How I Use Trigger Warnings

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Trigger warning: POLAR BEARS.

So The Atlantic published another (another?!) article about trigger warnings this week, meaning my Facebook and Twitter feeds were full of outraged baby boomers yet again. Trigger warnings have become emblematic of the over-sensitivity and out of control political correctness of my generation, if you believe the media and its breathless coverage of the “trend” across college campuses to include them in course materials. Millennials demand trigger warnings to protect themselves from opinions that vary from their own, according to said coverage. We want to avoid upsetting topics and silence anything provocative or difficult. Slap an “offensive” label on classic American literature like The Great Gatsby?! The horror! Continue reading

Dear Class of 2015 (or, Dear Me 365 days ago)

IMG_2621If this letter seems late, that’s intentional. I wanted to wait until you needed it. Tomorrow you’re moving to Berkeley and you’re going to need a friend.

Nowhere is going to feel like home in the same way campus did, but it took college a long time to feel like home in the first place. You relocate to the strange city you always felt drawn to and discover it is muggy, dangerous and just sort of wrong. Loneliness festers but it doesn’t have to scar—give yourself room to be a self-pitying mess because no one warned you how steep the drop would be. This transition will hurt. I’m sorry. So you’ll try another city and dip your toes in slow, find the bars you like most, become a local at the grocery store. Time drags at the beginning and eventually, suddenly, it is March and you will realize you live here now.

The things that used to define you are about to become meaningless and thank god for that—no one cares what magazine you edited in college. As a result you are going to feel like a fraud most if not all of the time, at least for a while. The real world yanks the crutches of your identity away and now is the time to figure out who you are without the cheat sheet. But you get to keep the best parts of yourself, the parts that obsess over pop culture’s influence on society, the parts that put into words the confessions others wince when they consider articulating. You’ll be surprised by how rarely anyone asks what you studied. Your coworkers talk about their younger college selves like odd, cute kids they once babysat. Don’t feel like you have to condescend to yourself. You’re allowed to be who you were only a few months ago, just a little more respectably dressed. Continue reading

Everyone at Wesleyan Has Herpes

No seriously, herpes puns are the best.

No seriously, herpes puns are the best.

It’s a Saturday afternoon. I am sitting at a table outside of Usdan, Wesleyan’s student center, under a big black umbrella. The sun toasts my exposed shoulders. A student journalist with the school paper asks me questions about my recent, surreal herpes stardom, and strangers at nearby tables peer over at me as I answer because my voice carries. There’s a baseball game going on behind me and Wesleyan is winning, and a hundred students sit on Foss Hill beside the field paying absolutely no attention to the score. Our conversation takes twenty minutes and afterward I wonder if I said anything embarrassing, having forgotten I was being interviewed as opposed to chatting with a fellow classmate while waiting for a seminar to start.

So much of who I am is the result of Wesleyan.

The truth is, a feature in the Wesleyan Argus means more to me than any write-up by the Washington Post. Not because one of my best friends and this blog’s editor is the Argus’s editor-in-chief, and this was Gabe’s last issue. Not because I’m a narcissist, though that’s undeniable. And not even because it entertains me to think that the Wesleyan alumni organization probably has no idea what to do with me. It’s because Wesleyan is my blood and guts, my training ground, my chosen family. It’s where I got herpes, and it’s where I found the voice to make it mine. Herpes doesn’t define my Wesleyan experience; but Wesleyan sure as hell colors the work I’m doing. Continue reading

My 1st Blogiversary: Here’s what I wrote this year (with GIFs!)

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One year ago today, I started this blog. I remember the moment I hit publish for the first time surprisingly well: it was a very cold night in January, and I sat at the kitchen island of my campus apartment with my laptop and a Diet Coke in an old-fashioned glass from the Dollar Tree. My blog was originally light gray text on a dark gray background, or some such design disaster. I published a simple intro post announcing that I was a not-quite adult who wanted to build a website of her very own. It was the only New Year’s resolution I have ever kept.

I cannot express how much I have loved creating this space. Running this blog has helped me connect with so many extraordinary writers, thinkers, and friends, and updating it regularly is a pleasure, never a chore. It has evolved in focus, less of a place for my fiction as I had originally intended than it is a home for observations, introspection, and occasional flareups of rage against the patriarchy. This blog has grown up with me, morphing with each milestone of my young adult life. I can’t imagine what shape it will have taken by this time next year.

I’ve also gotten… ballsier? Shit got real when I talked about serious issues like fraternity abuse, post-graduate depression, and STI stigma, and my reviews aren’t as fluffy as they used to be. I’m surprised but delighted to find my place in the community as a young and vocal erotica social justice warrior. For me, blogging isn’t just self-promotion or ranting about the feels—it is a challenge and an adventure.

