If you follow me on Twitter (and you really should) you may have noticed that I changed my avatar, name and posted a photo of myself. Yes, all of my face, not a quarter of it, or obscured by a book, or an owl or something.
I’d always planned to reveal my true identity on the 1st March, just a couple of days ahead of my Attitude Magazine column – on the day I headed to Brighton for the Student Pride weekend I’m attending. But last night I was over with a friend, I was talking about the whole thing and getting more and more nervous. Then one follower on twitter suggested I should treat it like a plaster and just rip it off, get it over and done with quickly.
After a little thought, and a large Gin & Tonic I did it. I thought “She’s right. To hell with it. 5 days isn’t going to change anything” and posted “Hello, my name is Tom, and I’m @UKPositiveLad” (see screenshot of tweet to the right).
To say the response was positive is putting it mildly. I only had my personal phone on me, and not my UKPositiveLad mobile, but when I came home I saw that I’d received 53 DMs, 503 mentions and loads more RTs and Favourites. Completely overwhelming.
I want to thank you all for your kind words, support and encouragement. It’s been quite a journey from being diagnosed (not all that long ago really) to starting the blog as “Sam” through to coming out as Tom.
Fear not though, I’m still the same blogger and twit(terer) you’ve come to know over all these months – I’m just doing it with a face and my real name now. It’s pretty liberating.
I look forward to speaking to you all soon, I’m going leave you all with a little YouTube video (a bit camp) but the song pretty much sums up how I’m feeling at the moment!
There are a few things in this world that seem to infinite, space, time, Cher’s fair-well tours, and gay men’s capacity for gossip.
I don’t know what it is about gay men but we just love a bit of gossip. I myself am not immune to this phenomenon, I’ll put my hands up now. But there are some things that you just don’t gossip about and a person’s HIV status is one of those.
Imagine my surprise the other night when I get a IM from someone I barely know saying “Are you HIV positive?”. I didn’t answer straight away but instead inquired as to why he was asking. Apparently a joint “friend” had seen us chatting online and thought that he should tell him for his own protection. Because, you know, you can get HIV over instant messaging these days.
Furthermore it’s apparently a “Well known fact” that I’m HIV positive and that I “go around barebacking people without telling them”. Ah that old rumour again eh? Never gets old that one. This is the darker side of the gay grapevine. Without me even having confirmed my HIV status I was then told how what I was doing was “reckless” and “criminal”. I tried to point out that the spreading of such unfounded rumours was, in fact, libel – a criminal offence. He didn’t take this well.
The whole exchange left me feeling angry and violated. Angry because it’s no-one’s business what my HIV status is, and it’s certainly not their place to be going around telling people. Violated because my name is being dragged through the mud by “friends” unknown – who actually think I’m going around infecting people with HIV. The very thought left me feeling physically sick, I wouldn’t wish this virus on my worst enemy.
The stigma surrounding HIV is never going to go away if people trade other people’s HIV statuses like dirty little secrets, something to be ashamed of. But nor should we feel we have to announce it to the world and his dog to pre-empt the rumour mill. How about we allow HIV positive people some respect and privacy and let them tell only who they want, and when they want – and not out them like some sort of sideshow attraction?
So before you pass on that juicy bit of gossip you just heard, take a moment to think: How is this going to effect the person? Do I have any right to tell people this? How would I like it if people said this about me? Maybe the rumour could stop with you?
From my hidey cave,
Two blog posts in one week? I know, I’m spoiling you, but read on…
Possibly the single biggest issue for me about being HIV+ isn’t my health, the medication etc, it’s actually the rejection that you can face when you tell someone your status.
One of the first people I ever disclosed my status to was a holiday romance. We’d been hanging out for a couple of days, drinking, swimming, holding hands etc, all very romantic. One afternoon I got a text asking me to spend the night with him at his hotel, I thought it only fair that I tell him my (fairly recently found) HIV status. That was one of the most difficult texts I ever had to send not just from my nervous clammy hands or the heart beating in my mouth.
He replied shortly saying that he was “OK with it”, but at the same time said that we’d have to postpone the night at the hotel because of plans with his friends. That was the last time we ever had a proper conversation. I tried chatting to him a couple of times after that, mostly he just ignored my calls/texts – the final time he answered but pretended to be someone else. I’d been well and truly rejected. Gutted.
Since that day I’ve had a policy of telling people I plan to sleep with/date as soon as possible. If someone messages me on Gaydar/Grindr asking for a fuck I have no problem saying right up front “By the way, I’m HIV+. I hope that’s not an issue?”. But as I found out last night it’s still pretty nerve-wracking telling someone you have feelings for.
Last night I agreed to go on a date with someone I’ve been talking to for a while. He’s very handsome, totally buff and a bit shorter than me. Amazing. Then it dawned on me that I was going to have to tell him. I decided to do it then and there, seeing as we were already chatting.
I said “In the spirit of openness and honesty I need to share something with you. Plus it saves us both heartache if it’s something you feel you can’t handle. Please be honest with me either way. I’m HIV positive”. Cue a ridiculously long wait. Why wasn’t he replying? Was it too much? Fuck, fuckity fuck.
He *eventually* replied “Hey, don’t stress about it. My ex had it, and we were together five years”. Overjoyed. He was absolutely fine with it and thanked me for being so honest. We’ve even planned our date for this Monday night coming.
Disclosing your status isn’t an easy thing to do, no matter how readily we might do it. All that we ask is that the people we tell are honest with us. If you’re uncomfortable being with someone that’s HIV+ then tell us (nicely!), we’d much rather that than being lied to – then ignored.
I’m ashamed to admit but I’ve not been to a dentist in YEARS. I can’t stand the places. Men in white coats poking you with sharp tools the hygienist that simultaneously drowns you whilst telling you off for not flossing, and then they expect you to pay for it! It’s not my idea of fun, let me tell you.
