Move along, nothing to shame here.
I must be honest. The thought of disclosing my HIV status can fill me with dread. It’s a huge step and one that, in my opinion, should be done thoughtfully with eyes open and frontal lobe in gear. When I prepare for disclosure I remind myself I have nothing to be ashamed of being HIV positive. I know it and understand and believe it, but those tiny beads of sweat can appear on my palms just thinking about telling someone else for the first time.
I’m not able to put my finger on why. Is it fear of rejection or breach of trust? Fear of hurtful, ignorant comments or betrayal? Or is it that HIV immediately calls up awkward unspoken questions about my sexual identity and history? There’s no denying that HIV, in the minds of some, inhabits a dark territory littered with stereotypical imagery including the grim reaper, street prostitution, injecting drug use, child orphans in Africa. Stereotypes die hard and myths about how you can “catch” the virus persist. But I don’t want to care about that stuff. I want to hold my head high and be proud of myself regardless of HIV. I want to reach a place where I am no longer concerned about who knows and who doesn’t and what they may or may not think about HIV or about me.
I believe that how we became positive does not and should not matter. What’s done is done! We should all receive the assistance and compassion we need to live as well as we can for the rest of our lives. We all have a different story in this respect, and it’s difficult to disclose without sharing something of it. When I disclose I find myself explaining how I was infected through the blood products I used to treat my haemophilia. Haemophilia is a big part of my story too. But I detest the notion that I, because I was infected medically as a child, am somehow more innocent or deserving of compassion than others. We are all in this together.
I’ve rarely regretted a decision to take the leap and confide in someone I trust. It can be joyful and rewarding to share this story about me that is so intricately woven into the person I am AND be loved and accepted still. I have confided in many friends, but I choose those special individuals with great care and extreme prejudice. I have been positive for around 30 years - nearly three quarters of my life. Very often, my experience of disclosure has been strengthening and empowering. I feel I have got it right in the vast majority of cases and that I have made strong deliberate choices to allow other people see the real me. When I no longer have anything to hide, I feel a satisfying sense of relief, like I can be myself with this person. I need that deep closeness to the people I love, and I crave to open new possibilities for closeness and collect new friends to treasure on my life’s journey.
I know many courageous people who are many times more open about their status than I. They hold their heads high and break down the stereotypes of HIV “victimhood” every day of their lives. I see them perform selfless acts of disclosure to educate and inform. And yet I don’t see them flippantly telling anyone and everyone in a way that disrespects themselves and others. Those people are my role models and my life is made easier and safer thanks to them. I know that we are all different and need to traverse our lives in our own way. We all need to find our own path and a style that fits with us. I’ve never been one to invite the spotlight or feel comfortable in the centre of attention. I’m very much drawn to the background and have become an expert at blending in. It’s such a personal decision to disclose and no-one can make it for you. By all means consult the people you respect, but be sure to own your decision. If it doesn’t feel right, hold off and wait. Beware of alcohol and ensure that you don’t let it make the decision for you.
I have an enormous amount to celebrate in my life and much to be thankful for. I have lived and experienced much more than I ever dreamed in my early years of living with HIV. And now that I am Hep C free (WOW it still feels good to say it!) old age is looking like a distinct possibility. How wonderfully exciting! I have joys in my life that I once forbade myself from hoping for. I am married to a wonderful woman and have two incredibly gorgeous children. They bring me so much joy and meaning. The day is drawing near when I must disclose once again - this time to my very own children. That will be hard and difficult and painful. But I’m sure it will be rewarding too.