Disclosing my status to family and friends
Since I came out, I have been asked several times about how I disclosed my status to my family. It seemed there was a lot of interest, particularly, with my mother. I will be very honest that if it wasn’t for the work I’m currently doing with my story, I would have never told Ma. I would have kept the secret to my grave. See, I know my mother. She worked as a cleaner for a TB hospital for 29 years. Conversations about HIV were not foreign to us. Most days, she would come home, traumatized about how she saw young people dying in front of her. In some instances, she saw how others recovered and would leave the hospital vowing how they were going to spread the virus to others, since they also didn’t know how got infected. She worried about us. She worried about me. I get the feeling that is why I was never allowed to attend any social events growing up. I was always restricted to school and home. Even when I was in my early 20’s, working and making my own money, it didn’t matter. I would go to work and go straight home. It was always unnegotiable. So, after all this effort trying to protect me, I couldn’t bring myself going back to her and disclosed that I was HIV positive. I just couldn’t. I knew it would kill her. To protect everyone, I kept quiet…for 6 years.
The first people I told were my friends. Dealing with the physiological effects of being HIV positive was killing me inside. I knew I had to tell someone. One by one, I spoke to them in confidence and told them what happened. I will forever cherish each and everyone of them. There was not one moment where I felt judged or mistreated by them because I was now HIV positive. These people picked up my calls at 1am in the morning, crying my heart out. They would listen and try to calm me down. They listened to me retelling the story a million times. They never got tired. They nursed me into my healing. I will forever be grateful to them.
The second person I told was my brother. Like everyone else, he thought I was just having a tough time with my first break up. I had maintained that story till I couldn’t anymore. One night, we were chatting on WhatsApp when I decided it was time to let him in. Once again, with no judgement or condemnation, he listened to him and continued to be the most supportive brother I could ever ask for. He was always there to reassure me that all will be well. And when I would ask, “When should I tell Ma?”, he would say, “When the time is right. Don’t ask yourself”. And he was right.
By beginning of 2016, I had come out of a 2-year depression. I was in a good space. I come to accept myself again. I could tell my story without crying. I had accepted the circumstances. I had forgiven myself.
It was April of 2016, on my way to a conference, that I met a gentleman at the airport. It seemed we had been travelling on the same flight from Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg. I was on my way to pick up my luggage when he started chatting to me. Despite my obvious “not interested” face, he continued
. He asked for my number, claiming he was interested in my line of work. I told him I wasn’t falling for that. He gave me his number instead. I lost it purposely on my way to pick up my rental car. I went around my business in Johannesburg. A week later, after I had returned back from Johannesburg, I received a call at the office. It was him. We talked. Although I was still reluctant to give him my number, I agreed to give him my email address.
After a month of talking over emails, I made the decision that I would tell him about my status. I wanted to be clear about where I was, and I would leave him with the decision of how he wanted to proceed. I didn’t want to prolong the issue any further. We agreed to meet over lunch. I had already made up my mind that this would be the end of whatever it was between us. I had already prepared my mind.
Seated in front of me, at his house, I went straight to point. There was no back and forth. There was no going around in circles. There was no dilly-dallying. “I wanted to tell you I was HIV positive. I was a virgin. I was naïve. I didn’t know better. I didn’t protect myself. For that reason, I got infected”. He listened. He kept quiet and listened. When I was done, he asked if that’s all I wanted to say. I said yes. And that was it. He acknowledged and thanked me for telling him, and that was it. Three years later, on the same day we met, we would get married.
Disclosing to my mom came recently. When I had made the decision to share my story. My husband had advised me to travel back home, to Port Elizabeth, to tell her personally. I couldn’t. I couldn’t face her. I decided it would best to call her. I picked up the phone and called her. After going around in circles, the words couldn’t come out of my mouth. I eventually told her I would call her back. An hour later, I still hadn’t call her. Instead, my brother sent me a message to tell me he told Ma. After my awkward phone call, she called my brother and threatened him to tell her what was going on. He didn’t have a choice. He was put at a corner. He told her.
The next phone call I would have with her is of her crying. Understandably, she was shocked. She didn’t know what to say. She pretended she was angry about something my brother did. But I knew what it was. All I could do is listen and reassure her that I was fine. I told her multiple times that I was fine. As the news started to digest, she started to believe me. She even offered coming to Johannesburg to be with me.
As I reflect on this experience, I cannot help but to be grateful of how I have been blessed with the greatest support. All the things I have feared all those years, God took care of them one by one. I was afraid I would never get married or have a family of my own. God took care of that. I was afraid I would never be able to tell my mom. God gave us both the strength to overcome.
I have truly been blessed and I’m thankful every day.
For more on this story, please feel free to follow our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WByjXxmzo4
Nozibele Qamngana Mayaba