Wild self-care: Rethinking 'risky' health-related practices among members of the gay community
Gay and queer men tend to experience higher rates of mental health issues, STIs/HIV, suicide, substance dependency, and poor well-being than other demographics. Despite sustained public health efforts internationally, many of these issues continue to disproportionately affect members of the gay community. This thesis presents a new approach to the health issues gay and queer men face. It examines how ‘risky’ health-related practices including condomless sex and the use of illicit drugs might be legitimate ways of performing self-care and pursuing well-being. In order to address this aim, I conducted 16 interviews over a 12-month period in New Zealand and Australia using a constructionist grounded theory approach and a theoretical framework that draws upon the work of Judith Butler, Elizabeth Grosz, Michel Foucault, Homi Bhabha, Kane Race, Nikolas Rose, and Pierre Bourdieu. My participants and I explore a wide range of topics including the performative nature of sex and the notion of ‘play’, how pleasure and the emotional significance of sex might be related to self-care, the ways in which space might influence sexual practices and experiences, and to what extent having sex outside the home might be a form of self-care. I also cover safer sex practices and the experience of disease, how PrEP has radically changed the way gay men approach sex, the way drugs are bound up in self-care practices, and the relationships between self-care and community. The concept of ‘wild self-care’ emerged from these interviews and describes how practices or behaviours which appear risky, dangerous, or unhealthy can also be seen as legitimate ways of caring for the body and the self. I demonstrate how my participants used creative, unexpected, and alternative methods of caring for themselves using substances or ‘risky’ forms of sex and describe the way self-care is communal nature rather than a solitary practice. I also present the notion of health-as-process. This concept allows researchers to approach health as an ongoing process rather than a state of being that might be achieved. This speaks to the emotional and personal way that risk is constructed and experienced. All these facets come together to articulate the deeply complicated ways that people care for themselves.
Advisor: Brickell, Chris; Treharne, Gareth
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Sociology, Gender Studies, & Criminology
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Self-care; gay men; HIV; PrEP; drug use; performativity; habitus; risk; queer feminism; health-as-process; emotion; care of the self; play; pleasure; desire; well-being; heterotopia; third space; corporeal feminism; Truvada; bareback sex; drug research; kink; BDSM; Grindr; chemsex; Matrix of Care; community
Research Type: Thesis