This is a story that I never really planned on telling.
April of my second year of graduate school, I slept with a friend. We were safe. We used protection. It was consensual.
A week later, I felt some discomfort, so I went to the student health center on campus. When I met the CNP, she seemed simultaneously kind and patronizing. She asked how many sexual partners I’d had and my answer, which was neither high nor should it have mattered as long as it was safe and consensual, made her eyes flicker with what felt like judgment.
We proceeded with an exam, and after two minutes, she lifted her eyes to meet mine and said, “you have something, girl.” My body began to shake. I asked what she thought it was. She said herpes.
I broke into tears.
She gave me the herpes talk. She told me that this virus wouldn’t ruin my life. She told me that medications would help with flair ups. She told me that everything would be okay. She was kind. But I could still see the judgment in her eyes.
I told the least amount of people possible. I spoke about it to just those best friends who could see that something was genuinely wrong with me. Something had made me quieter than usual.
I couldn’t bring myself to tell the friend, though, which was wrong of me. It was immature. But, ultimately and thankfully, it didn’t matter.
I spent 8 months thinking I would never be able to have a normal sex life that didn’t include “the talk.” The guy I’d dated right before I left Chicago had handled “the talk” well though and it didn’t stop us from dating, which gave me some solace.
But after that relationship ended in Portland, and after months of trying to ignore something that made me hate myself, I went to Planned Parenthood for a check up, and with the intention of getting more antivirals for what had felt like a minor ongoing irritation.
I nervously sat in the waiting room until my name was called by a woman in standard nurse scrubs. She led me to an examination room, where I changed into the somehow small and loose shift they give you, and waited for my examining nurse. When she arrived, she shook my hand firmly and jovially with a bright smile.
“What can I do for you today, Georgia?”
I explained my previous diagnosis, which had been a visual diagnosis without blood work. The CPN in Chicago had explained that it took 6-8 months before the virus could be confirmed that way. The nurse in front of me listened to all of this intently, nodding along as I spoke.
She had me lay down, and after only a few seconds of examination, she lifted her head to meet my eyes, and said, “Well Georgia, I don’t see anything that would make think you have herpes. You do seem to have a pretty bad case of bacterial vaginosis, which you have probably had for 8 months.”
I broke into tears.
“We can do blood work to make sure, but everything looks really great besides the infection.” And then with the kindest, most compassionate eyes I had ever encountered in my life, she said, “you have a beautiful vagina.”
I burst into laughter as tears continued to roll down my cheeks.
With Planned Parenthood, no news is good news as far as getting results back. After 4 weeks, I was officially in the clear, and felt healthy for the first time thanks to antibiotics.
While I am relieved that I don’t have herpes obviously; that’s not the point. I am lucky. I get that. For a lot of people, there is no misdiagnosis. But it’s not that. It’s this:
On an examining room table,
wearing only a cotton shift,
my legs spread open in stirrups
in the most exposing of positions:
I felt safe.
And more than that:
fully, wholeheartedly welcome.