I’m Going to Listen to “Fight Song” on Repeat to Raise Money for Planned Parenthood


By the fourth time a co-worker asked me when I was leaving for DC, I was upset. It made sense for people to assume I would be attending the Women’s March on Washington: I was one of the biggest Hillary supporters at the office. Friends and strangers alike ask me for advice about taking political action, and several people went to me for information about the marches in DC and NYC as if I knew the organizers personally (I do not). It’s flattering to be seen as a leader in these messed up, politically charged times. But when it comes to in-person protest, I’m at a loss. I have anxiety, particularly when it comes to crowds, loud noise, and feeling trapped. I’m not a march person. Continue reading

10 Essays I Wrote In 2016 That Taught Me Who I Am


What a goddamn year. I don’t want to write a big essay about 2016 and the lessons we should learn from it—if you’re interested in that, go read my closing thoughts on Femsplain, or just throw yourself into the sea. What I do want to do is celebrate myself and everything I accomplished in the midst of the dumpster fire, in true Ella Dawson fashion.

The original headline of this blog post was “Important Shit I Wrote This Year.” Some of these essays were personally important, while others needed to be written for the simple fact that no one else had done so already. Some of them met a backlash, and others were written to respond to a backlash from some other project. But what these essays all share is that they helped me untangle who I am, or that I’m not who I thought I was.

10. How News Genius Silences Writers

Remember that time I picked a fight with one of the most well-funded and catty digital start-ups around? Yeah, me neither! 2016 was fucking nuts. Calling out the product failings and faulty concept of a tool that lets people annotate literally any page on the Internet was a battle I’m glad I picked, and Genius established a better reporting system for abusive annotations as a result (or so I’ve heard). My blog post even wound up earning me my first ever Gawker takedown article (RIP). Months later, I’m still shell-shocked by how quickly that situation spiraled out of control and the amount of vitriol I attracted for requesting a way to opt-out of having my blog about sexual health and trauma scrawled on by arrogant, entitled strangers. Yikes, man.  Continue reading

What Herpes Activism Looks Like In Trump’s America


I still remember the day I wrote my first blog post about having genital herpes. It was January and it was cold and I was sitting in my childhood bed with my laptop, wondering if I was seriously going to do this. The essay poured out of me in a rush, the words ready to be written after months of holding on, collecting, coming together into something worth the risk. I expected to be afraid when I hit publish, but I was overwhelmed by relief. I cried a little bit. I was out.

That was nearly two years ago. Writing about herpes ceased to feel scary, or even risky, at some point in 2015. That first initial confession about my STI led to the discussion of other topics, buried deeper, even more shameful: my history of abuse, my mental illness, my sexuality. There are a few topics left that I haven’t gotten to yet. I know that my boredom when it comes to talking about herpes—and let’s call a spade a spade, it is boredom—is a rare accomplishment underlined by success and privilege. I’m over it, y’all. I’m not ashamed of it, I’m not surprised by it, and while I still get angry about stigma, I don’t have much left to say about stigma either. Stigma is bad. People and publications and pop culture that perpetuate it is bad. Herpes itself has become pretty whatever. Continue reading

In Trump’s America We Wear “GRAB HER BY THE PUSSY” Wristbands


Someone is selling “GRAB HER BY THE PUSSY” wristbands on Shopify. Someone thought it would be a good idea, a funny idea, to put Donald Trump’s words about sexual assault on a wristband. Someone thought it might even be profitable. That person is a man named Kyle and he has two small children with his wife. That person has nearly 300,000 followers on Instagram. He has 5,408,163 page likes on Facebook. I don’t know why I’m surprised by this when the man who said the quote is now the President Elect of the United States. I don’t know why I’m surprised that this quote is turning into an edgy rallying cry by actual humans who actually exist. I don’t know what to say. I haven’t known what to say all week. Continue reading

That Time Hillary Clinton Wrote Me a Letter


I get a lot of hate for talking about herpes. Like, a lot. We’ve been over this before. In August, I wrote an essay on Medium about how much of that hate comes from fringe anti-feminist groups online, now better known as part of the Alt-Right. You can read that essay here. This election is remarkable for too many reasons to get into, but in my experience of 2016, seeing Donald Trump validate the strangers who torment me online hit home the most. Hillary Clinton’s speech in Reno about Trump’s indirect empowerment of hate groups marked the first time I’d seen a public figure recognize what had happened to me as a real issue. In my essay, I thanked her. Continue reading

Who I Am Now


I got my first tattoo in September. After years of sketching the Golden Gate Bridge on every spare corner of notebook paper, I woke up one morning sure of the decision to commit to its lines for life. My TED coworkers—almost all of whom have tattoos as well—offered their advice, and our site comment moderator recommended an artist in the West Village not far from the office. That Friday I hesitated on the sidewalk out front, intimidated by the bright lights and tough, masculine staff, before stepping through the front door. I was terrified but I was sure. It marks the only moment I’ve been sure of anything this fall. Continue reading

I, Ella Dawson, Am a Slut with Herpes


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

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

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

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


Nope nope nope.

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