I’m a day late on my return from a writing hiatus, but I hope you all held faith in me that I’d be back because I finally am! Moving on…
I debate constantly in my head and with friends whether herpes jokes are more common now than they used to be or if I simply notice them more often now that I have herpes myself. Before I contracted herpes I didn’t bat an eye when I heard casual jokes about STDs. I don’t recall ever finding them very funny but I think knowing I was “safe” and STD-free made me feel good whenever I would hear them. Like I got through my sex life unscathed unlike “other” people.
After contracting herpes, hearing STD jokes made me cringe. I felt my face go warm and my heart sink, and I realized I’m one of those “other” people now. But I hadn’t done anything abnormal to get herpes; I contracted it from my boyfriend at the time. I couldn’t understand what made these people making the jokes any less likely to get an STD than I was. On top of feeling shameful in secret, because I definitely wasn’t going to chime in and say “Hey, I have herpes and I don’t think that’s funny”, I was livid. I was pissed off at the ignorance surrounding me and extremely disappointed it was coming from people I knew and thought highly of. I immediately lost the level of respect I previously had for them and felt pity for them that they were too blind to see how harmful their “jokes” were.
Even now, five years later, herpes jokes are so dominant out of any STD joke I hear, though like I said I could be bias. Last week alone I saw on my social media feeds tons of careless jabs at people living with herpes. A quote shared on Facebook by a friend of mine with almost 100 likes from Chuck Palahniuk, “If you love something set it free, but don’t be surprised if it comes back with herpes.” (I don’t know if that made me disgusted at my “friend” or the writer more.) A photograph from an event in town promoting a kissing booth with a price list next to it, “Regular Kiss – 25cents, Kiss with Tongue – 50cents, Mouth Herpes – Free. I mean, COME. ON. It’s unnecessary. It’s just not funny. It’s funny to everyone that doesn’t have herpes, and even then tons of those people laughing likely have herpes themselves and don’t even know. It’s only funny for the people telling the jokes because they don’t have herpes and other people do. That’s not the action of a confident, educated person, that’s the action of a coward that is probably terrified of ever catching herpes and thinks making jokes to other people about it reminds them that they’re still “healthy”.
Who do these jokes benefit? The proud person without herpes reminding the world they’re better than us because of it? It’s disgusting behavior. I don’t know who I actually feel bad for, though. It’s not myself anymore. I don’t feel ashamed, inferior or less worthy when I hear a herpes joke. I feel bad for the pathetic person that has to make a group, any group of people, feel smaller than them by making a joke of a situation that is hard on many people. I wonder how many people making these harmless, careless jokes realize they have friends like me, sitting next to them, struggling in silence while they make fun of a disease I have.