Use a condom when you have sex.
Don’t share needles if you shoot up. Always use a clean needle, regardless of your HIV status, or clean your needle before you share it with someone else.
Should be pretty easy, right? Wrong. It’s still difficult. In fact, for some people, it’s kind of like coming out of the closet every time you want to have sex, and it often ruins the moment, to say the least.
At least, that’s what some of my HIV positive friends and clients have shared with me. And yet, it’s the law.
I thought I’d share my strategy, and why it has worked for me as not only a way to do the right thing and share my status, but also as a means of reducing stigma and empowering me as a person living with HIV.
First, know yourself. Not easy. But, what I’m proposing is to gauge your comfort level of sharing your status in the first place. Trust your gut. Assuming you haven’t yet had sex yet–Have you been having a conversation with this person for awhile? Has the flow of chat been easy? Have you been able to ask him or her a few other questions, maybe share some other intimate details of your life? If the answer is “yes”, then you may have more surety that when you share your status, it will be well received…maybe.
Here’s how I feel, and I stand by this. If I’ve invested fully in another person, have had a few conversations with the hot guy I’m interested in knocking boots with, and if he’s shared some personal stuff with me about his life–in other words, we’ve both been vulnerable to a degree–then my ability to share my HIV status becomes a bit easier. It’s less of a bomb drop, and more of a gentle offering.
“Hey, so since we’re sharing some personal stuff here, I figure we might both be interested in each other. I don’t want to make an assumption that we’re going to end up with clothes on the floor of my bedroom, and be en flagrante delectus, but just in case, I’d like you to know–need you to know–that I’m living with the HIV virus. I’m also undetectable and healthy, and 100% compliant with my meds, which means the chances of passing my virus to you through unprotected sex are less than 3%.”
That’s more or less my spiel. If it sounds both compassionate and confident, it is.
Because I started first by being compassionate and confident to myself about being HIV positive. I thought how I’d want to hear the information from someone else–and I thought I’d like to hear it in a way that made me think, “wow, this guy’s got his shit sorted out”.
To quote my favorite band, Duran Duran, “I’ve got my own way”…and it works for me.
So here’s a little approach for how to get comfortable with disclosure in your own way. First, ask yourself three questions: 1. Do I need to disclose? 2. Do I need to disclose right now? 3. If I answer yes to the first two questions, how can I disclose in a way that feels like I’m honoring myself and being impeccable with my word to the other person?
Our biggest fear is rejection, followed by the fear that person to whom we’ve disclosed will go spilling our business to the neighborhood, to Facebook, whatever. That’s a concern, sure. Here’s how I got around that, and I invite you to see the logic in this: I don’t take it personally. If someone rejects me after I tell them I’m positive, then it’s not that there’s something wrong with me, or that I’m not good enough for them.
Through deep self acceptance and a journey toward wholeness I have come to believe that there’s nothing wrong with me. I’m living with a virus, and I have it under control. I’ve got this locked down, and there’s no shade on me. So, I say to the person who rejects me, “I appreciate your honesty. If you want some education, I am happy to provide it for you, so you might understand just how “not risky” it is to date an HIV positive person. If not, hey–no harm no foul, because I actually wouldn’t feel comfortable having sex, or dating, someone who wasn’t comfortable with ALL of me.”
As for someone running off and telling everyone else about my business, I had to realize that ultimately, I have no control over that. Instead, I have my impeccability and integrity in tact, where they have lost both.
My status is mine to disclose, and it neither defines nor limits me.