Last Updated on June 4, 2020 by Nancy Carteron, MD, FACR
Earlier this week a few folx asked if I had seen the recent dialogue happening between @gabbiehanna and @trishapaytas wondering if I had reached out to them, if I was going to write about it, etc. For those who are unfamiliar, Gabbie Hanna and Trisha Paytas are YouTubers with HUGE followings across social media. I decided not to reach out to them directly, as they would likely not see or respond to my messages – they will likely not see or respond to this post either, and that’s ok – but after receiving many similar messages from the folx following me, I realized this was an issue I couldn’t ignore.
Full disclosure, I’ve also experienced personal trauma in this format, so I was reticent to dig it back up again, but it was actually the trauma that reminded me I couldn’t leave it alone. I wasn’t planning to make a statement, but the more I chewed on the stigmatizing behavior and how it was influencing millions of people, the more I realized I couldn’t not say something.
It might surprise you to learn that I don’t fight all fights, despite how often I’m ranting about something or another on social media. In the grand scheme of things, I address very little of the problematic things I see, because there’s actually endless ongoing jokes about people with STIs, ongoing harms and marginalization toward people with STIs, and other wrongs in this space that I have to choose to let go. As only one person (even if I were to enlist the help of my network of activists, HANDS (Herpes Activists Networking to Dismantle Stigma)), I don’t have the bandwidth to address it all.
That said, I still appreciate the messages that I’m sent giving me a heads up and asking if I have seen the latest bullshit, because I think through each of those instances and decide if I should or can address them.
The simple backstory is that @gabbiehanna took to her social media account last week asking her followers a question: If they heard about someone possibly having an “incurable STI,” and that person was dating a close friend of theirs, would they tell their friend? Gabbie then followed up with some justification.
Her justification for this social media poll was that she was “looking out for a friend,” she would personally want to know if someone she was having sex with was suspected of having an STI, and she wasn’t using the name of the person who was suspected of having an STI, so she wasn’t spreading gossip or hurting anyone. Seems innocuous and altruistic enough, right?!? Wrong. And here’s why:
Everyone Knew Who and What She Was Talking About
The person she was referring to was none other than popular YouTuber and direct competitor @trishapaytas – which later came out through publicly shared conversations and screenshots of their dialogue (many knew she was referring to Trisha right away). Through those shared conversations, it was also made clear that the “suspected” incurable STI was herpes. But more importantly, what was evident through those screenshots was that they had had an on-going feud/competition/disagreement, so there was far more to Gabbie’s “concern for her guy friend” than she originally let on.
What disturbed me most about this back and forth was that the majority of Gabbie’s followers agreed with her! When she asked if she should tell her guy friend that she heard from someone else that Trisha might have herpes, most people said yes! (WTAF) When she asked her followers if they thought this would be considered gossip or hearsay, most said no! (double WTAF)
That’s when I got triggered, because this had happened to me, too, on a smaller scale, but no less traumatic.
Before I touch on that, though, let’s first break down why sharing someone’s known or suspected STI status is a complete and utter flaming hot dumpster fire of bullshit.
Sharing Someone’s Status is Psychological Abuse. Period.
To put it more professionally, sharing someone’s status without their express permission is psychological abuse. What Gabbie attempted to do to Trisha was bullying and social media warfare in the lowest form possible. Trisha, if you are reading this, I am so sorry this happened to you. For any others who’ve experienced similar atrocities, I am also so very sorry.
While I will not co-opt the LGBTQ+ movement’s activism, sharing someone’s status is the equivalent of outing someone’s sexual orientation, and that is not ok EVER. Someone’s sexual orientation, identity, status, gender, and/or genital configuration is NEVER anyone’s business (other than the folx who are involved in a sexual relationship with them, but only if/as they become relevant).
When someone takes that disclosure into their own hands, they are not “doing their friend a favor,” they are crossing boundaries, acting unethically, and behaving like a salty, jealous adolescent.
The responsibility of disclosure, sexual health, safer sex, and all sexual needs/wants/limits is that of the people involved in the sexual activity(ies) only, and it is none of your damned business ever.
Someone’s STI Status is No Different than ANY Other Personal Information
In so far as STIs are concerned, specifically, there’s literally no way you can know for sure if someone has an infection.
