From the archive…DISCLOSURE (March 2012)
May 5, 2014 Dan Gates
What is a Peer Program Coordinator? As the new kid on the block at the Provincetown ASGCC office, this is the question I get asked the most. At first, when meeting with clients for the first time, I assumed everyone knew that the “peer” in my title meant I am also a client, that I am HIV positive. As time went on, whether with clients or around town when people on the street asked me about my new job, it became clear to me that the “peer” component could be code for positive, but that it wasn’t necessarily a title of disclosure. To the casual observer my title meant perhaps only that I coordinated services for clients who were positive, leaving them to assume that I was HIV negative (that is, after all, what people usually do, isn’t it?). This led me to a decidedly modern version of an age old quandary: To disclose, or not to disclose? That was the question.
My first moment of disclosure was when I tested positive in 1996. I was living in San Francisco at the time, and it’s arguably impossible to find a city more positive-friendly than San Francisco (with the obvious exception of Ptown!). Like many of us, I feared disclosure more than I would have imagined; in my case I at first told only three friends. And that’s how it was for a while. I flew under the radar.
Everything changed when a few years later I moved to NYC and found myself at a brunch in the Village. It was your typical city brunch – a group of gay guys chatting, eating low-carb breakfasts, and gossiping – until a friend of a friend launched into a monologue about how “stupid” you’d have to be to “test positive in this day and age”. Nods all around the table. I sat there, stunned. I had a moment to decide: should I choose to be a silent accomplice and let it go, or should I disclose, address his stigmatizing rant, and end my years of secrecy?
I piped in with “well, as someone who’s HIV positive”… I like to remember my disclosure being accompanied with a clattering of dropped utensils and choked-upon coffee, but the reaction would probably be more accurately described as a discomforting hush across the table. The rest of my monologue is inconsequential – and suffice it to say, HIV & AIDS doesn’t always make for light brunch chat. But what really mattered was not just that I made this guy – and, yes, even closer friends at the table – think about HIV differently, but that my years of secrecy were over; for the first time since I’d sero-converted, I felt a glimpse of the sense of self that was to come. While my years of shame weren’t instantaneously ceased – that would take a while – I started the path towards acceptance and a more authentic self.
Disclosure is something we who live with HIV deal with often, sometimes on a daily basis. Do our employers need to know? Our friends? Families? What about guys we’ve just met? These are questions sometimes easily answered, other times awkwardly handled, and sometimes, for better or for worse, simply avoided.
Some 15 years since my HIV diagnosis, I’m fortunate enough to be starting a new career in Provincetown. I’m thrilled and honored to be a member of ASGCC, one of the oldest AIDS organizations in the world, and a place of rich and important history in Provincetown.
If we haven’t yet met, please stop by and say hi. I look forward to getting to know you all.
~ Dan Gates, March 2012