Telling Others You're HIV Positive: How'd You Do It?
Bishop Kwabena Rainey Cheeks, Washington, D.C.; Diagnosed in 1985
My relationships are good. I didn't hide anything. I told them when I found out, when I was in the hospital.
It's important to build a support system around you before you get sick. If you got sick right now, you should know you could call one person, and they know everybody to call.
Don't assume family and friends will not love you. Most of the time, you will be quite surprised -- they come around and are there for you. If they're not, it's better to find out while you're healthy than when you're ill. I tell people, "Take the power out of a secret: Tell it."
How do you decide whether to disclose your HIV status to someone?
I think you have to look at each person you tell on an individual basis: How important is that person in your life; how close are they to you? I'm a public person, so I've told it in magazines, newspapers, on TV. But that's not for everybody. Even when I speak to people now, I still sometimes get a little nervous. It's still like having to come out again when I'm standing in front of people saying I'm HIV positive. You have to begin to find those one or two whom you can tell, so it takes some of the anxiety out of it. If it's a really close person, you need to tell it, get it out of the way, and have faith that they can handle it.
What is the best response you have ever gotten from telling someone?
The best responses were times when I was ill. People showed up that I didn't expect to, just to be with me. I've been blessed with that. I've had people drive hundreds of miles to see me. I've been home and a friend came to me and said, "I want a set of keys to your house." And I said, "For what?" He said, "So that I can get in." And he just took over, and I sat back and laughed.
Also, I've had people come to say thank you because they've heard me speak, or watched me go through it.
What is the worst response?
The worst responses were in early days when people got judgmental. I knew they were just venting, and I was able to stand there and let them get it out of their system, which most people have a hard time doing.
I was speaking at one event, and a guy stood up and pointed his finger at me like he had a gun, squeezing the trigger, and waved at me to come outside. After I had finished speaking and greeting people, I went outside and stood across the street. My attitude was, I would die standing, but I wouldn't run and hide.
You still have people with negative responses. I've been blessed not to have it much because I'm very clear: If you want to judge me, then let's open up the doors, let's see what you're doing. I believe in the Scriptures, which say, "Love God with all your heart, soul and mind. And love your neighbor as you love yourself." It didn't say love your neighbor if they're HIV negative, or love your neighbor if they're straight. It just says, "Love your neighbor."
Also, a doctor told me in 1990, the first time I was hospitalized, "You will never walk again. You won't see Christmas."
I said, "Who told you that?"
He said, "That's my professional opinion."
"Then I'm safe," I said, "because you can be wrong."
He said, "I've seen this a hundred times before."
I said, "I'm a hundred and one. I'm the one you haven't seen, and I'm telling you, I will walk."
It wasn't easy. I struggled; I forced myself to get up. I had people hold me up, and let me wiggle, but be there to catch me if I fell.
Where do you think you get that strength?
Two places. One, my mother and grandmother were two very determined black women. Two, I started training in martial arts when I was 14 in a very traditional way with a Korean instructor. The mind-set was: You do not let anything defeat you. I studied meditation and yoga, which gave me inner strength to visualize and accomplish my goal. I would visualize myself standing and walking, just like when I was in a martial arts competition I saw myself going through and winning. Every time I stood up or took a step, I would go, "I win."
Building that kind of attitude gets you through. And having strong faith is of major importance for me.
Comment by: J. Ben Nun
Mon., Oct. 15, 2012 at 10:54 pm EDT
It's curious reading about the blowback from making known that you're gay; I'm not gay, but I have a history of alcoholism, and I have to make exactly the same comment: you pay a steep price for letting people hang that label on you. Oh, they'll say the correct things, but for some of them, the whole relationship changes. They just can't trust you, once you've admitted that kind of problem.
Comment by: Adam
Tue., Oct. 9, 2012 at 10:08 am EDT
Well years ago when I was Negative , I met guys who told me they are Positive , and I did not care much , they were nice , we had safe play , and back in 2007 when I have Positive situation , I start to be more careful and respect to the others and had safe sex. But telling other that I am HIV + , is quite though I know my good friends will handle it , and I did share with few good close friends they were supportive , but sharing with all others always raised question marks for me , I simply do not want to share with anyone it is more of a personal matter for me . Only the necessary ones should know , and sharing with one person in the family was good enough for me , but not all can handle the situation , I simply not even talk about me being gay , and how would I let them understand more about me being Positive , not a god idea and necessary .
All I do try to enjoy the life fullest , thanks to new medications they are great , take care of myself and continue of my well being . And as long as you respect yourself you automatically respects other for any matter ... Life is great , and wonderful the way it is .
