A Theoretical Understanding of Genital Herpes Discourse

This is a segment of my most recent research paper, “Discursive Limits: How Medical Discourse Produces Genital Herpes Stigma” at UC Berkeley.

In Archaeology of Knowledge, theorist Michel Foucault argues that, “in every society the production of discourse is at once controlled, selected, organized and redistributed” (216). Discourse, or authoritative knowledge that is produced through speech acts and writing, is never neutral. For Foucault, discourse is quite the opposite; knowledge production is inherently intertwined with power and desire, having profound affect on subjectivity, perceptions of behavior, and the construction of institutions (216). So what then are the implications of authoritative writing about and around disease?  Science, and medicine in particular, speaks with finality; medicinal knowledge is perceived as unquestioned truth and concrete knowledge. However, as Foucault explains, the discipline of “medicine does not consist of all that may be truly said about disease” (223). For all that is written about disease, there is equally that which is not uttered. These omissions, or ‘prohibitions’ as Foucault calls them, illuminate the fundamental fact that, “we are not free to say just anything, that we cannot simply speak of anything when we like or where we like, not just anyone, finally, may speak of just anything” (216). Thus the experience of genital herpes is only ever authoritatively materialized through the discursive processes of science and medicine, producing a particularly stringent and clinical image of who and how the virus infects, while largely ignoring other obverse complexities of equal validity.

We can see this most clearly when we examine the CDC’s recommendations for avoiding contraction/transmission of genital herpes. They offer only this: “The surest way to avoid transmission of …genital herpes is to abstain from sexual contact, or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and is known to be uninfected” (CDC). As an authoritative epistemological site, literally shaping the ‘reality’ of what it means to live with this condition, in a single sentence the CDC reduces a life with herpes to a sexless journey or one confined to a single body willing to ‘take the risk’. Although their recommendations are certainly viable and can work for a variety of individuals, just like suggesting one could not walk in order to avoid scraping their knee, their suggestions are difficult to live up to for the sexually active who will typically have multiple sexual partners prior to entering into a long-term relationship. By framing the ‘best’ way to avoid contraction/transmission as abstinence, rather than providing a multitude of options that acknowledge variations of sexuality, kinship formations, and sexual orientations, the CDC exemplifies Foucault’s notion of ‘prohibitions’. As he argues, “in appearance, speech may be of little account, but the prohibitions surrounding it soon reveal its links with desire and power” (216). Potential alternative lifestyle options that the CDC chooses to discursively withhold from the readership of their genital herpes webpage lead the analytical eye to observe two things: 1) according to the CDC, the herpes population should not be sexually active, or only in restrictive ways and 2) that transmission should be avoided at all costs. In gesturing towards these two finalities, the CDC condones people with genital herpes who are having sex with multiple partners, who aren’t practicing monogamy, and, with an emphasis on preventing transmission, villainize the oftentimes-unavoidable act of transmitting.

These two observations are haunted by the 19th century shift in discursive focus on sex and sexuality. In The History of Sexuality: Volume I, Foucault explains that:

Claiming to speak the truth, [science] stirred up people’s fears: to the least oscillations of sexuality, it ascribed an imaginary dynasty of evils destined to be passed on for generations; it declared the furtive customs of the timid, and the most solitary of petty manias, dangerous for the whole society; strange pleasures, it warned, would eventually result in nothing short of death (54).

In ending their information page with the foreclosure of ones ability to be sexually spontaneous, while the preceding sections simultaneously focus on “complications,” “the link between genital herpes and HIV,” and how herpes can “affect a pregnant woman and her baby,” the CDC produces an image of the condition as something certainly to be afraid of and one that will cause a kind of ‘social’ death (Gruter & Masters 150).  

Like a rhetorical map, the CDC’s genital herpes webpage linguistically connotes to readers precisely why and how they can socially ostracize those living with the condition, which becomes the same source for the HSV positive community to ostracize themselves. Literary theorist, Roland Barthes, argues that connotations are “naturalized as hegemonic, that is, accepted as ‘normal’ and ‘natural’” and thus produce what he considers myths (Barker & Galasinski 5). Through this theoretical lens, we can critique, not necessarily the epidemiological information the CDC provides about genital herpes, but the way in which they utilize language to frame and produce an ostracizing myth, naturalizing herpes as a condition that is always contagious, always linked to HIV, and always complicates pregnancies, which predominantly functions in proliferating stigma.

