Today’s Stigma Story was submitted by A’s mother on her behalf. A* is an 8 year old girl who is in the 3rd grade. Stigma Stories is a short series running through the week of World AIDS Day (Dec 1st) to highlight the need for education about HIV/AIDS. The Truth Pandemic Campaign was created to help combat social stigma through ongoing educational initiatives.
One day I was playing with my friends at recess, and I tripped. My knee started bleeding really bad. My friends rushed over and tried to help me clean my leg. I told them not to touch my blood or anybody’s blood. Then I went to the nurse. When I came back, everybody kept asking me, “Why were you acting so weird? It was just a little blood, not a big deal.” I answered them, “It was a big deal. You’re never supposed to touch anyone’s blood because you don’t know what they have.” I could tell they weren’t really paying attention and didn’t think I was making sense.
I was frustrated because it’s like children don’t know anything! I felt like I needed to talk to people about HIV and stuff–how you can get it and how you can’t.
“Guys,” I said, “Don’t freak out or tell everyone in the whole school this. I have something to tell you. I have HIV.” They looked surprised.
“How did you get it?” they asked.
I said, “my mom had HIV and didn’t know, so I got it too.”
“What if you touch someone?”
“If I touch someone, you won’t get it. But you shouldn’t touch someone’s BLOOD, because HIV is in the blood.”
“What if you don’t know you have it? Could we have it?”
“No, you would know if you did something where you might get it. You go to the doctor, and they can tell you if you have it.”
“How did your mom get it?”
“IDK,” I said. “It doesn’t matter how. Even if you have HIV, you can still be a normal person.”
Even though I told my friends I had HIV, everybody was acting the same. Well, not everybody. Mary* was acting funny with me. When I went into the bathroom, she would leave. When we had science lab, she would switch partners. Outside, she would play with other friends, but not with me. I knew it was about my HIV, but I couldn’t prove it.
One day my allergies were really bothering me, and my eyes were watering. Mary came over and said, “Are you crying?” Before I could explain it was my allergies, she said, “It’s okay. I know what’s wrong. You’re sad because I won’t play with you anymore, right?”
I said, “Why don’t want to be my friend? Is it about the HIV?”
“My mom says if anybody has AIDS, they can give it to you, and you can die right away. I don’t want to get it, so I want to be your friend, but just not the normal way.”
I could NOT believe it. “Your mom is wrong!” I said. “She doesn’t understand about HIV. Do you really think someone is going to die if someone with HIV touches them? Then why aren’t you dead? I’ve touched you all school year. Why isn’t the teacher dead? Why isn’t the whole class dead? It’s not that easy to get. Ask your doctor if you don’t believe me.”
“My mom is smart,” she said. “She wouldn’t lie about this.”
“Maybe she wouldn’t lie, but even smart people can make a mistake,” I said. “What your mom said is not true. Look, if you don’t want to touch me, then I don’t want to be friends. I don’t need a friend who is scared to be around me.”
“I DO want to be friends!” she said. “Is it okay if I only touch you a little though? My mom said if I play with you, I have to be careful.” I still thought it was silly, but I decided to be nice. “Okay,” I said. “We can still be friends. Just stop acting so freaked out about it.”
“I promise I’ll try,” she said. I don’t know if I trust her, but I will give her a chance.