Adolescent boys living with HIV.
This qualitative research identified constructions of masculinity among seven adolescent boys who were HIV positive, purposively sampled from the age range of 13 to 16 years and were members of a clinic-based HIV support groups. Central to this research was the critical use of the concept of ‘hegemonic masculinity’, defined as the legitmation of gendered power through masculinity ideals, embodied practices and imperatives. The framework of dialogical self theory was used for exploring the dynamics of individual and group positioning around hegemonic masculinity and this theory was compared with other approaches such as discursive theory. Using multiple research methods within a qualitative design, this research identified individual and group ideals and practices held by the adolescent boys, with a key focus on how young men maintained ‘positions’ in relation to hegemonic masculinity, be these forms of masculinity that retained complete or partial identification with hegemonic masculinity or versions of masculinity that were alternative to the hegemonic form. The study was situated at the intersection of masculinity with the experience of living with a chronic medical condition, and the relatively homogenous and small sample provided an indepth basis for understanding the instantiation of masculine identity in a situation of fairly unique challenges and complexity. A combination of semi-structured interviews, focus groups, autophotography, reflective writing, biographical drawings and biographical interviews were used to match an interpretive, inductive research process, with reflexivity and research ethics as key considerations. Interviews were carried out by the researcher and two of the support group facilitators, creating an opportunity for reflexivity around the complexities of qualitative interviewing. Multiple methods of data analysis were used to analyse and ‘dialogue’ multi-sourced verbal and visual data. Thse methods consisted of thematic analysis, an adaptation of critical narrative analysis for selected texts and content analysis of visual data. The findings suggested that there were active processes of positioning masculine identity at individual and group levels and that positions in relation to hegemonic ideals were emotionally invested. Two hegemonic versions of young masculinity were identified as sets of ideal standards and embodied practices. ‘Township young masculinity’ was a peer-approved version identified with physical invulnerability, risk-taking and an ideal of attaining ‘influence and affluence’ through exceptional performances. ‘Aspirant young masculinity’ was a future orientation towards attaining a commodity masculinity, identified with an independent provider roles and signified through visible displays of ownership both material and symbolic. Interpreting findings from dialogical self theory, it appeared that some of the boys, at some times, established a distance from hegemonic imperatives by taking personally agentive, independent I-positions. This carried the risk of impulsively reacting to hegemonic imperatives without the support of collective identities and social relationships. Some boys developed Ipositions that were contradictory to produce new and more tenable I-positions. This process appeared to be more sustainable when it was connected with a group or collective identity such as being a member of the support group or being a person living with HIV. Some of the boys maintained alternatives through ‘metapositions’ that were made available through contexts or resources which offered alternative perspectives and possibilities. Dilemmas faced included managing the hegemonic imperative of being sexually active as an HIV positive young man or prioritising health where the hegemonic standard promoted physical risk-taking. It was apparent that despite interviewer expectations, the participants did not foreground an HIV positive identity but instead defined themselves foremostly as young men. One of the solutions to these dilemmas was to modify but maintain some alignment or identification with masculinity ideals. Here, the constraints of being HIV positive meant that maintaining health was more important than conforming to masculinity ideals or a reframing of masculinity within the physical, social and symbolic barriers of having a potentially life-threatening illness. The challenge of this solution was that its sustainability relied to a large extent on the availability of safe ‘dialogical’ spaces such as the HIV support group. Some of the boys found ‘principled’ alternatives to hegemonic masculinity from community or cultural values. Some of the boys identified with hegemonic standards but had to constantly defend against the anxiety of not being able to embody these hegemonic standards.