I have just received Regan Hoffman’s novel ‘I Have Something To Tell You’ . It is her memoir: the personal story of an HIV positive woman who has taken the decision to stop living with a secret. Regan is now one of the few women living openly with HIV in the USA. In the past few years she has become one of the foremost activists for the rights of people living with HIV globally.
I would like to reproduce here a few paragraphs from the prologue of the book. Those words deeply resonate with me. I believe this is one of the most accurate depictions of internalized stigma I have read, and why ‘Speaking Up’ can be so healing and liberating.
‘I am a walking biohazard – a heated container of deadly viral particles . I don’t look sick. But I could kill you. I am part of a tribe of people bound by bad biology: misunderstood, deeply feared because of the human immunodeficiency virus I carry and bearing a crippling stigma that has long kept me silent.
Writing this is a bloodletting. My pen pierces an hematoma of shame that swelled until holding it in became too painful. This is how it had to happen: the pain of not telling became greater than the fear of what would happen if I told. When too much vital life force collects in an unnatural place it can’t be contained. It turns fetid and festers – infecting the person who holds it with a vicious disease. Eventually it explodes outwards.
The flood of relief following the sting when the secret is lanced is replaced by the awkwardness of staring at the mess the release has created. Will you look at that? Now what have you done? Who is going to clean it up? But ultimately you are healed The virus threatens death but stigma surely kills. Other people’s fear and ignorance about what is nothing more than a retrovirus deny my dignity. And there is not point in living without that.’
You can buy Regan’s memoir here.