I had agreed to a taping for POZ Newly Diagnosed Web Series in early March. I was incredibly nervous about how this would come off, but given my work in the field, I had decided that I would be a hypocrite if I were not completely transparent about my status. I hoped that I would have something to offer that might help someone. And I had to assume that once it went live on the internet, everyone and anyone could see this thing, and the news would spread. So it was high time to get my ducks in a row, as they say, and plan this thing.
Disclosure of HIV status can be tricky. As the holidays approached last December, I reached out to my most inner circle of friends - those who were always there for me, and who I was certain only wanted the best for me. Some of these friends were living with HIV and had been for many years. This could be a great source of learning for me. I launched into scheduling a series of lunches and phone calls. I love a plan.
I was incredibly surprised by the variety of reactions I got, which generally fell into three distinct categories: Supportive, Confused, and Judgmental.
Here are a few of the supportive responses I received:
* I am here for you.
* I love you.
* Tell me what I can do for you.
Then there were some that I was confused by:
* I love you no matter what you have.
* That’s awful... how did you get it?
* Well, it’s good that HIV isn’t a “big thing” now.
Then there were some responses that felt judgmental:
* I can’t deal with this.
* How could you let this happen to you? You work in HIV...you should know better.
* It is a deeply emotional topic for me. I don’t feel that I can be a resource for you. I hope you understand.
* I’m not surprised, you’re very promiscuous. Wasn’t it just a matter of time?
What I learned from the experience was that each person has their own complex feelings about HIV and disclosure often gives rise to some complicated and surprising emotions. Just as I had my journey from denial to acceptance, others will have their own. I needed to stay close to those who were in the first category above (supporters), and seize the opportunity to educate those who responded in the second category (the confused). And I needed to lovingly (and perhaps temporarily) detach from those of my friends that were struggling with their own moral feelings about this (some of them HIV positive themselves), because I was also still struggling with judging myself.
Next, I would have to find a way to get through the holidays and find an appropriate time to disclose to my immediate family...