I, Ella Dawson, Am a Slut with Herpes

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Only sluts wear leather jackets. Photo Credit: Andrew Cambell Nelson

It started, as most things do, with a tweet. Way back in April 2016, I started a hashtag with some of my friends for STD Awareness Month. I’ve already written about how #ShoutYourStatus was co-opted by anti-feminist trolls and the group now known as the Alt-Right. But one of the tweets I published at the time was recently embedded in an article about me on InfoWars (headline: HILLARY CLINTON SENDS THANK YOU LETTER TO “SLUT” WHO IS PROUD OF HER SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASE). Here is the tweet in question:

I could write a blog post about why I called myself a slut in response to the wave of genuine tweets in the #ShoutYourStatus conversation about how you don’t have to be a slut to get herpes. I could write a post about the respectability politics I see all the time within the STI community about how some of us deserve more sympathy than others. I could write about how people with more than one STI are often shunned by other community members because they should have “learned their lesson” and “been more careful” despite the fact that some STIs cannot be prevented. I could write about how I was trying to use my position as a community leader to shut that shit down and redirect the conversation in a more productive, less shaming direction.

But that blog post wouldn’t be fun. Instead I’m going to talk about why I, Ella Dawson, am a slut. Continue reading

Why I Will Never Support Herpes Dating Sites

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Photo by William Iven

Positive Singles. Meet People With Herpes. Truster. Hift. Hope. H Date. Hmate. Herwks. That’s right, friends. It’s time to talk about herpes dating websites and how much I hate them.

Herpes dating services have been around since the Internet was invented, thanks to a powerful social stigma that makes disclosing your STI status a frightening prospect for many of us. In a world where we are judged for having a sexually transmitted condition, telling a new partner about herpes means risking a rejection that plenty of herpes+ people would rather avoid. I get it. There is a market for these services, and I don’t want to dismiss the experiences of the people who use them. Please do not read this essay as judgmental. I don’t mean to knock the insecurities of people with herpes: I want to address the companies that profit off of them. Continue reading

My Summer On Lexapro

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I did something this Friday that I haven’t done in years. I went bar-hopping.

To be clear: there were only two bars, and I took a break to hunt Pokemon in between them. But I can’t remember the last time I went to more than one bar, let alone more than one loud bar, within a twenty-four hour window. I’d like to say it’s because I’m blossoming into a social butterfly, but it’s actually because I’m medicated. Continue reading

An Open Letter to the Bachelor In Paradise Producers, From an Abuse Survivor

Co5fYxCW8AEqIJCHi there. You don’t know me, but I’m a loyal fan of The Bachelor and its spinoff shows. I’ve been watching the franchise since the third season of Bachelor Pad, and despite being a Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies major when I was in college, I’ve defended the show through thick and thin. Remember when you made Britt and Kaitlyn compete to be The Bachelorette? I blogged angrily, but I watched. When Kaitlyn got slut-shamed all over the place for sleeping with Nick? I tuned in early, and then I blogged. I’m a proud member of Bachelor Nation, accepting roses from even the worst of seasons (let’s be real, JoJo was a bust). Continue reading

Want To Support My Herpes Work and Mental Health? Tip Me!

IMG_8123In April 2015, I wrote an essay for Women’s Health called “Why I Love Telling People I Have Herpes.” I’ll never know how many pages view that article received… and still continues to rack up over a year later. I do know that afterward, stories were written about me on websites from The Washington Post to The Independent to the right wing aggregation mill MRCTV, all linking back to that essay. There were hundreds of emails and Facebook messages from strangers who read the essay and felt moved and inspired by my words. There were even invitations to go on daytime television shows to discuss the essay. Continue reading

BACHELORELLA: JoJo’s Season of The Bachelorette Is Terrible. We Are All Terrible.

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I haven’t written about The Bachelorette this year because, to be honest, it hasn’t been good. I’ve never gone into the final five so apathetic about a Bachelor or Bachelorette’s choices. Will JoJo accept the proposal of the Ken doll with facial hair, or without? Will they break up a month after the finale, or two months after? What will she title the tell-all memoir about the failure of their relationship? In a moment of resigned crankiness I sought out Reality Steve’s spoilers, hoping there would be some shocking plot twist to motivate me to care. Meh. Let’s be real: this season sucks. Continue reading

Why I’m Taking a Summer Vacation From Activism

IMG_9796Banff is gorgeous. Canada’s oldest national park is overwhelmingly beautiful in a way that nowhere I have ever been can even begin to imitate. Oceans of evergreen trees spill across hills overshadowed by craggy, white mountains. The river running alongside the resort town is the purest and loudest blue. I spent eight days in the Canadian Rockies listening to brilliant speakers at TED Summit and what will stay with me longest is the view. This indoor city cat fell in love with hiking trails overlooking the rapids. I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t notice that I had no cell phone reception. Continue reading

My Abusive Ex-Boyfriend, His Fraternity Brothers, and Me

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I’ve been trying to write this essay for a few weeks. Every time I sit down to start, only bile comes out. The hurt I want to document goes deeper than a neat thesis statement. I feel betrayed, and betrayal is more like an infection than a broken bone. There is no way to easily reset it and wrap it in plaster. Betrayal burrows into your nerves and sets up camp for the long haul. Its scattershot symptoms are hard to explain to a doctor when you’re not confident in exactly what is wrong, and it’s easy in those moments of sloppy articulation to feel like you’ve made it all up. I keep waiting for the fever to peak before I put words to this. No matter what friendships I sever or pointed Facebook statuses I write, this strain of anger doesn’t have an easy cure. The struggle to write is the only inoculation available to me. Continue reading

When Revenge Fantasies Come True: Female Rage, Pop Culture and xoJane

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TW: discussion of violence and sexual assault

I’ve had a lot of conversations this week about justice. Justice is a difficult word for women—in the age of #FreeKesha, Jian Ghomeshi, Woody Allen flitting around Cannes, and a known abuser running for the highest public office in the United States, pure justice is a dated concept. “Justice” is too often doled out by the people who deserve it the most. An exhausted realist might argue that for women, for people of color, for the LGBTQ community, there is no justice in the justice system. Continue reading

Watch My TEDx Talk: STIs aren’t a consequence. They’re inevitable. [With Transcript]

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.

I’m going to start today by asking you guys to do me a small favor: I would love it if you could raise your hand if you have allergies. [Lots of hands go up] Okay, I can relate. I have a tiny nose so I’m always congested. Okay, thank you.

Second question: I would love it if you could raise your hand if you have herpes. [No hands go up] I see no hands and a lot more confused faces, and that’s what I was expecting. In the time that I have with you today, I want to talk about why it is that it is so socially unacceptable to talk about herpes, despite the fact that almost everyone in this room either has herpes or will encounter it at some point in the next few years. I’ll let that sink in for a sec. Continue reading