The COVID-19 pandemic presented challenges for qualitative researchers since many countries had to implement lockdown policies to control the spread of the virus. Within the South African context, research on sexual minority identities and experiences is automatically sensitive and risky given the extent of intolerance and high regard for heteronormative ideologies and beliefs that continually exclude sexual minorities from the “normal.” The sensitivity is intensified during a national lockdown since there is an excessive reliance on digital public spaces to recruit participants and conduct interviews. Based on the experience of Ph.D. fieldwork, this paper pays attention to a sexuality researcher’s experience of conducting research on gay men’s experiences in the South African military and police services during a national lockdown. Particular attention is given to the dilemmas posed by the government’s restriction on physical movement and reliance on digital spaces, particularly social media to identify gay men who work in the two organizations and form virtual relationships of mutual trust. Ultimately, this paper holds that reflexivity is critical to feminist research on vulnerable sexual minorities when the relationships between the researcher and the researched are established and maintained through digital platforms. While digital spaces offer opportunities to reach vulnerable populations, they present some challenges that may compromise the credibility of the study if not identified by the researcher.


positionality, reflexivity, COVID-19, national lockdown, sexuality research, social media, rapport, black gay men, South Africa

Author Bio(s)

Tshepo Maake completed an MA degree in Industrial Sociology cum laude in 2019 and is currently enrolled for a PhD degree at the University of Johannesburg. His ongoing PhD research project is entitled: Heteronormative barriers: Constructing and Negotiating Black Gay Identities in Traditional Male-Dominated Workplaces. He is a Lecturer at the University of South Africa’s Department of Sociology. Please direct correspondence to emaaketb@unisa.ac.za


I wish to acknowledge the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS), which fully funded my PhD research.

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