Men who have sex with men remain largely absent from the health statistics of many Eastern European countries. This relative dearth compared to other parts of the world may be attributed to the generally hidden nature of this population. The tendency to employ Western sexual identity labels, rather than locally meaningful categories of identity, may also make it difficult to identify men who have sex with other men. In a pilot study of HIV risk in Tbilisi (Georgia), we used a suite of qualitative techniques – focus groups, individual semi-structured interviews and pile-sort exercises – to probe the opinions, knowledge and experiences of 65 Georgian men. We identified locally meaningful men-who-have-sex-with-men types, demonstrating a complex intersectionality of sexual preference, socio-economic status, behaviour and geography. Positioning within these types appeared to impact a man’s exposure to the social stigma of homosexuality; the sexual, physical and mental health risks that he faced; and his access to treatment and counselling. Our results suggest the use of imported identity categories limits researchers’ ability to identify men who have sex with other men in Georgia and that further research aimed at elucidating locally meaningful categories is needed – research likely to lead to more-effective group interventions and facilitate a better understanding of holistic individual health needs.
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