All Grown Up With HIV
by Cristina González
Paige Rawl, 17, Indianapolis, Perinatally Infected
She is a high school student, an athlete, a teen. Having encountered and overcome enormous stigma, Paige has flourished—making a place for herself in a world that hasn’t figured out how to make a place for youth living life with HIV.
My name is Paige, and I’ve been positive for 17 years. My mom unknowingly passed it on to me, and she found out her status right before I turned 3. She contracted the disease from my father—we’re not sure how or when he contracted HIV. That’s just the way it goes.
My mom told me I was positive when I was in fifth grade. But I didn’t get it. I took the pills because that’s what you do when you’re young and your mom gives you pills. And then middle school happened.
In sixth grade I confided in my best friend; I told her I’d been HIV positive since birth. Within two weeks, she had told her sister and other people, and they told others, and eventually the whole school knew. Everyone. People threatened to beat me up; they left a note on my locker saying “No AIDS at [school name].” They gave me a nickname: “PAIDS.” They told each other not to drink after me, as if HIV was contagious [that way]. I went from [being] popular to having no friends.
In eighth grade, I made the soccer team. I was going to be part of a team. Then someone told my coach I had AIDS. At our first away game, my coach approached me on the bench, in front of other players, and asked, “By the way, I heard that you have AIDS. Is that true?” I said no, because I don’t have AIDS, I am HIV positive and there is a difference.
I was so upset. This was a coach. Someone who should know. I told mom, who confronted my coach at school. She admitted to asking me and went on to say, “The soccer team could use my HIV status to an advantage, and the other team will be afraid, and I can score goals.” I withdrew from the school and finished out my year with homeschooling.
My mother has been so supportive. And my family. I didn’t have to disclose to them; my mom told them before she even told me. But you need support of different kinds. Since the bullying, the coach, the discrimination, I’ve started seeing a counselor and started taking an antidepressant. It’s OK to look for help, and it’s OK to get help.
I realized that I can help other people too. I wanted to take a bad situation and turn it into something good by helping others know about HIV and the precautions they should take. So I became a peer sex educator and a certified HIV/AIDS educator through the American Red Cross.
I also started looking for support groups and even tried to start one. I searched the Internet, I asked questions, and I was referred to Camp Kindle [a free summer camp for kids living with or affected by the virus]. Meeting other kids [like me] has given me people to talk to, people who can relate to what I’m going through.
These days, I am open about my status to everyone. I take the time to speak to my peers, raise awareness and share my story. Funny, after disclosing to my former best friend in sixth grade and it spreading through the school, it just became easier to tell people who didn’t already know. For the most part, there’s a positive response. The fear that I should not have disclosed my status so soon just doesn’t exist anymore.
I know firsthand that there are still big misconceptions out there about how you can and cannot contract HIV. [We need] more education among youth in the U.S., and there should be more support groups. Youth need to see themselves reflected in what’s taught, in the information they are given.
The hardest part about living with HIV is the stigma that goes along with it. But I have hope. Two years ago, I was the freshman class president, on the JV cheerleading squad and on the soccer team. Last year, I was part of the student government and on the varsity squad. I volunteer, I share my story, I travel. I have hope.
Pages: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5
Search: Philadelphia, Brooklyn, New York, Indianapolis, National Survey of Family Growth, abstinence, sex education, Perinatally Infected, iChoose2live, LGBT, Red Cross
Scroll down to comment on this story.
Show comments (11 total)