Disclosure–does it ever get easier? Well...yes and no! Yes, because when you do anything often enough, it begins to feel second nature–natural almost. And no, because situations are always changing as are the reasons for disclosing. Over the years I've become somewhat of a pro at disclosing. It's not nearly as scarey as it used to be and I've had really good success with it. No one has ever bolted, fainted or layed on the ground gasping for air! There are situations where you just do it–you disclose–it's part of life. Most recently, my daughter has been thinking about getting a tattoo. We sat down with a wonderful artist and were talking over ideas. The conversation went something like this...
"That's a really nice picture... What do you think, Alee?"
"That's the one," she says.
"Great." He flips through his scheduler. "I've got an opening in July. How's that sound?"
Okay, so here goes. It's time to disclose. I take a breath. "Yes, we'd like to set up an appointment. Oh, but there is something you should know. My daughter is HIV-positive since birth." I barely exhale, just keep going. "She takes medicine that keeps her healthy. The meds also make the virus in her blood what's called, undetectable."
I'm scouring his face, watching his reaction. He doesn't even flinch, looks me straight in the eye. "I don't have a problem with that. When does she want to do it?"
I then gave him an out, just to be sure. "Are you sure you're comfortable with this? It's perfectly fine If you want some time to think about it."
"No... Really," he assures me. I have the right to refuse any service, but I'm fine with it... Haven't poked myself with a tat needle yet," he smiles at us.
I am put at ease and feel confident so we go ahead and set up the appointment. Over the last twelve years, I've had this same conversation with dentists, doctors, school personel, complete strangers and long-time friends. And I've been really successful. I credit this to three simple things:
1. Care–What's your reason for disclosing? It's because you care about that person. You want to give the other person knowledge so that they are at no risk of contracting HIV.
2. Education–Don't take for granted that people just automatically know about how HIV is and isn't transmitted. Take a few minutes to educate them. A little education goes a long way.
3. Respect–Give them the opportunity to make their own decision as to whether or not they feel comfortable. In other words, give them an out should they want one. The last thing I want is a nervous dentist with a drill in my mouth ; ).
Reasons for disclosure change. As my oldest gets ready to head off to college we find ourselves asking a whole new set of questions about disclosure, relationships and HIV. Often, I look to people who've been there–done that for the answers. Here's a couple who've been happily married for five years who set a great example of a mixed status couple (he's positive and she's not) as they spread the word about HIV, relationships and safe sex at college campuses all over the US. Meet Shawn and Gwenn...
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