Trisha Paytas probably doesn’t even have herpes! Who knows, actually?!? It doesn’t matter AT ALL. I don’t care, and neither should you. It’s up to her and her partner(s) to have the disclosure, safer sex, and sexual health conversations that are best for them. If you are not engaging in sexual activities with her, then you have absolutely NO right to her body, knowledge about her body, her health information, or her disclosure/safer sex/sexual health conversations.
Even if/when you actually know someone has infection (for instance, I have herpes, and someone could choose to run around telling people that I have herpes, as has been done to me in the past), telling people is STILL unethical, bullying, manipulative, and psychological abuse.
What’s silly about all of this is telling people that someone has an STI is not going to stop them from having sex with that person. It has literally NEVER stopped anyone from having sex with me, and the folx who were “warned” about me reported that it just made the other person look catty, small, and shallow. Good job making yourself look stupid, Liza, Liza’s sister Nicolette, and LaShawna (names have all been changed).
To pause for a brief moment, I’d like to point out that I’ve used the word bullying intentionally, because in my experience, sharing someone’s status without their permission is usually little more than bullying being dramatically disguised as someone who is trying to “look out for” someone else.
The Reason Folx Think This Is Ok Is because of Stigma
There’s a bigger, more pervasive issue here, and that’s that many folx view this as acceptable behavior when it centers around STIs.
If you re-frame the question, however, then the consensus changes, “Is it ok to tell a friend that I think their new partner might be bisexual, might have a foot fetish, might have a small penis, might have a mental health issue, might have experienced past sexual trauma, might have a parent in prison, might have a negative net worth, might be an anti-vaxxer, might have a hard time holding a job, might have the flu, might be a racist, might hate dogs, might have a wart on their finger, might have a giant collection of Beanie Babies…[insert whatever else is none of your damned business]?”
While those are all things that may or may not impact a relationship, if you asked folx if it would be ok to tell a friend that you suspect those things about someone else, you would find that the majority quickly sways toward, “Nope, that’s not ok.” But in the case of STIs, the stigma is so intense, so extensive, and so pervasive that people believe sharing someone’s suspected STI status is “looking out for the greater good.”
So, let me be the first to tell you that sharing someone’s status without their express permission is WILDLY UNETHICAL, because it contributes to fear, shame, and stigma. And that fear, shame, and stigma is limiting testing, disclosure, and healthy conversations about sexual health.
Stigma has framed having an STI as the absolute worst thing that can happen to someone. Stigma has made it so that we view people who have an STI as the monsters of society that we have to look out for at all costs. But none of that makes actual sense, because the vast majority of all sexually active people contract an STI at some point in their lives. Sure, I get it, no one wants an infection, but an STI infection is just like any other infection: not ideal, but also usually not a big deal.
Another interesting facet of this nonsense was that herpes was used here, as opposed to HIV or chlamydia, for example, and that’s also an intentional move on Gabbie’s part that speaks to her motivation. Other infections are either seen as far more serious, or they’re curable. Herpes happens to be the perfect tool for shaming someone, because it is the most socially stigmatized infection. Despite being relatively benign, herpes carries almost insurmountable social ramifications, and that – the social ramifications – was the point here.
Although Unethical, Bullying, and Abusive, what Gabbie Did Has Far Worse Implications
In attempting to share Trisha Paytas’ suspected incurable STI (herpes), Gabbie Hanna gave her followers another reason to NOT get tested and to NOT disclose a known status to anyone ever.
Now Gabbie’s followers will deduct that what they don’t know about their sexual health will hurt them less, and that’s the exact opposite of what sexual health educators such as myself are trying to promote.
Gabbie’s actions told her followers that if they get tested, have a positive status, and heaven forbid, ever tell someone else about their results, there will be a giant army of Gabbie Hannas and Co who will share their private and personal health information publicly (all in the name of “helping out a friend,” nonetheless).
What Gabbie Hanna did to Trisha Paytas this past week was sex-negative, wildly unethical, psychological abuse disguised as altruism, and it’s not ok. Keep in mind, just because a majority of Gabbie’s uninformed followers answered her poll with, “yaaaasss, queen, you’re right!” does not make her actions ok. History has proven that someone can rally a giant following to persecute, oppress, and marginalize people, but that does not make those actions humane. And this was just another example of how our lack of awareness, education, and acceptance around sexual health is continuing to harm us all.