Welcome to my blog the Underground Woman, which is the same title as my upcoming book: The Underground Woman: From Prisoner to Freedom. I called myself the underground woman because of the ten years that I hid my HIV status from my family and close friends. I was ashamed of the fact that I had contracted HIV and felt as though people would treat me differently. Fear of societal stigma and discrimination imprisoned me in my own world of self-stigma, a world where I wasn’t living up to my potential as a carefree individual. Free to say what’s on my mind and do what I wanted to do. You see, when you are harboring a secret, you have to be careful of what you do and say to keep your story straight. I couldn’t tell why I had so many doctors appointment. A friend even said, “Wow, are you okay? You go to the doctors a lot.” I panicked as I tried to give her a cover-up answer. Most of my doctor’s appointments, support groups and ASO (AIDS Service Organizations) were in Center City Philadelphia, which meant that I had to catch the subway train. One time I saw a friend on the subway and she asked, “What are you doing on the subway train, don’t you drive?” Again, I panicked as I thought of an excuse. Every time I had to do something that was HIV- related, I always told family and friends that I was going to do something else. I was sneaking, hiding and running away on the subway, and I laughed at myself one day as I rode on the underground train, I thought, do you know who you are? You are the Underground Woman.
Although, I gathered the strength to free myself from the self-stigma that was holding me back, I can relate to the women and men who are still underground, afraid of their secrets getting out; I hope my story can inspire them. Here is an excerpt from my book, The Underground Woman: From Prisoner to Freedom
“I called myself the underground woman because I was living in an underground world that my friends and most of my family didn’t know anything about. This underground world was my private rabbit hole that I slid down from time to time to connect with people who understood. I was harboring a secret and this underground world was the only place where I felt free to be me and my secret was kept.
So what is your secret? Because everyone has one, a secret lover or affair, a secret bank account your significant other doesn’t know about, secret children born outside of the marriage, or things you did in the past that you’re not particularly proud off. Shhhh!!! Don’t tell anyone—and some people take these secrets to the grave with them. I guess that is what it means to say “having skeletons in the closet.” Can you imagine how damaging it is to your spirit to keep a secret about yourself for years and years? Always being very careful of every little thing you say to your friends and family so that you don’t give away any clues. You have to keep up a lie to uphold your secret. Boy, that’s some heavy pressure! A secret chips away at your spirit and rots your soul, not to mention what it does to your health from the stress. The fewer secrets you have the lighter you feel and the better you feel about yourself. And I really needed to feel better; I needed to feel lighter so that my spirit could be free to soar. It was one secret that I didn’t want to take to my grave. Yes, I had a skeleton in my closet that shocked the hell out of everyone. A living skeleton that kept replicating herself every day, and it was getting so crowded in my closet that the bones were overflowing. And she was starting to get noisy, every time I opened the closet to tell her to be quiet, I had to stuff the bones back in to shut the door, but she wanted to get out. She was tired of being in the closet and keeping her mouth shut. She wanted to tell everyone that I had been holding her hostage, my secret, “my HIV status” in the closet for over ten years. So now my secret is out”.
“If you can’t get rid of that skeleton in your closet, you better teach it to dance.” George Bernard Shaw
Photo credit: Shawn Theodore (xst)