In early April, four badass women: Kayla Axelrod, Ella Dawson, Britni de la Cretaz, and myself decided to start #ShoutYourStatus on Twitter as part of STI Awareness Month, and all hell broke loose.

#ShoutYourStatus came about from a conversation the four of us had regarding STI stigma and shame. We are all HSV+ (herpes), and since being diagnosed, we all have encountered jokes, harassment, misinformation/miseducation, and more. 

I was interested in co-creating this hashtag, because it's abundantly clear that people don't know anything about herpes. I didn't really either until I was diagnosed in March 2014. However, I was never someone who judged others for their STI status. Through the creation and use of this hashtag, I have been harassed nearly daily. As a woman online, I am somewhat used to this. I've received rape threats before. I've been called "Slut" too many times to count.

Though I'm not surprised by the harassment our hashtag has accumulated, I am shocked by the lack of empathy and compassion given to those who have a goddamn virus. Herpes is a skin condition. It's a virus that affects my life a few times a year. It would never occur to me to harass anyone for an incurable illness they contracted. That just seems bananas to me. 

Nearly all of the trolling happening within the tag are from people who are extremely uneducated about sexual health. People (see: men) continuously tweeted at me to "USE CONDOMS, WHORE!", and one woman used a Bea Arthur gif from one of my favorite Golden Girls episodes to yell at me, "CONDOMS, CONDOMS, CONDOMS" (Bea would not be enthused by this) thus, failing to understand that condoms are not 100% effective in preventing STIs, especially HPV and herpes. I know many people who have contracted herpes even though they used condoms, and even more who contracted HPV. Then, there are the trolls telling me what a "loose" woman I must be to have contracted an incurable STI. Again, such terribly uneducated souls. You can get an STI from sleeping with ONE person.

Though I contracted HSV-type 1 (typically oral herpes/coldsores, but genitally) during a monogamous relationship--my ex had been cheating on me--he still may not have known he had it, which is typical. Though some trolls gave me a "pass" when they found this out, I still am VERY adamant that my narrative does not make me "more deserving" of empathy and compassion. I don't care how someone contracted an STI (and you shouldn't either). Whether you had unprotected sex, or not--nobody DESERVES one. Shit happens. Having sex is all about taking risks: physically, emotionally, spiritually, etc. We always risk something of ourselves when we engage sexually with someone. So, though my experience is considered not my "fault", I am here for the grrrls who contracted it by sleeping with hundreds of people or sleeping with one person or having unprotected sex. Nobody deserves an STI, but if you get one, you're still you--you're still worthy of good things, including love. 

It's amazing to see how quickly MRAs can take a hashtag and muddy it. There are at least 4 articles I know of discussing how feminists are now "proud" of having STIs. I'll speak for myself when I say: no, I'm not proud. I'm just not ashamed. What happened happened. What am I supposed to do? Kill myself? No. Even though I've been told I should, I refuse to harm myself because (luckily for me) I love myself a whole helluva lot. This idea that those of us who have STIs should be ashamed comes from a very gendered, misogynist place. STIs are considered "dirty", because women are considered dirty. One thing you'll notice if you look through #ShoutYourStatus is that you don't see these trolls going after men (granted, not many men have used the tag for good), but still, would they be calling men "Sluts"? Probably not. You'll notice the harassment is relegated to women. Women are "sluts." Women aren't supposed to have sex or enjoy sex. Women, women, women. 

But... statistically, it's impossible for all of these trolls to NOT have/had an STI. 

Even when those of us on the hashtag quoted factual information and statistics from the CDC, trolls still refused to listen. When people fear something, they fear it so hard that they can't handle being confronted with truth. Everything must fit their narrative, their truth, whether that narrative is factual or not. I spewed out facts, and the trolls spewed out vitriol in the way of continued harassment. 

Another type of comment I continue to see is "Why are you doing this? How is this helping?" People like to think hashtag activism is pointless and "lazy", when, we can point to #BlackLivesMatter (and many others) to see how intensely valuable these tags are. I have personally received several private messages from people on Twitter (and even a few people in person) who have told me about their STI status, and how hopeful and empowered #ShoutYourStatus has made them feel. Even if only one person wrote me a message, it still would be worth it. Even if nobody wrote me a message, it still would be worth it. Why? Because I hope to live in world that is compassionate, empathetic, and loving of all. I fully believe you have to create the world you want to live in (to some extent, at least), and it just takes one person to spark change and transformation. 

I'm not saying be "proud" of your STI status--although, you know what? Actually, yes, be PROUD of what you have lived through. Be PROUD of all of your experiences. Be PROUD of the person you are in this moment. Be PROUD that you are working to destroy stigma and shame in a culture that thrives on stigmatizing and shaming people.

You're all you've got. 

 

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