Someone you care about has just told you something really important – he’s HIV positive.
There’s probably a lot going through your head at the moment and there’s a lot to process.
But the most important thing right now is how you can be there for him. If it’s not something you’ve experienced before, there’s no better time to learn how to be an ally for someone living with HIV. There are some simple ways you can be a good friend for him now that you know, but it’s not always easy to get it right when you’ve got a thousand questions and you don’t know where to start. We’ve put together a quick guide on the best ways you can show him your support, both right now and into the future.
First up, acknowledge what he’s just told you. His positive HIV status is an incredibly personal thing to share with you – thank him for telling you, and recognise that it probably wasn’t easy for him to do. Telling you shows he respects you enough to share this information. HIV disclosure is one of the more challenging aspects of living with HIV, and he might be feeling kind of raw emotionally. Be gentle with him and understand that talking about his status with you may have taken a sizable amount of courage.
Reassure him that it doesn’t change your relationship or how you feel about him. Keep up your regular chats, hangs and hugs, and let him know that nothing has changed between you.
Ask him what he needs. Let him tell you what support, if any, he needs so you can be there for him without overdoing it. Let him know the conversation is always open but follow his lead. Listen to what he has to say. He may be telling you for a particular reason, or it may just be that he wants you to know as a friend. Just don’t let his HIV status define your friendship.
Support and ask if he wants encouragement with his treatment. Being HIV positive is a manageable condition, and by quickly starting and staying on treatment your friend will be able to stay healthy. Sometimes taking a daily tablet can be a reminder of his diagnosis, especially for newly diagnosed people. If this is his situation, he could benefit from speaking to other guys with lived experience of what it’s like to use HIV treatment.
Ask him if he’s spoken to anyone else living with HIV. Making contact with others in his situation can help him feel less alone. There’s an opportunity to learn from the lived experience of other people living with HIV. Several HIV and LGBTI health organisations also provide counselling services and support groups specifically for helping people come to terms with their diagnosis. The Institute of Many is a great community group for connecting with others.
“… by quickly starting and staying on treatment your friend will be able to stay healthy.”
Respect his right to be as private or as public with his status as he likes. Most importantly, don’t disclose his status to anyone else unless he asks you to – there is almost never a good reason to do this, unless it’s a medical emergency.
Avoid questions about his HIV journey unless he volunteers the information. These include how he acquired the virus or why he hasn’t told you before. Grief, shame and stigma can be challenging emotions for people living with HIV, and questions like this – however well-intentioned – might feel more like judgement, making it difficult to give him your support.
Educate yourself. You’ll probably have a lot of questions about HIV now that it’s affecting someone you care about, but it’s important not to make him responsible for educating you or satisfying your curiosity. He may not have all the answers either. Fortunately for you, we’ve compiled a guide to understanding HIV basics in HIV 101: 2021 edition. As well as this, HIV organisations exist in every state and territory. Check out our partner network for details on how to contact your nearest one. And you can always hit us up online for friendly advice through Emen8’s Facebook page or contact form.