How to Come Out About Being HIV-Positive

Ten steps to make the process a whole lot easier.

BY Gary McClain

February 24 2014 5:00 AM ET

One of the milestones on your living with HIV journey is learning how to disclose your status to friends, family members, potential romantic partners, and other people in your life whom you want or need to know. 

In a way, disclosing is an endless series of milestones, because each disclosure is a unique experience. Because of that, it’s hard not to get caught up in asking yourself questions like: How will they react? Will they be supportive? Try to micromanage my life? Reject me?

Some will take the news in stride, as you expected them to. Others won’t, as you might also have expected. And some could surprise you, for better or worse. Talk about uncertainty!

A lot to think about, right? Here are some strategies to help you get started:

Take a “need to know” approach

Decide ahead of time what you want to tell your friend or family member about your diagnosis and how much beyond the diagnosis you want to disclose. Most likely, you will feel comfortable giving some people specific information, such as how you were infected. Ask yourself, What do I need them to know? What do we not need to discuss? You’re in control here.

Decide when the time and place is right

Choose a moment when the two of you can share some quiet time. Think about the setting that will be comfortable for you as well as the other person. At your home? In a public setting? It’s up to you. 

Be clear about your intentions

Are you looking for support? A deeper relationship? Is this a person you want to have sex with? This can be as simple as “I wanted to tell you something about myself. The reason I want to tell you is _______.” This will help your friend or family member understand what you are expecting — and not expecting — from them. And hopefully, it will help them listen with an open mind.

State the facts

Once you say “HIV,” the other person might have trouble hearing whatever comes next, at least when you first tell them. You may want to start with a simple disclosure along with a brief overview of how you’re doing and—equally important—what you’re doing: “I just learned that I am HIV-positive” or “I am living with HIV,” followed by “I am taking really good care of myself, physically and emotionally. And an important part of taking care of myself is disclosing my HIV status to people I care about and trust.”

Be sensitive to how they are reacting

If you sense they are uncomfortable with this conversation — and looking for an exit — that’s a sign they may not want to go any further. Respond with “It looks like you aren’t comfortable talking about this.” And then wait for them to let you know whether they can have this discussion. It may take some time to process the news, and so this may be an ongoing discussion.

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