If someone in your family has told you they’re living with HIV, I want to share a bit of my story with you, in the hope that it can help you process the news and give you a bit of reassurance.
The announcement is probably a shock, and something you did not see coming. You may be worried and have a lot of emotions and questions going through your head. You may not know how to react or how best to support them. And that’s all totally normal.
Disclosing my status to my mum
I disclosed my HIV status to my Mum a few years ago, and I really wasn’t sure how she’d take it. We’ve always been close, but she grew up in a very traditional home with really conservative values. I knew it was going to be difficult.
Honestly, it was difficult – probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do, on par with when I came out as gay. But after I told her, there were so many things she did that I will be eternally grateful for. Her honesty and openness were so important to me. Even when she didn’t know how to react, I felt like she was always on my side.
I love Mum for just listening…
When I told Mum, she was upset, which I expected. I was upset too – I’d waited until I was confident with my status and my treatment before I disclosed, but it still took a lot of courage to actually tell her everything.
We sat down in the kitchen for an hour and Mum just listened to me. The fact that she just held my hands and let me talk about it – without judgement – made a really difficult thing a tiny bit easier.
…and I also love her for taking some time to think about it.
After that first chat, Mum said she needed some time to herself to think about it. I didn’t feel like she was shutting me out – she just didn’t know how to respond in the moment and wanted some time to process. It gave us both the space we needed to get over that initial emotional impact and get our thoughts together so we could talk about it properly later.
I love her for the questions she asked…
HIV had never been part of Mum’s life and she didn’t really know much about it. Her understanding of the virus was what she knew from the 80s and 90s, when a lot of the messaging was very different and very scary.
I gave Mum a few links about HIV so she could do her own research. Afterwards, we talked about how much the science and medicine of HIV has advanced. She was really relieved to know that HIV can now be managed with one or two pills a day, just like diabetes, and that I can have a long and healthy life just like anyone else.
We also talked about what my being ‘undetectable’ means. Thanks to my treatment, the levels of virus in my body are suppressed to the point that they can’t be detected by current viral load testing. This also means I can’t transmit the virus to anyone during sex. Though, for her sake, I didn’t get into the details of gay sex, lol.
…and I also love her for the questions she didn’t ask
I know she had a lot of other questions and a lot of worries when I first disclosed to her. But she understands there are things about my diagnosis that are very personal and that she need not ask me about anything that might be intrusive or embarrassing.
I love her for being open about it with me…
Mum never made me feel like it’s something I couldn’t bring up. I’ve never felt ashamed or unable to talk about my HIV with her since I disclosed. She informed herself about my treatment, and she always wants to talk about my dating life and who I’m seeing (sometimes a bit too much!)
…and I love her for respecting my privacy
We’re a big family and Mum’s very close to my grandparents and my aunties. I know she would have wanted their support when I first disclosed to her. But she respected my privacy and my right to disclose on my own terms, and she never told anyone else about my status.
I love her for the things that changed…
We check in a lot more now. As soon as I disclosed, Mum understood that I really needed my family in a way that I hadn’t before. I’d been living with HIV on my own for a couple of years before I told her, and it was a huge relief to finally be able to get it off my chest and share it with her. I’d say we’re even closer now than we were before.
…and I also love her for the things that didn’t change.
Sometimes the best thing for me is to know that nothing is any different. My status hasn’t changed all the things I love about my family – the hugs and kisses, the big family meals on weekends – and it doesn’t define my relationship with my Mum, either.
I hope that sharing some of this might help give you a bit of guidance if you’re not sure about what to do next. Your family member has done something very brave and it’s a sign of how much they love, trust and respect you that they’ve disclosed their HIV status to you. They want to take the next step with you and move forward with the support of their family.
If you want to know more about the science of HIV or how to support someone living with HIV, take a look at Ending HIV’s guide to being a better ally.
This article was written by a community contributor and produced as part of a series aimed at tackling HIV stigma. Learn more about HIV stigma and how we can be better allies.