The Dreadful Herpes Punchline
Ouch. It stings the first time. When you realize the hell you've been dealing with is the butt of the joke in the Vegas-themed bachelor movie, during the late night monologue, or at the in-laws' Christmas party (true story, more later). It's not personal, so don't take it that way. People, the general public, those not familiar with how common and widespread STDs are, those lacking experience circumventing exposure to an STD from their beloved partner--they don't know any better, so hold back on the death stares and the tears. They just need to be educated. Maybe the lesson feels appropriate post-laughter among people you trust, but maybe it's not the right time. You may opt to speak to your date, cousin, best friend, or other trusted person later on, once your emotions have subsided. It absolutely should not be ignored or dismissed. The only way we can break through the awfulness of a herpes punchline is to call people out for their ignorance. What do we say to these people? Arm yourself with the facts. Maybe the appropriate comeback is "hey, did you know one in six Americans aged 18 to 49 has herpes? That's at least one of us in this room. Isn't that crazy?" You may choose to disclose in the moment, "I have herpes," as simple as that. Or, "you know, it's not really funny to make fun of people with STDs, especially because most people don't choose to have them. I'd know, I have herpes." Or, "I dated a guy with herpes once, he was the sweetest guy I ever met." I'm making it sound really easy, and it's not. I've been in the situation with people who did not know I have herpes. I was playing Cards Against Humanity at my boyfriend's family Christmas party, and if you've ever played this game, you know it's highly inappropriate, crude and offensive, at its best. I don't remember what the black theme card was, but the white card played was, "mouth herpes," which might as well just said "herpes." And literally everyone at the table except myself and my boyfriend burst into a roar of laughter with a splash of "Eww!" I did a half-laugh, the kind you make when something isn't funny but you feel so awkward and disgusted. It's almost instinctive, like you're playing along. I'd compare it to a joke riddled with sexual innuendo made by your creepy uncle. You just laugh to make it go away. And it did. Tears welled up in my eyes, but I kept it together. And my boyfriend didn't laugh, he reacted about the same as I did. Sometimes when the party is three sheets to the wind, happy and drunk on frozen amaretto sours, it's best to just let it go. But that doesn't mean that the conversation shouldn't happen later. And it might with his family, but he may want to keep it to ourselves, which I'm okay with. Unless, of course, they stumble upon this blog, and put two and two together. Well, then, the cat's out of the bag. And you know what, I'm just fine with that. You and I are not the herpes punchline--the herpes punchline is a cop out for real humor. It's isolating, mean, and ignorant, and we're all better than that. So, when you hear it, decide whether you'll allow it to continue in the circle you run with. It's up to us--not them.