I text my partner about the psoriasis flaring up all over my body. I tell them “I’m really scared, last time it was bad like this it was bad like this for years. What if it doesn’t go away?” They reply, “Seems like the best thing you can do is try to just live your best scaly life babe. And let me love you.”
For those not in the know, psoriasis is a genetic, chronic, autoimmune condition that causes the skin cycle to speed up, producing patches of red, scaly skin. It can come and go in its severity, and it’s a condition that has no sure fire ways to reduce or eliminate the symptoms. Autoimmune conditions have been connected to histories of trauma and chronic stress, and as a person who lives with complex ptsd this makes a lot of sense to me.
I first developed psoriasis when I was eighteen. A mysterious rash started popping up all over my body, red, itchy, and then, scaly. I didn’t understand what was happening and being eighteen and highly invested in my attractiveness, I was terrified. I wasn’t at all prepared when the doctor said to me bluntly: “It’s psoriasis. There is no cure.” It felt like a door slamming in my face; like a future of sexuality, desirability, and love being snatched up from me just like that. I refused to believe that what I had was this incurable condition the doctor described, but google quickly confirmed that it was none other.
My psoriasis spread and multiplied and proliferated. My entire body was covered in dots and patches of red, inflamed, scaly skin. I did everything in my power to get rid of it, including going to the hospital every single day for light therapy. Nothing worked, and all the stress just made it worse. Eventually, I gave up. I accepted my fate and decided I would look like this forever. Instead of investing my energy into fighting psoriasis, I invested my energy into accepting it. I did what I could to manage the pain and itchiness. I advocated for my needs with my teachers and bosses. And I searched out and discovered a psoriasis dating website and found a psoriasis boyfriend. He turned out to be an overall not great human, but the experience of psoriasis4psoriasis desire was deeply healing for me.
After a few years my psoriasis all but went away on its own. It never completely cleared. I always had the classic red patched elbows and the generous white flakes falling from my scalp. But compared to having it cover most of my body, this was easy to live with. I went on with my life like a non-scaly normy and didn’t think too much about it. But my sense of (p)solidarity never left me and I carried in my heart the knowledge that people with severe psoriasis frequently turn to immune suppressant medications that highly endanger their health and they all too frequently turn to suicide. The cost of falling so far outside standards of beauty and desirability is high. It can feel, like it felt for me when I was eighteen, like being sentenced to a life without sexuality, desirability, or love.
When I was 31 and touring my third book, I found myself couch and bus hopping, lugging suitcases of books, and managing my flaring c-ptsd while extending myself beyond my capacity as a chronically ill person. I pushed myself too far and my body rebelled. Psoriasis began flaring in places it doesn’t usually and before I knew it I was covered from head to toe, like I was when I was eighteen. This obviously compounded my stress, and despite all the work on (p)self-acceptance I did in late teens and early twenties, I was not prepared to plunge back into being someone with severe psoriasis. I didn’t want it to be true, but there it was on my feet, all over my legs, on my pussy, my belly, my butt, my back, my breasts, my arms, my face. My entire body is covered in psoriasis and while I can do my best to take care of myself, bring down my stress, and calm the chronic inflammation, there is nothing I can do to make it go away.
So here I am again, scaly as fuck. And I still want to be desirable. I still want to be sexy and have hot sex. I still want to be loved. At 31, I’m a self-proclaimed slut and sex writer. As a queer person and survivor of sexual violence, claiming my sexuality has been hard work and is extremely important to me. But it is hard to feel sexy and confident when you are covered in red scaly skin from head to toe. Anyone whose body falls outside of mainstream definitions of desirability doesn’t need me to tell them how much easier it is to talk about self love and acceptance than it is to face down the stares and comments and the fear of rejection and judgement.
When I faced the reality that severe psoriasis had taken over my body again, I was flooded with terror that my partner would no longer be attracted to me and that dating and exploring sexuality with new people wouldn’t be possible anymore. I was scared I would no longer be desirable or hot, that queers would stop flirting with me, and that my sex life would dry up. The opposite has turned out to be true.
Intimacy with my partner has deepened as I let them love my scales. Watching my partner take my psoriasis covered foot to their mouth and kiss my red inflamed skin is one of the hottest, most vulnerable, and sexy experiences I can imagine. Setting up an okcupid with my partner to look for dates who want to have threesomes and putting up a picture of my partner licking my psoriasis to solidify that we are only interested in exploring sexuality with people who are down with my body as is, feels fucking affirming and hot. Listening to my long distance date gasp and say “Your psoriasis! It’s beautiful” when she got me naked for the first time after my flare up feels fucking good. Having a threesome with my date and my partner and watching both of them touching and kissing me all over is a powerful experience of letting fear melt into pleasure, vulnerability open to depths of intimacy.
Posting sexy psoriasis selfies and having the queers flood me with heat eyes and fire emojis, to have them share their vulnerabilities about their own body feels in the comments, reminds me that queer sexuality can and should be a space that liberates us to love and desire ourselves and each other in all our varied glory. I won’t gloss over the fact that jerks are still out there, that rude comments and stares still hurt, and the psoriasis itself can be painful and uncomfortable. That complexity and ambiguity is still there, and psoriasis life has its fair share of pain. But it can also be a life full of pleasure and desire and love, including the very specific pleasure of being loved and desired in vulnerability and bravery.
When I first posted online about my flare up, my friend sent me a message with the phrase “magic sluts with psoriasis” which I fucking love and use has a hashtag now. Psoriasis makes me even queerer because it helps me to continue divesting from normative, oppressive depictions of desire and to move towards the very queer pleasure of loving the bodies we have.