I didn’t want to think about how Finn got AIDS. It wasn’t my job to think about that. If that guy really was the one who killed Finn, then he must have been Finn’s boyfriend, and if he was Finn’s boyfriend, then why didn’t I know anything about him? And how did Greta know? If she’d known Finn had a secret boyfriend, she would have taunted me about it. She never missed an opportunity to let me know I knew less than she did. So there were two possibilities. Either she just found out about this guy or none of it was true.
When I recommended Dumplin’ to my friend last week, and sent her away with it, she had come to the library to return this. She told me that I should read it immediately, and then that she had done a lot of crying at it. Then we discussed the four LGBT History Month-related displays we’ve got in the library at the moment, and marriage equality, and how scary the world is getting with Trump and so on. So I finished the book I was reading on Friday, started this on Saturday morning, and finished it yesterday afternoon, sitting on the back step in the sunshine (and pausing occasionally to throw stones for Dot to chase). It made me cry. I know I was told it would make me cry, but still. It made me cry.
It’s hard to summarise this without making it sound a bit rubbish (as you’ll see if you read the blurb), so I went in search of other reviews, and I found this, and it made me cry. “And you have to know what everyone wants to say. Everyone wants to say something homophobic. That’s the essence of it, isn’t it? In the west, this disease hit the LGBTQA+ community the hardest, and for some reason, that doesn’t generate sympathy. It generates blame.” This is a book about AIDS, and loss, and grief, and growing up, and friendship, and blame. Especially blame. It is about the ignorance around AIDS – Greta daring June to kiss her uncle, to risk catching AIDS. Greta being told by her mother not to use Finn’s chapstick. Being afraid of tears.
I’m 24. I didn’t learn much about AIDS at school. Section 28 was repealed in 2003 but not everybody seemed to have caught up by the time I should have been learning about it properly (to be honest, I’m not sure everyone has caught up by now, either). Besides, AIDS wasn’t a problem any more: it happened to other people, in other places. My science teacher, in a proudly secular school that was all about STEM subjects and factual stuff, told my whole class that “the only safe sex is no sex” – which, while technically true, is entirely unhelpful – sort of deigned to mention condoms, and that was that. We had an assembly once about STIs, but it was really vague. It took a long time to learn what it was, how it was transmitted, how people thought it was transmitted. This lack of information and discussion means that in 2014, 28% of people thought that HIV could be transmitted by “impossible routes” including kissing, sharing a glass, spitting, from a public toilet seat, coughing or sneezing – up from 18% ten years previously. This is frightening, truly frightening, and I am afraid of what that means.
Tell The Wolves I’m Home made me think about AIDS in a way that I’ve never thought about it before, and I am glad of that. I hope more people read it, and think about it. I hope it gets people talking about it. And it also made me cry a lot.