My Path is Rooted in Orgasms and Herpes

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

As my blog has increasingly become more public,  I feel a need to remind myself and others of my roots. When I first enrolled at Salisbury University, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, my original career aspiration was to become a teacher. Like many freshmen, I decided that my intended major was not for me. I started reading through course lists of other majors that I thought I may be interested in. History was one of the first topics I looked to, followed by psychology. While scanning the lists, I found several feminist-focused courses: Women in History, Psychology of Women, Psychology of Sexuality, and more. At this point in time, I did not even consider myself a feminist, but the topics piqued my interest, so I looked further. Somehow searching through the nooks and crannies of the Salisbury website, I found Gender and Sexuality Studies. The day that I changed my major was the day I started working toward my purpose. 
I often reflect back upon my undergraduate work and compare it to where I am currently. I recently found my original statement of purpose for my capstone research project, and I think it provides a lot of insight as to where I have grown as a person, as well as my passions and what I want to accomplish throughout my career. Below is my original proposal for my project entitled, "The Mechanics of Female Orgasm and Impact on Body Image in Women:"

            “The topic that I would like to research for my capstone project is a deeper investigation of the female anatomy and orgasm. I feel that these topics are relevant to gender studies because there appears to be somewhat of a discrepancy between what women know about their bodies and their comfort levels.  Women are flooded with images and articles from the media that tell them how to please a man and change their bodies to please him. I feel that my research could benefit not only straight women, but also females belonging to all gender categories.  Women should be able to please themselves for themselves.  Their ability to achieve orgasm is dependent upon their comfort level with their bodies and genitalia.  I do not feel that sexuality education is giving young girls the knowledge that they need to be comfortable with their own bodies whether they become sexually active or not.  I believe that in order to change the way the world sees women, women need to change the way they see themselves. 
            As someone who aspires to be a sex/relationship therapist, these are topics that I desire to change in my lifetime.  I feel that there has not been enough work to breakthrough attitudes of the past, which is partially why so many young girls are still struggling today. 
            For my research project, I propose writing a 12-15-page research paper about female body image and knowledge in relation to female orgasm.  In addition to the research paper, I propose developing a creative method to better assist parents of daughters be comfortable in their own skin—including their sexuality and genitals. This research could breakthrough social norms for all females, parents, their daughters, and even their sons.”
               The proposed 12-15 page paper ended up being 22 pages long. If I had more time to devote to its research, it would, no doubt, be even longer. I look back to this project and wish I had been more inclusive of race and gender. I feel as though I was trying too hard to fit LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) individuals into a heteronormative* view, without really considering other applicable situations and circumstances. In addition, I was attempting to interpret non-white experiences into my own. The fact that I am able to return to this work and recognize my weaknesses shows how I have grown, and I am proud of that. Being critical of one’s work is necessary, and the openness to receive such critiques is important, as well.

            I have never faced as much public criticism as I have in the last few weeks. Criticism, I expected from day one of going public with my HSV2+ status, but the messages of gratitude, I never once thought I would receive in the capacity that I have. There is something to learn from each person who crosses our path, whether they are a supporter or a hater.  Since an article I wrote was published on Thought Catalog, I have woken up to numerous messages in my Facebook inbox from women across the country. Women who are open to sharing their stories with me, women who thank me for giving them hope, women who pass along my blog to their friends with STI's, women who encourage me to keep going, to keep fighting.  Despite these messages of positivity and encouragement, I have also been painted as a bitter and crazy spirit, an angry feminist, the list goes on. I expected it to happen at some point, and the unfortunate part is that these labels are not new to me, but alas, that is another post in itself. Such messages of judgement do not hinder my work, but propel me forward. Although I am not condoning cyber-bullying in any way, I sincerely thank you for proving to the world that this work and education is needed.  I am indeed on the right path, my path. 