That being said, some self-promotion is fun and necessary. Here’s a crash course of my first year on the interwebs:

I reviewed a ton of erotica. Some of it I loved, while other titles sparked more rage than arousal. It made me think about how erotica can be more feminist, and why we call it “women’s erotica” when bros like them some smutty literature too.

I also wrote erotica of my own. Oleander Plume stole my first time in print virginity with Chemical [se]X, and my erotica appeared on Exhibit A’s blog, in Tamsin Flowers’s erotica advent calendar, and in my free ebook Memory Foam. And no, I am not using a pen name.

Taylor Swift and I connected on a deep, spiritual level. “Blank Space” changed how I understand my sex writing, the resulting essay winding up on Thought Catalog. She also seriously mislead me about what it’s like to be 22.

Continue reading

A comprehensive guide to Wesleyan references in my erotica

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I write a lot about college students. It’s my thing. Even though kids in their late teens and early twenties are obsessed with sex, and even though pop culture is obsessed with us having sex, there’s very little erotica targeted at our demographic. One of these days Eva Gantz and I will get around to editing our hookup culture erotica anthology, but until then I’m filling the void in various collections and ebooks.

It’s a long running joke that my erotica is full of Wesleyan references, and most of my short stories take place on the ivy-covered campus of the fictitious “Liberal University.” To save you the trouble of hunting down every hipster Easter egg, I put together a list of my favorite Wesleyan shout outs in my fiction. So here is your go-to guide of inside jokes, references, settings, and Wes-specific weirdness:

“Pretty quick into her academic career, Cass realized that college was basically one big, unfortunate sitcom. Upstairs neighbor bros got drunk and peed off their balcony in the middle of the night rather than walk down the hall to use the communal bathroom like adults. You only ever got locked out of your room while taking a shower, forcing you to wait in the hall wearing only your ratty polka dot bathrobe for a member of campus safety to let you in again. And then there were the days when you just wanted to drink your mocha at the coffee house before your morning lecture, and the only seat open was next to that guy you had a one-night stand with last weekend. ” — Meet Cute. Wes references: the Nics dorms, PSafe, Pi Cafe Continue reading

I talked to The Gradmit about my post-grad feelings

Where do I see myself in five years? In a perfect world I’d be writing freelance about sexuality, feminism, and pop culture while working on my best-selling series of feminist erotic novels. More realistically, I can see myself with a career in social media management and writing fiction off the clock. The Internet has opened up so many crazy opportunities for creating and sharing content, whether it’s spreading ideas through video or self-publishing erotic anthologies with authors you meet on Twitter. I’m sure wherever I am in five years, I’ll have a laptop under my arm and a killer leather jacket.

10592676_771661212897640_6453832629072230392_nThis week I talked to my friend Lily Herman over at newbie internet publication The Gradmit. We discussed post-grad life, social media, and working for TED HQ! The full Q&A can be read here.

A lot of my blog readers are fellow recent grads wandering lost through the un(der)employment landscape. The Gradmit is an awesome new resource/best friend/comedic relief provider for when being twenty-three sucks. I highly recommend checking it out, and not only because supporting lady-run enterprises is awesome.

Let’s talk about frats (realistically)

Fun fact: Bros love dogs.

Fun fact: Bros love dogs.

Disclaimer: Matt Leibowitz, founder of Consent Is So Frat, is one of my closest friends. During our senior year of college we used to sit on the floor of his bedroom and talk about how activists could enact change. That being said, I do not speak for him or for Consent Is So Frat. My opinions and experiences are only mine. Matt and I actually disagree extensively on how to address rape culture within Greek life.

Trigger warning for discussion of sexual assault and abusive relationships.

Continue reading

Can you really go back? Alumna dispatches from Wes

This is my panic face.

This is my panic face.

This weekend I went back to Wesleyan for the first time since graduating in May. That probably doesn’t sound dramatic considering the school year literally started two weeks ago. Returning students barely had time to get settled in before I rolled up in my nostalgia wagon, toting a bottle of André and a ton of anxiety. Truth be told I wanted to wait until the official homecoming weekend in October before making the drive to campus; that way I wouldn’t have to worry about sticking out like a pre-frosh at a party in Senior Fauver. But my visit needed to overlap with someone else’s who would only be on campus for a few days, and that required making the leap before I knew I was ready. Feeling a bit like a lame party crasher, I packed my overnight bag and showed up on Saturday afternoon just in time to get rained on.

Thoughts going through my head as I got out of the car: What if I don’t belong here anymore? What if people don’t want me to be here? What if this is weird, or awkward, or painful? Does my outfit make it look like I’m trying too hard? Why the hell didn’t I bring an umbrella?

