By Tami Haught, PWN-USA Member
How we introduce ourselves makes a difference; the words we use matter.
When asked at a meeting to introduce myself, I will start with: My name is Tami Haught and I have been living with HIV for 21 years. Sharing that little bit of information about myself is selling myself short and not conveying the full message that I want to share with others. Not that being comfortable with sharing the fact that I am living with HIV isn’t a big deal; disclosure is never easy and opens you up to ridicule, stigma, discrimination, bullying, and rejection, and it took a long time for me to share.
I’ve been thinking though: Does this little bit of information make me relatable, or does it continue the perception that “HIV won’t happen to me”? However, this introduction shares more of my story, which hopefully more people can relate to, and shows that HIV can happen to anyone – after all, I am just like you:
My name is Tami Haught. I have been a mother living with HIV for 18 years. I am a daughter, sister, aunt, and friend living with HIV for 21 years. I was a wife living with HIV for almost three years. I have been openly living with HIV for 15 years.
I am beginning to think this more expanded introduction can help people relate to me better; after all, I am sure whoever I am talking with will be like I was, assuming HIV would never touch their lives. But talking about being a mother – everyone has one.
The other descriptions of my life open up the opportunity for people to ask questions:
Why have you only been living openly with HIV for 15 years??
This gives me the opportunity to share that for the first six years of living with HIV I lived in silence because of the stigma, self-shame, and fear after my diagnosis. My late husband (thus being a wife for almost three years) didn’t want to share our status; we lived in Texas, where the hate, fear, stigma, and discrimination were rampant.
Words matter; and to help reduce the stigma of HIV, we need to use as many as we feel comfortable sharing. If we give people the opportunity to self-identify similar traits or characteristics, others may begin to recognize that I am just like them or they are just like me. Once people who aren’t living with HIV realize people living with HIV are just like them, maybe we can truly make a difference – because we will not be just a number, the far-off “someone else.” HIV does not discriminate, and anyone can contract HIV.
Tami Haught is an Iowa-based PWN-USA member, SERO Project Criminalization Confererence Coordinator, Community Organizer for CHAIN (Community HIV/Hepatitis Advocates of Iowa Network), President of PITCH (Positive Iowans Taking Charge), and a member of the USPLHIV Caucus Steering Committee and the GNP+NA Board.