What Herpes Activism Looks Like In Trump’s America

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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

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

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

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

Why I Don’t Call Herpes a “Gift”

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Here’s a fun question: how do we take back what has happened to us?

The answer for me has always been writing. Even if I can’t force difficult experiences to make sense, I can capture details in rainbow prism sentences. There are moments I’ve preserved until I have the maturity and perspective to understand why they matter: my ex’s hands gentle at my throat as he unclasps my favorite necklace, the loving breath of a man who doesn’t respect me. Words give me ownership of the complex and uncategorizable. Continue reading

How to Give a TEDx Talk When the Internet Wants You to Shut the Fuck Up

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CW: threats of violence, encouragement of suicide and self-harm, gendered slurs, sexualized harassment

On Saturday morning, I woke up at 7am. I took a shower, got dressed, did my makeup, chugged a Diet Coke, and picked up two of my best friends. We swung through the Middletown Dunkin Donuts for coffee and breakfast, and then we drove to Connecticut College to attend its TEDx event. I paced back and forth in the speaker green room as my friends fiddled around on the piano and cracked jokes to keep me calm. My pulse was slow and I found myself less nervous than I expected to be. The day had a beautiful inevitability to it. A year to the day I had gone viral for the first time, I was about to give a talk about herpes stigma, the talk I’d been waiting to give for what felt like forever. I was ready. I was excited. And I had nearly canceled three days before. Continue reading

I Am Not “Suffering” From Herpes

5B6A8472I’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

Why Should I Date Someone With Herpes?

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My face whenever someone asks me this stupid fucking question.

Here’s another pet peeve of my email inbox: when a man (because it’s almost always a man) asks me if he should continue seeing this woman he’s been dating who just told him she has herpes. Sometimes the question is data-based, about what transmission statistics are real. Sometimes the question is esoteric, about whether or not he truly knew this woman in the first place. And sometimes it’s the classic entitled bullshit I face on Twitter all the time: I’m not a jerk for dumping someone who poses a risk to my health, right? Why on Earth would I knowingly choose to put myself in danger like that? Is she worth it?

I don’t know, man. Does your dick get hard around her? Is she nice? Continue reading

Bachelorella: We Need To Retire The Las Vegas Herpes Joke

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I haven’t been writing Bachelorella recaps this season of The Bachelor because I am busy and tired and nothing interesting has happened. And then tonight The Bachelor put Ben H.’s harem of girlfriends on a jet (or, possibly, on a passive aggressive party bus) and dragged them to Las Vegas. And I cringed, because I knew what was coming: the herpes jokes. Continue reading

Why Having A Boyfriend Doesn’t Cure Herpes

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We’ve all read that essay: the woman who gets herpes because she caves to temptation just once and has a regrettable one-night-stand, but goes on to find happiness because she meets that one man who loves her just as she is, STI and all. You can find it in glossy women’s magazines and anonymous chat rooms across the web, the inspirational packing popcorn of sex writing. It’s the Boyfriend Narrative, and it needs to die.

Continue reading