"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
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.
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
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
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.
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.