The following is a guest post from a friend of beyondpositive, on why they don’t feel able to be publicly out about their HIV status.
I’m posting this anonymously because I don’t want you all to know my real name.
It’s not that I don’t want you to know my real name. A few readers will guess who I am just from the way I write. Some of them will even be friends of mine who didn’t know I’m positive. And that’s ok.
But, unlike the other contributors to this site, Tom has agreed to hide my real name. I know that one of the best things I can to do fight the stigma of HIV is to be honest and open; Kristian Johns made this point very clearly in his recent article for FS mag: “Coming out as HIV-positive… again”.
I’d love to be open and help Tom and Kristian and all the other positive voices make a difference – but I have a problem with that. Well more than one problem: my parents.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my family. They’re great people, they were accepting when I came out as gay and they’ll love me no matter what happens in my life. But the last time they heard anything about HIV and AIDS will have been an advert with a tombstone.
I’m sure they’d be fine with my diagnosis. But only after hours of education and emotional explaining. Hours of helping them realise that I’m not about to die horribly next week, that cleaning the cat’s litter tray doesn’t mean I’m going to die of brain disease.
My parents are intelligent people; they’re capable of understanding the numbers. Of grasping the importance of my CD4 count. Of following the trends of my liver function and whether I should consider changing my combination. Of sharing my joy at having become undetectable.
But at the same time it feels like it would be somehow selfish of me.
It feels like most of what they’d gain from knowing would be worry; it doesn’t matter that the worry isn’t merited. They’d be concerned by every possible symptom, over the ‘tan’ of jaundice from my atazanavir, over whether being tired is an indication of something else being wrong.
It’s not that I’m ashamed of this big secret; I’ve told lots of my friends. But most of them are queer (or queer-friendly) people who have lived under the shadow of HIV since they came out. They have a support mechanism around them who understand that this isn’t the big deal it used to be.
My parents’ friends are all retirees; most of them probably read the Daily Mail. We know there shouldn’t be stigma attached to our status, but my parents and their friends won’t. They’ll be embarrassed to talk about HIV with their friends. Their friends won’t know that HIV isn’t a big deal, that my health is well managed, that catching a cold won’t put me in hospital.
I worry that they might feel upset or betrayed if they find out about my status later on. I’d hate to think that they thought I didn’t trust and respect them with the information. But if they need to know in the future they’ll understand that the reason I’m not telling them is because it’s not important. HIV doesn’t define me and it’s not a big problem I need them to support me with.
Of course it would be easier for me to be open about my status. I’m a very honest person; having to keep a secret is something I find tough. And I’m an intelligent guy who doesn’t give a shit what strangers think, useful qualities if I wanted to be an advocate and campaigner.
But the cost of that openness would be stress for my family. It doesn’t seem like it would enrich their lives to compensate for that disquiet. But it does feel like it would be arrogant of me to expect my family to deal with the stress, just so that I can save myself the trouble of keeping a secret.
I’m sure some of you readers will sympathise, some of you will disagree completely. That’s what the comments are for.