In May 2014 I finally told my secret; I published a note called "The Hidden Truth" on facebook to inform everyone about my HIV. I had been thinking about coming out of the closet for many years and that day I was ready to share my reality and prepared to face a storm of reactions.
Before coming out I told a few friends, neighbours and parents of my kid's friends. Why did I do that? I was creating my small safe haven, in case the world would turn its back on me. So I was assured that these people would hold my hand and support me!
Back then I was not sure what reaction I would be getting, but in the end I received a lot of supportive responses. Some people called me, others wrote messages calling me a strong and courageous woman, thanking me for sharing, telling me they love me, and reassuring me I would still be the great dancer and remain who I was.
Then Hello Gorgeous, a Magazine for people living with HIV, approached me if I wanted to share my story as a HIV talent. So in the 2014 autumn edition I became a cover girl for that magazine. I decided to use the magazine cover as my facebook profile picture.
This is when the troubles at my kids' primary school started; a parent went to tell the director of my HIV. He asked me to remove the picture. He said "You scare the parents!" I told him that if parents have questions, they are welcome to ask me. I added that I could change my facebook profile picture but that the truth would still be out there, in the magazine and online!
That's when I handed him a copy of the magazine. He looked inside and saw me posing with my Indonongo and said "You look happy and strong!" I said "That's exactly my point! Have you ever seen me unhappy? I came to this school with HIV but I did not tell you. There are other parents with secrets as well. I am out of the closet and please don't tell me to hide again!"
But some parents did not give up yet! A few days later a teacher told me "Mrs. Becks, I am sorry to tell you that parents are very worried that your son is going to infect the whole classroom." I was furious and asked "Are you seriously thinking that my son is going to infect your classroom including yourself?"
To my surprise he answered that he was afraid that was going to happen. So I told him that first of all he does not have HIV and secondly even if he would have it, how is he going to transmit it to you and the other kids? Is he going to have sex with you all, is he going to breastfeed you or is he going to inject drugs and share a needle with you? By now he was begging me not to be angry, and said he needed to ask this so he could answer those parents.
I was like, well you got your answer. But since it is HIV you are trying to push me and my children down. I will NOT allow it! Tell those parents, whoever has a question, to come to me and we will talk. Shame on you as teacher, not making an effort to look for basic information on HIV. And you are hiding behind the parents while you are afraid yourself?
You all thought this would be the end of it, right? Well, things just got started… Very soon after this, teachers started reporting to us that one kid was suicidal and the other was uncontrollable and was continuously hitting other children. So all of a sudden they had mental issues? But as the school already reported this to the social care system, we were now labeled a dysfunctional family thanks to this school. This unleashed an army of social care 'specialists' towards us. I can tell you, there is no way to keep them out of your door and you are guilty until proven innocent!
So, we went through a very stressful period of observations by psychologists, dozens of talks with social caregivers, and hundreds of forms/tests to fill in. All this to discover if my husband and I were evil. Guess what? They found nothing! And all we got from the school was a simple apology for the misunderstanding...
I felt really down for suddenly being treated as a bad mother, whilst I have always been so active for the school helping them out with many activities including making music. The moment I came out, all went down the drain! That period in 2014 I had to stand tall and fight tooth and nail against this bigotry. But I showed them that no matter what kind of box they tried to force me into, I did not fit!
My secret was out, and nothing was going to stop me now! Luckily my safe haven did its work. Of course, some parents were fully understanding and to date my kids are friends with many of their children.
It is not easy to fight stigma and discrimination, and when it comes to my children I will do anything to protect them. In the end the drama caused by school and the army of caregivers stopped and we walked free after our long fight!
I am glad I came out and I did not regret my decision!
This blog was originally posted on hivstigmafighter.