Banff 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
An odd thing happened this weekend: an idiot on Twitter really wanted my attention. I say idiot because this young gentleman truly seemed to be stupid rather than malicious in his persistent need to speak to me despite my obvious disinterest. This young gentleman joined Twitter just to communicate with me, a suggestion he denied despite the fact that he followed only myself and Ellen Degeneres. You see, in his eyes I was beautiful. I was attractive. He did not care that I had herpes, and he wanted me to know this. When I told him that his tweets were making me uncomfortable, he sent me many more of them. When I told him I would block him if he sent me one more message, he sent me a video of himself singing as an apology. I was unimpressed, so he continued to tweet at me, calling me fake and judgmental.
His most telling statement? “You’re not the person I saw on YouTube.” Continue reading
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
A few weeks ago I wrote a carefully crafted essay on my conflicted feelings about individuals who fail to disclose their herpes status and the criminalization of the transmission of sexually transmitted infections. These are painful topics, highly subjective and personal, and I delicately side-stepped any absolutes on what is and is not immoral. My experience is mine alone, and my feelings of rage and hurt toward my “giver” do not mean that everyone who transmits an STI has the same knowledge, responsibility, and moral ineptitude as he did. I am not interested in condemning or absolving anyone.
Judging by the email I woke up to this morning, I was being too subtle. But we’ll get to that soon. 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
UPDATE 3/7/2016: Peeple has launched, with a new paid “truth license” that allows you to read hidden reviews to come soon. You can read my latest take here.
I work in social media. It is part of my job to stay up-to-date on the myriad new social networks that spring up like weeds every day. Some of them grow and evolve steadily like the cool, quirky nerd This.cm. Some inspire mobs of loathing and debate like the new mean girl on the block Peeple. Within a few hours of the Washington Post covering Peeple—a distinctly “what is the world coming to” app that allows you to rate and review people the way you would a restaurant—my Twitter feed was tearing it to shreds, and for good reason. Peeple is so riddled with flaws that you would think its creators had never experienced the Internet before… which they may not have, judging by their lack of familiarity with Twitter. But while Twitter was mocking Peeple and pointing out its similarity to a certain Community plot line, I was thinking about something very simple: how Peeple has the potential to ruin my life, if allowed to exist. Continue reading
The producers of The Bachelorette made an interesting choice during tonight’s “Men Tell All” episode. Between the awkward reunions and desperate attempts to rebuild reputations, Kaitlyn Bristowe and Chris Harrison had an honest conversation about the tidal waves of harassment this season’s Bachelorette has received online. In a controversial move, Harrison read out several real tweets and emails sent to Kaitlyn over the last few months in all of their violent, slut-shaming, expletive-laden glory. The studio audiences’ jaws dropped, Kaitlyn struggled not to cry, and her men winced and grimaced in sympathy and horror. Twitter lit up like a switchboard. Was The Bachelorette actually addressing the harassment women receive online?
Yes. Yes it was. Continue reading
In the midst of what was arguably the most sexist season premiere of The Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise, a magical thing happened. There was a beautiful lesson in sexual harassment and bystander intervention, and I felt for a fleeting few minutes like the world was a better place than it was.
Let me rewind. Quirky, edgy Kaitlyn and beautiful, arguably shallow Britt arrived to woo 25 men into choosing them to be the next Bachelorette. The Internet waited with bated breath to see how sexist this sexist twist on a normally female-driven show would be. The Bachelorette did not disappoint—Britt was catty and smug, Kaitlyn was nervous and felt “sick to her stomach” about the men voting on who to keep around. The men were in turns pretentious, nauseating and hunky as they decided which woman to choose. They were all plied with alcohol.
Copious amounts of alcohol. 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