At the age of 24, I was diagnosed with hiv. I am a privileged white man who grew up in ‘good neighbourhoods’. I never stuck a needle in my arm, nor was I a sex worker. I slept with men (and the occasional woman), and sometimes I didn’t use protection — and I got hiv.
That’s it. That’s the whole back story.
Except that it’s not the whole story, because saying hiv, at least in certain circles, is like saying ‘sinner’, ‘victim card’, ‘hooker’, ‘fag’, ‘slut’ and a few other choice phrases. And that, coupled with the fact that I’ve suffered both mentally, emotionally, and physically, because of and despite of having the virus, means that I’ve kept my status hidden from all but a hand-full of people over nearly the last decade.
Definitions first: I have hiv. I don’t use the phrase ‘I am hiv-positive’, as my identity is not wrapped up in this one thing. I have a bald head, I have hiv, I have a good job, I enjoy art, I xyz - all parts of my identity; sometimes important, sometimes background noise.
Another reason I’ve not come out with my status earlier is that I had traumatic experiences in the workplace and in relationships early-on. The law mandates that employees’ medical information be kept confidential. When an organisation employs an individual with hiv, the employer must take steps to protect the confidentiality of the person. Unfortunately, this did not happen in my case and I lost a job as a result.
Romantic relationships are another minefield. When to disclose, if to disclose, how to disclose, on and on. I’m through with it. Read it here, and read it now. Undetectable = Untransmittable. And don’t say you accept it now and later come with your asinine questions or bigotry.
The attitudes and concerns of coworkers, family, and acquaintances compound the problem of managing hiv. People can be quick to make flippant comments about hiv-positive persons. An example stands out in my mind. A direct report in a previous position often made off-the-cuff comments about people living with hiv - sometimes the comments were funny, and sometimes they weren’t, and while I know that he always meant to say them in jest or humour, one day I had had enough and responded with ‘You know I have hiv, right?’ (knowing full well he wasn’t aware). It opened a dialogue and I was able to confide in this man about the issues of dealing with hiv in the workplace, but moreover it empowered me to ‘own’ my right not to have to listen to comments that were personally, and ultimately professionally, demeaning.
So that’s it: I have hiv, I’m getting treatment, and it’s one part of my multifaceted identity. I won’t let it weigh on me. Here’s to my brave brothers fighting a similar battle; we are not alone.