Comment by: Neil
Mon., Oct. 1, 2012 at 4:03 pm EDT
I was diagonised 7 yrs ago.. Told my straight boss, few siblings..all very supportive.. But the gay community is another story.. I am very healthily, undetectable, professional, good looking, independent, caring n honest person. So when I tell them I am poz, it's like a curse.. One just slammed the door n walked out fr my car after chatting for hours as I told him. Changed his behavior so fast. The rest don't even reply. Most are douch bags n i have so much to offer n wonder why am I even bothering with these guys.
Comment by: J
Mon., Oct. 29, 2012 at 1:40 pm EDT I am sorry people can be so insensitive. I feel like that kind of behavior is the same as a homophobe who has homosexual tendencies. Guys who won't even sit and listen, or ask questions are storming off because they don't want to come to grips with their own questionable behaviors. I don't speak for everyone, but I know a lot of HIV negative men who bareback as much as some of the poz guys I know. They think it's ok because they only play with other negative guys whom they trust. They don't realize that all positive guys once thought they were negative (even if for a short time) while the virus was infecting their cells. People are judgemental and let fear control their own behaviors.
That being said, this is why I put a big + on all of my profiles. In my friendships and in the gay community I am very out and open about being HIV positive. I never want to have to go through what this guy did to you. There will be both negative and positive guys who don't care, are not afraid, and will see more than your sero status. There are plenty of douchebags out there, and that one special guy will shine among them. Be yourself, be proud of the fact that you are not afraid to disclose your status. You'll find a guy who will appreciate it, and all of your other qualities. Peace and love to you brother, from Oregon :)
Comment by: Roy
Wed., Sep. 26, 2012 at 12:35 pm EDT
I had just come out to myself and the world and then my fiance infected me -a doctor no less. When I was first diagnosed, I was rather open about it with my gay employer, close friends, colleagues and gay online sites. That wasn't very smart despite my being heralded as a voice for those who felt that they can't speak up about it. Why? Because people will use that against you even though they may act supportive. And people have big mouths -especially gays in my observation. The gay community? It's nothing more than a shallow meat market, and pozes are damaged goods. I've since walked away from the gay community. I'll take my chances as a private person in the straight world where at least the battle lines are more straightforwardly drawn. My mother knows, but doesn't understand it at all and can't. The rest of my family are right-wing pseudo-Christians, so I won't tell them. My real friends love me for who I am and how I do what I do. I'll just continue with my work and hope to remain in a good spiritual place without having to compromise that just for sake of "fitting in" with the duplicitous gay community. ~Roy
Comment by: Cathy
Mon., Sep. 17, 2012 at 11:00 am EDT
I found out in 1989 that I was HIV positive. The man I was with died never revealing to me that he had tested positive. When I first found out I was devastated! I learned to live with this disease from the help of my family, friends and doctors. I am proud to say I have been undetectable for many many years due to the great medication that is out there. I am now 54yrs old and healthy. HIV is not a death sentence you can live a happy, healthy, and productive life if you take care of yourself!
I have no problem telling others about my status. You either except me or keep it moving! Loving my life!
Comment by: D
(Virginia Beach, VA)
Sun., Sep. 9, 2012 at 8:52 pm EDT
I do not have HIV however I do appreciate this article so that I can be empathetic if someone ever tells me that they do have HIV/AIDS. I would have appreciated the article more if there were women telling their stories. One may assume that only homosexual males can contract the disease, however, the people that I have met with the disease have been women. It take courage to tell someone anything that may change the dynamics of your relationship and I applaud you all for your insight into the topic.
Comment by: Anonymous
Tue., Aug. 28, 2012 at 8:54 am EDT
I was diagnosed with HIV in 2008. But after talking to my Dr. I found out that I had it for the past 7-11 years. From what my labs were telling. Then I think back to all the anonymous sex partners I had. But what's even worse I had a cover girlfriend. We also had for sons that I could have gotten infected.
How ever my family accepted mr with open arms. Now if I could just tell them I'm gay.
Comment by: kennedy
Mon., Sep. 26, 2011 at 10:37 am EDT
This is motivating,the testimonies are so powerful.see people who were diagnosed in nineties and are still surviving.Am a project chairperson of a gay men organization living with HIV virus, and i would love to confess that at last i have found a blog that will motivate us to kick away stigma among ourselves.
Comment by: John James
Wed., Sep. 26, 2012 at 1:23 pm EDT How about a blog for negative people to read to help them realize the senslessness of categorizing us as dirty and the futility and harm that does to all of us? I can accept myself, straight people can accept me, but other gay people fear and loathe me. When that is dealt with, when those gay people are reached, then maybe things will get better.
Comment by: AL S.
