Being Public & Positive

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Being Public
Though i’m out about my positive status, i still deal with the intricacies of disclosure
by George M. Johnson

When I tested positive back in 2010, I knew that it was a secret that I was going to keep with myself until I made it to the grave. The thought of ever telling anyone my deepest, darkest secret was at times numbing. The ideation of whether or not it was even worth living made quick glimpses before me, with the picture getting clearer each time. Suffering in silence had become my new normal, and I was more than prepared to accept this pain as something I brought upon myself.

Thankfully, six years into this fight, I found a new courage that allows me to be a public figure living with HIV. The journey to get here, however, wasn’t an easy one, and there are still times when I’m not sure if I made the correct decision to disclose in this manner. However, I do know that being public and positive allows me to live whole, something not often afforded to those who don’t speak publicly on it; nor should they have to. The world has not created an environment for HIV-positive individuals to live as whole, without fear of repercussion from the HIV-negative-dominated community.

Being in the public eye, my life is up for scrutiny many times because of some of the things that I say in my articles. My HIV status has been one of the easiest things for many to attack me for when I am making statements that have nothing to do with it. In an article, I wrote entitled “How I took on Trolls shaming my HIV status in short shorts,” I discussed the events of the day when I went viral for a tweet that discussed racism in swimming. I just so happened to have HIV in my bio on Twitter, and the world quickly latched on to that as the angle they would attack me from. As a public figure, I know the importance of being as transparent and open about who I am as possible. However, days like that remind me of how hard it can be sometimes living in a society that condemns the HIV-positive body.

Being positive for me publicly has had its great moments, too. I remember when I wrote the story “On the best worst day of my life, I tested HIV-positive,” and how much great feedback I received from everyone on the Internet that day. It was the most vulnerable I had ever been and I wasn’t sure if my words were going to be received well. They were met with so much love and affirmation of who I was, helping me to become the person that I am today. Being positive for the public has also made it much easier to discuss my status, as it isn’t the secret at the table any longer. Those who follow me on social media, many people in my dating pool, friends, and family as well are all aware of it so it doesn’t feel like there is an elephant in the room when I enter. However, I do have those dreaded moments when I enter a space and I have to disclose, and it’s still just as hard to do as the first time I ever did it.

Dealing with disclosure is not an easy task. The assumption is that one should just be forthcoming with this personal information as if it is like telling someone that the sky is blue. Disclosure is a necessary part of being HIV-positive because it can be a crime with harsh penalties should one not do so. However, it is still a very taboo subject even for those of us who are public about our status. I have many times been overwhelmed with emotions when disclosing to people who may not know me. I still get rejected by people who are not okay with dating or being romantically involved with a person who is HIV-positive. I’ve learned over the years how to cope with this, as it can be very damaging to one’s psyche. I now list my status on any dating platforms and make sure that I am upfront and honest with virtually everyone as a means to stop folks from even speaking to me if they are looking for a “DD free relationship.” For me, being upfront in my truth has been therapeutic. I’ve been allowed the space to live whole, freely, and unapologetically as I am without worrying about how I am being viewed. Being open in my disclosure on my terms has been one of the greater joys that I experience daily, even with all the stigma and discrimination I’m forced to live through.

Being public, positive, and dealing with disclosure for sure has been an interesting ride, and will only be magnified as my platform grows. However, it is all worth it in the end when I know that so many others will be able to live open in their truth one day, and not have to take on some of what I deal with. For that fight will have already been won.


George M. Johnson is a black queer journalist and activist. He has written for Ebony, TheGrio, JET, Teen Vogue, Huffington Post, Black Youth Project, and several HIV publications. Follow him on Twitter @iamgmjohnson.