“In Nashville I had to move out of my apartment because where I live people were calling me names after I was on TV. At first I really wanted to give up. And then I ran across this lady who was like, ‘It’s a privilege to meet you—you’re my voice.’ Now I’m determined to be bigger than ever.” —Marvelyn Brown, Nashville, TN, Diagnosed: 2003
If you tell someone your HIV status, you're giving them three pieces of information in one package: 1. You’re HIV positive. 2. You’re strong enough to deal with their reaction. 3. You trust them.
Disclosure is as much a statement about how you see yourself as it is about your health. It's an act of fundamental self-respect. It also marks your own victory in the war against AIDS stigma. But once you've told someone, you can't un-tell them. And you have very little control over what they do with the knowledge.
Here are some things to think about before you tell someone:
* Do you trust them? If you like them because they're an endless source of gossip, they're not likely to keep your secret. * Do they need to know? If your grandpop is 85, maybe he doesn't need to start all over with the new you. * Do you know their attitudes about HIV? Are they OK talking about sex? Do they tend to lump people into rigid categories? Or do they have strong views, but are fundamentally loving and compassionate? Maybe you should find this stuff out. If they're ignorant about HIV, educate them about it before you educate them about you. * Practice with people you don't know. Go to an HIV support group or practice in an internet chat room.
Prepare yourself for a range of reactions. Here are eight you might encounter:
1. "Welcome to the the club." More common than you might think. 2. "Anything I can do to help?" This is a friend. 3. "Woah! Let me buy you a drink/dinner/the contents of Bloomingdale's and you can tell me all about it." This is a dear friend. 4. "That's cool. Now about my kitchen redesign." Maybe this person is a little nervous; maybe they care more about their sink. 5. "That's cool." Who knows? 6. "Oh noooo! What can I do to help?" If this is said with tears in the eyes, it's a sign you may end up supporting them. 7. "You're no longer my son/daughter/lover." Yes, it happens. Perhaps this is just a temporary state of affairs, or perhaps they actually can’t handle what you’re telling them. 8. Silence. Ditto. 9. "How many pills do you have to take? What's your CD4 count? Viral load? Have you met Magic Johnson?" This is an HIV wonk, who regards you as a source of fascinating knowledge—and, possibly, gossip.
“I’m kind of seeing somebody now. I met him in a night club. He told me he was positive first. Not to sound mean, but I was kind of glad to hear that.” —Andres Huertas, Bronx, NY, Diagnosed: 2005
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