Guide Sexual (Dis)Orientation: Gender, Sex, Desire and Self-fashioning

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Iain Morland Annabelle Willox. Noreen O'Connor Joanna Ryan. They have their separate thing. That is the trottoir [stroll]. The travesti is the stroll. They don't have time to insert themselves in activities that don't bring them anything. Furthermore, there are important differences in behavior to consider. Travesti's involvement in sex work rendered them more vulnerable to HIV and violence.


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Institutions like Alternative and Arc-en-Ciel become those in which gender and sexual minorities come to understand, identify and organize themselves and one another, producing new social relations and entrenching existing ones. I argue that the deployment of MSM as an identity category by local HIV peer educators and activists challenges the widely accepted notion that the category is purely behavioral and demonstrates that MSM interventions are part of a broader industry which shapes new forms of sociality among sexual and gender minorities.

It's a language that those who hang out in the NGOs understand. It's a technical term. If you are on the inside. This dynamic use of the MSM category is tied to shifts in the industry of global public health. Men who have sex with men are one of several marginalized populations in addition to sex workers and intravenous drug users on which the global health community has increasingly focused, as its strategy has shifted towards addressing concentrated HIV epidemics. This recently acquired exceptionality is perhaps most evident in the growing industry of donor institutions and NGOs from the global North targeting the HIV epidemic among sexual and gender minorities throughout the global South.

In our discussions about their relationships with foreign donors and intermediary NGOs, peer educators and activists at Alternative and Arc-en-Ciel complained of a relentless focus on numbers-based results. These numbers were a constant source of anxiety and frustration for the staff at Alternative. In , Heartland set the target at 1, MSM reached. In , the target jumped to 2, new MSM. Heartland's strategy would also have defunded transportation and activity costs for the HIV support groups and compromised other long-term relationships that peer educators and activists had worked to cultivate with some of the most vulnerable members of the community.

On cultural transformations of sexuality and gender in recent decades

Many peer educators and activists voiced these concerns during internal meetings that Claver held to discuss the suggested plan and they coordinated a coalition-based response with other community-based organizations to reject it. Speaking to me hours before that meeting, Claver explained:.

With Heartland, if you are a new person, that's great. But if you already came and we already wrote your name down, that means that you are not eligible to take any more condoms. If that's the case, then you can't come back for more. Because they put [in the action plan] that you have to reach 2, new people. But just because someone is not a new person doesn't mean that you are going to leave him. With Heartland, it's not like that. Because it's only numbers that interest them.

This enumeration-based programming assumes that data can be generated and analyzed statistically to measure the impact of prevention programming. But who is actually counted among these thousands of MSM? This terminology, intended to lump people together, distracts from other complex social realities and lived experiences, including those of ethnicity, gender performance and class.

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Furthermore, it threatened to erode social support for HIV positive individuals and reimbursements that HIV peer educators needed in order to continue service provision. As Claver suggested, financial interests are served by this audit culture Strathern However, this drive for an adequate statistical power belies other forms of diversity that shape HIV vulnerability in the Ivoirian context. Eric, a year-old peer educator at Alternative said:. We're an industry. In this article, I have argued that the diversity of sexual and gender minority experience is obscured by the uncritical and reductive language used in HIV research and interventions, resulting in their failure to address the complex and intersecting social realities that shape HIV vulnerability.

While I have argued that recent research and prevention ignore the salience of emic identity categories in their work, I have also suggested that the mere integration of local identifications, such as woubi and yossi, would be inadequate to ensure greater inclusion and representation. Researchers and practioners concerned with the health and well being of sexual and gender minorities should not take local identifications to be self-evident.

Rather, they must acknowledge the diversity of lived experience within terminologies, and investigate, in local contexts, other social realities that may shape HIV vulnerability. I have also argued that these shallow conceptualizations of sexual and gender minority experience are linked to the culture and business of public health itself, which prioritizes quantitative evidence and considers qualitative knowledge to be anecdotal at best. In order for HIV prevention programming to reach those most in need, it is paramount that researchers begin to think about the development of programming that engages the complexity of sexual and gender minority experience.

This includes thinking about the ways in which interventions shape identity.

Gender, Sex, Desire and Self-Fashioning

Importantly, as Fan points out in her work on the outsourcing of HIV testing among men who have sex with men in China Fan , much of the current international HIV funding for key populations requires that NGOs continually redefine themselves in order to exist. It is essential to question normative identifications in public health, whether they are imposed by outside forces or developed from within, and to interrogate the goal of using, promoting, and accepting them.

Increased research on the intersections of critical public health and sexuality studies will allow researchers to engage with novel and fluid sexual and gender subjectivities and their impact on HIV vulnerability. Ethnographic data that engages both the complexity of lived experience and the impacts of interventions that almost always overlook those complexities could serve as a starting point for rethinking the assumptions inherent in the culture of public health itself. An engagement with this kind of complexity requires a movement away from the logic that devalues qualitative research, prioritizes generalizability and eschews individual experience, as well as a deeper reflection on the ways in which public health culture itself may be contributing to and further entrenching vulnerabilities.

Europe PMC requires Javascript to function effectively. Recent Activity. This obfuscation of difference has particularly negative impacts for travestis, who may be at higher risk for HIV infection, though research and prevention efforts in which they are grouped with 'MSM' render them underrepresented and make their vulnerability difficult to quantify.

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On cultural transformations of sexuality and gender in recent decades

Glob Public Health. Author manuscript; available in PMC Aug 1. PMID: Matthew Thomann a, b. Matthew Thomann: moc. Copyright notice. The publisher's final edited version of this article is available at Glob Public Health. See other articles in PMC that cite the published article. Abstract In the fight against concentrated HIV epidemics, men who have sex with men MSM are often framed as a homogeneous population, with little attention paid to sexual and gender diversity and its impact on HIV vulnerability.

Research Participants The findings presented in this article are not representative of all sexual and gender minorities in Abidjan. Participant Observation My participant observation at the headquarters of Alternative and Arc-en-Ciel were filled with the quotidian activities of the organizations. In one of the opening scenes, Barbara discussed the coded language with a woman whom she identified as heterosexual: We have our own dictionary, our own way of talking.

Even the Executive Director of Alternative, Claver, told me unabashedly when asked, If you have to dress as a travesti, that's going to cost you your family.


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Speaking to me hours before that meeting, Claver explained: With Heartland, if you are a new person, that's great. Conclusion In this article, I have argued that the diversity of sexual and gender minority experience is obscured by the uncritical and reductive language used in HIV research and interventions, resulting in their failure to address the complex and intersecting social realities that shape HIV vulnerability. References Aggleton P, Parker R. American Journal of Public Health.

The Lancet. Cultural Anthropology. Woubi Cheri. Broqua C. Politique Africain. Corey-Boulet R. Ivory Coast: A Fragile Tolerance. Ivory Coast: Mob attacks gay rights group office.


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Gay men and other men who have sex with men in West Africa: Evidence from the field. Culture Health and Sexuality. Global Public Health. West Africa Review. Kouassi SM. Kulick D. Chicago: University of Chicago Press; Leap W. In: Leap W, Boellstorff T, editors. Le Pape M, Vidal C. Cahiers internationaux de sociologie. McGovern M. Marshall-Fratani R. African Studies Review.

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In: Strathern Marilyn. London: Routledge; Thomann M. Ph D diss. Department of Anthropology, American University; Violence, Exclusion and Resilience among Ivoirian Travestis. Critical African Studies.

Gender Identity & Why Your Sexual Orientation Changed?

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