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October 18th, 2013

Why aren’t you open about your HIV+ status?

We have learned through the last decades of the LGBT movement that the most effective way to change perceptions is to come out. It forces people to face their prejudices and it is almost always a positive experience, even in the face of potential discrimination.

MichaelPride2013SignSMALLSo why, then, don’t more people come out about being HIV positive? No one is more familiar than I am about the perils of living with HIV in terms of everything from social stigma to draconian criminalization laws. This kind of repression makes it all the more important that the rest of us make ourselves visible to help change those attitudes.

Who knew that 30 years into the HIV epidemic, it would still be viewed as courageous, even radical, to be public about your HIV status? And at a gay pride parade?

And yet there we were recently, a dozen brave souls marching the length of the Atlanta Gay Pride parade with HIV POSITIVE emblazoned on our t-shirts (I got the fab shirts from AIDS Foundation Chicago). I was participating as one of the Grand Marshals for the event, an honor I was prepared to make jokes about but can’t really bring myself to do it. It was humbling in a very sincere way, and since those moments are rare for me, I’m going to leave it at that.

Well, except I’m going to ask you to watch this short video blog of the event, below. There’s something special in it for those of you who are also making a difference when it comes to HIV. Enjoy and share!

I consider it a privilege to be open about my HIV status. I know that I am fortunate not to have consequences as a result — not from my family, not from my job, and not even from the treacherous dating scene, since I’m partnered to a wonderful guy (although I was out about my status even when I was single). I know that for some people, staying private about their HIV status is a matter of personal safety.

MarchersSMALLBut I believe a lot more people could be open about it, and their only reason for not doing so is fear. That’s a powerful emotion. But fear alone doesn’t excuse us from watching others being stigmatized and not letting our community know that there are more of us than they imagine. Why make those of us who are open about our status look radical, or as exceptions to some social rule that paints a distorted picture of who we are? I’m afraid there are too many people living with HIV that are letting too few of us do the heavy lifting in that regard.

I hope you will give this some thought. What are the consequences of your sharing your status with others, when HIV enters the conversation? Are they really that dire? Is the risk of some social embarrassment really enough to deny your identity as part of a large group of people battling an indiscriminate virus?

I don’t want to be a radical. I just want to live a truthful life and know who my friends are.

Mark
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PLUS…

Vaccine KidACTION ALERT: This is an easy task and I urge you to do it right now. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is meeting this week to decide whether to add the bacterial meningitis vaccine to its list of recommended vaccines for infants and children. I strongly believe they should (kids under 1 are at greatest risk of contracting the disease!), and it’s important for the LGBT community to be engaged on this issue. Thousands of same-sex couples are raising children, and a stronger herd immunity protects those in our community with compromised immune systems, including people with HIV. TO ACT, sign this petition started by John Becker of The Bilerico Project. For more information, read John’s posting about the issue. Have you clicked the petition link yet?

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE THESE POSTS: “The Stupid Question: Are You Clean?” confronts the kind of social stigma I discuss above. And “Is There Pride in Being HIV Positive?” is a video blog from last year’s Pride celebration that poses the question: if HIV is nothing to be ashamed of, it is something to be proud of?

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7 Responses to “Why aren’t you open about your HIV+ status?”

  1. Jonathan G Says:

    October 19th, 2013 at 4:59 pm

    Well, now when we come to crossroads in our life considering disclosing our status, the question to ask ourselves is: “What would Mark S. King, do?”

    (Whoa! Let’s consider my drug addiction past and general personal wreckage I call my life history. I only ask the questions here, my friend. The answers are all yours. :) — Mark)

  2. Jim Says:

    October 20th, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    One of the reasons I’ve always bemoaned using the term MSM or ‘on the down low’ is because it allows for the stigma.

    We who’ve gone along with such ill-fated good intentions in the Ryan White/Planning Council meetings only have ourselves to blame for allowing HIV to once again become a stigma.

  3. Matthew Hodson Says:

    October 21st, 2013 at 6:25 am

    Here’s an opinion piece I wrote for the London based gay men’s health charity, GMFA, on the importance of being open about your status, which chimes with Mark’s fabulous blog. http://www.gmfa.org.uk/Blog/the-viral-closet-coming-out-as-hiv-positive

  4. Tracey K Says:

    October 21st, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    I have always been out about my status since I found it out. I worried about my kids, my parents, and my girlfriend. As for my gay male friends? Considering I was a lesbian with Aids and not knowing where to turn for info, etc. they took me under their wings and helped me conquer my fears! I would never gotten anywhere without coming out about my status and recognizing all the support I would get. Don’t hide it…survive with it!

  5. Chadwick Carter Says:

    October 22nd, 2013 at 8:29 am

    I treated mine like coming out AGAIN!!! I was Judged! Repeatedly!!! Just like being Gay? I was asked “How could I live with myself?” Then it took a “Lil” Fairy at one of the Gay bars downtown to simply ask “When have you ever cared what anybody thinks of you?” I realized We all have our own story to tell. I turned the worse time in my life into a valuable tool to help persuade people to get tested. Even though I’ve been single for 8 years, I am the happiest because I chose to live as an HIV Positive Gay man. I am still judged today, but for all the wrong reasons. A lady asked me “aren’t you scared of contracting Aids?”. I looked at her and smiled and simply said “Every Day!”

  6. Tank Says:

    October 26th, 2013 at 1:54 am

    Join us for another surreal episode of MY FABULOUS DISEASE, in which an idle rich gay man who has made a career of being positive insinuates that the HIV closet is simply a refuge for cowards. #people who don’t live in the real world. #nonchalant. #false equivalence. #social dilemma.

    (I’ve been called lots of things, but “rich” is a first. I’ve made a career of being HIV positive like Gabby Giffords has made a career of being shot in the head. — Mark)

  7. Mike Says:

    October 26th, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    So, HIV+ = Gay ?!?

    (Not to me. Although I write from that perspective. — Mark)

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