Identities and Identity Transformations Among Persons with HIV Disease

  • Richard Tewksbury
  • Deanna McGaughey


Drawing on a pendulum model of identity transformation (i.e. viewing identity as a fluid, dual-directional construct), the processes by which a mostly gay sample of persons with HIV disease develop and adopt HIV-related identities is examined. Through in-depth interviews with 63 persons living with HIV disease in Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana, individual experiences and responses to illness are explored. Recognition of biographical disruptions and critical milestones in identity transformations are discussed and presented as the events that constitute the alteration of identity. Three critical milestones are identified in the transformation process: testing for HIV antibodies, disease validation and diagnosis, and disclosure of HIV positivity. Responses to these milestones—catastrophizing, minimizing and ignoring, and adaptation—are presented as primary constitutive processes that lead individuals through the formulation of an HIV identity. Resulting, transformed identities are those of being HIV Positive, Living with HIV, and as a Person with AIDS. Identities are examined as fluid constructs, drawing upon aspects of both the physiological and social aspects of self.

HIV AIDS identity development identity transformation biographical disruptions 


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Copyright information

© Human Sciences Press, Inc. 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard Tewksbury
    • 1
  • Deanna McGaughey
    • 2
  1. 1.Justice AdministrationUniversity of LouisvilleLouisville
  2. 2.Department of Sociology and AnthropologyOhio UniversityAthens

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