As my blog has increasingly become more public, I feel a need to remind myself and others of my roots. When I first enrolled at Salisbury University, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, my original career aspiration was to become a teacher. Like many freshmen, I decided that my intended major was not for me. I started reading through course lists of other majors that I thought I may be interested in. History was one of the first topics I looked to, followed by psychology. While scanning the lists, I found several feminist-focused courses: Women in History, Psychology of Women, Psychology of Sexuality, and more. At this point in time, I did not even consider myself a feminist, but the topics piqued my interest, so I looked further. Somehow searching through the nooks and crannies of the Salisbury website, I found Gender and Sexuality Studies. The day that I changed my major was the day I started working toward my purpose.
I often reflect back upon my undergraduate work and compare it to where I am currently. I recently found my original statement of purpose for my capstone research project, and I think it provides a lot of insight as to where I have grown as a person, as well as my passions and what I want to accomplish throughout my career. Below is my original proposal for my project entitled, "The Mechanics of Female Orgasm and Impact on Body Image in Women:"
“The topic that I would like to research for my capstone project is a deeper investigation of the female anatomy and orgasm. I feel that these topics are relevant to gender studies because there appears to be somewhat of a discrepancy between what women know about their bodies and their comfort levels. Women are flooded with images and articles from the media that tell them how to please a man and change their bodies to please him. I feel that my research could benefit not only straight women, but also females belonging to all gender categories. Women should be able to please themselves for themselves. Their ability to achieve orgasm is dependent upon their comfort level with their bodies and genitalia. I do not feel that sexuality education is giving young girls the knowledge that they need to be comfortable with their own bodies whether they become sexually active or not. I believe that in order to change the way the world sees women, women need to change the way they see themselves.
As someone who aspires to be a sex/relationship therapist, these are topics that I desire to change in my lifetime. I feel that there has not been enough work to breakthrough attitudes of the past, which is partially why so many young girls are still struggling today.
For my research project, I propose writing a 12-15-page research paper about female body image and knowledge in relation to female orgasm. In addition to the research paper, I propose developing a creative method to better assist parents of daughters be comfortable in their own skin—including their sexuality and genitals. This research could breakthrough social norms for all females, parents, their daughters, and even their sons.”
The proposed 12-15 page paper ended up being 22 pages long. If I had more time to devote to its research, it would, no doubt, be even longer. I look back to this project and wish I had been more inclusive of race and gender. I feel as though I was trying too hard to fit LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) individuals into a heteronormative* view, without really considering other applicable situations and circumstances. In addition, I was attempting to interpret non-white experiences into my own. The fact that I am able to return to this work and recognize my weaknesses shows how I have grown, and I am proud of that. Being critical of one’s work is necessary, and the openness to receive such critiques is important, as well.
I have never faced as much public criticism as I have in the last few weeks. Criticism, I expected from day one of going public with my HSV2+ status, but the messages of gratitude, I never once thought I would receive in the capacity that I have. There is something to learn from each person who crosses our path, whether they are a supporter or a hater. Since an article I wrote was published on Thought Catalog, I have woken up to numerous messages in my Facebook inbox from women across the country. Women who are open to sharing their stories with me, women who thank me for giving them hope, women who pass along my blog to their friends with STI's, women who encourage me to keep going, to keep fighting. Despite these messages of positivity and encouragement, I have also been painted as a bitter and crazy spirit, an angry feminist, the list goes on. I expected it to happen at some point, and the unfortunate part is that these labels are not new to me, but alas, that is another post in itself. Such messages of judgement do not hinder my work, but propel me forward. Although I am not condoning cyber-bullying in any way, I sincerely thank you for proving to the world that this work and education is needed. I am indeed on the right path, my path.
I do want to make it clear that I am not a lone resource in this journey. There are many other herpes+ individuals sharing their stories, too. Ella Dawson created a directory of herpes+ writers, and she is a great resource, as well. I hope that as time passes, this list continues to grow. By reading other herpes+/STI+ individuals' viewpoints and experiences, a more complete picture can be painted. All of our experiences are different, but they are all valid. I look back to my career aspirations as set out by my capstone project, and two years later, I am still working towards them. I am still growing, I hope to always be growing. I believe that I was destined to be a teacher, just not the type one finds in a classroom. Being an educator does not mean that I have all of the answers. As I have stated previously, I will make mistakes on my journey, I have already made some. I anticipate that I will look back at this work with a new set of critiques, but I guarantee that I will never look back to this work with regret.
*Heterosexuality promoted as the norm