Representations of HIV and AIDS:
The Building Blocks of Meaning
Stan is a 48-year-old bank clerk. A
quiet and shy man, he had never told anyone in his life that he was gay.
Then he learned he was HIV-positive. Since finding out, he has done a
complete turnabout, dispensing with his long-ingrained style of secrecy
and guardedness. The results have been dramatic: At 48 and with crashing
T-cells, he is just now, in his words, "coming alive." He describes learning
that he was positive as the most transformative event of his adulthood.
At 27, Jules has known of his seropositivity for four years. These have been difficult years for him -- a time of increasing isolation and loneliness, of anxiety and depression, of deepening separation from friends and family. He says, "I don't fit anywhere." He finds no sense of connection with his work colleagues, with other gay men, or even with other HIV-positive individuals. Jules has never lost a friend to AIDS and remains robustly healthy. Yet concerns about AIDS enshroud his life.
Eugene has adapted reasonably well to living with HIV.He has "good days and bad days," and suffers from bouts of depression. But he finds great meaning in his work with an AIDS service organization, and values the contribution he makes to the community. He has also found solace in rediscovering religious beliefs he had abandoned in his teens, 30 years earlier. His political views (another source of pride) tend to be progressive or radical -- yet he also believes AIDS' presence among gay men hails from sexual "indulgence."