Tell all or keep shtum?

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14 Mar 2017

There is an opinion that, in order to help end HIV stigma, positive people should, whenever possible, disclose their status. So, tell all or keep shtum?


Why should I tell some random stranger online or at a bar, who I’ll never sleep with, something intensely personal about my life? My health, sex life, finances and emotions are my business. I'll share when I see fit and when I feel the person is trustworthy. Problem is, if you share with one, you share with the village.


Non-disclosure adds to the stress of being positive. Fear of being discriminated and stigmatised keep people with HIV off needed treatment and care. We need to raise our voices — UNITED — and fight for our rights and ourselves.


Some of the people who are the strongest advocates of absolute disclosure are those who don't have jobs or whose jobs are in the HIV bubble, which is far more supporting than in the rest of the world. I make decisions about disclosure all the time, and because of the realities of my life, they are pretty careful ones. I feel most ethical and empowered when I am supported in self-determination around disclosure decisions, rather than made to feel that the times I disclose are not enough and the times I don't indicate that I'm a bad person. Stigma placed on positive people by other positive people is more common than we want to admit, and probably some of the hardest to accept.


With only one minor slip up over the last six years, I have always disclosed to my sexual partners, both online and offline. Of course my doctor and dentist know, even my martial arts teacher and some of the students are aware, beyond that I refuse to have some HIV evangelist preach to me the gospel of disclosure. I say to you walk a mile in my shoes before casting judgment.


I have chosen the disclosure path for the last 15 years; it has made my life so much easier. It is the right thing to do for me.


I am HIV-positive and I don't care who knows it. What others think of me is none of my business. Let’s end the stigma.


I tell everyone. Within months of being diagnosed I realised how little I heard about HIV and women anywhere. I told all my friends. I've told co-workers and family members. I was told by doctors and support group speakers NOT to and don't see how that helps. If no one talks about [HIV] the straight world thinks they are in a huge safety bubble, someone needs to tell them otherwise.


The parallels with the advancement of LGBT rights are unavoidable: we become less scary when we are known, we become known by disclosing and sharing our experiences. Yes, it is easier for some people who are risking less (and I count myself among them) and that confers an obligation to pave the way for others, but the only time something can be used against you is if you are trying to hide it. Outraged by stigma? Our own hiding drives it.


We need everyone who is HIV-positive to come out if we are to get rid of the stigma associated with HIV. Having disclosed you’re positive means you can feel comfortable, confident and not have fear when you disclose to a sexual partner. You're not going to have added stress, worry and guilt. If you don't disclose to a partner right away, when you do decide to tell them, they are going to ask why you didn't tell them. This is when problems arise. There may be those who are afraid and withdraw, but there are people who are not afraid and who will be there to support you. How can anyone receive the help they need if their family and friends are not aware of what is going on in their life?


There are many factors that go into a decision to disclose. It’s easy for me to disclose because I’m a white male of a certain age, associate mostly with other gay men of my generation, volunteer my time with HIV organisations and, because I’m retired, don’t have to concern myself with the reaction of a potential employer. Others may not share my privilege, so their experience will be different. Coming out for them may be fraught with danger, with discrimination, with rejection. While it may be good for the community at large that they come out, it may not be good at all for them as individuals. Each of us has to make our own decision in these matters and we shouldn’t force others to come out unless — and until — they’re ready to do so.