And most importantly, can you ever really go back?

I think about Wesleyan as my first love. Like any relationship we had our ups and downs, but it is the place where I discovered who I am in all of my arrogant and impulsive glory. It’s where I began to write about sex. It’s where I recognized and dismantled my internalized misogyny, the result of growing up in a conservative suburb. It’s where I actually did fall in love, once with a man who deserved me, once with a man who didn’t, and every single day with myself. Seeing an old lover for the first time since saying goodbye is terrifying. I knew I still loved Wesleyan. Would Wesleyan still love me? Continue reading

Wesleyan’s Herpes Joke Problem

We need to talk about herpes jokes. In particular, we need to talk about herpes jokes and Wesleyan, my dear flawed alma mater.

As my younger friends moved into their new dorms in Middletown this weekend, I searched tumblr for posts about STIs. I’m involved in tumblr’s sprawling sexual health support community and track the tags for herpes and HPV, two of the most common and most misunderstood sexualized illnesses. Imagine my surprise when I stumbled across a post from a Wesleyan publication in the herpes tag. Posted by The Wesleyan Ampersand, Wes’s satire publication, the word search below was sandwiched between pained requests for support from the recently diagnosed. The caption read “Check it out, Froshies! The first two words you see in the box above will DEFINE your freshman year experience. Let destiny decide your future…” In bold, appearing twice, is “HERPES.” It is the only actual word that appears in the word search.

tumblr_nb3c2e12TB1swk5yko1_500I contacted the staff of the Ampersand with my concerns (discussed below) and they graciously apologized and removed the post from tumblr. But unfortunately the word search also appears in the orientation issue of the biweekly campus-wide student newspaper The Wesleyan Argus, where hundreds of newbie Wes kids and the rest of the student body have already devoured it over brunch. The damage has been done, and I’m an alumna with a blog about representation of sexualized illnesses. So here’s my reality check:

Herpes is actually a problem at Wesleyan. Like, a shockingly huge problem. For a campus that practically throws condoms and dental dams at its students, STIs spread through the student body in waves. It’s pretty easy to track when chlamydia and syphilis hit because of the outpouring of rage and finger-pointing on the ACB (the Anonymous Confessions Board). But herpes is different: it is incurable, often asymptomatic, and easily spread in the absence of a barrier method when the virus is active. Herpes can be transmitted during oral, vaginal, or anal sex, and its two major strains (HSV1 and HSV2) can both lead to oral or genital outbreaks depending on the site of transmission. Oral herpes is what causes cold sores. You get cold sores? Congrats, you have herpes. Continue reading

How to Move to California

IMG_2451 1. Decide to do it. Or decide to consider it vaguely within the realm of possibility when a partner looks around your room full of San Francisco gift shop crap in September of your senior year and says, “What’s stopping you?” and you discover you don’t have a real answer.

2. Fall in love with a publishing house and apply for an internship in February. Do a shot of vodka with a friend before hitting send on the email—wince as you do so because you haven’t had vodka since you were a freshman and it has not improved. The shot is from your San Francisco tourist shot glass, of course, for good luck. Try not to obsessively check your email on your smart phone every five minutes during lectures. Eventually get the internship, drink in the middle of the day because you don’t have class, and try not to think about what this means for your relationships on the East coast.

3. Realize you have to find somewhere to live, send out dozens of emails to sketchy listings on Craigslist, almost give up before someone gets back to you. Boom! It’s a match. Send the check in the mail and try not to be flustered by having to Google ‘how to write a check.’

4. Tell people ‘I’m moving to California’ and realize you sound like a total jerk. Embrace it. You’re moving to California. Make a lot of jokes about hearing they have more bounce there, which is sadly too dated a reference for most to catch.

5. Book your plane ticket. Or more accurately, ask your dad to book your planet ticket for you because airlines websites scare you and while it is your money, you hate spending that much of it at once. Feel a weird relief when the itinerary arrives in your email inbox—it’s inevitable now.

6. Somewhere in this process deal with leaving everything you know—your family, your friends, the seasons, familiar public transit, all of your stuff, every comforting routine, the easy route—behind. Sit on the dirty floor of the kitchen in your apartment and panic. Share the panic with one of your roommates who sinks down onto the linoleum beside you. There will be a lot of Tuesday nights scrunching your face into ugly expressions in a failed attempt not to let tears leak. Your boyfriend says you can cry but you don’t want to, it seems wasteful. You are getting what you have wanted for four years, the Bay Bridge, the chance to start over, the career opportunities. It just took a while to realize it would mean losing so much too.  Continue reading