In thinking of stigma and the notion of social death, we can call upon sociological theorist Irving Goffman when he says, “by definition of course, we believe the person with a stigma is not quite human” (Stigma 5). Within the first paragraph of the CDC’s genital herpes information page, in a short section titled, “How Common is Genital Herpes,” the CDC uses the term ‘infected’ synonymously with ‘person/persons’. In a section only consisting of 117 words, they use ‘infection/infected’ 7 times, all as the subject of the sentence or as adjectives to describe the subject, which has the linguistic affect of shifting people with genital herpes from what could be considered a ‘healthy’ person to certainly someone who isn’t ‘quite human,’ but is most decidedly and perhaps most importantly ‘infected’ (CDC). Goffman posits in his seminal book, Stigma: Notes on the Management of the Spoiled Identity that:

[Society] constructs a stigma-theory, an ideology to explain [another’s] inferiority and account for the danger he represents, sometimes rationalizing an animosity based on other differences, such as those of social class. We use specific terms such as cripple, bastard, moron in our daily discourse as a source of metaphor and imagery, typically without giving thought to the original meaning (5).

 In focusing on ‘infection’ and referring to the bodies that carry the virus as ‘infected’, the CDC establishes a discourse that connotes people with genital herpes as inferior, dangerous through ‘contagiousness’, and provides a multitude of terms for society to use in their efforts to stigmatize genital herpes while naturalizing the conditions perils through their authoritative lens.

Transgender folks and the Prison Industrial Complex

SIGNAL BOOST

My friend and fellow UCB Gender and Women’s Studies Senior needs your help! Her honors thesis is really important and she is running into great difficulty with regards to access! This is where I am hoping the powers of tumblr can come in. Here is a short blurb about her work, with a longer explanation after the break:

Mary, a Gender & Women’s Studies undergraduate student at UC Berkeley, is working on her honors thesis about transgender people’s experiences when released from jail or prison, and she is looking for people who:
1) have self-identified or currently do self-identify as transgender
2) have spent at least 6 months in jail or prison
 
The conversations will be completely confidential and she will pay interviewees $20 for participating. If you are willing to engage with her in conversation about your experiences, or if you have any questions, please contact her at marysusman@berkeley.edu.
 
I believe that shared stories are powerful ways to draw attention to issues and create change. I’m a queer womyn who is involved with abolition movements/groups in the Bay Area. There’s no academic work on trans* folks transitioning from prison/jail to community (reentry), and that needs to change. I also am very critical of power and knowledge, whose voices “count” and how problematic academia is in terms of whose voices and whose truths count as valid and worthy of attention. I want to be reflexive in this work and gather feedback from my interviewees as I write it.
Please share this widely.
 
Thank you!

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thatfeministqueer

toushindaisblogofwonders:

laughingsquid:

New Music Video by Boggie Shows Digital Beauty Retouching in Real Time

I cannot stop watching this. The patient, controlled defiance (I am worth more than what you’re doing to me) on her face during the instrumental bit around 2:20 is heartrending.

Wow. This is very, very interesting. I feel the weight of this illusion daily - trained to see what isn’t even real to be what is “truly” beautiful and should, therefore, be “desired”. 

earthwindandherpes

Going Viral: Musings on an Alternative Cosmology of the Dis-eased Body

earthwindandherpes:

thesexuneducated:

The following is a recent paper I wrote. It is far from perfect and entirely incomplete. The term ‘musings’ in the title suggests this imperfection, but I hope this could be beneficial to some who are interested. 

When I was a child I wanted to be a witch. I would collect books on witchcraft from the school library and gather the neighborhood kids in my garage to concoct mysterious elixirs from my mothers cleaning supplies. When I wasn’t busy researching pagan rituals, I dreamt of being a teacher, a thespian, the sixth member of the Spice Girls, or a runaway. As time passed, I began to imagine my future self in more complicated ways. I envisioned the houses I would own and with whom I might live with. I imagined distant vacations and sloppy queer romances. Sometimes I fantasized about life’s tragedies; while driving I might picture myself smashing into the car next to me or, in rare moments of terrifyingly profound silence, I may forcibly allow the ever-impending and paradoxically unimaginable death of my parents to wash over me. Yet, never did I ever imagine I would contract genital herpes.

Getting ‘sick’ or becoming ‘infected’ was never a plot point in the stories I told myself about what it meant to be a good person with a fulfilling life; the ever evolving hologram of my projected future self was, despite all knowledge of unavoidable loss and pain, able-bodied. In the films I saw and in the books I read, the people who ‘contracted’ a ‘disease’ or experienced ‘chronic illness’ were people in complex situations or in geographical locations too far away for my imagination to reach towards. A virus like herpes, one that doesn’t kill or devour a body but takes up residence in your dorsal root ganglia and inexplicably enacts its will upon your genitals as if it were some phantom of previous sex and shameful desires, were never spoken of, written down, or gestured towards as possible. Even in sex education classes, of which one poor soul of a high school teacher imparted such limited knowledge upon a classroom of ears that were never listening, genital herpes was like an extraterrestrial; on another planet and in another realm the body becomes one with a virus, but never ever here and never ever now.

