One of the tools I have been using to work towards "normalization" of HIV is disclosure. I have come out with my HIV+ status to show those who considered HIV as pertaining to excluded populations that HIV can come into anyone's life.
I got the impression that people around could not see HIV as related with 'normal people'. So I decided to go public so that I could show others that it could happen to anybody, it was among us in our communities. I think that the use of that tool is required only as long as there is not a high level of acknowledgment and recognition.
Who was the first person I disclosed to?
The first person was one of my friends, a nurse by profession. She did not know personally about HIV and I had always been very protective towards her. So I prepared myself to tell her by challenging my own fears so that I could reassure her that everything was going to be alright. When I told her about my diagnosis, she was very upset but I could transmit my confidence.
What was the impact on my friend? On our friendship?
She was very shocked thinking that I was going to die. But when she saw me trying to explain to her about the future, she realised that we could talk differently about it. She told me that when we could talk together she felt reassured. The fear came back when she was alone and thinking of the limited possibilities she was able to find on her own.
Yes, she told me she was very scared about me, but not about herself. She did not think about the possibility of getting infected and still she has not gone through testing yet. That is one reflection I keep doing about acknowledgement and recognition. I think she included HIV as a possibility, as something that was around her, but she did not consider it necessary to go through the test. In some ways she introduced HIV in her life as something real but not as a threat.
She has been through cancer after that, and she told me she felt differently about illnesses. She still is one of my best friends.
Impact on me/the discloser
In that way, I gained my own confidence. I found ways of looking for the best instead of thinking of the worst. Then I told another friend and it was easier that time. I did not tell my family yet, because it was difficult for me to address so much at that time.
It was very important for me to disclose because I think that the secret would have been a heavy burden. It helped me in realising how many good friends I had and how rich I was for that.
Disclosure can play a key role in prevention but goes hand-in-hand with support
Also, when I had to tell to one of my brothers I could feel that he changed some of his attitudes towards life. He went through testing because he wanted to donate blood for me, especially when he is so terribly scared of injections (that is about love and acceptance!).
Disclosure can be a very powerful tool provided that the positive person is well supported and strong to do it. I think that it is all involved: I think I could be so powerful in giving support to my friends and family because I could feel their support and love for me. Of course, it is a hard time for all, but having confidence in your environment makes you feel ready to deal with the diagnosis and with disclosing.
Disclosure as a tool for advocacy
I decided that having the support from my beloved ones I could go public and I decided to explain myself in a newsletter for PLHIV. And at the same time, seeing one powerful and confident makes other friends and family members go through the process with less fear and more openness.
Level 5 of recognition and acknowledgement will be when nobody needs to go public for the sake of advocacy
A real sign of acceptance of the role of HIV in our communities would be that there was no need for HIV + people to disclose (unless they desire to share their status for personal reasons) because all members of the community shared the same knowledge and responsibility, independently of their serostatus.
I think that nobody is exceptional or everybody can be exceptional when provided with the right environment.
(My warmest thanks to Rituu for the interview and compiling that shaped this story).