Becoming a couple affected by HIV infection
The purposes of this study were: (1) to describe the experiences of gay couples when at least one was diagnosed with symptomatic HIV infection or AIDS, and (2) to explain couples' experiences in the context of heterosexism. To address the first study purpose, grounded theory provided the methodological basis for data gathering and data analysis. The second study purpose was achieved through a structural analysis that explained the relationship between couples' actions, their acknowledgment, or lack thereof, of heterosexism as an important dimension of their social environment, and the intended and unintended consequences of their actions on heterosexism.The sample consisted of 9 gay couples. Becoming a Couple Affected by HIV Infection was perceived as a major life transition as each individual was challenged with confronting multiple losses including possible death of the PWA, the pre-AIDS lifestyle, relationships with friends and family members, the future, finances, and health. The beginning of this transitional began with "hitting home," or the awareness and subsequent emotional shock that life as the couple knew it before HIV was gone. "Mutual protection" is the mechanism by which individuals in the couple governed their activities toward one another. The major motivation for actions taken by study participants was the protection of the self and the other by forestalling losses such as threats to the relationship, health, and privacy, and preserving important relational characteristics such as independence, social boundaries, and intimacy. "Moving on" marked the end of the transition and included acceptance of a world in which loss and uncertainty were expected, if not commonplace, and moving on with one's life within the relationship, having renegotiated its meaning. Study participants settled on one of two different perspectives for the future: succumbing to AIDS or surviving HIV infection.Structural analysis revealed that although study participants defined their experiences using the term homophobia, their experiences could also be understood in the context of heterosexism, or the socially constructed belief that heterosexuality is superior to homosexuality. Heterosexism asks heterosexuals to consider their privileged position which serves to perpetuate the constraints placed upon gay couples coping with HIV infection. Employing this term helps us to understand the institutionalized and systematic constraints placed upon gay couples, as compared to the concept of homophobia, which tends to focus on the individual personality traits of gays and those who harbor negative feelings toward them.
- Nursing - Seattle