Sadly, for the first time in my life I think I’ve got a cavity. At my age I’m shocked I’ve not had one sooner to be honest. Great, a trip to the hell that is the dentist.
I called up my dentist, turns out that having not been for over four years gets you taken off their patient list (who knew?), and when I asked to re-register I was told they weren’t accepting any more patients. So began my search for a new dentist.
I found a couple online near me, there wasn’t much between them, I chose the one that’d be easiest to get to. So I’m sat in a draft waiting room, half filling in my registration forms, half watching Jeremy Kyle on the TV (he wasn’t the father, and no-one had any idea who else it could be) when I noticed a question on the form:
“Are you HIV positive? YES/NO”
Why would my dentist need to know this? At first I thought maybe it’s to protect themselves in case there’s blood flying – but then surely they should assume every patient’s blood could contain HIV, Hep A/B/C, Malaria etc, so surely they should take ample measures whatever the patient? Then I thought maybe it’s for my benefit – you know to use super sterile kit – but I’d hope all of their equipment would be of the highest cleanliness for every single patient, regardless of HIV status?
I’ve failed to think of a single situation where my HIV status is relevant to the treatment I receive or the safety precautions the dentist should take. If I fill in ‘YES’ will I be refused treatment? If I circle ‘NO’ am I breaking the law?
In the end I circled neither. I handed my forms into the receptionist – who didn’t check them – and I saw the dentist. I’m tempted to phone back, anonymously, and ask why it was on the form – but I doubt I’d get a coherent answer from that receptionist. Let’s just hope it’s another four years before I have to go again…
Best dental wishes,
Working in IT and dealing with data protection, I tend to see infractions wherever I go. Credit card reciepts left in shops, passwords written on PostIt notes, people accessing online banking on public WiFi etc. But one of the last places I expected to see something like this was my local GP Surgery (for those outside the UK: A GP is a General Practioner (Doctor)).
Let me set the scene for you. It’s a Friday afternoon and I’ve popped into my GP Surgery to talk about some on-going medication. I’m leafing through a year old copy of OK! magazine and trying not to make eye contact with the rather amorous pensioner sat opposite me. I hear some racuous laughter from the reception desk, and being bored (and nosey) I decide to listen in discretely.
To my horror they were discussing a patient, and after only a couple of minutes I knew said patient’s name and which embarassing (and seemingly hilarious) ailment from which they were suffering. Living in a small town I knew exactly which poor soul they were talking about as they have a very distinctive surname. After I’d been in and seeing my doctor, I had to go to reception and make a follow-up appointment. Whilst I was doing so I noticed a stack of files on a desk, to the top one was paperclipped a white form, with the word “menopause” scribbled on it in large scrawl. Clearly visible from where I was standing. If I’d been so inclined I’m sure I could have made out the patients name from the file too.
Thus far I haven’t told my GP of my HIV status, for no other reason than I’ve not visited them since diagnosis and it hasn’t been relevant. But now I don’t see myself ever telling my GP. But I see that it’s important that all my care providers are working together, my GP, my HIV specialist, my therapist, all to give me the best joined-up care to keep me healthy and and happy.
However, I don’t want “HIV” scrawled across a file and left on reception, or gossiping receptionists telling anyone who’s within earshot. No I don’t have anything to hide, I’m not ashamed of being HIV+, but I have a right to privacy and I don’t see it being respected at that surgery. It only takes a few seconds of idle gossip between two employees for the whole town to suddenly be saying “That Sam has the AIDS!”. Maybe in a more educated time it wouldn’t matter so much, but here we are.
It’s a shame that, in 2012, I have to choose between my privacy and my care.
Disclosure, especially to sexual partners, has got to be one of thet biggest things I (and I imagine most other HIV+ people) dread. To say it’s a complete quagmire is putting it mildly.
There are many things to think about here:
- Who do you tell?
- When do you tell them?
- How do you tell them?
- Their possible reactions
So, taking these in that order these are MY thoughts on the matter:
Do you disclose to everyone, or just the people who are more likely to be at risk? I won’t necessarily have the discussion for a simple making out session or for a blow job – it would kill the mood for no real reason, but if we start heading into fucking (anal) territory I will let them know. If I’m asked then obviously I will tell them, I’m not about to lie to someone for sex. As to when you tell them there are seemingly two schools of thought on this one – either tell them straight away (sometimes before you’ve even met) or tell them once you’ve got to know them. I personally have taken to telling prospective sexual partners and dates straight away, that way you don’t risk becoming emotionally invested in someone only to be rejected once you do tell them that you’ve HIV+.
I learnt this the hard way when on holiday, I got close to someone over the course of a week, we fooled around, we swapped numbers, but when I got back to the UK and he asked me out on a date I thought it only right to tell him my status. It did not go well. He cancelled our date for “work reasons” and stopped returning calls and messages. That hurt, that hurt a lot. So now if I’m arranging a meet or a date on Grindr or Gaydar for example, before we’ve even arranged the date I’ll just say “by the way, I’m HIV+ I hope that won’t be a problem”. That way if it’s something they can’t handle there’s no love lost, we can both just move straight on.
I know some people out there would rather whether someone is HIV before even kissing them, but I’m not about to wander around bars telling every guy who fancies a kiss that I’m HIV+, but if things get more serious please rest assured that I will let you know.
For those of you reading this who are not HIV+ please I beg of you, understand how very difficult it is for those of us who are HIV+ to tell you, especially whilst all of this is new to us (like it is to me). If someone discloses to you and you don’t feel comfortable taking things any further please be kind, but most of all be honest with the person. We deserve your honesty at least, after all, we were honest with you.