Ready? Disclose Everything!
No one reveals personal information at the drop of a hat, so why should we?
by George M. Johnson
I’ve recently had conversations and interviews where the question around “disclosure” is always the biggest hot button issue that comes up. When I talk about sexual responsibility, I always make sure that people understand that it is the responsibility of both parties involved. Unfortunately, the disclosure of one’s HIV status is a criminalized, stigmatizing part of the epidemic that has stood for far too long. In an age of the epidemic where treatments exist that have all but eradicated the original “death sentence” diagnosis, it is now time to defuse the fear around HIV in an effort to create better sexual conversations and experience.
However, I am always brought back to this conversation around disclosure. Interestingly enough, the most frequent thing I hear is how people feel that someone who is HIV-positive should disclose whether they are asked or not. That got me thinking. How many people just quickly disclose things that others would see as “deal breakers” or “risky” or just private. What if some of your private truth required disclosure?
Could you imagine if every time you went on a date you had to disclose your credit score? If you had to tell about the time you put a bill in someone else’s name, or got your car repossessed, or your house was foreclosed on? Could you imagine if you had to talk about how you filed bankruptcy and still paid Sallie Mae even though you’ve been out of college for twenty years? The same way that you don’t want to disclose your credit history or feel that people should not have that type of information is how people living with the virus feel. For most it is a personal thing that is only shared with the most trusted, so afford people who are positive some power and dignity in that process when making that decision to disclose their most personal business.
So let’s be clear. If every STI required disclosure, you wouldn’t have as much shame around those who are HIV-positive. But could you imagine if you had to tell about that one time you were dripping all over the place? Or how you had to wear a hoodie and give a fake identity when you went to go and pick up that prescription or ointment? It is interesting when those who have had other STIs in the past are so hypocritical in their judgment of people with HIV and the requirement around disclosure that is expected. Although HIV can have much more serious health implications, STIs like syphillis, herpes, gonorrhea and chlamydia also pose some serious health risks including death when gone untreated. So this notion that all HIV-positive people should have such a burden on them when people with other STIs have no obligation to say anything is tantamount to violence against people living with the virus. This is not an endorsement that all should disclose, but that we should start to have more healthy conversations on the topic.
Penis Size and Body Count
LMMFAO. I actually laughed when writing this section. If folks had to disclose how big they are or in this case, what they are lacking, there would be a worldwide movement to stop such a requirement. Could you imagine being criminalized for having a penis less than six inches? Or having to go to court when that body count hits numbers that the Golden State Warriors put up per game? For many these things are deal breakers just like the way folks treat people who live with HIV. We gotta grow up and educate ourselves better. I get it, HIV is still scary to some, especially in areas where the education around the virus is lacking or void. However we need to have more conversations and less condemnation.
Cancer, Mental Health, Past Sexual Abuse
Could you imagine telling someone the status of your mental health? Having to give the details of past sexual trauma? That you are predisposed to cancer, or in remission with a chance to have it come back? Where does disclosure stop? Who makes the rules on when disclosure is too much? Here is the thing, the problem isn’t disclosure as much as it is the lack of navigation we have in our community around conversations about sex. If people were more confident in their own sexual agency, they would feel more empowered when having these tough discussions. Furthermore, when you discuss statuses, it is important to know that, even when you ask for someone’s HIV status, you still don’t have the right to know.
If a person tells you “they don’t wish to answer,” you then have to make a decision on whether you want to proceed, sexually or otherwise. The point is that it is necessary to not be afraid to ask. As we are in what we hope to be the final days of the epidemic, it will be important that we are not afraid to simply talk to one another. You never know. It might just turn out positive.
George M. Johnson is an HIV advocate who works for Us Helping Us, People into Living. Inc., located in Washington, D.C. He has written for Pride.com, Musedmagonline.com, Blavity.com, Rolereboot.org, and Ebony.com. Follow him on Twitter @IamGMJohnson.