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.
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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.
comments 1 - 11 (of 11 total)
AquaScriptLess, Michigan, 2012-03-06 21:16:17
What an eye-opener that other people have the same story as me. I relate more with the 1st story. I also grew up HIV and just like his grandmother, my dad was overprotective, sheltered and taught me disclosing was bad. Here I am today 26 yrs old and still I'm insecure, scared, closed off and scared to step out of my shell. It's a 50/50 chance that a kid will grow up OK with traditional parents. There should also be education 2 parents as well, it needs 2 start there before kids can get educated.
barb, seattle, 2011-11-08 12:20:15
poz 33 years in january. as my daughter did for 20 years..EAT LIFE! I'm Inspired and thanks for coming out and taking up the banner. God Bless Ya, Barb
Carrie, south bend, IN, 2011-10-02 23:47:54
I LOVE THIS STORY! the whole first part of him growing up sounds JUST like me. i was also born with hiv. i have been living with it for 23 years now. i also did not know i had hiv as a child. and when i found out i wasnt actually "told" i heard a doctor say it and i looked at my mom and said what???? and she looked at me with such fear. and i was NEVER talked about it ever.i was horrible as a teen.me at 23 im still not okay with my status but im trying to become at peace everyday.
want2changetheworld, Cleveland, 2011-09-26 10:23:45
I love the articles. Its exactly what we need in order to prevent and spread the word not the disease. I was recently diagnosed and I'm proud to say it has not turned my heart cold or made me bitter. I don't want to hurt anyone else I want to protect and by me seeing a lot of bad people who have become bitter and passing the disease around I truley thank God that that is not me. I would love to be apart of POZ magazine. Maybe even POZ TV
Anusha Alikhan, , 2011-09-12 12:33:28
I recently blogged about this article on Conversations for a Better world, a youth community for raising global issues and finding solutions, sponsored by the United Nations Population Fund-
We would love to have more young people join and share their opinions towards building a better world together.
Bautlwatsi Gaeelwe, Gaborone, 2011-09-09 04:04:07
A lot has changed in my life recently,tesed HIV positive in January this year and from there onwards been living positively.now looking lovely than before even though im not on any medication.
Robert T. Jenkins, South Suburban Chicago, 2011-08-19 19:01:36
So much has gone on in the past 10 years. That is how long I have been HIV positive. Right now, I am a 40-year-old Black, gay, male living in one of the most densely populated metropolitan areas in the U.S. So much of the ignorance that was a big part of life during my teenage years is still a part of life today. I am very glad to read this article and see that there are young people attempting to pull us out of the dark ages of ignorance--I commend the writer and those written about.
lukubaga.denis, kampala, 2011-08-19 13:24:50
wawu its a very good support to those with HIV POSITIVE we thank you Rena for that ,but the advise i have is to leave health and positive leaving,I love. you all of you
justin ligreci, NYC, 2011-08-18 10:00:48
KUDOS to the young men and women snapshot-ted in this story. And also to Cristina González, for writing the piece.
Young, positive people have such extraordinary challenges to overcome it's a testament to how far we've come and how much further we still have to go.
Gary K., Brooklyn, 2011-08-18 08:56:08
David your courage and perseverance will pay off. You are a remarkable young man and am proud to have you in my (LGBT)chosen family. You have brought joy and intellectual conversation to us all.
Frederick Wright, southern California, 2011-08-16 14:51:46
comments 1 - 11 (of 11 total)
Yes, thank God, what a strong and courage young man and very handsome too. I am always so thankful to God when I hear a story of a such power in a person life to over come the trama of our sociaity in his truthful expereinces for truth I believe always overcomes the haters. Stay strong Layfette, be joyful, live, love and yes.. have some great sex too... for a Cure is on it's way and my GOD make it so.