How I Helped Kill the Personal Essay

2 years ago, I achieved minor internet fame for publishing a personal essay on XoJane. You can Google my name if you want to read it, but just be warned that it’s full of of intimate details about me that just might scar you for life and if you’re a cat lady, you’ll never look at your bedsheets the same way again.

internet fame
Thanks for the internet fame, Donut!

If I am related to you by blood or marriage, please do not Google my name and stop reading now

After my personal essay was published, it got way bigger than I ever expected. I should’ve known that it’d spread like wildfire since it had everything the internet loves: cats, a vagina, body horror, and the opportunity for the kind of voyeurism that leaves you feeling all high and mighty because you’d never let anything like that happen to you.

It’s cool, I get it. I ain’t mad. But god damn it’s stressful to wake up one morning not realizing that your piece has been published until you get a phone call from a friend saying “Hey, um, I think they’re talking about your sex life on DC101…”

Cue full-blown panic attack.

Now that I’ve had a few months to process the insanity that comes with sudden internet fame, I finally have the mental energy to respond to some of the most common questions I get about my piece. Seriously, this thing WILL NOT DIE and writers and TV producers still contact me on a pretty regular basis asking for comments. I gave 2 interviews the week that the story ran and I vowed never to do it again: There’s nothing scarier than giving up your autonomy and letting a stranger control the way your story gets told.

So here are my answers to a few of the most common questions I’ve gotten.

C’mon, that didn’t really happen, did it?

While I expected some negative backlash for my story, it never once crossed my mind that anyone would think I made it up. I mean, I get that people lie on the internet all the time, but if I was gonna fabricate a situation just for the sake of internet fame, don’t you think I would’ve chosen a more flattering story?

Nope, this is one of those “so crazy that I never even would’ve thought of it” stories.

I read some of the comments on your article and doctors said that it definitely wasn’t cat hair, so you  must be lying!

Ladies: Doctors don’t know everything, and they’re notoriously dismissive of our experiences. I assure you that I know enough about retained tampons to know that this was not one of them. I’ve also gotten emails from at least half a dozen women who had the exact same experience (including one badass lady who CUT A HAIRBALL OUT OF HER OWN VAGINA!!!).

So yes it did really happen and fuck any doctor who believes that just because they’ve never seen a certain situation arise it must be impossible.

If you were trying to become a famous writer, why did you make your public debut with such a personal story?

After my piece was published, it took me a few days to realize that I didn’t have to read every single article that was written in response to it. The most personally upsetting piece I read came from Slate on the topic of what they called the First Person Industrial Complex. It was about the phenomenon of publishing platforms that make money off of articles written by authors who are looking for their big break and who choose to write about the most personal and intimate details of their lives. While the original articles might make a big splash, the authors often find it hard to then be taken seriously as actual writers afterward unless they continue to mine their personal lives for sensational TMI stories.

I was used as an example of someone who has forever doomed her writing career because I squandered it all on a story about a vagina hairball.

“So many of these new iterations, by contrast, feel like one-offs—solo acts of sensational disclosure that bubble up and just as quickly vaporize. Rather than feats of self-branding, they seem to be—like, say, the gruesome recent viral sensation “My Gynecologist Found a Ball of Cat Hair in My Vagina”— professional dead ends, journalistically speaking.”

I will never find another writing gig, according to the author, because legitimate platforms won’t take me seriously now. Silly girl made a silly decision that will impact her career opportunities forever and ever, amen.

But, see, here’s the thing:

I don’t want to be a journalist.

In fact, I don’t want to be any kind of famous writer.

My decision to publish the article had nothing to do with my career.

I just thought it was a funny story.

And I thought that if it happened to me, it could possibly happen to others so it was my duty to the sisterhood to spread the word.

Plus I want to live in a world where women feel less shame about their bodies and since I wasn’t embarrassed by the whole thing, I figured I could lead by example by just talking honestly about how weird vaginas are.

That was my motivation. I wasn’t looking to jumpstart my writing career. The writing that I get paid to do is blissfully anonymous, and I’m not really looking to make a living off of my thinkpieces or personal stories. I’m happy just doing that kind of writing for fun.

This was simply a public service for any other ladies in the world who love both cats and their IUDs.

Why in god’s good name wouldn’t you publish a story like that anonymously????????

I’ve always been obsessed with stories about women getting stuff stuck and lost in their vaginas. You know, like that lady who had a dildo surgically removed from her vag that had just been chilling there for the past 20 years.

SO FASCINATING!

I always wondered how these things happen. How do you just forget that there’s a dildo up there? How did it get there in the first place? Can you still have sex or have you been celibate for the past 2 decades? SO MANY QUESTIONS. But because these stories are never written by the women themselves, it remains a mystery.

So I figured that since I was willing to actually put my name to a story like this, I should do it. I should write the story that I would want to read. I’m not embarrassed by what happened: It was a weird and unpleasant experience, but I didn’t do anything wrong that would make me feel ashamed. So why not tell the story myself?

In the beginning I even responded to the comments on XoJane because I wanted to be available and open. But then a few too many doctors were assholes about i and internet trolls delighted in telling me how disgusting my sheets must be, so I decided I had to stop reading comments forever and ever, amen.

Aren’t you worried about your job?

Nah.

I’m self-employed and make my money with writing projects that are completely anonymous, so name recognition doesn’t really matter in my line of work. If I ever decide to go back into a traditional job, I’m just gonna be honest and straight up about what they’ll find if they Google my name. If they have a problem with it then I’ll know it’s not the job for me.

#iaintsorry

Do you regret publishing such a personal essay?

I regret not being more careful about telling my story in a way that mitigated disbelief. I regret not thinking more deeply about what would be the best platform to use for publishing my story. I regret responding to the journalist from NY Magazine on my phone while I was in the middle of running errands rather than waiting until I had more time to carefully choose my responses.

But I know that’s not what you want to know. You want to know if I regret ruining my life.

Honestly, even though I had such a bad panic attack the day after the story went up that I accidentally spilled an entire kettle of boiling water on my leg AND got into a minor car accident AND spent 4 hours in the ER for severe dehydration, I don’t have any regrets.

I’ve gotten some really amazing responses from women around the world who appreciated my honesty, and friends from all parts of my life have supported me for being so brave and bold.

Plus I got to say “vagina hairball” on MTV and I was dubbed a DGAF hero by the NY Magazine, so I’m pretty cool with my life choices.

And now, for a little advice on internet fame

  • Don’t do anything for free. “Exposure” means “We want to take advantage of you”
  • You can never outrun Google
  • When in doubt, publish your personal essay anonymously
  • 99% of internet commenters want nothing more than to ruin your day
  • Bodies are weird and shame is a waste of time

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