Ask MISTER Carl: 'My Boyfriend Is HIV-Positive -- Do I Have to Tell My Parents?'

12/02/2013 08:00 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

Welcome to "Ask MISTER CARL." I'm Carl Sandler, the founder of the gay mobile app MISTER. You can also find me on SiriusXM Radio OutQ's The Morning Jolt discussing gay dating and relationships. In this series I invite readers to share challenges that they encounter in their dating and love lives. Remember, there are many ways to look at every issue. If you disagree with something I write, be positive and share your own strategies or suggestions in the comments.

Dear MISTER Carl,

My boyfriend and I have been dating for about five months and things are getting serious. We're exclusive, have said the L-word, and I've gotten the thumbs-up from his friends and family. Now it's time for him to meet my folks, so we're going to their place for Thanksgiving. Thing is, my boyfriend is HIV-positive (I'm neg), and I don't' think my parents are going to take it too well. It took them a long time to accept my sexuality, mostly because they think life is just harder for gay people. They worry I'm going to get beat up. They worry I'm going to be discriminated against. And yes, they worry I'm going to get HIV. My fear is that no matter how wonderful, charming, and amazing my boyfriend is (and he is definitely all of those things), they're only going to see his illness and not give him a fair shake. I hate the thought of lying to them, and I certainly don't want to disrespect my boyfriend and make him feel like there's something wrong with him. Do I have to tell them?

--My Parents' Ignorance Is Bliss

With more and more serodiscordant couples (that is, couples in which one partner is HIV-positive and the other is HIV-negative) dating and dealing with issues of disclosure to friends and family, you're certainly not the only one experiencing this very delicate predicament.

My strong view is that a person's HIV status is their personal business and theirs alone. This means that, with rare exceptions, you should never disclose another person's HIV status to a third party without their consent. By "third party" I mean even your best girlfriend, your latest hookup, and yes, your parents. Lying (or in this case keeping an uncomfortable secret) to protect someone else's privacy is OK.

That being said, it's important to share your concerns with your boyfriend and figure out together how much info he wants to dish out. My guess is that your future in-laws won't even ask, but you'd be wise to support whatever route your boyfriend wants to take. Fear of other people's reactions or possible prejudices (even your parents') should never be used to shame anyone into the HIV closet. Our poz brothers and sisters don't have time for that.

If and when your parents do find out about your partner's status, it probably won't be a "pass the gravy" kind of conversation, so come to the table with as much information as possible. Be prepared to explain to your parents about viral loads, antiretroviral drugs, and preventive treatments like PrEP, and come armed with solid resources and statistics, like the one that shows that HIV infection rates among monogamous serodiscordant couples who know each others' status is less than 4 percent. If your parents choose to ignore the facts and don't accept your relationship and the man you love, well, that will be their loss. Good luck.

Next time: "I cheated on my man, and now my junk is all over the Internet!"

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