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Yet most of us who were living with the condition seemed to suffer similarly, submerged in that same horrific naturalized hum, the siren song of immorality, of filth, and of impurity. Painfully buzzing within both the individual and collective herpes consciousness, I began to wonder who wrote this song and who kept letting it be sung. What instruments were creating these violent sounds, what orchestra and which conductor was forcing us all to re-imagine our subjectivity in these limiting, withering, and restrictive ways?

I suppose I have humbly attempted to articulate a new cosmology for the dis-eased body with alternative approaches to writing about my condition. I refuse to consider myself a person who is ‘infected’, ‘contagious’, and a ‘risk’ to intimately be with. I refuse to identify with tropes of ‘impurity’ and ‘immorality’. I refuse to consider the physicality of this condition an ‘outbreak’ and I absolutely categorically refuse to imagine myself as someone who doesn’t deserve love and sexual pleasure. In making these refusals, I do not deny that I have a virus that can be passed on to other bodies. In recognizing this fact and understanding the importance of consent, each person I am intimate with is always told about my condition. However, even in expressing the fact that I have genital herpes, I never allow myself to speak about the condition in a way that invokes an image of weakness or of disgust. In imagining myself as a hybrid, as a body cohabitated with billions of other microbes, I feel less inclined to listen to the hum of herpes stigma and even less inclined to sing along. Sex becomes a radical act of self-care and human/non-human intimacy. Speech becomes a reworking of words so often used against me to create sentences for me.

Holy crap. Just…holy crap.

This whole paper is poignant, beautifully written, and it resonated so much that it made me cry. I’m going to print that out and tape it up somewhere. Maybe keep it in my wallet. Thank you for sharing this, Laura, you’re an amazing writer.

thankyouthankyouthankyou you have no idea how much you and your blog mean to me (like all the hsv+ blogs) and how much this community has influenced my “work”. we are all apart of something really fucking radical. xx

Going Viral: Musings on an Alternative Cosmology of the Dis-eased Body

The following is a recent paper I wrote. It is far from perfect and entirely incomplete. The term ‘musings’ in the title suggests this imperfection, but I hope this could be beneficial to some who are interested. 

When I was a child I wanted to be a witch. I would collect books on witchcraft from the school library and gather the neighborhood kids in my garage to concoct mysterious elixirs from my mothers cleaning supplies. When I wasn’t busy researching pagan rituals, I dreamt of being a teacher, a thespian, the sixth member of the Spice Girls, or a runaway. As time passed, I began to imagine my future self in more complicated ways. I envisioned the houses I would own and with whom I might live with. I imagined distant vacations and sloppy queer romances. Sometimes I fantasized about life’s tragedies; while driving I might picture myself smashing into the car next to me or, in rare moments of terrifyingly profound silence, I may forcibly allow the ever-impending and paradoxically unimaginable death of my parents to wash over me. Yet, never did I ever imagine I would contract genital herpes.

Getting ‘sick’ or becoming ‘infected’ was never a plot point in the stories I told myself about what it meant to be a good person with a fulfilling life; the ever evolving hologram of my projected future self was, despite all knowledge of unavoidable loss and pain, able-bodied. In the films I saw and in the books I read, the people who ‘contracted’ a ‘disease’ or experienced ‘chronic illness’ were people in complex situations or in geographical locations too far away for my imagination to reach towards. A virus like herpes, one that doesn’t kill or devour a body but takes up residence in your dorsal root ganglia and inexplicably enacts its will upon your genitals as if it were some phantom of previous sex and shameful desires, were never spoken of, written down, or gestured towards as possible. Even in sex education classes, of which one poor soul of a high school teacher imparted such limited knowledge upon a classroom of ears that were never listening, genital herpes was like an extraterrestrial; on another planet and in another realm the body becomes one with a virus, but never ever here and never ever now.

Read More

SIGNAL BOOST

To all my amazing followers and beyond, I need your help! Please take about 5-10 minutes to fill out this 6 question survey! This is for my senior thesis at UC Berkeley. For those who don’t know, I study Gender and Women’s Studies and I largely focus on medical discourses and the regulation of bodies. This survey is REALLY important and will help me finish my final paper! Please reblog and take the survey! BE HONEST and don’t hold back. The more honest you are, the more useful it will be. 

THANK YOU IN ADVANCE!!!! 

I would like to see texts that are tired. Texts that pause between every other sentence to lay in the fetal position for a while. These texts don’t need to be productive. They don’t need to conclude. By involving a repeating and confusing constant translation of sick bodes, queer bodies, and by remaking these sick bodies, queer bodies, the text makes its own politics, its own refusals. It disables representation. It fucks with time. It rambles off, vaguely impassioned with hints of conclusion, semi-sensible, semi-argumentative, aching and tired and confused and not about to finish and when you wait for the final thought it can’t really find it for you, and it goes back to bed.

