Today’s posts might be a little late just because it’s father’s day and I’ve been out for the most part. First up we have Federik Peeters’ Blue Pills! This comic deals with HIV and has sexual content, language, and nudity. If you’re into memoirs, stories of people meeting their lifelong partner, or interested in how families cope with stigma, you’ll like Blue Pills.
Plot: A guy deals with the love of his life and her son being HIV positive.
Initial thoughts: I picked this book off the shelves at the library because of its striking cover. With bold colors, smart but minimalist typography, and a couple floating out at sea in a couch, I was captivated. While Peeters’ art is pretty expressionistic at times, it wasn’t hardly as expressionistic a memoir as I expected it to be. The subtitle, “A positive love story,” is what sold me because I asked myself, “what makes this love story positive compared to other love stories?” The answer to that is HIV.
I think Blue Pills is an important addition to the canon of graphic memoirs because it focuses on a subject not a lot of people like to talk about. People who are HIV positive still face great stigma and internalize the significance of their infection. Additionally, it is viewed as an infection targeting gay, cisgender men when it is an infection that affects everybody. Originally published in Switzerland and written in French, Blue Pills demonstrates how HIV affects anybody regardless of country, language, sex, gender, or age. At times it’s heartbreaking and difficult to read, and it’s meant to be!
Itty Bitty Research: I decided to look up info relating to HIV because I admittedly don’t know a lot about it. It’s likely that the title refers to Truvada, which you can learn about on their website. In short, the pill is an antiretroviral, which prevents the weaking of the immune system that HIV causes and can also be taken as a preventative. Some have embraced the possibility of eradicating HIV/AIDS through prevention, though sex shaming and other concerns still exist. Interestingly, on the last page of the graphic novel, the narrator is reunited with his wife and stepson bringing “her bag full of little blue pills.” While these are an indicator of her treatment, I think it’s interesting that it’s not “my bag full of little blue pills” or “our bag full of little blue pills” since Truvada can also be taken as a prevention treatment (190). Condom use and abstinence are explored in the book, but there are other prevention measures as well.
As mentioned, one of the things I appreciate is how the book focuses on a mother and child who have HIV because this is not thought of as the typical HIV carrier. It is never disclosed or explored how they contracted HIV, and quite frankly it doesn’t matter. Good on you, Peeters. It’s also significant because according to the World Health Organization, “23% of children in need received treatment in 2013 as compared to 37% for adults, pointing to a larger gap between services for adults and children living with HIV.” One chapter of the story focuses on Cati’s son, who has been on HIV treatments since age three, and where Peeters points out “the side effects of these powerful treatments, already poorly understood for adults, became downright unpredictable when it came to a three-year-old child, especially in terms of years or decades. Without scientific advancement, this child will be plunged until the end of his life into a kind of vital drug addiction, under his mother’s administration…with no possible choice, nothing but fears and questions…” (75).
I’d like to further problematize the issue that Peeters brings to the forefront in his memoir. The economic privilege to have access to treatments is invisible. There is no mention of how much these treatments cost, and luckily Peeters and Cati have access to a doctor who responds even at midnight. Even in the instance of a contracting scare, the family has access to prevention, testing, and treatment. It is as though money or insurance are never issues, which is not a reality for many people living with HIV – who may not even have access to treatments even if they had the money to buy such treatments. Part of this is because Peeters’ story takes place in Geneva, and as Swiss citizens, they have access to Switzerland’s universal health care. Let’s also not forget that while Peeters can paint a woeful picture of Cati’s son as having a “vital drug addiction,” white privilege plays a big role in making taking of these medications acceptable whereas for people of color, drug addiction and the stereotype of being drug addicts is both a reality and sometimes prevents these people from getting the care they need. While I think that Peeters’ story is a lovely addition to a body of literature about HIV, I think it is also open to critique.
References: Peeters, Frederik. Blue Pills: A Positive Love Story. Trans. Anjali Singh. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008. Print.