Talking 'bout Your Status
Disclosure, a hot topic. Do we tell, when do we tell, how do we tell and whom do we tell? Well, here is something anyone who is HIV-positive should know: Every state in the U.S. has generic criminal statutes that could apply to conduct that exposes others to HIV. Twenty-seven states have some type of law that specifically criminalizes the exposure or transmission of HIV. The AIDS Legal Council of Chicago says that often states without HIV-specific criminal transmission laws will find ways to prosecute HIV-positive individuals who do not disclose their status by charging them with assault, battery or attempted murder.
For more information on the specific laws in your state, you can see the HIV Criminal Law and Policy Project web site: www.hivcriminallaw.org/laws/hivspec.cfm.
I am sure we have all heard stories in the media of men and women being charged for not telling sex partners that they are HIV-positive. If I am HIV-positive and I just want to have sex or a one-night stand and that person consents, we use a condom and we both get a need fulfilled, am I any more obligated to tell him or her my status then they are to tell me that they have herpes or some other STD (sexually transmitted disease)? And what if they do not know their status or avoid getting tested because of not wanting to know -- are they any more or less legally liable then I am? This is really a difficult topic for many.
Let's say you meet someone you are interested in -- when is the best time to tell him or her your little secret? I can give you some examples of my experiences with this, but I am not sure that I have an answer for you. Each person needs to choose what is best for them and what approach makes them most comfortable.
When I first started dating again, I ran into someone I had known before I graduated from college. We had worked together and he had known me for three years. He asked me out one day and told me that he had been interested in me since way back then, but he had heard that I had gotten married. He asked me how my husband died and my common story was a "brain tumor." We went out a couple of times and I felt like I should just get it over with and let him know. I told him that I had HIV and that was really how my husband had died. His response was: "Were you a prostitute or did you shoot up?" He placed me in a stereotypical group for women with HIV, not unlike the stereotype of men with HIV being gay. At the time I was shocked, and made myself his HIV educator.
Today that kind of response would just piss me off. Why must HIV always be about a judgment of who I am? And does it really matter how I got it?
I handled the disclosure topic in many different ways, but most of the time I told men on our first date. Some I never heard from again, some I had to present the HIV 101 session to, some were cool and knowledgeable, or they took the time to do their own research. Some I sent to my friend Chuck, the HIV test counselor at the health department, and let him play the educator (like the guy from Bulgaria who was shocked to find out I had HIV -- turns out he was running around on his wife). But, either way it was a relief to me. To have the issue out in the open and over with. I still worried about my disclosure getting back to people at my job or my friends who didn't know. It was an internal debate that was never simple for me.
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