Life goal completed: write about herpes for a major publication.
I learned quickly after getting diagnosed with genital herpes that no one writes about having an STI. There are no memoirs about herpes. There are no academic studies about the literature of herpetic authors. There is a gigantic gaping hole on the Internet where herpes blogging should be, other than the herpes support community on Tumblr (which, let’s be honest, most people doesn’t know exists). No one is writing about the everyday, practical experience of having herpes. And there are definitely no articles about dating with herpes that don’t position the herpes+ as wounded, terrified, unlovable freaks.
According to the media, there is only one herpes story (and some people tell it better than others). You can find it on websites like Cosmo, Rookie, and The Hairpin. Occasionally there will be a good, meaty piece about how herpes testing is bullshit, but for the most part herpes journalism is a blandly inspirational, predictable place: I got diagnosed. It sucked. I learned to love again. Now everything’s great. No one uses their real name, and no one ties it to the rest of their career. These pieces exist in a vacuum, about as motivational as packing popcorn.
When Women’s Health Magazine reached out to me to write about what it’s like to date with herpes, I found myself at a loss. How do you neatly tie up two of the most chaotic years of your life? I had no idea what that story should look like. But I knew what I didn’t want it to look like.
1. I didn’t want to start at the beginning.
Almost every piece about herpes starts in a doctor’s office, with someone getting terrible news. The patient? Horrified, disgusted, afraid, and confused. The doctor? Sometimes supportive, sometimes a total dick. The patient emerges forever changed on Day One of the rest of their life. While not talking about my diagnosis—and how much it sucked—would have been dishonest and narratively foolish, I didn’t want my story to start there. The beginning of an article sets the tone for the rest of the piece, and I wanted to begin somewhere completely unexpected: a softball field, about to bone an attractive bro. I wanted to make it clear that trauma does not define my life, and that my relationship with my body and my virus is not a painful one. Besides, that day in the doctor’s office at Wesleyan wasn’t the start of my new life—I left the health center different, maybe, but still me. I was the same flesh and bone and brain, and I get to choose my narrative.