Being HIV positive in a world that is full of stigma and discrimination is a burden on its own, but being an HIV-positive woman can be even more challenging. There are certain functions you cannot attend or sleepovers you are scared of going to because of the fear that someone might just find out and your secret will be out.
There are some who come out openly about their status. Well, good for them, but there is a huge number living in the dark, in fear of the ‘what ifs’. When you are in your early teens, things are normal, life is fun, and you are dancing in the rain. But there comes a time when boys start asking you out and you wonder whether or not you should say yes, as well as if and when to open up. Just the thought of it can make you dread being in a relationship or even trying to be in one.
The issue of disclosure is very tricky and what may work for one woman may not work for another. It is best to really take your time to study a person and know their intentions with you before you tell them your status or anything to do with your private life. There are a lot of young men with ill intentions out there. It can be quite difficult to tell you the amount of time you need to study him because people are different and you know your person better.
You can try asking him simple questions about HIV/AIDS so that you get his understanding. Questions like: What do you understand about HIV/AIDS? Do you have a relative who has had the condition? Have you ever been or would you be in a relationship with someone who is HIV positive? This is just a guideline.
Some people react negatively because they are ignorant about the condition. So if his level of understanding is generally low, you may need to educate him about the condition first before you open up. Also, do not base your entire judgment on how he reacts when you ask him HIV-related questions. He may act hostile because he doesn’t have anyone close to him that is living with the condition.
After educating him about the virus you have two options. The first is to personally tell him about your condition. Sometimes it may not be necessary to go into detail about how you ended up HIV positive. After telling him about your condition, give him time to think. I have heard some girls asking questions like: So what do you think? Are you going to leave me? Do you still love me?
He is still trying to digest what you told him and asking too many questions is not really going to help. Give him time and space to think, even if that means he needs to be alone at that point. You have been living with the condition for some time, but this could be new to him. It might not be easy for him at first, not with all the myths and misconceptions out there.
The other option would be visiting your nearest health care provider. You can tell the nurses there in advance that you will be coming for a counseling session with your partner. Some hospitals have Opportunistic Clinics (OI), which are specialised clinics meant to offer health services to people living with HIV. They have well trained nurses and doctors who will be able to talk to you both and offer you professional assistance. This could actually be easier for you because your partner will get tested as well. After this, it is again important to give him time to think. However, time is infinite so work on a deadline.
Whatever his decision, just be ready for it and accept it. If he wants to go on with the relationship, then congratulations and good for you. If he does not want to go on, then too bad; he lost an amazing woman like you.
You do not have to feel bad about your status no matter what the circumstances surrounding how you got the virus were. If someone chooses not to love or accept you the way you are, then they are not worth keeping. You are just like any other person. You have the ability and capacity to do anything just like anyone one else. So don’t look down upon yourself or compromise your standards or beliefs so as to be with someone who does not want to be with you. HIV is just a condition and if well managed, you can live long enough to see your grandchildren. If it does not work out here and now, all the best in finding love elsewhere. Love is in the air.
Phoebie Shamiso Chigonde is a journalist passionate about gender equality, social development programmes and grassroots-based solution seeking initiatives. She has a passion for women and community development. Phoebie is also a radio personality at a regional commercial radio station, a platform that enables her to network with like-minded women, journalists and activists as she continues to document and tell the story of the ordinary woman from the lens of that very ordinary woman.