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Risky sex - risky language: HIV/AIDS and the West German gay scene in the 1980s

Riskanter Sex - riskante Sprache: HIV/AIDS und die westdeutsche Schwulenszene in den 1980ern
[journal article]

Haus, Sebastian


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Abstract This article focuses on the West German gay subculture and its early reactions to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. It analyses how gay men coped with an uncertain epistemological situation in which the medical, social and political status of HIV/AIDS was far from being evident, and in which the ambivalent connection of AIDS, risk and gay sexuality became the object of strong scientific and public interest. The article argues that gay men distinguished between two dimensions of AIDS risk: risky sex and risky language. On the one hand, they developed a strong awareness for the riskiness of their sexual behaviour, resulting in the will to consider AIDS as a disease of their own. On the other hand, they were irritated by the ambiguity of the public AIDS discourse. Its imagery went far beyond AIDS as a medical entity and was believed to conceal antigay politics behind medical facts. In analysing the emerging gay risk strategies, the article points out that gay activists and organisations critically adopted virological knowledge and promoted Safer Sex practices, both strategies which eventually empowered them to represent their interests within the emerging expert networks of AIDS politics since 1985/6. Central to these strategies was the attempt to disentangle a sphere of politics and morality from a sphere of the natural world of viruses, an attempt which was aimed at ending the supposed dangerous spread of antigay AIDS metaphors in the public. The article concludes in trying to interpret the HIV/AIDS controversies as reactions to the general epistemological uncertainties of “risk societies” in the late 20th century.
Keywords sexuality; homosexuality; AIDS; risk behavior; risk society; discourse; mass media; metaphor; group; activity; Federal Republic of Germany
Classification Social History, Historical Social Research; Family Sociology, Sociology of Sexual Behavior
Free Keywords gay activism; safer sex; virology
Document language English
Publication Year 2016
Page/Pages p. 111-134
Journal Historical Social Research, 41 (2016) 1
Issue topic Risk as an analytical category: selected studies in the social history of the twentieth century
ISSN 0172-6404
Status Published Version; peer reviewed
Licence Creative Commons - Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works