HIV has long been a “hush hush subject” in mainstream society - something that everyone knows about but few talk about. Besides activists such as myself that are trying to spread the prevention message and promote awareness, many people living with this virus keep it an everlasting secret. Much of it has to do with the stigma and discrimination that exists; sometimes people are at riss of losing their jobs, and others are simply private people who do not openly discuss things such as medical issues with others.
I think if someone is at risk of losing their job or facing possible violence because of coming out, it is likelyly something that should be kept to themselves. However if someone is reluctant to come out and say they are HIV + simply because of what others will say, I say “come out of that closet!”
Since when should we care what others think about us? I know gay men who are open about being gay and receive as much or more discrimination due to that than if they came out as HIV-positive. Many come out as gay but not as HIV positive. Does that make any sense? If it is all about stigma and discrimination then what is the difference?
I know very few straight people who are out as HIV-positive. Often it’s due to assumptions people will make about their sexual orientation. But who cares if someone thinks I am gay because I am HIV-positive? They are miseducated and ignorant; all I can do is try to inform them that HIV truly can affect everyone.
I am not saying that you need to come out to the world with a Facebook post or send Christmas cards to the family saying “I am HIV-positive,” However I also don’t think it should be something that is so intense that people have to hide their identities, keeping ARV medicine in a locked away pill storage container deep within a locked safe, or discarding lab results simply so no one will have the chance of ever seeing them.
Since I came out of the HIV closet from the get go I never really got the chance to discover what it was like living in there. I can imagine keeping something so big a secret can really get to someone. For me disclosing it has helped so much and I have seen the benefits of people being able to openly discuss their status in support groups. etc. It's a big relief to share with others how we are feeling.
Yes I have faced stigma and discrimination when being open about it but not nearly as much as I believe many people think happens. A lot of it has to do with confidence and self worth. If you are confident about your status and love yourself, other peoples’ words are not going to be able to hurt you much.
Some people still have archaic views of this virus but that doesn’t mean that all hope is lost or we should hide who we are simply because it’s a condition that is often transmitted sexually. How many people in this world have sex? Do I really care if someone says I got HIV for being a man-whore when they probably have had unprotected sex just as much as me? No, the reality is I do not; people are going to talk about others regardless. People thrive on gossip, let the haters hate, it’s their job.
Coming out as HIV-positive is a very personal decision, I just want people to know that it’s not so bad here on the outside of the closet. It may seem like a big step to take - and it is - but know there are many of us living openly with this virus. It doesn’t have to be the condition that keeps you down, you can be empowered and take control away from HIV.
By more people coming out as HIV-positive, HIV will be a much more talked about subject which will help in prevention, research, and in reducing stigma. Putting a face to HIV does so much; it shows there is no shame in living with this; we didn’t ask for it and we are fighting it daily.
Am I proud to be positive? Of course I don’t like to admit that because of my sexual irresponsibility I now have an incurable STI; however I did something human. I am not proud of myself but I am proud of the man I have become. This all wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for being open about it from the get go.
I have always been an open person and maybe that’s why coming out was such an easy thing to do. It’s not always so, especially when it’s with a girl that I like and I know I could face rejection. However I remind myself there are millions of reasons that someone can get turned down, If it wasn’t my HIV it could be something else that would have shut me out. There are millions of other fish in the sea and confidence in oneself plays a major role.
In summary, being HIV-positive is not something that you need to be embarrassed or ashamed about. It’s not something that you should care what others think of you, it’s simply a virus that lives within your blood stream. There is no reason to hide thinking the worst possible thing is going to happen if someone finds out. It is a personal decision only you can make. However I strongly encourage you to look at the pros and cons of coming out as HI- positive or at least being open to telling someone about it. It will do wonders for you and for all people living with HIV.
What’s the worst that can happen ? Someone gossips? They do that anyway. No one will want to date you ? There are thousands of serodiscordant couples that disprove that. People will be afraid of you? Well that’s a sign they are miseducated and a perfect opportunity to teach.
Many fear what they do not know because they have never met someone living with HIV. You can be that light that changes their views. You can be that force of change and hope to the world.
Whether you are in the closet or out of the closet I am glad to be your brother fighting alongside in this battle. Together we can get through this one day at a time.
Thanks for reading everyone and make sure to check out PositiveLite.com and all the great work they continue to do. Feel free to connect with me at any of the links below and I hope everyone has a great rest of the day.
This article previously appeared on Joshua’s own blog PozitiveHope here.