HIV, navigating relationships and disclosure

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by Kelsey Westbrook

When Alee Alleman went to disclose her HIV positive status to her now husband, she made a plan on when and where it would happen, so that he could be in a position to leave if that’s what he wanted.

She sat in her car for forty-five minutes, agonizing over her words, thinking through what she’d say, playing out his reaction.

“I planned it out in such a way that he could get out of the car and write me off and say, ‘no this is too much.’ I didn’t think that he would do that, but there’s always the chance when you tell people that their ideas about what HIV is overpowers the relationship that you have,” said Alleman, looking back.

Years later, Alleman is happily married, her husband did not write her off in that moment, and she’s devoted her practicum as a U of L Kent School of Social Work student to Volunteers of America FIT (Friends Inspiriting Testing) program, and works tirelessly to end the stigma against HIV and AIDS by sharing her story.

So how do folks that test positive for HIV navigate relationships and dating? Alleman, who was born with HIV and has been in her relationship with her husband since 2011, wants to encourage the general public to learn about HIV and AIDS, so that if these circumstances come up, they can be met with compassion and care.

“Basically, the way I see it is that when I’ve told people, if they aren’t willing to learn or be educated then they aren’t necessarily worth the relationship in the first place.”

Science is evolving all the time, and dismantling myths about HIV and AIDS in the process.

“The biggest myths are that you’re going to die if you have it, if your partner has it, and that HIV and AIDS are the same thing,” said Derek Guy, Health Education Coordinator at University of Kentucky’s KIRP Program, which provides free testing events in the community, along with VOA FIT.

U = U is a relatively new term that means Undetectable = Untransmittable, and is integral in navigating a diagnosis, and can ease minds when it comes to relationships and dating.

“It’s only come out in the last three years I think, so it’s relatively new information that that u = u,” said Alleman, “[it means that] you basically aren’t at risk of transmitting the disease to someone else, so as long as you’re taking care of yourself, then the other people that you’re in relationships with or intimate with aren’t necessarily going to be affected.”

Alleman is living proof that HIV is not a death sentence, and she believes that sharing her status (and that of her family, who appeared on Good Morning America to disclose their statuses when she was 17) helps dismantle that belief.

“I used to be an English teacher, and so I just kind of feel that sharing stories is a really great defense against the stigma. [HIV is] still a big deal, but as long as you’re treated, you can live a long healthy life with the virus.”

To that end, Alleman can be a support system for folks newly navigating relationships with HIV, and has established a support group through VOA FIT, “ultimately I think people just need to know that they aren’t alone. I’m at least a person that people can talk to and say, ‘yeah I’ve been where you are. I’ve had to disclose to people.’”

To join Alleman’s VOA FIT support group for 18-24 year olds with HIV or find out more information, email Alexandreaa@voamid.org.

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