Whether or not you tell your family may depend on how close you are to them and how much support you can expect from them. If you feel their concern will become a burden for you, possibly because of an extreme emotional response or even the possibility that they may reject you, then it may be better not to tell them. If there is a family member that you are particularly close to, you might want to talk to them first and find out whether they think it would be useful to tell the rest of your family. They may even be able to help you disclose your status to other family members. You could think about who in your family you first told that you were gay, or who was most supportive. It may seem daunting, but disclosing to a family member can actually lead to a stronger relationship. By showing someone that you can turn to them for support and trust them with personal information, they may feel closer to you. These discussions could also help them to feel more able to share any difficulties that they are having in their life.

"I waited about nine months to tell my parents. It was like coming out to them all over again. I was worried for them and also felt such a fool for having contracted HIV (after 17 years of a successful safer sex strategy). So I sat them down and I could hardly get through the sentence before I burst into tears. My parents had to comfort me! It was quite embarrassing. They were a bit too cool like they had been expecting news like this at some point. I felt a bit cheated. I'd sort of prepared myself for having to reassure them. They were actually quite clued up about the subject. It just goes to show you shouldn't prejudge people's reactions with news like this. You have to be prepared for anything." (Martin, 39)

How your family reacts at first may be very different from the way they behave after they have had time to better understand what living with HIV means. An emotional response could be followed by help and support, or vice versa, it very much depends on the individual you are disclosing to and how well informed they are. By being clear about your reason for telling them (whether it’s for support, because you want someone to listen or just because you want them to know) they may be able to respond in a more positive way.

There are many misconceptions and myths about HIV, so those close to you may become very scared for you when you tell them you have HIV. Where possible, be prepared to provide information; they may have questions and concerns that you could answer which would reassure them and help them to understand what your diagnosis means.

"When I found out my status, I told some close friends and my partner, but I didn’t tell my parents. I wasn’t ashamed; it was just that I was well so I didn’t want them to spend time worrying about me, as I knew they would. Eleven years later they have tentatively and obliquely hinted that they know. It seems someone else has said something to them. Now that they seem aware, I do want to be fully open with them. Something inside me still holds me back though, concerned that they will be upset that I haven’t confided in them for all these years, even if it was for the best of motives. The passage of time doesn’t make it any easier to tell those closest to you. In a way it’s made it harder. I’m determined to talk to them now though, when the moment seems right." (Daniel, 38)

Some people find talking to close friends easier than telling their families, especially if their friends are more informed about HIV. Friends can also provide a different point of view from family members. While it is important to think carefully about who you tell, it’s also important to remember that everyone needs someone to talk to from time to time.

It’s possible that you may already know some gay friends who have HIV. It’s also possible that in telling one of your friends, you find out that they also have HIV. Telling a friend who has HIV may mean that you get some useful support and advice from someone who has been through the same emotions and feelings as you are.

Having a close circle of friends who you can confide in will help to relieve some of the pressure you may feel in dealing with HIV on your own. As with your family, be prepared to answer any questions they may have. Your friends may well need reassurance about what having HIV means as much as you need support from them.

Remember though that since your friends may be worried after hearing that you have HIV, they may feel the need to talk to other friends who may not already know. If you don’t want this to happen, be clear with them that you want them to keep the news to themselves.