“What Do I Tell People About My HIV?”

Eight people living with HIV share their stories—and experts weigh in.

Health Monitor Staff
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Tell People About HIV, Experts, Family
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Sometimes it’s hard to come up with the right words. Here’s help for when you want to tell...

A family member
“I have something, but it’s treatable”
“I have some bad news…I have a disease, but it’s treatable and manageable. I’m HIV-positive. If you just say, ‘I’m HIV-positive’ to people who aren’t gay or infected, it sets off alarm bells. In their minds, they see Tom Hanks in Philadelphia, gasping for breath,” says Laurence Bachmann.

Expert insight: “It’s great to add, ‘I’m already taking medication,’ ” says NY-based sex therapist and psychologist Joy Davidson, PhD. “You might also say, ‘I know this news is startling. If you have any questions just let me know.’ And prepare a sheet that lists helpful resources, such as websites and support groups they can turn to for more information.”

Worried your family will be upset? Bring along a supportive family member—such as an aunt or cousin—who will help them be more open-minded. Be ready to say, “I’m sorry you feel that way. It hurts me terribly. I hope you will change your mind over time. If you do, I’m here,” advises Davidson.

“I send a fund-raising email”
“Sometimes I disclose it by sending a fund-raising email for the AIDS Walk that talks about my personal story,” says Nisha, HIV-positive since 2002. “I’ll send it to people I haven’t disclosed to before.”

“I know you know I’ve been ill…”
“One by one, I invited my friends for dinner. I would say, ‘I have something to tell you. I know you know I have been very ill. Well, this is why.’ Ironically, one couple I had known for five years said, ‘We both have AIDS too,’ ” says Shelley Singer, who’s had HIV since 1997.

A romantic prospect
“I just biked the Race Across America”
“I talk about the fact that I participated in Race Across America on the first HIV-positive team,” says Jim Williams, 53, who’s had HIV since 2006. “One date said, ‘You just took the pressure off me. I’m positive too.’ ”

Expert insight: “If someone turns you down, he’s saying, ‘I can’t give what’s required in this situation.’ It’s a statement of the person’s limitations, not a rejection of you,” says Davidson.

“Let’s talk about status”
“On the first date I say, ‘When do you want to talk about status?’ ” says Laurence. “Everyone knows what it means. The first few times you’re nervous. Then it just becomes part of your routine.”

Those you must tell?
Anyone whom you may have put at risk—a sexual partner or anyone you shared needles with. Just can’t do it? Your health department can contact them and keep you anonymous if you prefer. No matter who you tell, be clear about who they in turn can tell. You don’t want to lose control over who knows.


November 2013