                   I do want to make it clear that I am not a lone resource in this journey. There are many other herpes+ individuals sharing their stories, too. Ella Dawson created a  directory of herpes+ writers, and she is a great resource, as well. I hope that as time passes, this list continues to grow. By reading other herpes+/STI+ individuals' viewpoints and experiences, a more complete picture can be painted. All of our experiences are different, but they are all valid. I look back to my career aspirations as set out by my capstone project, and two years later, I am still working towards them. I am still growing, I hope to always be growing. I believe that I was destined to be a teacher, just not the type one finds in a classroom. Being an educator does not mean that I have all of the answers. As I have stated previously, I will make mistakes on my journey, I have already made some.  I anticipate that I will look back at this work with a new set of critiques, but I guarantee that I will never look back to this work with regret. 


 *Heterosexuality promoted as the norm 


I'm Most Grateful to the Guy Who Gave Me Herpes

Sunday, February 14, 2016

         For a self-proclaimed commitment-phobic man, our circumstance was a nightmare. In some sense, I became herpes to him. Like an outbreak, I pop up at times when he wishes I would disappear. Whether he likes it or not, I became a part of his life, and I will always be tied to him because of this. I became something he had to confront. Since I didn’t fade away, he did. 

           It seems that I ask my friends each day if I did the right thing by coming out about herpes. In these moments of doubt, I reflect upon the turbulence I encountered in 2015. The ignored phone calls, the sporadic texts, the tears, the drunken binges, the uncertainty, the hesitancy, the selfishness, the Snapchat breakup, the ghost of an almost partner. I am not the only person who shares in this experience, and I know it is comforting for others in similar positions as myself to know they are not alone. But see, the problem lies within a small town mentality—despite its closeness and sense of community; it is difficult to see past the bubble into the world outside. My interests are larger than this small town.

          No matter who has hurt me, I commend my heart. I do not believe in throwing negative energy into the world. I pray for him everyday. He has many gifts. He has a creative mind, an intellectual curiosity, and unique perspectives on the world. He is capable of so much good, but he remains stagnant. His redeeming qualities are overshadowed by his egocentricity, detachment, fear of reality, and overall childishness. He is stuck in time. Unfortunately, no matter how much we cling to someone’s potential, some remain in that stagnant reality. People, be they friends or lovers, can only meet you as deeply as they meet themselves. Despite how hurt I am, and how angry I am towards him, he deserves to find peace within himself, just as much as everyone else. We all have something worthwhile to contribute to this world, and if it does not reveal itself in this lifetime, we repeat our karma until it does.

          At the end of the day, I do believe I made the right decision, and everyone around me seems to think so, too. I am often reminded that there was a time when women did not have a voice; therefore, I make it a priority to use mine, and I know some people don’t know quite how to handle that. I am unapologetic. I have a platform, I have a voice, I have a story, and we all do. I have made mistakes, and there will be more along the way, but I am open and willing to navigate them.

           Today, I am grateful. If it were not for him, I would not be living out my passion and contributing to positive change in the world around me. I completely lost myself after my diagnosis, but because of his cowardly stance, I have come back stronger than ever before. I encourage anyone that is struggling with a situation such as this, to forgive, let go. Forgiveness will allow you to align on a more authentic level with yourself, and you will begin to see the potential you hold as an STI+ person. You are not your disease. You are not a stigma. Come out. You will grow in ways you never thought you would. Your brain will stretch, you will meet others like yourself, and probably be surprised by just how many people share the STI+ label. Embracing myself as a herpes positive woman has been one of the best decisions I have made. So cheers to the guy who gave me herpes. I thank him for making me the best-damned version of myself. I can only hope that he is able to evolve beyond his past and move forward to a better self.

