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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 Section 28 was repealed in 2003 but not everybody seemed to have caught up by then (to be honest, I’m not sure everyone has caught up by now, either).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 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. 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.

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3 thoughts on “Tell The Wolves I’m Home – Carol Rifka Brunt

  1. You can tell I’m older than you. I am the generation who was scared witless by the AIDS ads a child. Apparently it is the reason why my peer group have the lowest rate of STIs of all groups. The terror is seared into us. I suppose at least we don’t think it won’t happen to us but I’m not sure how helpful fear as a motivator is.

    The trouble is the terror created stigma too. We were even taught not to share toothbrushes because of the theoretical risk. Actually that’s not the worst advice sharing toothbrushes is ick for so many reasons but I digress. I wonder how you hit the ideal point of educating about HIV transmission without blaming people for catching it.

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    1. Presumably, educating people about how it is caught means that they don’t think it’s caught through things like sharing toothbrushes, and also that it’s not punishment for being gay. Making sure that people know you can catch it on your first time having sex without a condom, but that you could have done that 100 times and never have caught it. Making sex education compulsory, comprehensive and inclusive is surely the key. Nothing is achieved by pretending that all people will only have sex with one partner, only to have a baby, ever in their lives. Nothing at all. The answer is openness.

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      1. I think we did better than you on the education front, apart from the fact that our teachers were too scared to talk about same sex sex and how you did it because of Section 28. But we had condoms on boiling tubes and lots of mythbusting of myths I’d never actually heard, like toilet seats.

        I think the thing with kissing and toothbrushes is that there is a small, theoretical risk, if you have open sores of bleeding gums, so technically it’s true. But in real life it’s not how it’s going to happen. What we didn’t get was a way to actually compare and understand that risk. And then how to understand that risk over a lifetime or over a year. Having unprotected sex once is vs doing it lots etc.

        But we don’t get that for contraception either. 99% effective is over a year and over time that % drops alarmingly in terms of how likely you are to experience an unwanted pregnancy. But I’m a maths geek who wanted to understand things in those terms, most people aren’t and just want a ‘Do this, don’t so that’.

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