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 Ford Hickson

Ford Hickson PhD, Sigma Research and London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, UK

1. What is your place of birth?

Manchester

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

Well I’m 50 this year which means my coming of age as a gay man was co-terminus with the emergence of HIV. It was difficult to avoid and the injustice it unleashed radicalized me for life.

3. Quantitative, qualitative or versatile?

It depends on the data. If it’s large, hard data I like to be quantitative. Softer (smaller) data sets I like to qualy. For a fully rounded experience I think you need both.

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

Income inequality. As it does with everyone.

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

Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor.

6. Do you have a favourite gay bar moment?

Many years ago I used to hang out in a gay bar that had a Mr & Mr competition. One member of a couple is asked questions about their partner while the partner is out of the room. The partner is brought back in and asked the same questions and if they tally, you get a point. If there was no couple available, they would play it with flatmates. I was there with my flatmate Sue, and we agreed to play. Before the game I told her “If the compere asks ‘What kind of men does Ford fancy?’ say ‘I don’t know, but I bet he fancies that bloke over there with the white vest on’ ”. Sure enough, the compere does ask, Sue points out the bloke I had primed her for, I return and confirm it, and after the quiz Mr White T comes over and buys me a drink. Result!

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

We regularly poll this many gay and bisexual men in the UK about sexual health and I get quite a lot of control over what’s asked. But if I could ask anything I’d do so globally and ask (a) what are the most important issues or problems facing gay and bisexual men and (b) what is the secret to a perfect relationship?

8. What is the secret to a perfect relationship?

Love. And both thinking you ‘married-up’ (ie. made a good catch).

9. How would you describe your current work?

Half-time research, half-time teacher. I love my job. I get to generate new knowledge on something I care about (putting on the magic research glasses is still a thrill), and I get to meet and teach young people from all over the world who care about health and justice and who are hungry for knowledge (the best way for me to learn stuff too).

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

I’m currently writing up our 2014 England men’s gay sex survey, looking at change from 2010 (in a nutshell - More HIV testing, Less sex, Less condom use, Fewer men happy with their sex life).

11. What gay man do you most admire?

My husband, who is currently building us a house (again).

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

With having a happy sex life being on par with avoiding disease.

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