Six things you shouldn’t say to someone living with HIV
What was almost unthinkable 35 years ago has become much more common today. More than three decades ago, people who had been diagnosed with HIV struggled to maintain their anonymity.
They feared not only physical death, but also “social death”, as the Mexican writer Carlos Monsivais called it, caused by AIDS.
These fears are an obstacle for people to discover their diagnosis to their family or loved ones, but, luckily, more and more people with HIV are taking advantage of the reach of social networks and publicly accepting their health condition.
Taking care of the words
Perhaps you do not yet know a person living with HIV, or perhaps you are not very close to the subject. In any case, here we propose six phrases that you should not say to someone with HIV. The text was written by Josh Robbins, a young man with HIV.
1. Are you clean? Asking if someone is “clean” of HIV (so having the virus would be “dirty”) is nothing short of rude. Moreover, it is offensive. How could someone living with HIV accept that this is the case when they are being given such a negative label as “dirt”? Think twice (and more) before using these words, because you can break the trust of the other person.
2. Do you know how you got the infection? It goes without saying that the question offends because it denotes a curiosity that borders on intrusion. “If we want to talk about how it’s transmitted, we’ll start the conversation,” says Josh.
3. Who gave it to you? Asking this, says the young American, is the easiest way to demonstrate rampant lack of manners. Asking this can trigger painful emotions, since the HIV may have come from a criminal act, such as rape. Or maybe the person is ashamed of the broadcast, or maybe they don’t even know who it was. But in the latter case, this is not an important piece of information.
4. “…suffers from HIV”: According to what Josh explains, even though he lives with a chronic condition (as HIV is already considered), he should not be considered as a person with HIV. Remember that people with HIV who take their treatment correctly can live a long and full life.
5. “I’m sorry”: Saying “I’m sorry” when someone tells us they are living with HIV might sound supportive, but for Josh, those living with HIV don’t see it that way. Even worse if the phrase is released after having known some circumstances of the transmission of the virus.
6. “Is your partner positive?” It should not be assumed that the current partner of someone with HIV is also living with the virus. This is because a person with HIV who takes their treatment correctly has zero chance of transmitting the virus to a sexual partner. In any case, it is inappropriate to ask about the situation of the couple, since it goes beyond the limits of privacy.
But then what do I say?
Josh recommends that instead of using these inane phrases while someone is telling us about their HIV status, the best thing we can do is listen.
The young man suggests that if you are not sure about asking a question, stop and think about the effects that your comments can have. Don’t talk just to keep quiet, consider that what you say could profoundly change your interaction with that person with HIV.
And if you have doubts about your own HIV diagnosis, remember that at AHF Latin America and the Caribbean we carry out free tests, in addition to the fact that we have free condoms. Come to our test center in your country or write to us by Whatsapp.