As I write this, an article about me is the number two trending story on BuzzFeed. My friends have been texting me all day to say that their friends have been texting them about me popping up on their newsfeed. The daily traffic to this blog has spiked into the thousands. Two different TV producers have reached out to me about being a guest on talk shows. And somehow, miraculously, I haven’t received any harassment whatsoever (knock on wood). It has been a very strange week.
Let me rewind. A few months ago, the team at StyleLikeU watched my interview on HuffPost Live and thought my story resonated with their mission of spreading self acceptance and body positivity. I immediately accepted their invitation to participate in their What’s Underneath Project, but after bingeing a ton of their videos, I realized what they were asking was scarier than anything I’d done before. If I did the interview, I would have to open up, to hold nothing back, and that meant talking about parts of my story I’d skirted around since going public: how I got sick, the man in my life at the time, the months I didn’t write about. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to, and I wasn’t sure if I was ready to, even if I did.
I think it was my friend Torii who said, “Well, c’mon, you have to.” And she was right.
Watching my What’s Underneath video for the first time—at the same time as everyone else, might I add, after it was uploaded to YouTube—I was struck by two things: One, that the team at StyleLikeU had created a masterpiece with thoughtful editing of a three hour interview session down to an eleven minute video. And two, that I had done something that day that I would have found unthinkable two years ago when I got diagnosed. It wasn’t only that I was talking herpes, although that was enough to be insane. Talking publicly about my ex-boyfriend, which he would probably object to me calling him at all, was something I never thought I would be capable of. But I had to do it. The hundreds of emails and Facebook messages I’ve received from other STI+ women in abusive relationships this past week are proof of why I had to do it.
The strangest part was hearing myself repeat the words my ex had said to me, “This is what I get for falling for a girl like you.” Suddenly there it was, what caused me more shame than an STI ever could: the man I had fallen for and the fact that I heard that sentence and forgave him for saying it (for a time, at least).
That clip was later GIFed by Parker Molloy on Upworthy, and by then those words were powerless because I had taken them back. I had taken myself back.
At the end of the interview, Elisa asked me why in my body was a good place to be. I struggled and got caught up in my words as I answered, still used to thinking of my body as somehow separate from me. “I’m proud of it,” I said. Taking the quote out of context makes it sound like I am saying I am proud of having herpes, which isn’t the case. Being proud of having herpes would be like being proud of having frequent sinus infections. But my lack of shame and my refusal to be quiet seems like pride. And I’m okay with that interpretation. I’m certainly proud of myself for not letting the stigma crush me under its weight.
What I did mean, that I’m proud of my body, is almost more radical than claiming to be proud of my herpes. I’ve written about this before, that I refuse to hate or distrust my body anymore, but it bears repeating. It’s why I was comfortable ending the video in my underwear, something I’ve caught flack for. To love my body as someone with an STI is a form of revolution.
I get asked a lot why I’m doing the work that I am doing. I whole-heartedly want to help make STI stigma a thing of the past so that millions of people will feel comfortable with who they are and be empowered to make informed decisions about their sexuality and their bodies. I want to help those people who test positive and no longer think they deserve to be treated respectfully in relationships. But I’m always writing for who I used to be.
Seeing myself trend on BuzzFeed is scary, but it also feels amazing. I’m not someone who loves attention, and I’m making use of my Xanax prescription this week to cope with the anxiety brought on by this media wave. But at the time I post this, almost 175,000 people have read that article about me, and so many of them need a friend to reassure them that they’ll be okay. I love being that friend. And it feels amazing, because I could not have imagined this, any of this, two years ago.
To everyone who has shared my What’s Underneath video, thank you. To everyone who has written to me, I appreciate your words. To everyone who has put up with my anxiety-riddled text messages this week, you know who you are, and I love you. And to everyone struggling, you are not alone. You are not alone.
You can watch my interview here: