“When is the right time to disclose my HIV status to my partner?”
“Nozi, I just met this guy. I really like him. But I’m scared. When is the right time to tell him about my status?”. I receive several messages of this nature daily, and I promised myself that I would cover this topic next. When is it the right time to disclose your HIV status to a partner? Is it necessary to disclose? If you’re practicing safe sex, isn’t that enough? It may be that you haven’t tested. You haven’t really talked about testing together. So, you don’t know each other’s sexual history. So, you’re under the pretense that you’ll deal with whatever happens later? Let’s explore this further.
Before I proceed, allow me to say this first. There’s nothing as liberating as when one is fully aware of themselves. Whatever I’m going to share regarding this topic, I understand that I may be talking from a place of privilege. In this journey, I’ve been very blessed. I’m one of the “lucky ones”. I haven’t experienced any kind of rejection. When I made the decision to disclose to Skhu, my husband, he didn’t think twice about our relationship. He was still clear on what he wanted. He wanted a relationship with me. He wanted a future with me. Regardless of how I wanted to use my status as a weapon to push him away, all of that didn’t matter to him. As he often says, “I fell in love with Nozi. Not the virus”.
While I’m thankful of these blessings, I want to remind you that I didn’t wake up and all was well. I met Skhu in 2016. I was diagnosed HIV positive in 2013. For 3 years, I was in the exact same situation. Although my heart told me to leave the toxic relationship I was in, I didn’t think I could. I didn’t think I had a choice.
“Where am I going to go?”
“Who’s going to love me regardless of where I’ve been. Regardless of my HIV status?”
“Will I be able to handle rejection?”
“Could I afford being that vulnerable with someone else?”
“And if I can’t bring myself to face all of this, would I then be able to have my own family one day?”
I asked myself these questions all the time. And they are the reason I stayed in that relationship longer than I should have.
When I talk to people regarding this topic, I always focus on how disclosing your status to others, particularly to a partner, is not about anyone but you.
Let me ask you a couple of questions.
Why do you want to disclose?
How do you envision this person to react?
Do you want them to feel sorry for you?
Do you want some kind of validation from them?
We’re talking about disclosing to someone else, but have you disclosed to yourself?
In what state of mind are you in?
What happens when they reject you? How will that make you feel? Will that set you back on your healing, on the journey you have travelled to be better?
What will it mean to you?
Do you realize that the minute you disclose to someone, you no longer have control your story anymore? You’re taking a risk. By telling one person, that person might confide to someone else. Before you know it, 20 people already know your status.
Take a few seconds and think about it all? Does that make you scared?
It is not my intention to scare you. But I promised that I will have honest conversation with you. And that’s what I plan to do. If this still makes you scared, then you might still have to rethink your decision to disclose or, to some extent, being in a relationship.
I’ve said this before, and I will continue saying it. Although, I wish I could have met Skhu earlier, I’m thankful I didn’t. The period between 2013 and 2015 were the worst years of my life. I was raw. I was hurting. I was angry. Imagine what would have happened if I had met Skhu while going through all of this? I would have redirected all the anger and bitterness I had to him. If that had happened, I don’t think we would have lasted more than a few months.
I can already imagine. Whenever we would have an argument, I would have thrown in, “Ya! You’re reacting like this because you know I can’t go anywhere? There won’t be anyone else interest in me. You’re know I’m stuck with you”. Does that sound familiar?
This is why whenever this topic comes up, I always ask someone where are they with their own healing? Take as much time as you need to allow yourself to heal from the shock of learning that you are HIV positive. Do not underestimate this process. If you haven’t dealt with it properly, it will cripple your relationship before it has even started. There’s no time frame for this. Some take months, while others take years. It’s about one’s state of mind.
When I disclosed to my mother, one of the things that helped me is taking the time to learn more about what she thought HIV. Although I wasn’t ready to disclose to her, I always made the topic something we often discussed about. Sometimes, I would often lie and come up with fake stories. I would tell her one of my friends was recently diagnosed HIV positive, and now she’s scared to tell her mother. She never changed her reply. “Nozi, she must tell her mother. The mother must understand and accept that there’s nothing that they can change. That is still her daughter and it is her duty to continue supporting her”. This was easier said that done and I always made sure I told Ma this. Regardless of what I said, she stood firm. “Its her child. She needs to support her”. A similar incident happened when we were watching a reality show. This woman was having troubles with her mother, who was finding it hard to accept her HIV status. She made the woman’s life miserable. She followed on her every step and made sure she disinfected everything she touched. Watching the show with Ma, I saw her crying. “I could never understand why this woman is doing this with her child”. In taking the time to learn someone, you get the opportunity to understand them better. You are also at a better place to possibly influence how they may view certain things.
I wanted to share the story with Ma because its similar when you want to disclose to a potential partner. Take your time to know the person.
One person recently said, “Well, if I’m practicing safe sex, shouldn’t that be enough”. Once again, this is a personal decision that you would have to take. We just need to be aware that there may be legal consequences attached to this. I covered this briefly in my previous video, “I was intentionally infected with HIV, what does the law say?”. Even if you do not infect someone, they may still have legal grounds to make you liable for exposing them to HIV. That is something that need to think about.
So, there is no right or wrong answer.
I think I was able to give you a few things you need to think about and make an informed decision yourself.