Coming out of the virtual HIV closet: what are the issues?

Coming out of the virtual HIV closet: what are the issues?

#Coming #virtual #HIV #closet #issues

A qualitative study

This study was conducted by Dr. Steven Philpot and his team at Kirby Institute University in Sydney, Australia and published in the health journal Sociology of Health and Disease before being acquired by aidsmap. This is a qualitative study with interviews conducted with five Australian men who are HIV-positive, homosexual or bisexual. The participants were all white. The average age was 33 years (26 to 50 years). English was their first language and they were all college educated and had no difficulty accessing care and treatment. In addition, all participants had an undetectable viral load and were confident that publicly announcing their HIV status would not have a significant impact on their daily lives.

Questioned by Seronet, Dr. Steven Philpot points out that the lack of diversity in the profiles retained constitutes one of the limits of the study: “The participants cited in the review had very good HIV follow-up and an undetectable viral load. They were also active members of the community of people living with HIV involved in political activism and HIV associations.” The researcher explains that it was harder to reach people further away from care and associations: “Many people are not as comfortable with their HIV status as our participants and are less likely to use social media to publicize their HIV status.” What about non-white people?“In Australia, the HIV epidemic is now affecting foreign-born gay and bisexual men in non-English speaking countries, so we have made a special effort to try to recruit more participants from these communities, “explains Dr. Philpot. “With the help of community associations, we focused on these people and managed to recruit some of them, but it took time and resources. It is a population that is difficult to access, “acknowledges the investigator.

take back control

Why announce your serological status on social networks like Facebook or Instagram? One of the main reasons mentioned by the participants was to regain control of their history with HIV. For many people, the discovery of their HIV status is a test, even a trauma. Once the discovery stage is over and the treatment is placed, the announcement stage arrives. Who to tell? At what time? For some, saying it publicly can put an end to any rumour, or even a excursion (the fact that a third party reveals seropositivity instead of the interested party without their consent).

Augus, 28, remembers the time he was forced to disclose his HIV status by a secretary at the clinic: “In my Facebook post, I controlled who I could talk to when from this call to the secretary, I was forced to say it in a time when I wasn’t comfortable talking about it. Flynn, 27, recounts what happened to one of his HIV-positive friends whose HIV status was publicly disclosed in the media without his consent: “His life became absolute hell, seeing rumors about his life and comments from people about your story. “He told me that his biggest regret was not being able to control his own story.”

The parameters of social networks allow you to choose the audience you are targeting. On Facebook, it is possible to select groups of people (family members, colleagues, acquaintances, close friends, etc.). The same on Instagram with the “close friend” filter or on Twitter with the possibility of having a private account. While three of the five participants chose to announce their serological status to all their subscribers; two have decided to restrict their hearing. Despite this precaution, participants admitted that they could not control how their posts were subsequently shared. It is a golden rule in social networks: what is published no longer belongs to us. Anyone can take a screenshot of the post and share it via private message, email, Whatsapp, etc.

The participants obtained mostly positive feedback when announcing their HIV status through social media. However, fear of stigma, rumors or serophobic comments generated anxiety. “I stopped going out and really limited my social interactions (…). My biggest fear was people coming up to me,” says Flynn.

Participants agreed that this form of coming out through social networks was not necessarily suitable for the closest people, such as family or close friends. “I told my mom I was HIV positive via text message and then she told me that she would have preferred to have this kind of conversation in person. I took her comment into consideration and made sure my family members found out over the phone instead of browsing Facebook. I think it’s more personal and more respectful,” Angus admits.

(Re)come out of the closet

The analogy with coming out LGBT+ is often mentioned by people who announce their HIV status, especially when it comes to people who have already done so, as is the case with the participants in this study. For Dexter, 50, coming out of the closet of shame was liberating: “When they told me I was HIV positive, they advised me to keep it to myself. But, it didn’t suit me. So I started writing this blog and posted it on Facebook. I am very open about being HIV positive.”

For the participants, the act of publicly announcing their seropositive status is also a militant act that aims to change serophobic representations of society and give strength and hope to other seropositive people. Percy, 26: “One night, I told myself that I really wanted to raise awareness and fight stigma. I came out with HIV with a Facebook status. He didn’t want it to be a secret anymore. But more than coming out, he wanted to send messages. HIV has changed. Create your own future. Don’t let HIV get in your way.”

For Jasper, announcing his HIV status on social media saved him from the “dramatic” side that sometimes happens in these kinds of situations when it comes to someone who still thinks HIV is equivalent to a death sentence: “In person, it gives too”. weight to the ad with an often outdated view of HIV. He forces you to sit down and prepare for a painful moment. By saying it on social networks I give this announcement more lightness. It’s like saying, “It’s part of my life now,” instead of “I have something terrible to tell you.”

In conclusion, the study authors explain that announcing their HIV status on social media had a double positive effect on the participants. On a personal level, it allowed them to “express and rework their identities” and shed the “weight of secrecy”. At a collective level, this has made it possible to fight against the representation that HIV is necessarily associated with “unpleasant, private and difficult information”.

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