Dissertations and Theses

Date of Award


Document Type




First Advisor

Elliot Jurist

Second Advisor

Lissa Weinstein

Third Advisor

Max Cavitch


HIV/AIDS, mourning, older gay men, homophobia, defense mechanisms, nostalgia


The gay and bisexual men who were diagnosed with HIV/AIDS before the pharmaceutical breakthroughs of the mid-1990s were given what was expected to be a death sentence. Instead, the majority of those who began the newly available treatments outlived not just their initial prognoses but their lovers, friends, and community members who had already perished. This study used grounded theory analysis of semi-structured interviews with a sample of 10 self-identified gay men who are long-term HIV/AIDS survivors to explore experiences of trauma, loss, and mourning in relation to current psychological wellbeing. Qualitative thematic analysis indicated that despite demographic variance among this group of men, they reported common formative traumas related to both minority stress and grief, as well as common joys. Participants described a robust range of experiences with regards to whether and how they mourned their losses as well as the ways they relate to the past, revealing a broad spectrum of underlying emotional defenses. Those who exhibited the broadest range of defensive styles and orientations toward the past exhibited the greatest psychological wellbeing in terms of flexibility and emotion tolerance. Their experiences shed light on psychological processes that are both universal to the human experience and specific to this population.



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