Living with HIV/AIDS is a hard enough issue to come to terms with ourselves however informing others of our status can be an equally if not more difficult task at hand. Some are afraid of how people will react, others face violence or being ostracized for disclosing their status, and some could possibly face legal/criminal recourses if they do not disclose in a timely manner in accordance with their state or countries laws in time. So when is the right time to disclose? I think its safe to say when we speak about disclosure there are multiple different kind of disclosures that we are speaking of. There is HIV disclosure to our friends and family while the other often more challenging task is that of informing sexual partners or someone you might be interested in taking it to the “next level” with. There also exists disclosure on the medical level of informing our doctors, dentists, tattoo artists, and anyone else who might be at risk for services provided or generally would need to know as they are taking care of our health. We must keep in mind that HIV disclosure is a very personal subject and has varying opinions on the matter.
Disclosure to friends or family can be very scary because we are unsure of how they will react, treat us from then on out, or if they will continue to love & support us fully as they did before. I personally came out of the “HIV closet” as some refer to it, as soon as I was diagnosed. It crossed my mind for a brief second to keep it a secret however I didn’t possibly know how I would be able to contain myself with all of the emotions I was feeling without looking like I had lost my mind, bottom line is I needed someone to talk to. I started out by telling fellow coworkers who had grown to be good friends, I received shocked however supportive reactions. Everything was very fresh to me, I literally had been diagnosed 2 hours prior to coming into work, and I never really gave myself that time to grieve; for me talking about it with others was my time to let it out. I received a lot of support and was surprised at how educated some were about it at work, granted not fully to the extent everyone should be, but enough to know that they wouldn’t get it from casual contact.
I then went home that night and with tears in my eyes beginning to pour down my face, I told my mother, the one who had given her soul to raise me into the man I am today. I felt like such a disappointment, knowing I had put myself in this situation, I didn’t know how she would take the news that her son had now been diagnosed with a virus that without medication can still prove to be deadly. It was so hard however after a long night of weeping, we made a pact that we would stick it out through this no matter what it took. I told my dad later on that night before he went to work in the morning and he gave me the biggest hug I had ever felt him give me before, I then knew that with the combination of my friends and family I would have the support system that I would need to push on. It is not to say that the emotions and feelings went away after that first night, they certainly lingered for days, weeks, and months even to this day ,however, as a family and friends we have learned to accept it for what it is and make the best of it. After all I am on treatment, living healthy, and not on my death bed as I most certainly would have been 30 years ago if it weren’t for the brave efforts of so many.
I waited until I got my confirmation western blot test to then disclose to my ex girlfriend who I am still not sure to this day is the one that initially infected me with HIV after cheating. Since the other girls I had gotten with months after had been what we refer to as “one night stands” I did not have any of their numbers let alone found it difficult enough to remember their names, they were simply ways that I was trying to forget about my relationship and at the time the “love” that I thought I had lost. I had also gotten a tattoo months prior to our break up ,as did my ex, so there were several risk factors involved. As I have told many of you in my very first post on this blog, it was the hardest call I ever had to make. It was devastating to hear someone have such a reaction to something that you now realize you cannot change about yourself. However, deep down in my heart, I know I did the right thing by disclosing to her regardless of where it came from, so she could get tested and take appropriate steps for her health if needed. Due to the culture and traditional family values she was raised with, she would not have done this otherwise unfortunately.
Since my last relationship there have been a couple of girls that I have disclosed to and received mixed reactions from. Right now I am honestly more interested in a sincere relationship than sex, that is what got me into this predicament in the first place, however naturally as a relationship flourishes it is something that is a possibility. My theory on disclosure is as long as you are not engaging in sexual behavior, disclosure is not necessary. This is obviously no replacement for any current laws that might be in place therefore it is very smart if you are positive to check what your states/countries laws are to make sure you are in no way conflicting them, the end result could be years behind bars.