A brilliant mind, my fellow class mate, Ali Yates, writes an incredible piece about queerness, chronic illness, and the complexities of writing. 

kaleighpower asked:

First I'd like to say that you have gotten me through my HSV 1 (genitally) diagnosis. But this question doesn't necessarily have to do with that but more about myself as a person. I've always been, but even more so after the diagnosis I'm a very sexually open person, I love talking about sex and I'm so open about myself and how I feel or what i want. This tends to scare guys away. Am i supposed to tone myself down?! Why is it me being a girl and loving sex is so taboo, makes guys run?

Hi there! From one incredibly sexual self person to another, there is NOTHING WRONG WITH YOU. I have had many people be afraid of my sexuality, judge me for it, etc. But I am who I am and I can’t change myself, particularly in that sense. Don’t allow the fears of other people to coerce you into “toning yourself down” - you are who you are and your sexuality operates the way that it does, and that is that. Historically, women* have been socialized to believe that we should be pure, chaste, nurturing, “well-behaved”, passive, domestic, private etc. This trope of “successful womanhood” can be seen almost everywhere within culture, particularly in Western cultures or nations who have a history of colonization, and everyone is socialized in accordance with these gender constructions. Of course, these notions of femininity are not necessarily true, fixed, or universal. Your sexuality, as does mine, brings these apparently “naturalized” notions into question which makes people uncomfortable. For men*, masculinity is constructed directly in opposition to these hegemonic notions of femininity (this is the gender binary at work). For example, if women* are passive then men* get to be active. If women* are private then men* are public etc. Men* are socialized into believing that “successful masculinity” is as the sexual aggressor, seeker, initiator, teacher etc. Women* who prevent this from happening complicate and disrupt the norms (which gets even more complicated when we look at lesbianism/queer practices etc). The advice I would give you is that you are fine just as you are and trust that sexual partners who are intimidated by your sexuality are likely partners you wouldn’t want to have anyway. I assure you that there are plenty of fantastic people out there who will be entirely welcoming and excited by your fascination and enjoyment of sex :) 

TW: sexual assault, rape, self harm

This article is absolutely brilliant. Her bravery and candid analysis are spot on. What do you think? 

Within feminist academic spaces there is a great deal of time spent discussing categories of subjectivity and the basis with which particular aspects of identity become the axes or the point of entry for oppression. But we NEVER discuss health and how particular conditions, like viral STD’s, are moments of “marking”. I don’t feel like having HSV and creating a feminist discourse around the condition falls under disabilities studies - I feel, in fact, that it would be a mis-appropriation of what disabilities studies is attempting to accomplish. However, I feel like there is a space to discuss and give voice to the complex ways in which persons become further marked, and often further marginalized, by having a viral STD. Thoughts on this?

Anonymous asked:

Today I really felt compelled to be open about me being HSV-2 (genitally) positive. I really think it would help empower myself and even perhaps serve as an inspiration to others who also have the virus. I asked my boyfriend & close friend what they thought about it & they both were very serious when saying they think its a bad idea because it would embarrass them. They said it is important that I take their feelings in consideration. Now I feel even more ashamed. What should I do? :(

Find a new boyfriend and a new close friend! This is YOUR circumstance, your HSV is YOURS and you have your own relationship with the virus, you have your own story with the virus, you have your own feelings about the virus. If you’re finally in that place of empowerment and positivity and the people who love you don’t want you to explore and express that positive change because they’re concerned with how THEY feel, then I say completely ignore them! Why do they have such deeply personal feelings about your herpes??? Especially your close friend!?!? If they are afraid of you being open about something that is completely and entirely yours because it will somehow “embarrass” them, then that means they haven’t wholly accepted you as you are. If anyone ever told me to not start this blog, to not put my videos up on YouTube, to not write and research the condition while at University then I would very kindly tell them to go fuck themselves. By being open and empowered by your life experiences, it shouldn’t embarrass them but inspire them too. It means that there is much that they still don’t understand about the condition and that they are still engaging in deeply mis-held beliefs about the STI. 

Listen, I mean it when I tell you that you are amazing, that you are perfect as you are. I mean it when I say you shine. Don’t ever let anyone force you to dim your light, to make you feel ashamed or wrong, especially when you want to be courageous and empowered! People who love you, people who wholly accept you for who you are would never hold you back from being excellent. For those of us living with HSV, the moment we reach that positive perspective of our condition, the moment we begin to feel empowered is an exciting, yet delicate moment. Surround yourself with people who will celebrate with you and encourage you in those moments not flood you with selfish feelings that have no place in your process. You’re fucking awesome and I think you should absolutely continue exploring those good feelings and how you want them to creatively manifest. You have a supporter right here and if you need help with anything, let me know.