Within the oppressive constraints of a white supremacist system that perpetuates so many forms of violence, we need to have a conversation about taking care of ourselves and each other.
It is hard to consider how the impact of the state leads us to not hold each other and see each other. Being disabled or diseased or, in the case of HIV, infectious (or assumed to be) changes your relationship to the state. It changes your vulnerability to state-sanctioned violence. It creates or heightens trauma around what autonomy and closeness look like. I'm often reminded that I must fight harder to be seen as someone with a complexity that didn't go away when I become poz. I still have desire, need and a yearning for touch -- these don't go into hiding and shouldn't be repressed because of status.
In thinking about stigma and living with HIV, we have to understand a central problem with criminalizing HIV: it weaponizes HIV status, oppressing and incarcerating poz bodies and leaving us with fear about being forever targeted. Hearing strategies on disclosure that aren't informed by people who've had to actually work through it themselves is a problem. The act of disclosure is that loaded.
Seronegative people like to think of HIV disclosure as neat, linear and contained. They presume and are committed to the notion that the full responsibility for the health of others falls on the poz person. Thinking of disclosure in a vacuum without a nuanced, subjective or complex deconstruction of global HIV stigma is tantamount to pulling leaves off a plant when you intend to transplant or remove it instead of grabbing it by the roots.
The Violence Is Often Unspoken
When we focus disclosure politics only on poz people, it creates a dichotomy of responsibility. Decisions to disclose or not to disclose are impacted by where you're at, what is happening and who is involved in the process of disclosure. The idea of safety impacts conversations around a poz status. Without interrogating positions of power within relationships or sexual contexts, one cannot fully appreciate the fullness of this conversation; for example, we disconnect decisions about disclosure from the realities of how cruising or casual sex might change what questions are asked.
In my experience, when disclosure happens, it always re-stimulates trauma; it never becomes easier. Even though I am constantly disclosing publicly, it isn't the same when I navigate intimate and familial spaces. The violence is often unspoken. It is often the case that when the state inserts itself into intimate relationships it is detrimental to the communities involved. The case of Michael Johnson is one of the more alarming for me as it pertains to HIV criminalization and points to the problems with laws that criminalize our bodies.
State surveillance, incarceration and policing of the bodies of people with HIV is violent and causes many poz people to feel unsafe around this conversation. You're never fully out of any closet, thanks to the multilayered impacts of trauma.
Read Abdul-Aliy's blog, Chanting From the Margins: When Blackness, Queerness and HIV Intersect.