10 Ways an HIV-Positive Teen Girl was Bullied in Middle School and How She Turned Her Life Around
HIV-Positive Since Birth and You Enter Middle School
What you are about to read is a true story.
Imagine that you are a young teen-aged girl and that, through no fault of your own, you have been HIV-positive since birth. You were born with a condition for which there is no cure, for which you have to take medicine every day of your life.
Imagine also that you have a caring mother who was also HIV-positive through no fault of her own. And that your dad had died of AIDs. No one outside of your mother and your medical team knows that you are HIV-positive. Now it's time for you to enter middle school.
The True Story of Paige Rawl
I was deeply moved by the true story of Paige Rawl in this book that she co-authored with Ali Benjamin, "Positive: A Memoir." Written in the easy reading style of a teenager, Paige offers her life story as a warning as to the devastating effects of bullying on teen girls, and as an inspiration for others who might find themselves in her situation. As I read Paige's story I found her to be an energetic, fun-loving girl with a positive attitude who transformed herself into an advocate against bullying and for a full and happy life for HIV-positive people.
What Exactly Does HIV-Positive Mean?
HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is a type of virus that, when untreated, causes the immune system to progressively fail to the point where it cannot fight off cancers and other life-threatening diseases. At that point, it becomes AIDS -- acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. Paige did not have AIDS, she had HIV controlled by daily medication.
Paige's Book Title, "Positive," has a Double Meaning:
Positive -- the attitude that defines Paige's personality
Positive -- the HIV-positive condition that defines Paige's health condition
Paige Told Her Best Friend About her HIV Condition
Paige was an outgoing girl. Before middle school, she competed in pageants. In middle school, she became a cheerleader, soccer player and sang in the choir. She did sleep-overs with her girlfriends. Her best friend became her confidant, and eventually, Paige told this best friend about her HIV condition.
10 Ways Paige Rawl was Bullied in Middle School
1. Malicious Gossip About Paige's Health was Spread Among Students
Apparently, Paige's best friend spread inaccurate gossip about Paige. More than that, she gossipped based on a misunderstanding of Paige's condition. The word was spread that Paige had AIDS, not that she was HIV- positive. There a huge difference. One sign of this gossiping was when Paige could see groups of students looking at her and whispering among themselves.
2. Paige's Best Friend, to Whom She Had Confided Her Condition, Thereafter Shunned Her
Once Paige revealed her secret to her best friend, that friend had nothing more to do with Paige. This was most hurtful and.deceitful. Imagine what it's like to be shunned by your best friend.
3. Other Students Avoided Her
As she walked the corridors in school, other students gave her a wide berth. It was as if Paige had some toxic, evil condition. She didn't. HIV is not contagious at all among normal middle school activities.
4. Anonymous Note was Posted to Paige's Locker
"Paige has AIDS," proclaimed the note. Now Paige knew that others among her fellow students were hateful and trying to cause her embarrassment and shame. And not just one note, but multiple notes, one reading "you bitch you hoe.".
5. Someone Scrawled on a Girl's Bathroom Stall "Paige has AIDS"
How would you feel if, when using the stall, you recognized your name and false health condition scrawled on the wall for all to see?
6. Students Nicknamed Paige as "PAIDS"
"PAIDS" is a name that sounds very much like the beginning of "Paige," but then morphs into AIDS. "Hey, PAIDS" they would yell so that all who were close by could hear. How would you feel if your name, that very personal part of your persona, were used to shame and embarrass you?
7. Group of Students Holler Out, "Page has AIDS"
This shout-out was even done during an intricate cheerleading sequence during which Paige was tossed up and usually caught on the way down. The shout apparently unnerved her and she ended up hitting the ground and immediately taken to the hospital for observation and examination.
8. School Was Not Supportive of Paige
You would think that the school would be sensitive to bullying and be protective of Paige's HIV condition; that administrators would take action to correct and educate bullying students. But that was not the case despite Paige and her mother's attempts to let the school know how she was being bullied. And the lack of action allowed misinformation and bullying to continue.
9. Kids Used Social Media to Embarrass and Shame Paige
Imagine seeing a picture of yourself on social media with the words "you look like an aide baby mama." People far and wide, people you did not even know, would see this.
Not only that, but the person who authored this hurtful post was a stranger to Paige. Instant messaging to Paige was used on at least one occasion to bully and threaten her.
10. Bully Throws Big Drink On Paige to Embarrass Her
In her book, Paige tells the story of going to a fast food restaurant. As she exits the place one of her bullies who was waiting outside threw a large soda all over her. And the saddest part of this story is that this bully was at one time Paige's best friend!
Bullies Even Call Paige's Mother
A group of anonymous boys called Paige's mother and asked her if it is true that her daughter has AIDs with laughter heard in the background.
How Did Bullying Affect Paige Rawl?
Paige entered middle school a happy, active, smart and poised teenager with lots of energy. Thinking about going to middle school was so much fun. A whole new world was opening up to Paige. When she made the cheer-leading team she said she was completely and 100% happy.. She made friends easily; she and her best friend became close. But when word of her HIV condition became the subject of gossip it became, like, Paige has AIDS (These kids did not know the difference between HIV and AIDS.)
First of all, there is the stress, the anxiety of not knowing who wrote anonymous notes, who graffiteed her name in the bathroom-stall. All this affected her studies. Her grades slipped, The pain of knowing that her best friend spread misleading gossip about her. The more bullying she endured, the greater her anxiety leading to seizures, and finally to thoughts of suicide.
It was when she finally reached the bottom of this spiral, that she realized that enough is enough. With the assistance of her mom she quit middle school and turned to home-schooling, and eventually transferred to a very supportive and accommodating high school where, once again, she thrived.
Not every student in her school was a bully. Paige found some very supportive girlfriends and a boyfriend who was supportive of her and her HIV status.
Perhaps it was her outgoing personality. Or her training in competitive pageants where she learned posture, appearance and communication skills. Or her innermost thoughts when she was at a low point in her life which told her to turn her life around.
Paige decided to stand up for herself and tell her life story so that what happened to her would not happen to others. She lobbied the state legislature to adopt an anti-bullying law that public schools must follow. She joined with co-author Ali Benjamin and wrote Positive. She went on book tours to tell her story. She entered Ball State University to study molecular biology. Believing that education of young people about HIV and the effects of bullying are so important, she has been a frequent guest at middle and high schools to talk to students about her story.
In a recent interview, she said: "I plan to continue to dedicate my life to educating about HIV/AIDS, sharing my story and advocating against bullying."
She has won my admiration and respect. When you read her book I feel sure that she will win yours as well.
Book Talk by Paige Rawl
For anyone wanting to see a book talk by Paige, sponsored by the Atlantic Magazine Book Club, where she tells her story and answers audience questions, I urge you to listen to her own voice. .You can see and hear for yourself the strength and spirit of this young woman who has given so much of her life to working to educate people on how people who are HIV-positive can lead a normal and positive life.