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Manipulating multiple life identity-shifts: Points of HIV risk in overlapping drug cultures and gay cultures in Long Beach, CA

Lee M. Kochems, MA, Center for Behavioral Research and Services, CSU, Long Beach, 1090 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach, CA 90813, 562-495-2330, lmkanthroconsult@aol.com and Vincent Del Casino, PhD, Department of Geography, California State University, Long Beach, 1250 Bellflower Blvd., Long Beach, CA 90840.

Objectives: (1) to describe how gay drug users manipulate their identities in their efforts to access sex and community as well as use drugs as they move through drug- and gay-associated environments; and (2) to identify points in time and activities (i.e., “identity-shifts”) that enhance risk for HIV transmission. Methods: Fieldwork including participant observation and ethnographic interviews since 1997 as well as life history interviews with 20 gay/bisexual men conducted over the last year. Results: Gay drug users transform/manipulate their identities as expressions of safety/risk, healthy/unhealthy behaviors, and positive/negative self-perceptions. Gay and drug using identities are transformed and manipulated as these men develop personal and social identities through the life cycle; and in their regular efforts to acquire and use drugs and negotiate gay cultural worlds. The events and patterns associated with life-identity-shifts (e.g., closeted to less so, gay-assertiveness, identifying as a drug user, hiding status) provide the parameters and indicators for daily/regular identity manipulations. Conclusions: Drug use by gay men necessitates altering identities and behaviors to maintain access to drugs in negotiated social, sexual and economic interactions. For example, HIV risk is increased when gay men either: 1) alter their identity and deny their homosexuality or drug use when accessing drugs through sex; or, 2) alter their behavior while engaging in activities, sexual or drug, to fit into unfamiliar contexts. This ethnography is a significant contribution to the development of an innovative methodology to identify identity-shifts as points-of-risk for future intervention.

Learning Objectives:

Keywords: HIV Interventions, Gay Men

Presenting author's disclosure statement:
I do not have any significant financial interest/arrangement or affiliation with any organization/institution whose products or services are being discussed in this session.

HIV Epidemiology and Prevention for Gay and Bisexual Men

The 132nd Annual Meeting (November 6-10, 2004) of APHA