Disclosing a positive HIV status to a friend, family member or lover is usually tricky. Alex Hopkins has seven suggestions on how we can make coming out as HIV-positive that bit easier. 


Coming out as HIV-positive or being poz is an experience unlike any other, and comparisons with coming out as gay are not necessarily helpful. That earlier declaration may have been greeted with cries of “I already knew!” but your HIV status is not something which is visible. Because it’s hidden, you may feel that it carries much heavier repercussions – and consequently, it’s understandable that your stress levels and anxiety could spiral.

1. Disclosing HIV status: hope

Gone are the days when HIV was a death sentence. Effective medication in the form of antiretrovirals is now available, and you can expect to live a full and healthy life if you treat the virus early and adhere to your medications. Keep reminding yourself of this, and continually read up and speak to professionals about the treatments available. Support is crucial when you get that diagnosis and there should be plenty available; reach out for it – you’re not alone.

Coming out as HIV-positive can be a celebratory experience


2. Social embarrassment? Who cares?

You’re likely to be worried about other people’s reactions when coming out as HIV-positive: the people you work with, your friends, your family. Are you going to feel awkward? But what does this really matter? You have no control over what other people think about you, and your self-esteem should not be built upon their opinions. Any negative reactions are about other people’s issues – not yours. 


3. Try to forget the fear

Your first emotion when coming out to someone about your HIV status – which may overwhelm you – is likely to be fear. How will people react? Will they shun you? Will others view you as disease-ridden and infectious? Will you ever find a relationship? The questions will be endless, and you need to keep a check on them.


“You're likely to be worried about coming out as HIV-positive. But you have no control over what other people think about you. Any negative reactions are about other people's issues – not yours.”

Whatever you do, don’t catastrophize. Speak to somoene from a specialist services if you need to or join a support group to meet other HIV-positive people who have already disclosed their status. You can break through the fear barrier: and the other side won’t feel nearly as bad as you’re predicting. It never is!

4. Education is everything

Learn all there is to know about your status, but crucially from professionals. Don’t go trawling the internet for inaccurate information, which will only panic you. Once you’re in full possession of the facts, set yourself up as an educator. Not everyone, believe it or not, is aware that being HIV-positive does not equate to dying from AIDS, for example. Fight through the stigma by explaining the reality calmly. There will always be bigots out there, but most rational human beings are willing to listen, learn and challenge their beliefs.

5. Stop beating yourself up

Anyone can get HIV. It doesn’t mean that you’re “dirty” or “reckless” or “a slut,” or any of those other unhelpful labels that people often attach. Continuously blaming yourself is only going to lead to more guilt – and possibly push you into self-destructive behavior. Acknowledge those feelings and then work with professionals or close friends you can trust to move on. 

6. Coming out as HIV+ and relationships

Yes, there may well be people who react negatively to your coming out – and their opinions may well change over time. But if they don’t, do you need them in your life? Those who are important will stick with you – and your bold declaration and the discussions that follow are likely to open your relationship to new levels, making it stronger than ever. 

Disclosing your HIV status to potential romantic partners or sex dates can be particularly difficult. The fear of being rejected by somebody you may have developed feelings for can be hard to bear. People living with HIV often struggle with this and the correct time to come out as HIV-positive to a potential partner. Should it be before you have any sexual contact? Or perhaps only when you engage in certain types of sex? Or at some other time all together? 

Don't let HIV get in the way of a loving relationship


Significantly, with the advent of u=u (undetectable means untransmittable) – it's been scientifically proven that people who are poz and have undetectable levels of HIV cannot pass the virus to others. This is fantastic news for those in the community living with HIV as they can feel confident of not spreading HIV. If you're armed with the facts about u=u, it gives you the chance to educate sexual partners who may be potentially worried about contracting HIV.

7. Stand in solidarity

Start to view yourself in a different way: as an ambassador for your community, as an example to others in your openness and courage. Of course, there’s still much work to be done to break down prejudice towards HIV-positive people, but you can become part of that movement for change. Walk tall and proud - and never apologize for who you are.

The bottom line: disclosing your HIV status

Just like coming out as being LGBTQ+, coming out as HIV-positive is something those affected have to do over and over again during their lifetime. With that in mind, it's good to build a strategy to deal with it. While some people are loud and proud about their status, for others, stigmatization makes it hard to be so open and honest.

Indeed, coming out as HIV-positive can be a minefield, depending on who you are telling. However, the benefits of being open about being poz can be many. It's also a chance to educate those that don't fully understand how u=u works and how those of us living with HIV can live a normal and healthy life. Good luck! •
Main image: shutterstock/HIV in view

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Coming out as HIV-positive is something that the person will have to do over and over again throughout their lives. If someone discloses their status to you, be gracious and kind as they are trusting you and showing respect. Some poz people are too scared to disclose for fear of rejection, even when we know know that u=u – undetectable means untransmittable. 

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