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To Tell or Not to Tell
This is the Question

First Printed in Being Alive Newsletter, 1992

January 1997

"TO BE OR NOT TO BE" was Hamlet's tumultuous inner struggle. For an HIV positive person it is "To tell or not to tell." Who, when and how to tell friends. family and lovers are all extremely delicate and difficult emotional decisions.

THE FACT IS AIDS makes people hysterical. The media continues to fuel the fires of this hysteria: witness the Magic Johnson press. When Magic appeared on television and informed the world of his HIV status, my initial reaction was "How brave of him." Then I became jealous of his celebrity status which allowed him to tell everyone at once.

Face to Face

Magic didn't have to face every lover he's ever had and watch there faces as they realized they might have been infected with HIV. That takes an incredible amount of intestinal fortitude. For me, those were the most gut wrenching conversations I've ever had in my entire life. For in that telling is overwhelming fear; for their lives, for your own, and for the inevitable loss of the relationships as they had existed. Although the relationships may continue, they will be changed forever.

Prepare Yourself

Telling anyone requires time. Time to arm yourself with an arsenal of information. Good information. Because you are going to be the one with the facts. You are going to be the one to assuage their fears as you suppress your own. Most people equate HIV with death. It takes a lot of strength to deal with the questions and the tears. Anyone who has ever disclosed their positive status to a close friend knows that: "First you have to comfort them!"

Why Should They Know

What I don't understand is this: What is it about HIV that makes you feel people should know? I have several friends who are very open about their HIV status. I also know others, myself included, who couldn't possibly tell their employers. Not necessarily because of an AIDS phobia, rather, it would instill in an employer a lack of confidence in my ability to perform at my job. I also haven't told many of my family and friends. I think it's because I don't want them to picture me as sick. I can't stand it when people feel sorry for me. Yet, I have this need for them to understand that my life has totally changed.

Everything Is Different

I may look the same and be doing the same work, but everything is different. I have a new appreciation for life, coupled with a "Twilight Zone" existence which seems to have put a ban on some of life's most basic pleasures. For I now have a time bomb inside of me and nobody knows when it is set to go off. Personally, I can only go on believing it's a dud. Now some people might call that denial, but I have a hard time differentiating between denial and positive thinking.

And the people whom I've told seem to think that I am handling this really well. In reality, I'm well, ......handling it.

What If They Knew

I was at my gym the other day. I'd gone for a swim, sat in the Jacuzzi, and had a wonderful massage. While I was in the sauna I overheard a conversation between two naked women. They were masseuses, and by the muscle-tone in their arms I could tell they'd give a great massage. One of them was talking about all her clients and then she said, "Magic wanted a two-hour massage, but I turned him down. I didn't want to touch him." At first I didn't believe my ears. Did she say Magic? She couldn't have meant Magic Johnson. But then, this is Los Angeles and how many guys named Magic are there? The other one replied, "I'd do it for front-row Laker tickets," I wondered, would my masseuse give me a massage if she knew I was HIV positive? How about my manicurist? Would she be afraid to do my nails? I fear she would.

Mandatory Testing

Telling or not telling is of course prefaced by knowing. This is a very touchy issue these days, especially for those in the health care field. (In 1996, this has changed to: "... especially for those who are pregnant.") There is one matter of which I am certain: if there is ever mandatory testing of one group, there will be mandatory testing of many. Some people think mandatory testing for all is the solution. And then what, tattoos? Until society becomes much more educated as to exactly how HIV is transmitted and we have nationalized health care, mandatory testing for everyone would only result in legalized discrimination.

Perhaps if everyone just assumed that everybody else is HIV positive, it would take some of the pressure off those of us who know our status. This is the real double-edged sword. If you have taken it upon yourself to find out, you are the one who has to bear the burden of responsibility for everyone. This is never easy. On the contrary, it is damned painful.

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This article was provided by Women Alive. It is a part of the publication Women Alive Newsletter.
See Also's Just Diagnosed Resource Center
Telling Others You're HIV Positive
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