Richard Karl Deang
I am a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Gender Studies (with concentration in Anthropology) at Central European University. My main academic interests are in the anthropology of science, sex, and sexuality, as well as in postcolonial studies of science, biomedicine, and pubic health.
My dissertation is an ethnography of the category of "men who have sex with men" (MSM), a public health category that was created in the 1990s in response to the global HIV/AIDS epidemic. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in Manila, I aim to trace the current use of "MSM" in HIV/AIDS work in the Philippines in order to unpack the foundations of modern biomedical and sexual citizenship.
The Philippines is the country with the fastest-growing HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Asia-Pacific region. Because “men who have sex with men” now represent almost nine out of ten cases of HIV infection, epidemiologists, doctors, and other health professionals who work in national health policy and management have made "MSM" the primary target population of various HIV/AIDS intervention projects. One of these is the rollout of HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis drugs (PrEP) for MSM. The Philippines is the first country in the world to use a community-based organization (CBO) instead of a hospital or a clinic to administer PrEP. Beneficiaries of the project are counseled by volunteer “peers” who identify both the beneficiaries and themselves as "MSM."
Through an ethnography of PrEP, I aim to examine the borders that MSM makes between different forms, sources, and politics of knowledge. First, how does "MSM" reproduce the Western divisions separating “biological sex,” sexual practices, and other dimensions of human experience such as race and class from each other? Further, as a public health category designed to eschew identities, how does "MSM" ironically define borders not only between identities but also between technoscience and other forms of knowledge such as identity politics? Second, what biopolitical systems of classification does "MSM" impose through the increased surveillance and disciplinary normalization of PrEP takers? In a country with an ongoing bloodstained “war on drugs,” in what ways do drugs— from HIV medication to “chemsex” narcotics—categorize MSM in terms of their capacity for self- government and their value to the national population? Third, how do lay volunteers of community- based HIV/AIDS organizations use "MSM" to modulate the transmission of biomedical knowledge between stakeholders in HIV/AIDS intervention work? How do they accordingly act as gatekeepers of a biomedicalized form of citizenship by making the scientific understanding of one’s body and sexuality a requirement for access to health services like PrEP?
By showing how technoscience, community knowledge, and individual aspirations coalesce to form not only public health policy and management but also new life-worlds and new forms of selfhood, I aim to offer a postcolonial, queer critique of the continuing mutual construction of sexuality and pathology in the global biomedical age.