After the Supreme Court decision earlier this month, I am struck once again with the realization that many people who are removed from HIV in their own lives have very little understanding about just how difficult it can be to disclose your status to someone when you don’t know how they might react. I have often found it difficult or scary to disclose my status, and I’m an educated white man with a job that I wouldn’t lose because of my HIV. But even perched atop all of my privileges, I can see clearly how much more difficult disclosure is for someone who doesn’t have the advantages I do.
Number one on the list of immediate possibilities is rejection. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that anyone ought to be obliged to enter into a relationship or a sexual activity with which he or she is not comfortable, but there are many ways to express the discomfort. Some are clearly more considerate than others. String together a series of nasty rejections coupled with a lack of interest in learning or understanding and even the most stalwart of people might be excused for drawing the conclusion that disclosure is not such a good idea.
What could you be risking by telling a relative stranger about your HIV status? How about the right to determine who else will have that information? If I tell you my status and your reject me on the spot, how will you react when next you see me talking to one of your friends? Finger-pointing, whispering and avoidance will tell me that you have taken it upon yourself to tell others the secret that I was open enough to disclose to you. Oh yes, there are laws that would protect me from the invasion of my privacy that you are committing in speaking to others about my status, but these are not enforced with the weight of all the apparatus of the state like the criminal law is. It is up to me to have the resources, the knowledge and above all the courage to pursue the respect of my rights that you would have violated. Not very evident, especially when I might be risking going very public with my status in the judicial process of trying to have my privacy respected.
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