Deciding whom to tell—and when—is an ongoing process for people with HIV.
In some cases, it’s a very good idea to tell. For example, it’s important for all health care providers who treat you, including dentists and emergency room staff, to know that you’re positive to ensure that you receive the best possible care. It’s also a good idea to tell sexual partners—in many states, people with HIV can be prosecuted or sued for not disclosing their status to sexual partners, even if condoms are used. Other than that, the choice is entirely up to you. You are not obligated to tell bosses, coworkers or landlords, for example.
It can be very helpful to tell some people close to you that you are positive. “I wrestled with whether or not to burden my family with the news, but in the end, I knew that I would be happier and healthier if I could have their support. I also felt like they would want the chance to help me,” says Hofmann. “Telling my father, mother and sister was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. While they were shocked and saddened at first, eventually they understood that there is nothing shameful about having HIV—it is nothing more than a virus. To battle the stigma they might have felt about my being positive, I pointed out that I hadn’t done anything that most people don’t do at some point in their lives—have unprotected sex. I made the same decision many people do; the only difference was that HIV was present when I made that decision. Having HIV is not disgraceful.”
“I only tell those I need to tell and have to tell.”
DISCLOSURE TIPS Here are some quick tips to consider when deciding whether to tell—or not:
• Be sure to consider the five W’s when thinking about disclosure: who, what, when, where and why. Whom do you need to tell? What do you want to tell them about your HIV infection, and what are you expecting from the person to whom you are disclosing your HIV status? When should you tell them? Where is the best place to have this conversation? And remind those you’re telling to respect your privacy. • You have a virus. That doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong. You don’t have anything to apologize for simply because you are HIV positive. • There’s no perfect road map for how to disclose. Trust your instinct, not your fears. Also keep it simple—you don’t have to tell the story of your life. Having some info on hand, or a phone number for an AIDS hotline and the Web address for POZ (poz.com) can also be helpful. • Even if you don’t get the response you were hoping for, remember that it can take people some time to process major information. Millions of others have dealt with difficult disclosure experiences and have found their way through it—you will too.
If you are still not able to tell people you know about your HIV status, draw on the support of organizations in the HIV community. Consider participating in the POZ Community Forums (forums.poz.com). They’re “open” 24/7.