Journal Entry: What happens after you tell the Internet you have herpes

The pun opportunities are legendary.

1. As soon as you hit publish, you start crying. You can’t explain why—it’s a strange moment of bodily supremacy where your brain has been thinking about this decision for months but your lungs decide this is a big deal and you are no longer in control. You can’t explain this feeling when you have never known it before. The closest you can get is relief—the delicious, transcendent relief that comes from being true to yourself. All of the traditional clichés apply but you have earned them: a weight you didn’t know existed has been lifted from your slight shoulders. You have put words to the story stitched tight under your breast and now no one else can tell it for you. You own yourself.

2. Your mom is nervous for you but praises how well-written it is. Your dad texts you, “Be loud, be proud.” You start crying again.

3. The messages start coming within a few hours, mostly on Facebook. Mutual friends, Wesleyan students who found the post on so-and-so’s wall, a few emails and Tumblr fan mail: the newly diagnosed, your people. They are all scared and they thank you for talking, sharing your story, fighting the stigma. Mostly they are thanking you for existing without actually saying it. You remember that cloying, helpless shame but most of all you remember the isolation. You welcome them to the largest secret society there is. They should know that they are loved.

4. A thousand people read it within the first few days. It sparks a conversation in the erotica community, winding up on Salon, and you lose count of the retweets and shares from writers and editors and general badasses you admire (Cindy Gallop?!). There are a lot of new Twitter followers. It becomes your most successful blog post of all time, and what was supposed to ruin your career might have just thrown it into third gear. If this is what you become known for, you will be just fine with that. You’ve suspected for a long time that getting herpes might have been the best thing that ever happened to you.

5. Your exes check in. They gush about how strong you are and use a lot of smiley face emojis. No one shrinks away from associating with you, a fear you didn’t realize you had until now. The only person who goes MIA is the cute mutual friend you’d been texting about getting drinks, but good riddance. You have no use for men who scare easily. You never hear from the bad ex, no harassing phone calls, no passive aggressive emails, and this is a relief too; this is not a story he gets to write with you anymore.

6. Several of your co-workers at TED read it but wait for you to bring it up, not wanting to make you uncomfortable. They tell you that you are brave. You stop feeling like the intern who just makes robot GIFs.

7. Only after the shock has worn off and the disclosure is something you did, less new, already processed, do you get the message you have been waiting for (the one you were a little hurt thinking might never come). Last spring you sat on his living room couch, still on a high from CatalystCon and driven to write about it but so, so scared, and he quietly said, you could do it, you know. He didn’t need to elaborate because those six words said everything: fuck what people think of us, I love you. You couldn’t help but remember that when you hit publish. A few weeks later he says on Facebook, “Hey so I’m really proud of you,” and you start crying, again. You did this for yourself and you did it alone, but you still have his borrowed faith in your bones.

8. You don’t regret it, not once.

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Ella Dawson is a sex and culture critic and a digital strategist. She drinks too much Diet Coke.

6 thoughts on “Journal Entry: What happens after you tell the Internet you have herpes

  1. Ella, you are wonderful. When my wife died, I thought my life was over. I’ve had hsv2 for 35 years, and it was nothing, till I lost my love and had to try again. The stigma is horrid, the std dating sites are just as bad. We need daylight!

  2. ELLA. I’ve been waiting to find you….so listen to this. I found out I have herpes about three and a half moths ago, exactly three days before I got on a plane to Spain to “study” abroad for the semester. Never in my life have I had a more “fuck it, I need to get out of here” mind set. Over and over in my mind I heard my own voice saying “this is not the end of the world”, yet some days I felt so otherwise my appetite went away (and thats saying something). Part of me felt like this might be a calling, and maybe I could really do something with it. But then I would convince myself thats crazy talk…and then I found you. THANK YOU FOR BEING THE VOICE OF REASON. The voice that echoed mine saying go for it, but stronger. About a month ago I had a revelation inspired by you; I will be someone I’m proud of. I want to start a blog about living, and being someone, with genital herpes. I want to show people that I can still be respected and amazing. I can be fun, sexy, and I sure as hell can be fierce, WATCH ME. My aspiration in life is to make a difference; a positive impact wherever I am. I believe we are what we define and I won’t let this define me. If you’re going to give someone herpes, don’t give it so some innocent little 16 year old who hasn’t even begun to figure out who she is. Give it to a BAD ASS, strong willed, brave woman who can handle it.

    Thank you Ella, you’re my hero. You’ll be hearing from me soon,

  3. You, darling, are a badass. I kept it secret for a long time until one day I just decided to tell a group of strangers and I thought they would all freak out or make fun of me, but they were very supportive and were like, yeah, that’s not as big of a deal as you think it is. What a weight off my shoulders!

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