“So, I’m driving the car with a couple of sexually repressed and slightly tipsy women…”
I mean, it’s fun to start the story that way but it’s not exactly fair. Sexually repressed by my standards, yes – but my standards aren’t exactly the baseline unit of measurement.
Neither, however, were theirs.
I’m gonna step this back for a second to the analogy part, and then I’ll pick back up on this:
As a child, I heard friends say “gypped” as a term to mean “stolen from” or “taken advantage of.” “You got gypped!” when someone paid too much for a candy bar. Or, “You gypped me!” when a player steals my move in a board game.
As a child, I never thought how to spell it. I probably would have attempted “jipped.” It wasn’t until much, much later (probably in college) that someone told me that “gyp” was a slur against gypsies* and quite offensive.
I was horrified that I’d been using what amounted to a racial or cultural slur since I was a kid without knowledge. After learning this, I stopped using the term completely.
Now, I said “someone told me…” as in, they educated me on information I didn’t know about. Let’s say that person had been part gypsy and I was offending them. Rather than educating me or telling me, I might have said they “called me out” on saying something they considered offensive.
In that case I would not have known about their heritage or the etymology of “gypped.” I’d have been super embarrassed, probably.
Back to this drive in the car It was a long drive – the GPS had said it would be about an hour when we left the restaurant.
And the conversation in the backseat turned to an acquaintance that the three other women in the car all knew, but I did not.
That’s when the slut shaming started. But it got worse. It was slut shaming and herpes shaming. Apparently, the proof that the woman they were talking about was a dirty whore (not said in an affectionate way) was because she actually had herpes. A little additional background here, the woman who was charging this “dirty whore” who was not there to defend her dirty whorishness is a medical professional.
I thought about speaking up. I thought about announcing to the car what I am quite open and frank about in my daily life. “I have herpes.” I could have just said that. That would have shut her up.
But I didn’t. It was a long drive. They were friends of my friend and it would have made the rest of the ride uncomfortable for everyone instead of just for me.
Now, my friend in the car did go to the mat on the slut shaming part, though she left the herpes part out of it, figuring that part (which she is well aware of) was up to me.
But that’s her. She’s really good at confronting people who are saying things she finds offensive. Also, she’s known these women since high school. I might have done the same with that relationship history.
I think I need to learn to be a little more like my friend, though. Because I had an opportunity to “educate” someone (ironically, a healthcare professional) about the tactfulness of using “herpes” as a derogatory descriptor in a car with four people, when something like one in five Americans is a carrier.
Perhaps, like with the person who educated me on “gypped,” she might have learned that it’s inappropriate to stigmatize a condition as widespread as herpes with such derision by making it a “whore’s” disease. (And to further stigmatize “whores” ’cause, when used affectionately and with consent that is a term I find rather endearing.)
There had, in fact, been a lot of wine involved that day. I let it go, but thankfully, my friend didn’t. Back at the hotel, after I’d gone back to the room while they stayed outside for a bit, she called her out on it on my behalf.
And of course, I imagine the friend was properly mortified.
It brings me no pleasure that she was embarrassed. Just like younger me didn’t know gypped stemmed from a racial slur, she wasn’t hyper-aware (probably because nobody’s ever told her) that talking shit about people with herpes to someone who has herpes can be really, really offensive – and with the prevalence of herpes, if you’re talking shit about it within a group of people, there’s a fair chance you’re offending someone and making them feel badly over something that is completely benign.
And of course, the slut shaming was just….uncomfortable, yes. But I’m not going to turn it around and “virgin shame” the sexually repressed (by my standards, that I’ve established as not an average standard). My body, my choice. Her body, her choice.
I didn’t speak up this time, but thankfully my friend did. I think I’ll take a page from her book and speak up should I ever find myself in this position again.
* Note: After posting this I received a few messages from friends letting me know that “gypsy” is A) actually spelled “gipsy” and B) a derogatory slur against the Romani and widely accepted as such. In the spirit of being further educated, I am grateful for this information and pass it along to my readers.