I consider myself to be very “out” about my HIV status. I've talked about it on TV, I have a blog and a tumblr that note my status in their sub-titles, I tweet with a profile explicit about my status, I have participated in poster and video campaigns trying to reduce HIV-associated stigma and discrimination.
After all that, I found myself in a peculiar situation the other day, discussing what I do for work with someone I had just met, and referring to people living with HIV in the third person. Wait, what?!
A bit of context here. I am visiting my sister in Australia, in the country, and the person I was talking to was a friend of my sister and her husband who is a bit older than I am, and retired. He had come over for dinner, and I think the first time I said I worked for an AIDS organization (yes, I use the “A” word because it usually brings more familiarity from the uninitiated), I think he thought I said “age”. Accents are apparently a killer here, like my thick Canadian accent.
Well, when we got that sorted out and it was clear that I was working in HIV/AIDS, we turned to a bit of a discussion about today's realities for people living with HIV. I pointed out that “they” are likely to live just as long as “their” friends who don't have HIV, and maybe longer, given a more frequent medical follow-up.
“They”. I was immediately disappointed with myself for not being out about my status for our guest, but the experience underlines for me the crazy ongoing nature of the coming out process in yet another aspect of my life (although the gay thing seems to be a bit easier, as people don't assume that I am some kind of straight lumberjack for whatever reason).
Maybe it was the fact that I had prepared the first course of our dinner (there's an old stereotype) or the fact that this was a light social event with pleasant chit-chat and not so much deeply serious conversation, but whatever it was, I “othered” my people.
What we won't do to pass in life.
I also thought that while here I would do a little informal research by consulting the apps I have on my phone to see how the gays of Australia deal with disclosing their status in their profiles — I am a tireless scientist that way. From my very unscientific method, I observe a greater tendency of men living outside the major centres to disclose their status in their profile. It seems like the poz guys in the city are off the apps, closeted, or submerged in the greater numbers of negative guys. Fascinating!
I see way fewer negative guys including messages in their status that they won't tolerate poz-phobic attitudes in the profiles of men who want to meet them than I do back home, which is not to say that the attitudes aren't equally good here, just a phenomenon to be observed.
Getting back to my own surprise closetedness, I feel like I need to fix this, but I don't know that I will ever see this guy again. Maybe I will have to ask my sister to share this post with him when it comes out. Of course, I will likely be gone by then and will have taken the coward's way out. I guess I will have to work on a better strategy to ensure that I am equipped for disclosure in more situations. Live and learn.