Living With "The Monster"
I first found out I had HIV twelve years ago, when I was six years old. My mother told me when we were at a doctor's appointment. She was in tears and I started to cry with her. She turned to me and said, "Raven, you were born with HIV." I started to cry because I always used to see people in Africa dying from AIDS.
So the first question I asked was, "Are we going to die like those people on TV?" She said, "No, there's medicine out there that will take care of us. But this is something that will stay with you forever, until they find a cure." So I said, "OK," and acted like nothing happened.
The next day I went to school and told my teacher, "Hey, I got HIV." She made a funny face at me and put me in the corner of the classroom and told all the other kids, "Don't talk to Raven. She is a bad girl." I started to cry. Every time I had to use the bathroom she would call another teacher into the classroom to take me. I never used to go on any class trips, because I had HIV. My mother always asked me, "Raven, why can't you go on any class trips?" I told her that I told my teacher I was HIV positive, and I told her what she did to me. My mother said, "Raven, your teacher is being mean to you." So she went up to the school and spoke to the principal. He told her, "If you guys were not so open about your status maybe she would not be treated like this." So my mom took me out of that school.
When we told the pastor at our church, she took it okay. She started praying for us, because at that time I was dealing with a little sickness. So she prayed and did spiritual baths for us and stuff like that.
People always noticed me as the "HIV girl" because my mother was very open with her status. We've been on TV, Ricki Lake and Oprah, and in POZ and Seventeen magazines. So when I went to a different school, this time it was kids making fun of me. This one girl cut my hair. She said, "Raven, you're going to die soon so let me cut your hair." And I let her because I thought this is how living with HIV was going to be.
I got tired of being treated like this. I said to myself, "I have to put my foot down." I let people know I was born with this and you cannot get it from being my friend. So you know what I did? I went out to teach my peers about HIV and AIDS, and when I started doing that I got friends. As I grew older, people started treating me differently. They were nicer to me and had respect for me.
But everything changed when I got into high school. When I was a freshman, this senior wanted to talk to me, but I said no. So he got mad at me and when I went into the lunchroom he got on a table and said, "Nobody talk to Raven because she got the MONSTER!" People started throwing food at me and laughing. I ran out of the lunchroom and went to the bathroom to cry and cry.
I said, "Why me? It's not my fault. Why don't people understand that I was born with this?" This was the day before my birthday, and I called my mom and told her what just happened. She was so upset that she called my school, but the principal didn't even care.
The next morning, which was my birthday, I went to school with my mother. When I pulled up in front of my school I saw people in front holding up signs saying, "Raven, We Love U! We got your back." It was like 100 people in front of my school. I felt so loved that day and I turned to my mother and said, "Thank you, mommy." She even called a press conference on my birthday.
The boy that said I had the monster was surprised that I had so many people who had my back. He said, "Raven, I am sorry for what I did." I said, "No. Get out my face. We're not friends -- you're an evil person." He was so hurt. After that, everybody wanted to be my friend.
With people that I think are nice, I will say up front, "Let me tell you one thing right now. I'm HIV positive and either you want to be my friend or not." Some people say, "Oh, Raven, you are just saying that to make me feel sad for you." So I'll bring in a POZ magazine, and when they will see it for themselves they get emotional and all that stuff.
But I do get scared because I don't know how they're going to react. They might say, "Get out of here. We don't want to be your friend any more." And I think that it will get around school. But I know how to deal with stuff like that now.
Having HIV has not stopped me from dating. If I like a boy I will ask, "If you had a girlfriend that you really loved and then she told you she had HIV, what would you do?" If he says, "I wouldn't go out with her -- I wouldn't talk to her," then I know not to tell him. But if he says, "If I really loved her, I would stay with her," then I know I can tell him.
The first thing I do is say, "Listen, one thing you need to know about me is that I am HIV positive. I was born with this." When I tell them they are so surprised. They say, "Raven, you don't look like it." I say, "HIV doesn't have a face," and they usually accept me for who I am. Sometimes they say, "Raven can we just be friends?" I say, "Sure, no problem."
One boy I told was scared that he had it at first. But my mother told him that he didn't. We did have sexual intercourse, and we used protection. But there was a lot of stuff going on between us, not just because of HIV. He didn't really know what to do with himself, so I said, "Whenever you're ready to come back, you can." Right now he's dating another girl, so I don't know.
I say to myself, "You know what? I am going to hold my head up high and let people know that you should not stop being what you want to be in life just because you are HIV positive." I will teach my peers about this until the stigma stops and until we find a cure.
Want to read more articles in the Winter 2008/2009 issue of Achieve? Click here.
First Person: Thembi Ngubane: Mother, Activist, South African ... and Proof Positive That You Can Thrive With HIV
This article was provided by ACRIA and GMHC. It is a part of the publication Achieve. Visit ACRIA's website and GMHC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
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