I am Carolyn. I am a black woman, of African American descent. I am 32 years old and my zodiac sign is a Gemini. I am an athlete: I exercise regularly, I run marathons, and I’ll be doing my first triathlon next month. I am an artist: I sing, dance, design, sew, I paint, and do computer graphics. I am a daughter, sister, niece, cousin, aunt, sister-in-law, etc. I am a great worker, listener, advice giver, and fantastic friend. I am a foodie and I am a person that enjoys delicious cocktails. I am friendly, bubbly, sarcastic at times, serious and/or uplifting when I know that it’s necessary. I am a critical and tactical thinker, and I am an avid planner. I am a free-spirit; that loves positive good energy. I am a lover of consensual love (in any form). I am sex positive, body positive, non-monogamous, polyamorous, and bi-sexual human being. Oh! I also have herpes.
You see that? I have herpes, but it is not who I am.
Anyone who knows me, knows all the above; and until I decided to go public with my status, very few people knew that I had herpes. But, if they were asked to describe me, you’d get a mix of: she’s funny, she’s friendly, she’s bubbly, she’s a freak, and she likes to party. Never would you hear, “Carolyn is herpes”.
For a long time, I was afraid to speak out about my status, for fear of what people would think and, of course, the dreaded STIGMA. The stigma that says ‘only people like this get herpes, or no one will want you if you have herpes, or people with herpes should just crawl under a rock and die’- yes there are people who say such things. For the most part; I always understood that herpes is something that I have; it is NOT who I am. However, it took me a few years to finally believe that to be true and to live in that reality.
So, I write this post, with the hopes that it will reach the people that need it most. For those battling with self-love after their diagnosis, for those that feel ‘dirty’ or worthless, and for those that feel they will never find love or have casual sex again. I write this to tell you that: you are not dirty, you are still worthy of love, you will find love, and with the right person you may even find good casual sex again. The trick is, to do the self-work!
When I was younger, I used to cut myself. Never deep, never a lot of blood, and never to kill myself; I only cut to feel and have control. I started having sex at 14, and at that age my mind didn’t process, what we now call, fuck-boy behavior. You know, when men tell you what you want to hear just to get the pussy. At that age, my mind thought that, if he’s having sex with me- he must really like me (silly rabbit!). Anyway, after countless lust-filled heartbreaks I yearned to have some control. I found that control in the form of cutting. When my mother read my diary and found out, she thought I was cutting school; (since black kids don’t cut their body). When she found out the truth, she did what she had to do; and put me in counseling. For this act (in addition to giving me life) I am forever grateful. My counselor (Ms. Antoinette Rodriguez) was a much-needed saving grace. She helped me from 14 all the way through high-school. She helped me navigate my feelings and establish my self-worth. She encouraged me to be the artist and positive spirit I was born to be. She helped me to know that other peoples’ opinions of me didn’t define me. She helped me to find and love me. After I left the program I would stop by and visit her. Then, one day, due to budget cuts the program was closed. I was sad but very pleased with what she had done for me.
Fast forward a few years and toss in a herpes diagnosis, and a string of failed monogamous relationships, and I became a lost soul again. I didn’t go all the way back to square one, but I did question and doubt my identity. After my diagnosis; I was this girl who loved sex and was fantastic at it- now, who was I? Would anyone ever want me again? Who’s going to want a girl with herpes? Would I end up alone?
Too scared to go out into the world I sat on the sidelines. I kept my diagnosis quiet until I got serious and then I would tell my partners, and to my surprise, they all stayed with me. The only problem with that was, Me.
For all the boyfriends I had, post herpes, I was never fully happy. I always wanted something more; but, because of herpes and the fear of being alone, I stayed. This mentality though, isn’t just a herpes thing. Think of how many people stay in abusive relationships, or keep taking back cheaters, or stay for financial security. Staying for comfort isn’t uncommon; but leaving for peace of mind is necessary.
It was after my billionth crying series with my (X-Files series) Fuck-boy of an ex where I finally said. “I refuse to be in a bad relationship & have herpes”. Since I can’t get rid of herpes, I had to get rid of the guy.
The first step was to separate my sex from my identity. I was always this amazing human with great energy, but my fear of rejection caused me to be less than amazing. The next step was to take the time to complete me. You know the people that hop from relationship to relationship because they feel incomplete when single- we all do. I had to take the time to find the things that make me happy and whole, regardless if a man was in my life or not. That’s where exercise, marathons, and writing came in. I connected back with the people that I know would always be there for me; my family and friends. Once I became my 100% I only wanted to surround myself with people that would fill my cup over; not take from me to make them whole. I reconnected with my sexuality. I love sex, I always have loved sex. However, this time around, sex was a bonus not the grand prize. The grand prize is me: my energy, my advice, and my friendship.
Lastly, I took the moment to reclaim my sex-positive space. With this abundance of love and positive energy flowing through me and believing that monogamy may not be for me; I decided to dip my toe in the world of polyamory and non-monogamy. In doing so, I’ve been making the best connections, getting the best advice, honestly communicating with everyone in my life and, of course, having some of the best sex I’ve had in years. There’s a connection with my partners (sexual and non-sexual) that was missing before. Living in polyamory, I’m taking the time to build foundations that were often skipped over before. The openness in communicating and the ability to express my desires, with no fear of being judged is also very refreshing.
Sure, from time to time, there are some rejections (which is fine). I know that not everyone will want to take the risk, but having those moments to educate potential partners/friends/acquaintances on how to remain herpes free, after they are no longer romantically interested in me, still feels good. I am aware that when I disclose and they are no longer interested, it only means they are declining herpes and not me; because, herpes is only what I have. It is not, who I am.