Ask Me Anything: HIV Educator Paige Rawl
Since 20-year-old Paige Rawl was diagnosed with HIV in 1997, the Meridian Hills native has gone from a victim of bullying to a national spokesperson against it. Last year, she landed in Seventeen magazine for her role helping the Indiana General Assembly pass anti-bullying legislation. Currently taking a hiatus from Ball State to promote her new book, Positive, she appears in this month’s HIV-awareness documentary It’s Not Over. December 1 is World AIDS Day.
Has the bullying stopped?
It sometimes happens, but less and less as I have gotten older and had my name out there as an HIV educator. My freshman year at college, a group of boys shouted, “There’s the HIV girl!” I can push those things aside and not get upset, but this time it was hard because I assumed college kids would be less ignorant and more mature.
What’s the movie about?
They picked three people from around the world who have HIV: me, someone from India, and someone from Africa. They followed me around for a week during my freshman year. They came to Ball State for a week and just got me being a normal teenager and asked me different questions about how HIV affects me. Then my roommates and I went on a road trip with the crew to Nebraska.
What’s strangest thing anyone has ever asked?
I’m always surprised when I get asked questions about how I date or how I have a normal life. I’m just like everybody else; I just have to tell guys that I’m HIV positive right away. I get it out there right in the beginning, and that way, if they have a problem, then obviously they’re not someone I want in my life anyway. When we went to Nebraska, the point was to meet up with my boyfriend because he was living there. But that didn’t end up happening, so it ended up being just a fun road trip with my friends.
Speaking of dating, what challenges do you deal with in that realm?
It’s not the guys, it’s once they tell their parents. They were there when HIV was considered a death sentence, and they’re not really educated about how you can live a normal life now and there are tons of different ways to prevent passing it on. Once I answer questions, usually they’re fine, but it just takes a little bit for them to be like, ‘Okay, this isn’t as big a deal as it once was.”
How did you settle on the title of your memoir?
I didn’t even think about it as being positive for HIV. I really felt like I had a positive mindset and also I learned to take something negative and turn it into something positive.
What was the writing process like for you?
It was long. I started writing my junior year of high school and didn’t sell it to HarperCollins until the middle of my freshman year of college. We didn’t have the final draft until this past June.
Every time we made edits, I’d have to go back and read the whole book over again. I would break down and cry because there were certain moments I had learned to push to the back of my mind. A lot of people say they read my book in one sitting, but I never could.
You’re taking a year away from school to promote your book. What will you major in when you return?
Molecular biology. I want to go into HIV research. I’ve gotten more in-depth with the scientific aspect of it, so now I’m going to work in a lab toward hopefully finding a cure.
Rawl met new friend Miley Cyrus at an It’s Not Over showing this fall:
Here’s Rawl speaking to her life experience and new book:
And here’s the trailer for the It’s Not Over documentary: