I found out I have HIV when I was 10. I was not crushed, but I did feel like I wasn’t who I thought I was, like I wasn’t normal. At the time, I didn’t know anything about it. I just knew that it was a life threatening illness that killed thousands of people. I thought my life expectancy would be shorter than other people.
When I found out I was HIV positive, the only people who knew were my immediate family. I told one friend, but we both still didn’t really know too much about it so, it was more of a comforting thing. I just wanted to let somebody else know so I wouldn’t have to have the burden all alone.
I’ve definitely felt stigma and discrimination because I’m HIV positive. I’ve had kids say and do certain things that were hurtful, things like being afraid to eat and drink from the same plates and glasses as me. Mostly, people don’t really bring it up to me. When they do, it is more about how I live with it than endangerment issues.
I try not to let ignorance of other people bother me. I have to think positively about myself. For me, talking about being HIV positive has become like talking about the weather, it’s just like any other thing, just an everyday thing. I try to educate people about how HIV is contracted, and how it is not. If people get informed about HIV it makes them more accepting instead of shutting the person with HIV out.
Living in a small rural Vermont community, I am pretty sure my HIV status is an open case, that everyone who knows me knows that I have it. Getting a job has definitely been tough because restaurants think I’m a health hazard. (I am not!) In general, I don’t get harassed. But, I think it’s definitely harder being young and having HIV in more rural areas because most of the time there’s not as many people who have it as in bigger cities. It might have been easier to have been brought up in a city with more HIV positive young people because I would have had more of a support group. Instead, I have friends who don’t have HIV, and although they are there to support me, they can’t comfort me on the same level.