Feldman, Douglas A., ed.: AIDS, Culture, and Gay Men.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Bonner, Donna
Pub Date: 03/22/2011
Publication: Name: International Social Science Review Publisher: Pi Gamma Mu Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 Pi Gamma Mu ISSN: 0278-2308
Issue: Date: Spring-Summer, 2011 Source Volume: 86 Source Issue: 1-2
Topic: NamedWork: AIDS, Culture, and Gay Men (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Feldman, Douglas A.
Accession Number: 263035411
Full Text: Feldman, Douglas A., ed. AIDS, Culture, and Gay Men. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2010. ix + 285 pages. Cloth, $75.00.

Since 1981, when five gay California men succumbed to infections their previously healthy bodies should have combated, gay men have been at the center of the AIDS crisis. For almost as long, anthropologists have been conducting research with men who have sex with men (MSM), exploring their cultural and behavioral worlds to create interventions to decrease the spread of HIV, give voice to those living with the disease, and understand the effects of the pandemic on gay communities. In AIDS, Culture, and Gay Men, anthropologist Douglas A. Feldman brings together the pioneers of gay and AIDS-related ethnography, along with researchers from psychology and public health, to present fourteen original articles describing current research and interventions, surveying past work, and pointing to new directions in research and public health policy.

At least half of these articles have their roots in long-term, longitudinal research projects, some of which, including the work of Feldman, linguist William L. Leap, and anthropologist Ralph Bolton, date to the earliest days of the pandemic. Feldman's narrative piece, "Not One Inch: The Ruthless Politics of Developing an AIDS Community-Based Organization," takes readers back to New York City in the 1980s and the earliest experiences of activists, community members, and politicians struggling to respond to a new and deadly virus. Articles by other authors addressing AIDS in Australia, Belgium, and Greece provide readers with a comparative history of the disease, showing how differing cultural and sexual norms, as well as medical and political structures, define a society's experience with any biomedical condition.

To Feldman's credit, this volume does not simply review past research and accomplishments. Instead, in "Ethnographic Fieldwork on Sexual Behavior," Marcelo Montes Penha, Carol G. Reisen, Paul J. Poppen, Fernanda T. Bianchi, Carlos U. Decena, and Cecilia Zea offer ethical guidelines that will be useful to anyone beginning research on sexuality, disease or any intimate aspect of the human experience. Anthropologist Thomas Lyons's "The Varieties of Recovery Experience" examines the interaction between the goals of 12-Step Recovery Programs and those of safer sex initiatives, while the interplay between stress and risk are explored by ethnographers Frederick R. Bloom, Jami S. Leichliter, David K. Whittier, and Janet McGrath in "Gay Men, Syphilis, and HIV." In these and other articles found here, readers are offered an understanding of the ever-shifting landscape that defines sexuality, cultural meaning, and risk behavior, both in the present and as we move into the future.

Perhaps the most significant quality of AIDS, Culture, and Gay Men is the centrality the various authors give to the viewpoints of their subject populations, even when those perspectives seem to run counter to public health goals. This is well-illustrated in anthropologist Laura D. Stanley's "Treatment, Adherence, and Self-Preservation." Working with interview data obtained from HIV-positive gay men in San Diego, Stanley shows that, although health professionals see non-adherence to antiretroviral therapy regimes as an indication of self-destructive tendencies or denial, both adherence and non-adherence may stem from patients' desires for self-preservation. For those individuals who refuse or incompletely adhere to treatment therapies, self-preservation can consist of this very refusal to define themselves through illness and a desire to maintain what they believe to be the most important aspect of self-autonomy.

Similarly, in "Substance, Kinship, and the Meaning of Unprotected Sex among Gay Men in Australia," ethnographers Sean Slavin and Jeanne Ellard explore how the desire for love and familial connection can inform men's decisions to have unprotected sex, again showing the cultural logic behind behaviors that would generally be cast as maladaptive. Finally, in "Gay Men, Language, and AIDS," Leap and fellow linguist Samuel Colon unpack assumptions about sex and AIDS that underlie gay men's language and contrast this to the language of U.S.-based AIDS education policy. By emphasizing the cultural understandings of MSM as opposed to those of the medical complex, the contributing authors to this volume make the vital point that no health intervention can be considered efficacious if it does not take into account the beliefs and behaviors of individuals and communities.

AIDS, Culture, and Gay Men will prove stimulating reading to researchers and others interested in sexuality studies and medical anthropology, as well as those working in public health and disease prevention. This book is a wonderful companion to Feldman's earlier edited volume, AIDS, Culture, and Africa (2008). As we prepare to enter the fourth decade of the AIDS pandemic, Feldman and others who have pioneered both communitycentered AIDS research and sexuality studies are providing future researchers a solid, self-reflexive, and intellectually rigorous foundation upon which to build greater knowledge and more effective treatment and prevention programs to help all those at the center of this crisis.

Donna Bonner, PhD

Cultural Anthropologist & Freelance Writer

Austin, Texas
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2011 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.