(KANSAS CITY MO)
Sun., Jun. 19, 2011 at 12:50 am EDT
I am blessed with good health. yet i have cut myself off from most of the world. due to drug and alcohol use. i am seeking friend with common interest and who just wand to enjoy simple things in life.i have been poz for almost 18 years. just after the cocktail started. i lost most of my close friends. and i am seeking new ways to make friends who don't need drugs to make them social. Any insight to this situation would be a true god given gift. i don't want to waste my life feeling isolated from the world.
Comment by: John James
Wed., Sep. 26, 2012 at 1:19 pm EDT I hate to disappoint you but all you are likely to find is continued isolation and discrimination from other gay people. I've been positive 20 years and most of my friends have died and there just isn't any way to make new friends, even in a big city if I want to be honest. Most of my previous friends were sex partners first and then we moved on to friendship. If I want to be honest about my status, I am not going to have any new friends because I am, as other fags say, dirty. No one wants to be seen socializing with poz people in a gay environment. The straight people I know are more empathetic and less jugmental than the fags. As far as doing drugs, that's about the only type of person who will have sex with me. No questions asked. I'm finally getting so disgusted, that after many years drug free, I am seriously considering using again just to have a social life. The problems caused by the earlier drug use were never as nasty as the isolation and depression that I am experiencing not using. Gay people classify us as clean or dirty and if they can have that attitude, then I owe them nothing.
Comment by: ed
Wed., Nov. 24, 2010 at 2:13 pm EST
Wonderful suggestions. The response I get most often when I disclose my status is "me too!" There's so many kinds of HIV+ that we can all find a poz partner - which takes all the scary out of it.
Comment by: TBK
Wed., Oct. 20, 2010 at 10:38 pm EDT
I am HIV-, but had a partner who died of Aids 25 years ago. I didn't know then that I was what you now call a magnetic couple. It was as difficult for me to disclose his status as it was for my partner. To all you wonderful people, maintain your dignity because someone will always love you no matter what. I am willing to enter into a relationship with another positive man - no barrier for me. Hope this gives someone out there some hope for love after finding out their status.
Comment by: ANGEL
Tue., Sep. 7, 2010 at 5:24 pm EDT
I WAS DIAGNOSED W HIV A YEAR AGO...I STILL DONT KNOW WHAT TO DO...MY FAMILY N I ARE REALLY CLOSE BUT THE WHOLE IDEA OF DISCLOSE MY INF W THEM SCARES ME....I ALSO WAS DIAGNOSED W STD N TO BE HONEST IM STILL MAD N I HAVE A LOT OF ANGER ON THIS GUY 'CAUSE I TRUSTED HIM
Comment by: Rick
(Las Vegas NV)
Sun., Sep. 5, 2010 at 11:04 pm EDT
the problem with disclosure to an intimate partner is that they don't always hear what you are trying to tell them. There are those out there that when something goes arie some gay men tend to use this information to embarrass others, dismember friendships, and make one feel like a leper. I agree in concept that full disclosure is a must for intimate moments, there are times that prudent judgment should be taken on the information you are willing to give out.
Comment by: Hildah W.
Thu., Jul. 29, 2010 at 1:54 am EDT
Am not positive but feels that, those who tell about their status live happily, and with less stress as they are easily accepted by their families and friends.
Comment by: Kelli B.
(San Antonio Texas)
Sun., Jul. 18, 2010 at 6:59 pm EDT
I was so scared, so i prayed that God would give me the right words and comfort my family. To my surprise,i was accepted with tears and love. I love my mother and sister with all my soul...
Sat., Jul. 3, 2010 at 10:01 pm EDT
IMO My theory is that some things can't be helped or just something that's part of you. I don't have HIV but I've always been like, If you don't like somthing about me fine. If you'ere just being judgemental then don't associate with me.
Comment by: Fred Glick
(Kansas City, MO 64132)
Mon., Jun. 28, 2010 at 9:12 am EDT
I already knew before I got tested because as a gay bartender in a gay bar who was permisuous and used IV drugs I knew not long after a lover was diagnosed so I got tested and tested positive in 1986. Here it is nearing 2011 and I'm still here and healthy.Family support has never been an issue.
Comment by: Doug
Thu., Jun. 24, 2010 at 5:34 pm EDT
It is never an easy thing to discuss but it must occur. Over the years I have tried all sorts of ways. The more people know about HIV the easier it is for them to understand. I am AMAZED at the # of gay guys who really need an HIV 101 class. Ultimately each of us is responsible for our own health. I am blessed to have great labs which MAY reduce the possibility of infection-despite this, one must always be safe. What drives me nuts is when guys ask and, then proceed as if they have no worries if they are told that the potential partner is HIV-.It is not wise to simply believe what someone tells you. Lust makes people do crazy things!
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