Monday, July 16, 2007

kids, sex, and AIDS

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend an ACTION lunch (ACTION = AIDS Clinical Trials Information & Orientation), hosted by the DC Care Consortium. It was my first one and I was super excited. The topic for the lunch was kids and HIV/AIDS.

They screened a movie at the lunch which spurred a lively discussion. The movie was called Please Talk to Kids about AIDS. It was a documentary-style film of two girls, ages 4 and 6, who attended the last International AIDS Conference. The little girls walked around the conference interviewing some of the top peeps in the AIDS world (i.e. Anthony Fauci of the NIH, Kevin Decock of the WHO, etc) and others who are working to make a difference and/or speaking out about their experience with HIV. The girls’ questions and interactions with these people were not scripted.

Now, as you could imagine the girls asked these people some very (seemingly) basic questions about the virus and AIDS, such as Why is AIDS bad and What does HIV do. And some of these top AIDS peeps couldn’t really give any answers a child would easily make sense of. It was interesting to see these experts in their field using scientific terms that a child couldn’t possibly understand (heck, some adults probably couldn’t either). I imagine this is because these AIDS directors, who work for some of the most internationally recognized medical organizations in the world, are so used to speaking to knowledgeable audiences that they found themselves incapable (at a moments notice) to go down to the level of a child’s understanding. However, there were some who did speak to the children with a refreshing amount of honesty (no sugar-coating here) and with words the girls could get (one of them—Laurie Garrett, I want to say—actually used hand gestures and props to explain to the girls how HIV invades the body).

And speaking of a child’s understanding, I think the girls definitely held their own. They also ventured to the exhibit portion of the conference and met some of the more colorful characters there, including a man dressed in drag (who provided one of the more lighthearted interactions with the girls as he tried to explain to them why he was a man dressed as a woman) and a representative from The Condom Project, an organization that raises awareness of condom use through innovative ways, such as using condoms in art (this representative asked the girls if they knew the meaning of the word “demystify” as she tried to explain her organization’s purpose).

Here are my take-aways from the movie and ensuing discussion:

  • Just because you talk to kids about a presumably adult topic doesn’t mean they are going to go out and put themselves at risk. In fact, I’m willing to bet that these girls are going to grow up and actually use the information they learned to arm themselves against this disease. Why do I feel that way? Well, mostly because these adults that took the time to explain the nitty-gritty of the HIV/AIDS to them were open and truthful. The HIV-positive people they spoke to were even more so. And it was ok.
  • The younger you talk to your kids about these difficult topics, the better. If you wait too long (or until you’re ready), your kids may already be exposing themselves. I imagine that as a parent, it would be hard to address such topics with your kids, but I’d rather get over my personal hang-ups about the issue then to allow my kids put themselves in danger. You might never be ready. In my opinion, silence equals allowance. Your silence will not only allow these kids to get their information elsewhere, but it will also keep you in the dark. The reality is that kids these days are doing things we would never have imagined doing when we were kids. If this is a possibility you don’t even want to think of, get over it.
  • Kids have a higher capacity for tolerance than adults. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised as kids are born innocent and are eventually corrupted by their environments (it made me sad to type that just now but it’s true). But I watched as those kids talked to sex workers and drag queens with complete ease and I got emotional. I was just in awe of these girls’ capacity to unconditionally accept these people, people who are otherwise considered (by some) to be on the outside of mainstream society. I often become idealistic at moments like these and just think, if everyone had the same capacity for tolerance as these two little girls do, then the stigma from having HIV/AIDS would be gone and no longer in issue. If the stigma is no longer an issue, then people would be more willing to get tested and to seek treatment. And most importantly, people who don’t have HIV would be more willing to show compassion for those who do. A little love and acceptance really does go a long way.

Anyways, I wish I could show you a clip of this movie but there isn’t one. If you would like more information about the movie, check out this link. If you are interested in future ACTION lunches, check out the Fight HIV in DC blog (which is an excellent guide to DC’s AIDS activism).

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