The paradoxes of PrEP: rejection, reluctancy, and novel gay identities in biomedical HIV prevention in Serbia
Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences
This article explores the different ways in which gay men in Serbia perceive PrEP as a novel method of HIV prevention. In the article, I draw on data from my research on PrEP use among thirty gay men in Belgrade. The use of PrEP is still very low amongst gay communities in Serbia due to their rejection of PrEP and due to the stigma around PrEP use. In Serbia, the social significance of PrEP relates to HIV status disclosure on gay social/dating media. Paradoxically, on gay dating sites, the signifier “PrEP” blurs the line between HIV positive gay men – who have achieved undetectable HIV status through a potent ARV therapy – and those HIV negative gay men who use PrEP as a preventative tool against HIV transmission. In the article, I will argue that a new form of gay identity has emerged on gay dating apps in Serbia – “undetectable, on PrEP”. This new identity emerges from confusion in HIV risk assessment. The use of PrEP has been seen as a marker to denote someone’s HIV negative status and to protect them from HIV transmission. However, some gay men with an undetectable HIV status would like to be regarded as HIV negative even though they are not, and thus they use the signifier “on PrEP” to highlight their desire to claim an HIV negative status. PrEP has many symbolic valences: from HIV status disclosure to assumed promiscuity. As I will argue, while the health paradigm is of utmost importance for Serbian gay men, internalized stigma additionally drives the low uptake of PrEP amongst gay communities in Serbia, thus contributing to the confusion regarding PrEP use and the overall approach to HIV prevention. This article finds that those respondents who accept PrEP without stigma or confusion regarding their HIV status are also more willing and ready to recommend using PrEP to other gay men.
Keywords: gay men, PrEP, Serbia, HIV status, HIV prevention