Disclosure: Necessary Components For Success Stories
Lately we have been reading about and hearing about positive experiences with disclosing HIV status to sex partners. Experiences that ended well where HIV was not an issue and where individuals were not rejected on the basis of their status. This is what we are ultimately aiming for as the goal- to be accepted as equal partners in sexual relationships. The success stories are well received and we encourage people to keep writing about them.
As part of what feels like a delicate balancing act, we also need to continue to focus on the complexities of disclosure to ensure that individuals are not lulled into believing that acceptance in disclosing HIV to sex partners is resolved, and no longer a major stress in the lives of people living with HIV. Disclosure remains a major obstacle and it does create overwhelming anxiety, as many people continue to isolate themselves from potential sex partners as a means of avoiding rejection and hurt. Others choose to continue disclosing and taking risks, while trying to manage the anxiety and detrimental impact on their emotional and psychological well being each time they are rejected, often alone, with little support and help.
All of this to say disclosing is for the most part, not a positive experience and that is what prompted the HIV Disclosure Project to provide a space where this can be discussed and solutions sought. Members of the HIV community identified disclosure to sex partners as the major stress in their lives today and requested a space where this topic could be explored further, where peer support could be provided, where individuals could feel more empowered, while making the general public aware of the impact on people living with HIV when there remains an automatic tendency to say no and reject on them on the basis of their HIV status.
Simply stating that it is the obligation of every person living with HIV to disclose their status to potential sex partners and leaving it at that is not sufficient. It does not address empowerment of people living with HIV while working through the complexities of disclosure. It does not address the growing number of criminal prosecution for non disclosure. The repeated message about the duties and responsibilities of people living with HIV to disclose their HIV status and in turn get rejected and discriminated against, is manifesting resentment, anger and a general attitude whereby individuals are simply stating – “I will not accept these obligations unless the general public takes the initiative to assume their own duties and responsibilities in this process”. This is a rather soft version of how many people living with HIV feel about the message, as there are some radical reactions out there if you care to look.
People living with HIV are growing weary of the message being delivered to them in one form or another. We got the message, now direct it to those who need to hear it and make changes accordingly. We cannot be expected to play the dutiful role of scapegoats in a system that is fundamentally flawed to begin with. Accepting the status quo would reflect behavior that perpetuates powerlessness, stigma and marginalization.
Positive stories are encouraged and as mentioned this is the ultimate goal to ensure that all people living with HIV may have sex and intimacy that is free of rejection, stigma and discrimination. But if we focus only on the positive outcomes we risk giving a false sense of acceptance with the general public. If we do not continue to discuss the realities of disclosure, which involve rejection, criminalization and stigma, we risk the unintended outcome of leading the general public and people living with HIV into the belief that all of the complexities have been resolved. We know otherwise and we need to continue to address stigma and rejection each time it occurs. We need to continue to keep this conversation alive, otherwise we will no longer be seeking ways to empower those who are being stigmatized to mobilize themselves to eliminate stigma and discrimination. We may even run the risk of having individuals doubt themselves and ask what is wrong with them if they are not having success stories.
We need to continue to challenge and re-think this easy dismissal of HIV disclosure which simply states it is the duty and obligation of people living with HIV to disclose each and every time to potential sex partners. If we continue to accept this flawed, unrealistic, imbalance of power, we can be assured that the topic of disclosure will be silenced. We will continue to be marginalized, oppressed and criminalized as the general public contentedly carries on with no expectation on their part for any need for change.
Keep the positive stories coming as they provide some semblance of hope as we strive towards complete acceptance in sexual relationships.But let us not forgot the harsh reality of living with HIV. The general public needs to be reminded continually to take on their duties and responsibilities in working with the HIV community in finding solutions.
Beverley M and Denis D