In April 2015, I wrote an essay for Women’s Health called “Why I Love Telling People I Have Herpes.” I’ll never know how many pages view that article received… and still continues to rack up over a year later. I do know that afterward, stories were written about me on websites from The Washington Post to The Independent to the right wing aggregation mill MRCTV, all linking back to that essay. There were hundreds of emails and Facebook messages from strangers who read the essay and felt moved and inspired by my words. There were even invitations to go on daytime television shows to discuss the essay.
I was thrust into a summer storm of viral attention, receiving endless opportunities that felt more like asks: tell me how you did it, tell me how you’re okay, tell me how to tell my boyfriend, tell me how to live myself, tell me tell me tell me. Overnight I became the de facto celebrity of a culture with few role models, and an unelected leader of a new movement. That essay changed my life. That essay made me $75.
I should be transparent up front: I am not a full-time freelancer. I have never seen my writing as a way to pay the bills for the simple reason that I would be terrible at it. I like consistency and routine and the flexibility to write only what I want to write, at my leisure and for myself. There are very few websites that I write for other than this blog, trading autonomy to reach a specific audience or community. Sometimes those sites pay me and sometimes they don’t, and it’s a luxury that I can choose incentives beyond the financial. I have a full-time job in another industry, and somehow I wound up working for an organization that supports my writing despite its subject matter. So it isn’t really about the money.
But it is also very much about the money. It becomes about the money when the work that I do actively costs me. Activism has expenses but I’m not sure who to invoice for my Lexapro prescription and, starting this week, therapy sessions. I’m excited to take better care of my mental health in the wake of a harassment campaigns – I am also aware that it could become expensive.
I’ve always said that the best way to support my work is to share it, and that is still true. It brings me immense validation and pride to see my talk gaining video views and my blog receiving healthy, diverse traffic. Encouraging tweets and comments of support put human faces and experiences to the numbers. I do all of this to help, and hearing that I have succeeded is what keeps me going. It’s everything.
That being said, money is great. It’s really nice. I had no idea how much my essay would be worth when Women’s Health approached me about writing it for them, but I must have made them some serious paper in the ads they ran beside my most personal experiences. I made them a lot more than $75, that’s for sure. And while I’ve been offered opportunities to make money since then, I’ve turned them down for ethical reasons. I don’t want to profit financially off of herpes stigma by promoting herpes dating services or questionable STI testing apps. I have no interest in being a Silicon Valley vulture/spokesperson. My bills will not be paid at the expense of my goals.
Being an activist has taught me two lessons: 1. What I am doing is work. It is emotional labor, and it is a skill, and it requires sacrifice and time and energy. And 2. The people who appreciate me want to support me. Folks have asked me in the past if there’s a way to donate to my work. Now there is one. You can support my work by donating however much you would like via Cash.me or PayPal. Please give only if you are able, and only how much you’d like.
Thank you for your kindness, your friendship and your support over the last few years. I have so much love for this weird family we’ve created. To the people who have already donated, I am beyond grateful. Frankly I didn’t think anyone would use my tip jar when I started it, but I’ve already received three donations from Twitter followers who requested nothing in return. When I got those email alerts, I became flustered and emotional and overwhelmed and emotionally messy in the best way. Thank you. Thank you.
I’ll be back to herpes work at the end of the summer, and I’ll hopefully keep blogging about pop culture and other fun stuff through the hiatus. I promise that the break is doing me good.
Okay I’m ending this post now because asking for money makes me uncomfortable. Bye!