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The Word on Disclosure

By Bridget Hughes

June 2006

Telling someone that you're HIV+ is rarely an easy task. If the person you're telling is a potential sex partner it can become even more challenging. When you disclose your HIV+ status to a potential sex partner you may run the risk of rejection. How might this person react to such news? A lot depends upon the person that you are disclosing to and the relationship that you have. Because the stigma of HIV continues to exist today, it can impact the way we live and cope with having the disease. People may reject you, gossip about you, discriminate against you or your family, or even threaten you. Revealing your status to someone else can be scary, isolating, and overwhelming. It can sometimes lead to greater stigma.

However, while some may feel betrayed, others may feel relieved to know. Some may react with anger. Others may be initially shocked, but ultimately be sympathetic and open. Regardless of whether these potential reactions are real or anticipated, it can often shape the way we disclose, or even if we choose to disclose.

For those who are still in denial about their own HIV+ status, it will be difficult to admit it to someone else or to disclose to, or protect a sexual partner. For others who are bound by fear, shame, and distrust, they may even lie about their status. Some HIV+ folks believe in the "don't ask, don't tell" policy -- if your partner doesn't ask, then you don't have to tell. Your only obligation is to do everything in your power to keep him or her safe. Others pick and choose those whom they feel that they can trust with this information. Still others are open about their status and disclose to family, friends, and sexual partners with little hesitation.

In an ideal world, everyone would recognize that sexual safety and health is an obligation and responsibility of all parties involved. Asking about HIV and STD status and being prepared for safer sex would be expected of everyone. Unfortunately, because so many people are uneducated about HIV, STIs, and safer sex, HIVers carry the burden of assessing the level of risk we engage in, and trying to ensure the sexual safety of our partners. Joel Jimenez suggests the following "guiding principles for disclosure:"

  1. try not 2 lie
  2. you don't have 2 tell everybody, take your time 2 decide who 2 tell and how you will approach them
  3. treat others the way you would like 2 be treated, and
  4. critical thinking is central 2 good, informed health decision making.1

Despite fears of isolation, disclosure may actually be beneficial to you. Letting people know about your status can assist you in getting the support and care that you need. It can help you to get the proper medical treatment that you deserve, and it can open doors to meeting and getting the peer support of others who are also HIV+.

  1. "Talking About Disclosure," Reality 15, Reality Archive.

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