On May 9, I will commemorate a very important anniversary. Four years ago, I was diagnosed with genital herpes.
When I tell people I honor my herpes anniversary, or “herpiversary” for short, I’m usually met with surprise and disgust. In a best-case scenario, my conversation partner looks at me like I’m a few characters short of a clever tweet — why on earth would I celebrate contracting an STI? In a worst-case scenario, they demand to know why I’m proud of ruining my body with such promiscuous, degenerate antics — a reaction that usually comes from conservatives on Twitter, enraged that I am making noise on the Internet at all. Continue reading
The first time I had sex after getting diagnosed he was wearing that black blazer I loved over a white v-neck shirt. We tasted like beer and early summer sweat, finals over, medication finished. Sunlight spilled through my bedroom window and my back was against the plaster wall. I think my roommate was out; otherwise she was right on the other side listening to One Direction and worrying about me like the sister the universe knew I needed that year. Continue reading
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
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
Man, you’ve had a rough day. Getting diagnosed with herpes is a bit like someone shoved a broom handle through the spokes of your bike when you were cruising along smoothly—suddenly the world is upside-down and everything hurts and it feels like strangers are laughing at you even though the street is empty and there is no one there to see you licking your wounds on the pavement. But there’s a silver lining to getting diagnosed with herpes: most of us have fallen off our bikes too. You’re not alone in having an STI. Here’s what you should know, from someone who has been through everything that you’re going through. Continue reading
I’m exhausted today. Someone I’m seeing came over late last night to, in his words, “fuck the shit out of me,” and by the time he left it was just shy of 1:30am. I took a shower and then lazed around in bed, smelling him in my hair and remembering how he kissed my neck, how he bossed me around. He texted me once he got home to confirm that the G Train had been running after all, and I fell asleep reading my Kindle in sweat-soaked sheets.
I don’t sound like I’m suffering, do I? 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
UPDATE: Please enjoy this screenshot of me gesturing with the comically bulky clicker.
Tomorrow I’m giving a short talk about the work I’ve done this year to combat herpes stigma. Here’s the catch: I’m doing it at my office. For my entire company. Including everyone who works remotely on an internal live-stream. That’s somewhere between 150 and 200 of my coworkers, give or take a bunch of interns.
I work at TED. That might explain things a little. Continue reading
I’ve been thinking more and more about writing a book and the many reasons I don’t know if I can. I haven’t written a single word of what this memoir could be but I have already Googled ‘defamation of character lawsuit’ at least five times. Have you ever noticed it’s only rich, white men who sue for defamation? My friends like to say “It’s not slander if it’s true.” I think a lot about legal fees.
Truth is a slippery, emotional thing. There is no real proof of the direction of herpes, only where it is and where it isn’t. Even that isn’t always solid. Lawsuits over who gave whom an incurable STI make me feel a specific type of nauseated: if only it were that simple to determine justice about a biological thing. If only blame weren’t so sticky, and disclosing so hard, and evidence so complicated. We need to be wary of a legal system that was built against us, not for us. My inbox is full of people wondering if they can press charges, asking how they should warn their ex’s future partners, and feeling as though their life has been ruined by someone who will get off scot-free. The other half of my inbox is people terrified to tell their partner that they have herpes, and when, and how, and if they really have to. I know too well the many reasons people are afraid to disclose. And I know too well the stories of those who weren’t disclosed to. It’s a difficult vantage point on a question that I used to see as black and white. Continue reading
This was a big day for herpes coverage. The World Health Organization released a study saying that 2 in 3 people in the entire world have HSV-1, and the Internet collectively freaked out. It was both glorious and terrible. Herpes trended on Facebook. I had a lot of feelings about it.
So without further ado, in order from best to worst: TODAY’S HERPES HEADLINES: RANKED!
(Note: None of this is based on the articles themselves. I’m a big believer of the idea that if your headline is horrendous, you have done more harm than good.)
1. Oh, You Don’t Have Herpes? What’s That Like? — The Cut
This is so sassy it physically hurts, but in that way a love bite hurts. It hurts so good. It brilliantly inverts herpes stigma to mess with your expectations and make you feel like an asshole. You don’t have herpes? Congratulations, you are the outlier here. Freak. Continue reading