Interview: Quantitative, Qualitative or Versatile


This is where we drag leaders in gay men's health into our Proust spotlight. Get to know your colleagues as they share their work, their passion and a little of their busy lives.

Interview with Phillip Hammack

Phillip Hammack, PhD, University of Santa Cruz, USA

1. What is your place of birth?

Jacksonville, Florida, USA

2. How did you get involved in gay men's health?

As a gay man who grew up during the height of the AIDS epidemic, issues of health were central to my own identity development. I did not become involved in gay men’s health professionally until graduate school in the late 1990s, though, when my advisor invited me to be a part of a study examining reduced concern about HIV following the emergence of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART).

3. Quantitative, qualitative or versatile?

Definitely versatile, but VERS QUALITATIVE. I’m a big believer in hearing the voices of research participants, and I think novel insights and perspectives emerge best from qualitative data.

4. What social determinant of health impacts gay men the most, do you think?

I can’t speak definitively about the data on this issue, but my own sense is that the issue of access is key, at least in the USA. By “access” I don’t just mean access to a doctor or health care professional. I also mean access to information about the unique issues related to gay men’s health, including access to information about HIV, testing, and prevention. In the USA access is related to both socioeconomics, given that our health care system is privatized, and to immersion into the gay community, which is often related to one’s own internalized homonegativity.

5. What's something that everyone interested in gay men's health should read?

I believe at the moment that everyone interested in gay men’s health should read everything and anything that has been written about PreP, since I believe PreP has the potential to end the toll HIV has taken on our community once and for all and since I believe there is a surprising and unfortunate resistance to PreP within our community. This resistance is, from my perspective, rooted in our own post-traumatic stress as a community and the internalized shame and stigma about sex we have as a community as a consequence of the trauma of the AIDS epidemic. I believe we are in a new era in our community, especially with regard to sex. PreP is a vital tool in this new era, and I think we all need to better educate ourselves about it.

6. Do you have a favourite gay bar moment?

This is an easy one! I met my former partner at a gay bar in Washington, D.C., during college. We were both students at the same university but had never met until that moment when two groups of friends were at the bar and we were introduced to one another. We were together for 16 years, from age 21 to 37, essentially growing up together. It was an extraordinary relationship, and when I’m back in D.C. I try to go back to that bar and enjoy that memory.

7. If you could poll 10,000 gay men, what two questions would you ask them?

If your life were a book or a film, what existing book or film would it most resemble? What famous person do you look up to or try to emulate? As a primarily qualitative researcher, I see these types of questions as eliciting rich information about how a person sees himself and his life story, with important implications for health and well-being.

8. What is the secret to a perfect relationship?

Recognizing there is no such thing as a perfect relationship.

9. How would you describe your current work?

My current work focuses on variability in the social and psychological experience of sexual minorities. One project examines variability based on local community climate for young LGBT people, with field sites in the historically conservative Central Valley of California and the historically liberal San Francisco Bay Area. A second project examines variability based on generation-cohort, using surveys and interviews with LGB people of different ages to examine the way in which one’s generational identity impacts social and psychological experience.

10. What's the last piece of writing you did on gay health?

Most of my work has been focused on gay identity development with less of an explicit health focus. This is changing as I embark on my new projects, both of which are rooted in minority stress theory, and I am currently writing a paper on gay men’s health from a life course perspective. My last piece of writing related to gay issues focused on LGBT youth. I and my colleagues analyzed the programming and services offered in over 100 community-based programs in the USA.

11. What gay man do you most admire?

I have the greatest admiration for Harvey Milk, whose embodiment of a more radical politics for gay men is one that I seek to emulate. Of living gay men, I admire Dan Savage greatly for his take on sex and relationships. I think his sex-positive perspective is refreshing in a culture of continued shame and stigma about alternative forms of intimacy.

12. Where would you like to see gay men's health in five years?

I would like to see a near-end to the transmission of HIV, which I believe is very likely if HIV-positive men are tested and treated and HIV-negative men go on PreP. I believe we can end this chapter of our community’s history once and for all through this strategy. As far as research goes, I would like to see our focus expand from what has been an overemphasis on HIV/AIDS (understandably so) to more emphasis on other health issues and particularly mental health issues such as depression and suicide. We know very little about aging among gay men, particularly in the post-AIDS era, and I would like to see us devote more attention to issues of healthy aging and study of the full gay male life course.

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