Interview with Nathan Lachowsky

Nathan Lachowsky, PhD, University of Victoria

1. What is your place of birth?

I was born in Brantford, Ontario. I am the youngest of four kids and we grew up on a family farm in southern Ontario. I went to Catholic school and some would say I was an over-achiever – captain of the basketball team, student council president, trombone player in the band. I wasn’t out in high school and came out in my first year of university. Although I have lived in various parts of this country and abroad, I find it important to remind myself of my roots.

2. How did you get involved in gay men's health?

In my first semester at the University of Guelph I took an interdisciplinary seminar course in sex, gender, and sexuality. It opened up my eyes to the incredible world of sexuality, and how it touches on and is a part of so many issues in society. I actually first came out in that class, and fortunately found the experience was incredibly supportive and affirming. I volunteered on the gay help phoneline and facilitated a coming out support group. In school, I continued to take sexuality courses and eventually found epidemiology, which allowed me to take an interdisciplinary approach to sexual health. I volunteered with local AIDS service organizations and sexual health groups where I lived, and now I can’t imagine working in any other field!

3. Quantitative, qualitative or versatile?

It seems like everyone identifies as versatile nowadays; we are so accommodating as gay men! While I appreciate both, as an epidemiologist, I'm definitely most well trained in quantitative approaches. I love working with numbers, and statistics has been a way to apply those skills and interests in a meaningful way. However, I couldn't do my work without qualitative methods and it's really the blending of both of these together where I find my work is most creative, valued, and impactful. I want to produce the best evidence to inform policies and programs that improve the lives of the communities with which I work, and also doesn't stigmatize or cause erasure. As my twitter handle @NJLachowsky will tell you, I'm an "epi wielding interdisciplinary community-based HIV researcher, facilitator of enquiry-based learning, and health equity advocate".

4. What social determinant of health impacts gay men the most, do you think?

Gender. Whether we are trans, cis, non-binary or gender creative, this isn't just about gender identity or expression. It's about masculinity, femininity, and gender policing, and how this limits and impacts us all negatively everyday. We have such diverse and creative communities, and gender norms are something that shapes the ways in which we interact with each other, with sex, and with our health.

5. What's something that everyone interested in gay men's health should read?

I don't have one specific reference that I'd support carte blanche for everyone. Instead, I'd say that it's important to learn the history of the communities you're a part of and the place in which you're living. Wherever in the world you are working in gay men's health, an important place to start is learning who was there before you, and has made the metaphorical space to pass you the torch! It's critical to understand the history of both the people and the health issues with which you are interested. It's humbling, and will ground you in multi-generational attempts for equity.

6. Do you have a favourite gay bar moment?

Just one? It's honestly hard to narrow down. My favourite moments tend to be the spontaneous ones where we hadn't planned for a big night out. Good music, good friends and the right dash of mischief. Perhaps my favourite part is getting to recount and relive the previous night's adventures with friends the next day. Like many of us, I have a few priceless stories to share, but I'll save those for now as they're best told in-person!

7. If you could poll 10,000 gay men, what two questions would you ask them?

What change would you like to see in yourself, others, or society? What do you see as the largest barrier to achieving that?

8. What is the secret to a perfect relationship?

I'm not sure I know the answer to that, but I certainly have learned a few things through my own trial and tribulations in love. I would start with asserting that it's critical to be yourself, and to support your partner(s) in being themself/themselves. There are so many ways to express love, and no better way to do so than what is genuine to you. Finally, don't worry about what other people think. It's your life and do what brings you happiness.

9. How would you describe your current work?

I began working as an Assistant Professor in the School of Public Health and Social Policy at the University of Victoria in July 2016. It's been an amazing transition and I love the breadth of opportunity I have in this new position. My current interests lie in the changing sexual health environments we live and love within as gay men. This might include exploring the way in which apps affect our social and sexual health, how different kinds of substance use and our mental health are connected; how HIV prevention is changing with undetectability and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP); how men in rural and suburban places live, love, build community and navigate health; and determining the ways in which our public health services must shift to best support gay men in the midst of changing knowledge, services, and resources. These projects are often reflections of the relationships that I have been fortunate enough to build, and all of them feel like small parts of a whole effort to find ways to improve the health of gay, bi and queer men broadly.

10. What's the last piece of writing you did on gay health?

Most recently, I have finalized a write-up on an analysis to evaluate a syndemic of poly-substance use and depression among gay men in Vancouver. In this analysis, I used moderation and mediation analyses to quantify how these factors interplayed with each other to affect gay men's health. I am increasingly interested in the role of substance use and mental health in our gay communities, and particularly what conversations we are and aren't having about this. I hope that this small piece of work serves as a launching pad for future research to help encourage and inform greater dialogue about these issues.

11. What gay man do you most admire?

To be honest, I have never been big on individual role models. I am repeatedly amazed and impressed with the gay people I have met and worked with here and abroad. We have such an impressive gay community. I have been lucky to build relationships with and work closely with many different people who I have admired, learned from, and been inspired by.

12. Where would you like to see gay men's health research in five years?

There will always be a role for gay men’s health research. I would be happy if we could sustain the proliferation of people and projects that has occurred across Canada in recent years. New research continues to demonstrate important differences in the ways in which gay men experience upstream determinants and downstream health. All of these new people entering the field have ideas about how to improve the methods we use to engage in research, the questions we ask and the way that we share our findings. In five years, I also hope that we have stronger connections with other marginalized communities striving for social and health equity. We are stronger together, and I want to be a part of building these connections.


About CBRC

Community-Based Research Centre (CBRC) promotes the health of people of diverse sexualities and genders through research and intervention development.
Interview with Nathan Lachowsky
Interview with Nathan Lachowsky
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