Here in California for example the law states as long as I use a condom with a girl, I don’t have to disclose my status, it is one of the loosest written laws in the country however this article is not about criminalization however the two go hand and hand in some ways. My point being is that although my local state law says I do not have to disclose as long as there is a barrier between us, morally it is the right thing to do. Imagine if that condom broke, what would I say then? How would I feel or what guilt might I live with for the time being until I know for sure that person has not been infected? What if they do get infected? If sex is happening, period, the other person should have the choice. Give the person the choice that no body gave you when you were infected with HIV, don’t look at it as a downer moment, but more of an empowering moment. If that person can’t accept you for all of who you are, including what is in your blood, then they are not worth your time of day. You can try to educate them about it and how to protect both parties however you need to educate yourself about it first and accept it fully. That way you are prepared for whatever reaction they might have. So when it comes to sex, when is the right time?
I wouldn’t recommend telling the person right before you are about to jump into bed with them, probably a good way to end the night badly. I also wouldn’t start off by introducing yourself to a potential mate as “Hello, my name is _______ and I am HIV +”, unless sex with that person that particular night is your only intent. Give the person time to get to know you, when you start to feel an emotional attachment, DISCLOSE. I suggest it at this point because if you don’t have any ties with that person or strings attached in your heart, then if that person rejects you for something unchangeable, it is not going to hurt you as much. You can look back and see you did the right thing and if they turned you down for it oh well, there are billions of other people on earth, your prince/princess is waiting for you.
With family and friends the right time to disclose is as in the other cases, after you have accepted your status. The only difference with this form of disclosure is 9/10 times you are already going to have some emotional attachment due to the closeness of your relationship with these people. That is what makes it so difficult, you know it is going to hurt if they turn you away. Ya the hot girl/guy might say no, but they haven’t known you since you were a kid or grew up going to the same school as you. They did not raise you, change your dirty diapers, or sit through every Friday night sports game you have ever played in. Family/friends can be very difficult however you would be surprised that more times than not, this fear is something that you should be embracing. It is up to you when you decide to do it, however, most of the time it will make your family love you even more. I am not just saying this because of how my family reacted, but in general, it can actual bring families closer together even in the most religious of circles. As with all disclosure it is pertinent you become educated about it and are confident when you disclose your status. They might be shocked at first, it might take them time to absorb it, however eventually in the majority of cases they will come around. You have to have the answers to their questions, keep your head up despite whatever comments come your way, and have thick skin. You don’t have to tell them every intimate detail about how you got HIV however simply let them know it is something you wanted to let them know because they are important people in your life and all you are asking for is their love and support, you’ll be amazed at how far it will get you.
Disclosing in the medical field is something that is just a smart thing to do regardless. Doctors, dentists, tattoo artists, phlebotomists, surgeons, acupuncturists, blood banks, sperm banks, and all the alike need to know about your status for a variety of reasons depending on who it is. There are HIPPA laws set up here in the US that prohibits these places from sharing your private medical information without your consent, it might not be like this in all countries. Simply put, if a doctor is going to be treating me, he/she needs to know that I am positive in order to give me the highest quality of care possible. You should always disclose in these cases because if not you could be putting your own health at risk.
Sorry for the length of this blog however I believe disclosure is something that is a very important subject that is not discussed enough. When disclosing be confident, educated, informed, and ask yourself the following questions
1. Why am I disclosing to this person ?
2. What am I looking to gain by disclosing to this individual and do they really need to know? What are your motives?
3. Will I face possible violence or legal action due to disclosing my status to this individual?
Thanks everyone for reading and hearing me out another week. I thank you for your continued support here @pozitivehope and hope you check out my supporter http://www.positivelite.com They are a fantastic group doing so much good work for people living with hiv/aids, one day I hope to be able to visit Canada myself and see the crew in action, they truly do some outstanding things for the community. As always get educated, get tested, know your status, and get involved. Much ❤ to all of you. Please check me out on Facebook, twitter, instagram, or by email if you have any questions/concerns.
Joshua D Middleton