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I now work full time as a director at the National Coalition of STD Directors. I have counseled friends when they’ve come to me with news of their herpes diagnosis.
I have sat with patients after a herpes diagnosis, giving them the pep talk I would end up wishing I had received.
I soothed the worries of distraught parents asking if their newly diagnosed teenage daughter’s clothes could be washed with everyone else’s or if they could still babysit their younger cousin.
By the time I was diagnosed with Herpes Simplex Virus 2 (HSV-2) in 2015, I was well-versed in the stigma surrounding HIV and STDs.
My experience with stigma continued as I made a point to inform partners of my diagnosis.
I wasn’t looking for anyone to blame, I just wanted to be responsible and respectful of my partners.
One person nervously insisted he tested negative for the HSV-2 antibody and promised to send me his testing history.
I had men and women message me just to say, “Thank you for being honest,” or, “It’s so awesome to see you standing up to the stigma of having an STD,” or even, “I have herpes, too! I have provided HIV and STD prevention education to a variety of audiences.I’ve advanced in my career, been acknowledged for my contributions to the field of public health, and honored as a queer woman for contributing positively to the LGBTQ community.Despite all of my knowledge, I was not immune to the societal messages of shame.I believed no one would ever be attracted to or love me again. I was the punchline of every herpes joke on TV, in the movies, and among some of my social groups. With the support of a few select friends and family, I was able to overcome some of that initial shame and self-inflicted stigma.