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It Doesn't Matter How I Got HIV

October 17, 2014

David Duran
David Duran

I had just opened up to him and told him my deepest, darkest secret. He wasn't the first person I had told, and he wouldn't be the last, but each time I reveal my HIV status, it takes a lot of inner strength and courage. I'm very open and vocal about my status, but even so, saying those words to anyone still messes with my mind.

After the initial awkwardness was over, he asked, "Do you know how you got it?" Wait, what? Did I just open myself up to possible rejection only to be sidelined with an even more private inquiry into my life? He wasn't the first person to ask how I became HIV positive, and his way of asking wasn't uncommon or even in the top contenders for the most insensitive way of asking, but his question led me to cringe, while simultaneously doing a mental eye roll.

I am all about sharing how I became HIV positive, especially if my story will provide a sense of comfort, help someone relate or even educate others. But it's my story to tell and I will tell it at the right place and time, when I decide it's appropriate. If you're someone I am just getting to know, it's completely inappropriate to inquire about that, especially right after I disclose my status. Regardless of how I answer, my response will have an impact on how you view me.

"I just wasn't using protection and being promiscuous." OK, so now I'm a whore. "I became positive because at one point in my life I used drugs and it either happened through the sharing of needles or unsafe sex." Now I am a drug user and a whore. "My partner cheated on me." Now I'm just an idiot for allowing it to happen. "I'm not exactly sure how or when it happened." Now I am all of the above.

What answer is the questioner looking for? What answer would stop the questioner from casting shame upon me? Opening up and sharing my personal story and history shouldn't be something to shy away from, but for me, the details of how I became HIV positive are nobody's business unless I choose to make it their business. I don't deserve any additional guilt or shame to be thrown my way because of a single moment in my life. For all this person knows, the moment is forever ingrained in my head, or possibly, it has been causing me anguish for years because I have no clue what happened.


A story that involves what many perceive to be a more "non-guilty" answer -- a cheating partner or something similar -- usually immediately elicits the "poor you" pity parade. I also don't need your pity or consulting. If I just came up with the courage to disclose my status, I have obviously already dealt with my emotions enough to be able to utter those words. Shoulder-shrugging while you pat me on the back and tell me it's "going to be okay" won't help me much.

My thoughts here are pure emotion. They are not bitterness nor are they anger, and they are most certainly not reaching out for acceptance. The majority of you reading this have most likely had this exact situation happen to you more than once. And for those who have been the ones to ask the question, it's OK. Now you understand one point of view that might make you think twice before doing so again.

Shame, when it comes to HIV, comes in many different forms. And they all hurt. For years now I haven't discussed my "how I got it" story at great length. I've always kept it short and simple. I was married, he cheated and that's it. But the truth is, I made the story that simple because I was ashamed of not really knowing how it happened.

"The truth is, I just don't know, and admitting that causes me pain."

Could my story be true? Absolutely, since I have never seen or spoken to my ex since it all ended. Could I have possibly become infected from some unsafe sexual encounters shortly following the end of my relationship? Again, yes, though I had convinced myself those couldn't be the reason as I wasn't on the receiving end of the encounters, and I had reached out to the men and flat out asked them, once I became positive, and was satisfied with their answers. Could it have been the tattoos I had done in a developing country at the time of our relationship? Sure, it could have been.

The truth is, I just don't know, and admitting that causes me pain. It brings me back to a time in my life when I was so desperate to know the answer to that very same question that someone I just met thinks is OK to ask me. Everyone who is HIV positive has their own story of how they came to be that way. Whether they choose to tell it, or keep it inside, the hope is that they know their status, stay healthy and are also not ashamed.

David Duran is a freelance journalist and writer based in Brooklyn, N.Y. You can follow him on Twitter at @theemuki.

Copyright © 2014 Remedy Health Media, LLC. All rights reserved.

This article was provided by TheBody.
See Also's Just Diagnosed Resource Center
Telling Others You're HIV Positive
More Personal Accounts of HIV Disclosure


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