HIV, Dating and Mating: An Analysis Of Stigma In Self-Presentation

Saturday, July 19, 2014: 3:35 PM
Room: F204
Distributed Paper
Bradley POWELL , Sociology, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH
While the Universal Declaration of Human Rights counts among its fundamentals the right to marry and found a family (Article 16), it is often informal societal discrimination that inhibits this right (UN 1948).  Gay men living with HIV/AIDS deal with the stigma of their status from both external to and from within the gay community.  Often they are legally required to disclose their stigma prior to sexual activity, in essence moving them directly to what Goffman (1963) calls discredited.  Despite overwhelming evidence that sero-discordant couples can effectively manage HIV transmission risk through safer sex practices, positive men must negotiate their status in a dating landscape often characterized by stigmatizing language that polarizes gay men in to “clean” or “dirty” states, the latter referring to men who are HIV positive; in effect making their sexual history their calling card.  This paper begins with a critique of Goffman that offers an alternative for those who are perceived to be inherently and irreparably discredited, and then presents an analysis of a comparative sample of three hundred personal advertisements across three differently populated American cities: large metropolitan, medium urban, and rural.  Extracted from the free and open website craigslist.org, the advertisements are qualitatively analyzed for stigmatizing language such as “clean only,” “drug and disease free (DDF),” and other text used to communicate sero-status.  The paper concludes with a discussion of implications and suggestions for researchers interested in studying inherently stigmatized groups.