For Andrew, the end of STI and disease stigma beings at the disclosure process. He finds that being open, matter-of-fact and disclosing his HIV status without shame is the most effective method- no beating around the bush. What is your approach to receiving or giving an STI disclosure?
It was like any other day where you take those tentative steps in a new friendship. I stepped out the door and headed down to my local pub to meet up with a guy who I had been talking to for a few weeks on-line. Today was the day we had decided that we should meet face-to-face in the flesh and see where it goes from there. So when I get in the bar he waves me over and hugs me tightly and says, ‘Pleasure to finally meet you’. Of course, I am happy to be expanding my circles of friends but deep down I have a dark secret; a secret I was ashamed of back then.
So after a few rounds of drinks the conversation (as you can well imagine between to very horny men) got down to the nitty gritty of sex. ‘Aww Gary’ (not his real name), ‘There’s something about me you must know.’ To which he came closer and gave me a kiss on the cheek and whispered, ‘You can’t shock me. I want you’. I blushed and looked down then back up and stared him long and hard in the eyes and just blurted out, ‘I have HIV’. He open and closed his mouth a few times then pushed me hard away saying, ‘Ewwwww, you have what?’ I told him again everything. After a long tirade of abuse both physical and verbal, he just walked away, and thankfully I never saw him again.
For people who are as scared as he was I have taken to introducing myself like this: ‘Hi. I’m Andrew and HIV+ is what I am.’
This as you can well imagine has its ups and downs and can at times frighten people but I do it because LIFE IS TO DAMN SHORT not to! I shouldn’t have to waste time on what false friends might think or how they may treat me due to the positive diagnosis.
There is the other side of the coin as well: In order to protect yourself from harmful reactions or protect those you hold dear, at times it’s OK not to disclose to others. Positive people develop ways to navigate a disclosure and search for social cues to try to predict if it is safe to share their status with a particular person. Just know that anyone who truly loves you should have no bother with you begin HIV+ or having any other STI other than, ‘Will you be ok?’
The only time you really must disclose is when you intend to have any form of sexual contact with someone else.
And the onus isn’t only on those who must disclose a positive status. Harmful reactions to disclosure strengthen stigma and further help the virus spread. The general public needs to learn how to respectfully receive a disclosure.
The disclosure of any disease, infection or condition should not be an embarrassment or something to shame. It should be as easy as telling them, ‘Oh god, make me fucking cum.’ But we can’t, we don’t, we wont, and this is destroying families, lives and killing people whether be in direct connection to the said STI or due to the secondary effect which is the suicide of so many every year. The fact that this can still happen in this century is a disgrace.
I argue that the fault lies in the hands of all those who have reacted badly to being disclosed to- including reacting with violence or verbal abuse. It also lies in the fault of those who do not disclose. There is a general fear in our culture towards talking openly about diseases and conditions. This fear must be overcome.
The reasons people don’t disclose ranges from fear, disgust, pain (both physical and mental). The one that stumps me is people who want to intentionally pass on the virus. These twisted, deranged assholes are rare, but their extreme actions are potent enough to further stigmatize the entire HIV community and make tolerance of HIV in the dating scene even more difficult. Any reason for intentionally transmitting any disease is a disgusting habit which needs to be stamped out by everyone who cares about this. We can make stigma a thing of the past if we all shamelessly disclose and respectfully receive disclosure.
So to end this little piece, understand me when I shout this:
‘IM ANDREW JOHN NIELD AND I’M A PROUD MAN WHO JUST HAPPENS TO BE HIV+, STAND BY ME AND I WILL STAND BY YOU AND TOGETHER WE WILL WIN AGAINST THE BIGGOTS.’
Monologues are independent stories and the opinions shared are the author’s own