Let me make one thing clear: few places on Earth mean more to me than the McDonald’s of Middletown, Connecticut. For four years of college, that little fast food oasis just off campus was my happy place—day or night, sober or hungover, with friends or flying solo. There were a lot of 4 am drive-through visits after I finished my graveyard shift at the radio station, and the occasional finals study break fries to bring back to the library. During my senior year, my boyfriend and I would get McNuggets and then go across the street to the Home Depot parking lot to practice driving stick shift. I have with that McDonald’s the inexplicable bond you form with a place you take for granted, somewhere that is always open, safe and warm. No matter how much changes at my alma mater, no matter how much I change now that I have graduated, that McDonald’s is always the same. Continue reading
It would be easy to say 2015 was about herpes. In reality, this year was about my voice and the Internet and growing up and falling short. I conquered some demons by capturing a specter in words. I gained a few thousand Twitter followers. I broke my own heart and never wrote about it. I moved into my first apartment. I met new, important friends.
But 2015 was mostly about harassment. I got harassed a lot this year. My friends were harassed. My mother was harassed. I spent one of the final days of 2015 in court waiting for her to testify against her stalker. We sat on a rigid bench for six hours and I thought about 2013, when I was harassed, properly harassed, for the first time. The first time, I didn’t know what it was or what to call it other than he won’t stop texting me and what do I do. I knew not to answer and just watched the missed calls rack up. Then there were texts, and then Facebook messages. There weren’t a lot, but a handful was enough to turn up the dials on my anxiety. It felt like all the air had been quickly sucked out of the room. I did all the right things, told my parents, saved screenshots, and eventually it stopped. I created a Dropbox folder of evidence if I ever… needed it, for some reason. I knew I could go to the dean about it and get a no contact order, but at that point it seemed safer to go quiet. And so I hid. And shook. And cried. And kept hiding. Continue reading
UPDATE 4/21/2016: Although I will always stand by the contents of the letter below, I no longer feel comfortable endorsing the work of Rafaella Gunz going forward. While I wish her well, we have professional differences as activists and as writers. The headline of this post has been changed to reflect that.
No matter the circumstances, the sexual and digital harassment women receive in herpes support communities is unacceptable and must be taken seriously. We as a community have a responsibility to hold each other accountable for inappropriate behavior that makes marginalized individuals feel unsafe and unseen.
We are in solidarity with Rafaella Gunz. On December 18, 2015, a post written by Rafaella was published on the Guerrilla Feminism website. In it, Rafaella lays out the constant stream of sexual harassment that women are subjected to in coed support groups for people with herpes — in particular, one named Positively Kickin’ It. She also highlighted that moderators of the group did nothing to address the harassment experienced by its members, even when concerns were brought directly to them. As a result of this post, she has been personally attacked and doxxed by members of the herpes community. These attacks culminated in her Facebook account being suspended, which has shut her out of a conversation she initiated and effectively silenced her. Continue reading
I’m watching CNN. There is an active shooter at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado and the exact number of casualties is unknown. They don’t know much other than the gender of the gunman: male. People on Twitter think he’s white. I can’t help but feel numb, watching talking heads bicker about if this could be related to Black Friday shopping at nearby stores, as if this isn’t one attack in a series of attacks across decades of violence against women’s health clinics. It’s so soon after Paris. The talking heads don’t call this man a terrorist. Continue reading
I made a pact with myself last year to take a selfie and share it every November 21st.
The date has special significance to me; November 21st, 2013 was the night I met some of my closest friends who put me back on track to being a smug, self-loving bitch after six months of struggling with my herpes diagnosis. I wrote about that night on this day last year, but I left some gaping holes in the story—I wasn’t yet out online as herpes positive. It’s funny to read that post now and see my secrets already spilling out at the seams. I was ready to talk about herpes and abuse and confidence, but the spark hadn’t caught. Continue reading
Most of my essays start with a text message: “Hey, do you mind if I write about you for my blog?”
