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Med Hist. 2014 Apr;58(2):230-56. doi: 10.1017/mdh.2014.7.

Two tales about illness, ideologies, and intimate identities: sexuality politics and AIDS in South Africa, 1980-95.


This article focuses on the micro-narratives of two individuals whose responses to AIDS were mediated by their sexual identity, AIDS activism and the political context of South Africa during a time of transition. Their experiences were also mediated by well-established metanarratives about AIDS and 'homosexuality' created in the USA and the UK which were transplanted and reinforced (with local variations) into South Africa by medico-scientific and political leaders.The nascent process of writing South African AIDS histories provides the opportunity to record responses to AIDS at institutional level, reveal the connections between narratives about AIDS and those responses, and draw on the personal stories of those who were at the nexus of impersonal official responses and the personal politics of AIDS. This article records the experiences of Dennis Sifris, a physician who helped establish one of the first AIDS clinics in South Africa and emptied the dance floors, and Pierre Brouard, a clinical psychologist who was involved in early counselling, support and education initiatives for HIV-positive people, and counselled people about dying, and then about living. Their stories show how, even within government-aligned health care spaces hostile to gay men, they were able to provide support and treatment to people; benefited from international connections with other gay communities; and engaged in socially subversive activities. These oral histories thus provide otherwise hidden insights into the experiences of some gay men at the start of an epidemic that was initially almost exclusively constructed on, and about, gay men's bodies.

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