Just the Tip

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

         Purpose: we all have one, and usually, it goes beyond our expectations. It will most likely transform over the course of our lives, as it should. My purpose in life versus my purpose in writing this blog are two separate agendas, but they are very much intertwined. Opening up about herpes has allowed me to connect with individuals from various backgrounds. Some are STI+ and have placed their trust in me. Some are social media gurus who just so happen to spend five minutes engaging me in a Twitter conversation. This blog has reopened a distinctly feminist self, which I lost touch with after graduation. While I was still attending college, I had a blog, much like this one. As we all know, days tend to fade together, leaving less time to devote to hobbies we once loved. So I stopped writing publicly for almost two years. This time around, my purpose has shifted. Yes, one of my goals is to educate, but ultimately, I want to start a conversation—and I have been successful in that endeavor thus far. Despite the fact that viewpoints may not change, I am witnessing a conversation where one previously did not exist. That difference matters to me.
This blog was not created on the premise that it would only be read by those who know me personally. My goal has always been to reach a larger audience. When I chose to disclose my herpes status publicly, there was a realization that this is larger than my story. That is how I allow myself to be so open for discussion, for confrontation, for all of the above. I am reminded of the feminist phrase, “The personal is political.” It was drilled into my head throughout my undergraduate career. I loathed hearing it, and writing about it in my papers became a semester-long nag--but I do not think I fully understood its context until now. By publicizing my writing, I am setting myself up for an open critique. Good. Talk about it, talk about me, that’s what needs to be happening. I have always been controversial, and self-admittedly, I enjoy it. I like engaging people in discussions about taboo topics. I like bending the rules set by society and provoking an alternative thought process. For example, when I tell people I am an aspiring sex therapist, there are three distinct reactions:
1)    The conservative eye roll and judgment
2)    The male puppy-dog, “you must be a freak” gaze
3)    The genuine, “Oh wow, that’s unique! Tell me about it” conversation starter
             With herpes, I am discovering the situation is much the same. I remain unfazed and am fiercely dedicated to my path.  In addition to this blog, there are actions that go unseen in regards to my involvement in STI/herpes activism and awareness. I have reached out to several of my professors from Salisbury University, my alma mater, and will be speaking there later this year. This week, I was invited to be a guest on a local radio show discussing sex. These steps seems small, but they are the foundation for furthering such a platform for sexual education and STI awareness. I am honored to be one voice in a sea of many.  

To The Women Who Don't Know-- My Eskimo Sisters*

Monday, February 1, 2016

*A heterosexual woman's perspective 

 I do not know any of you personally, but this is the closest that you will ever get to an apology from him. I am sorry he is too sheepish to tell you that he knew he has genital herpes. I am sorry he is too orgasm-focused to be honest with you. I am sorry he continues to live in denial, stringing you along. You will never get an apology out of him, and I am sorry for that. 
The truth being, you may never contract genital herpes from this fellow, either. Despite this, he chooses to put himself first. He is putting your health and mental well-being at risk by not informing you. He is not giving you a choice in your future.  At this point, I doubt he has even been tested. And even if he gets a standard STD test, I doubt he will ask for Herpes IGG (it's not included).  I never wish herpes, or any STD, upon anyone, but you should ask to see some record.  It has taken me a significant amount of time to be herpetic and confident; I know not everyone is as equipped to handle this combination as I am—which is part of the reason I put myself in the public eye.   
 There are times that I wish I could contact those women whom he is so obviously fooling, but that is not my place. So to the woman who thinks she’s won him over, the woman who thinks she has him hooked, I hope you think again. I hope you put yourself first in this. I know you’re asking questions, I know you’re thinking deeper than what you see. I know your friends are, too (They friend-requested me on Facebook, after all). I know how you feel towards me. I know, he likes your pictures--the selfies, the friends, the seemingly innocent moments--but that's his game. You think to yourself, "This time must be different. It’s me.” Well my dear, you and every other girl he’s focused on for six months or less. I know we only know one another through twenty-something, social media stalking, but I will be there for you if things ever do go awry. This is not a war between women. This is awareness-- this is education. 
If you ever do contract herpes from him, I pray you are stronger than I. I pray you can walk away, because he knew this time. He knew what he was doing to you. I don’t know if he knew he could infect me, but after what we went through, he’s going to do a number on you, and I hope you step back and realize your worth. No one deserves a long distance lover, especially when you’re five miles down the road. And you, you're miles away


Your fellow Eskimo Sister with HSV2  

*This could be applicable to men or women. This is based solely upon my own experience. 
**PS I assure you, he's convincing you this isn't him. Talk to me; I won't bite.