Last week’s episode of How to Get Away With Murder gave us hope that both Oliver (Conrad Ricamora) and Connor (Jack Falahee) would get back together. Since the beginning of their relationship, many viewers have been rooting for the two of them to stay together because their relationship shows us what it is like to be vulnerable, what it is like to be afraid to fall in love and what it is like to love from a place of insecurity.
At the beginning of this season, Oliver decided that he and Connor needed some space and that they should break up. With their breakup came emotions, feelings and frustrations. During their time apart (for what seemed like an eternity to the viewers, speaking for myself and other loyal watchers), both Oliver and Connor began to entertain the idea of seeing other people. In more recent episodes, we were able to see that Oliver did, in fact, get another shot at love—all until he told his potential new beau three not-so-small words:
“I have HIV.”
While it was evident that this was difficult for his potential new boyfriend to digest, the content and context of this situation provides us with practical insight into the lives of those who are actively living with HIV. With this storyline, we gain access to the struggles that HIV-positive people face when they decide to walk fully in their truth and disclose their status.
In 2015 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that African Americans account for almost half of new HIV infections. Knowing this, one may argue that having a conversation related to HIV status is not only important in a relationship but also vital to both individuals’ health. The honest and authentic way that Oliver’s new love interest reacted is not only upsetting but also a real reason that many who live with HIV opt not to disclose.
In a 2014 spotlight, William Brawner talked candidly about what it was like having to hide his HIV status for more than 25 years. From Brawner’s story, we gain better insight not only into the fear he had about disclosing his HIV status to the people he loved but also into the struggles that society constructs about those living with HIV. As Brawner stated in his article, many who live with HIV choose not to disclose out of fear of both rejection and being judged. Brawner went on to express that, like Oliver, when he disclosed, he was often met with dismissal and a lack of understanding.
What many fail to comprehend about stories like Oliver’s and Brawner’s is that folks who disclose to others about their HIV status are more than just brave. They are the ones we can really trust, and there is something greater to be said about that.
In HTGAWM, Oliver was doing more than just telling his love interest that he is HIV-positive. He was exemplifying what many of us want in a partner: someone who is honest and trustworthy. Becoming sexually involved with anyone is based solely on that principle alone, and we must give credit where credit is due.
Oliver is the real MVP not for telling his partner about his status but for knowing his status and caring enough about his sexual partners to be forthcoming about being positive.
That should be applauded.
In thinking about this storyline, I wondered, how many of us can say that we have had a partner sit down with us to talk openly and honestly about his or her status? Further, how many of us can actively say that we created space in our relationships to talk not just about HIV but also about the importance of honesty, trust and wellness?
This episode of How to Get Away With Murder helps viewers understand that no matter how far we have come in the advancement of HIV medicine or anti-HIV medication, the stigma surrounding HIV-positive individuals still exists. As we progress as a community, we must stop to ask ourselves who’s doing more harm: those who don’t engage in conversations around folks living with HIV, or the ones who choose not to disclose out of fear of rejection?