What I’m really asking runs the gamut from hey, do you mind if I write about our not-quite-relationship that defies definition but makes me feel all giddy to hey, do you mind if I write about that time we had sex on a softball field. Regardless of the severity of the topic at hand, if the person I am texting says it isn’t okay with them, I don’t publish the post. Even if it pains me not to do it, even if I’m dying to dive into the smutty, witty details, I let it go. No arguing, no nudging, no overruling. They consented to having sex with me, but they didn’t consent to me writing about it. Continue reading
I remember the first time I was ever called a whore. I had just turned fifteen and this boy, this arrogant little fucker, was angry because I had “broken up” with him after one movie date in order to ask out someone cuter. Our group of friends was walking to the gas station after school to buy gigantic fountain sodas, and he just said it. Whore. I don’t even remember why. He said it with this sick smirk like he was joking but I knew he wasn’t joking. When you know something is so, so wrong but you can’t articulate it, it feels like you are being strangled. I must have told him to go fuck himself, but no last word could compete with the impact of his.
Eventually, a year or two later, I found the term “slut-shaming” in the pages of some funky feminist magazine, and I could breathe again. Continue reading
The theme over on Femsplain this month is “dreams,” which is pretty cute considering they just made a huge dream of mine come true. I’m delighted to announce that I am now a featured contributor for Femsplain!
I’ve sung the praises of Femsplain before. The digital publication—which turns one year old this month—is run by women, for women. They don’t only feature female voices you can’t find elsewhere; they also cultivate a warm, supportive and smart community of writers, readers and some of the loveliest commenters on the planet. The Femsplain staff has worked hard to create not a website, but a home for women on the Internet. Nasty, trolling comments have no place here. Since my first piece went live on the site in April, I’ve met some of my favorite new friends and mentors through the Femsplain network. I’ve also watched some of my old friends write about topics that used to terrify them and watched weight lift from their shoulders in the days that followed. And my writing has grown too. Continue reading
I get asked a lot if I have seen a backlash to my herpes activism. The simple answer is no, because it isn’t the backlash people expect. No one is raising ‘whore’ banners against me, and I largely ignore negative comments on social media when the response I’ve met has been so overwhelmingly supportive. There have been no (articulate) takedowns written about me, no inappropriate questions from journalists. For the most part people are ready to talk about herpes, and to talk about it kindly.
The backlash I’ve actually seen is worse, if I’m being honest. It’s insidious and “well-intended,” so banal I should have seen it coming. It’s the boner backlash: the wave of messages from men who find me sexually attractive and want me to know it. It’s the dozens of Facebook messages I’ve received from (always male) strangers inviting me out for drinks, or telling me I’m gorgeous, or writing that they’d still fuck me in the comments of my own blog like they’re defending my honor. It’s the simple “hey ;)” or “I can’t believe you’re still single” or “I’ll be at [x] bar tomorrow night, just fyi.” Continue reading
I have never wanted to be flawless. It took a long time to understand that about myself. I don’t mean flawless in the “***flawless” Beyoncé sense; I mean perfect, undamaged, smooth—what young women are supposed to strive to be. My edges have always been jagged, and I’m a provocative person despite how much I loathe loud confrontations. I am aggressive about who I am and the woman I want to be, but I have always gotten high off showing the delicate skin of my wrists, thin and translucent. This blog has a readership because I’m becoming steadily less afraid to go there, to write about post-graduate depression and imposter syndrome and herpes and heartbreak. I’ve always been very good at owning who I am… at least once I’ve had time to process who that might be.
A few years ago a spider bit me while I was driving, and after a handful of days the spot on my upper thigh became infected. A ring about four inches in diameter turned chillingly red, raised and running hotter than the rest of my skin. The swelling died down with the help of antibiotics but it formed a gruesome black abscess about an inch across that needed to be popped, drained, and covered with gauze as it healed. The process was disgusting and agonizing, and for months I had a pus-rimmed crater in my thigh that I told strangers was a gunshot wound.
To make matters worse, this infection coincided with my first herpes outbreak, and the two collided in a perfect storm of pain, fever, shame, and heavy medication. It was one of the most traumatizing and painful episodes of my life. Now it is little more than a hazy, white blur in my memory, unless something pulls it back to the surface. Or, to use the technical term, unless it is triggered.
Over two years the hole in my leg shrunk inward, my skin knitting itself back together. Now it is little more than a dime-sized red circle and I run my fingertips over it sometimes. Partners are careful with it, apologizing profusely when they snag it with a fingernail by accident, but it doesn’t hurt. The scar is part of the embroidery of my body now, ugly and me. I would rather be resilient than flawless. Maybe that is why I have always considered ‘badass’ to be the highest of compliments. Continue reading