary person, an intersex or transgender person, queer or asexual, straight, polyamorous, monogamous… or you just might be open to sniffing your feelings to convey you into a future regardless of descriptions and categories. Perhaps what you have is a private pattern, a way of keeping your little bottle concealed in the back of the fridge. You might take it out a few hours before you plan to use, building up your anticipation of a night spent blissfully alone, huffing and wanking. Or maybe you’ll meet others online doing the same, watching them through the black mirror.

Humans and their objects are versatile

Pubs exist for drinking alcohol, clubs for dancing, petrol stations for refuelling. The only time poppers are the centre of an activity is in online video rooms that are shared among serious users. Most of the time, poppers are peripheral. Even in a sex shop in a country where it is possible to sell them, they are discreet: small bottles usually held behind plastic or an assistant. The brands try hard to shout at the potential buyer with names like FIST, BRAIN FUCK and BANG!!. They use garish or extreme imagery. But their graphic designers are limited to such a tiny label, which has little power in a shop filled with outsized dildos and rubber body suits. These miniature artworks cut through the official space of the shop with labels that lie. Sellers rely on the fact that everyone who needs to know, knows.

Poppers are a giggle, but also a significant occupant of many lives, by the bedside and in the internet shopping history. It is surprising that a vapour from a tiny bottle can become a part of a people, but I hope the chapters of my book will show you how. They are not love letters to poppers, or warnings for that matter; they are just facts and thoughts, assembled.

Read More: What’s The Cost Of Queer Utopia?