This article by Ruaidhri O'Baoill @RuaidhriOB originally appeared in FS Magazine, a publication of GMFA, here.
Over the past year, I have gone from one extreme to the other. The lists of emotions seem endless and every day brings something new to the table.
One which stands out the most is how I feel around other guys. Being honest, my self-esteem has never been great but since becoming HIV-positive, it’s definitely taken a few more knocks. Before my diagnosis, I often wondered how I would respond to a guy if he told me his status. It upsets me to say it, but it probably would have changed my opinion. Now that guy is me and I have to be realistic that someone could feel differently when I tell them. This is why I gave myself a challenge when I signed up to '28 gays later' speed dating.
I wanted to tell half the group my status and the other half not. I wanted to see the look in their eyes. I wanted to know if I was more attractive to the half that didn’t know. Deep down, I suppose I wanted that reassurance that I can still catch the eye of someone.
I finished work a bit earlier that day. The night before, I had chosen an outfit I thought I looked quite fit in, if I may say so myself. I had a drink or two before I left work for Dutch courage. I’m not going to lie, I was incredibly nervous. Although I didn’t know who was to be there I had already gone through the night in my head plenty of times. I convinced myself that those guys I would tell would reject me. The idea that they would be disappointed hurt the most. I suppose in some way it’s because I still feel disappointed in myself. I rarely admit it but there are still times I feel that I have possibly let the older Ruaidhri down. To have someone else look at you like that too is heart-breaking.
I pushed aside as many of my nerves and as much of my fear as I could and arrived at the venue. Not long after we sat down and awkwardly chatted to the first few guys, I noticed I wasn’t telling anyone my status. I put it down to being scared but I still wanted to carry on with it. By the time we had a break, I had told no one. I was getting frustrated and angry with myself. Why couldn’t I follow through with it? I was too concerned about feeling unwanted that I think deep down I stopped myself from telling half the group. I had chickened out.
I was tempted to leave at the break but I managed to head back in and re-join the group. By this point I didn’t want to even try to tell anyone any more. I decided I would just enjoy the speed dating experience as I had not been to one before. After a few more guys had come and gone, I noticed something had changed. I was more relaxed and comfortable talking to the guys. Knowing that I wasn’t putting pressure on myself to tell my status, I became more like me again. The next guy sat down and we hit it off straight away. Although not really what I was looking for, he seemed very genuine which stood out to me.
Not long into our three minutes, he mentioned that he used to be a woman. I was in shock. Not because of what he said but because he was so open about it. He was doing what I was meant to do – be myself! His courage gave me courage and I told him about me. He wasn’t disappointed. He didn’t reject me. He was supportive and kind. Here was a stranger being beautifully honest with me and it was that what I took away with me when I left. He reminded me that in order to be yourself you have to proud of yourself. I’ll remember that for the next one or even the next guy I meet.
I recently received the Option E email that caused some controversy when it was accidently sent out to a group of patients who use the 56 Dean Street Clinic. It has highlighted that there is still a stigma about being openly HIV-positive. I’m not upset about being on that list because I have openly discussed my experiences through this magazine. This has reached more people than I ever thought I would tell. I am, however, more upset that there aren’t more people being ‘out and proud’. A friend mentioned that he felt there is a pressure on people to disclose their status, which is wrong as it can make them feel worse. I disagree. We don’t all have to shout it from the rooftops but we should be proud of those who do. Their stories fight stigma which gives more people the chance to be openly HIV-positive and proud! I would not be where I am right now writing this if it weren’t for those who bravely shared before.
About the author: Ruaidhri is 26-years-old and originally from Ireland. He’s been living in London for over five years. Ruaidhri was diagnosed HIV-positive in August 2014. In his spare time he likes to stalk Victoria Beckham and run after plastic bags on a windy day.
How to disclose your HIV status
Before you tell anyone you’re HIV-positive, it’s a good idea to make sure that you’re ready to do so, and that you understand why you want to tell them. Think about what you want in return, and be prepared for a whole range of reactions – good and bad.
Think about when would be the right time to tell someone. Do you feel you need or want to tell someone – is it the right time for you? On the other hand, is it the right time for them? If they’re rushing out of the door, or busy with something else, then it’s probably not the best time. Make sure that they have the time to listen to you and also time to let it sink in.
It may also be a good idea to choose to tell people in surroundings that are familiar and that you feel comfortable with. This may help to keep you calm and relaxed, especially if you are unsure about the reaction you’re going to get.
Remember that you haven’t changed – you’re just giving someone a new piece of information about yourself. Be very clear where you are coming from, and it may help to explain to someone why you are telling them about having HIV. If someone finds what you’re telling them difficult to deal with, it will probably make it easier for them if you give them an idea about what you want them to do with this new information. It may also help you to get the support from people that you need.
For example, you could say:
“I’ve got some news – I’ve been diagnosed with HIV and I’d like some support from you.”
“I’m positive and I’m telling you because you’re important to me.”
“I’m positive and I’m telling you because I’d rather know now if you can’t handle it.”
“I’m HIV-positive and I’d rather you knew that before we had sex.”
It’s important to be clear with whoever you are telling whether or not you want them to keep the news to themselves. If there are people you would like them to talk to, or people you wouldn’t mind them talking to, be clear with them who these people are.
Whatever and whenever you decide to tell someone, if you need some more advice before you do then you can always ask to speak to a health adviser at your clinic, or you could talk to a professional counsellor.