Woman Calls on World to Look in the Face of AIDS

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Regan Hofmann POZ

Regan Hofmann appeared on the cover of 'Poz' magazine to show the hidden face of AIDS: heterosexual, upper-middle class women. Jack Louth/Poz Magazine hide caption

itoggle caption Jack Louth/Poz Magazine
Regan Hofmann

Regan Hofmann contracted HIV in 1996, and was so embarrassed that she kept it a secret for years. Scott Pasfield/Poz Magazine hide caption

itoggle caption Scott Pasfield/Poz Magazine

Regan Hofmann grew up in the tony suburbs of Princeton, N.J. When she went to high school in the 80s, she was terrified of AIDS.

"By the mid-90s, I had never heard of a woman — a heterosexual woman who was not an IV-drug user — having HIV," Hofmann says. "I perceived myself to be literally at no risk for HIV."

But in 1996, Regan contracted HIV from her first and only boyfriend after her divorce. She was so embarrassed that she kept it a secret. And because she had health care, she could keep it a secret from her friends. For about eight years, she only told her immediate family.

"The fear that the secret would get out was gnawing at me inside, and the stress of that was hard on my body and hard on my mind," she says.

To find an outlet for her anxiety, Hofmann approached the magazine Poz, a lifestyle magazine for people who are HIV positive. She ended up writing a regular column under the byline "Anonymous." Last year, the magazine asked her to come on board full time. At first, she wasn't sure whether she should.

"I was worried that I was representative of too small a slice of the pie," she says. "But over the years, women have become a larger population of those infected … Almost 30 percent in the United States are women."

Still Hofmann didn't want to take the job unless she was going to disclose her HIV status openly. Earlier this year, she became the magazine's editor-in-chief — and put her face on the cover of the magazine.

"And the phone started to ring off the hook: Socialites in Texas, mothers of three in Washington, D.C., women living down in Soho whose husbands are on Wall Street," Hofmann says. "There are so many women out there like me who are just not coming forward. They don't have to. Their bodies are not giving themselves away."

Hofmann finds that even the most well-meaning people are ignorant about AIDS and HIV. At a recent charity fundraiser in Washington D.C., she and another HIV-positive woman who works at Poz sat at a table with other donors. Hoffman told the other attendees at her table that 1 in 20 people in Washington D.C., have HIV. They didn't believe her.

"Their jaws hung open as I told them I was positive and Marvaline told them she was positive," Hofmann recalls.

"These people truly do not perceive AIDS to be in their world. There were people on stage from other countries talking about their experiences, and yet there was disbelief on the part of these upper-middle-class American women that there was HIV right in their backyard."

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