I met with my soon-to-be advisor last winter to talk about my Master’s application and the possibility of working together. After discussing our common interests, she gave me a list of publications that I might be interested in reviewing, including “At Home with Pornography” and “Mighty Lewd Books.” A couple of months later I asked my parents to pick up a couple of these titles for me as birthday gifts, not pausing to consider that what has become the norm for me, might be somewhat shocking to them. Only the look of incredulity on their faces as I wrote the titles down brought me back to earth. I did not receive any books for my birthday this year.
I realized that I had certainly never discussed my research interests with them, indeed the thought had never occurred to me to do so. I tend to share that information rather selectively; the concept of exploring erotica and the female body isn’t something that can just be mentioned in mixed company without a lot of extra explanation around it, and most of the time it just seems like too much work to get into it. Even working in the Academy where the range of interests are infinite, one’s research passions are such a personal thing, I’ve been reluctant to share it with many people, as the possibility of having to manage their confusion or shock is somewhat daunting. While this area of exploration might be positively blasé to the Cultural Studies folk, I don’t know how the Biologists or Economists might react. Probably with equal nonchalance, but the tiny doubt nags at me.
My first day of class this year of course involved everyone going around the room doing precisely the thing I try to avoid: sharing what made them interested in Cultural Studies and what research area they would like to focus on. I felt fortunate that my interests lay in two areas – I skirted around the erotica and focussed more on reading the body as text and femininity.
This evasion stemmed from more than simply a discomfort issue – when it came to my turn in the circle to speak, I was suddenly struck by the fact that I’ve spoken to each of these students individually, advising them on funding and scholarship applications and will continue to counsel them on Colloquium abstracts and address any issues that they have with the program. While I would dearly love to be a card-carrying member of this year’s cohort, in some ways I feel compelled to keep a bit of distance, especially when it comes to revealing something as intimate as a passion for erotic writing and exploring the culture around that.
I wonder though if it isn’t like that for all aspiring researchers in the beginning – the fear of judgement and awkwardness explaining something so personal. There’s the judgement of your peers, the confusion of friends and family struggling to understand, the analysis and criticism of instructors and advisors who are so much more experienced. It’s impossible to explain why this is an area that I’m interested in exploring, and the idea of having to justify it to someone else is intimidating.
Yet I soldier on – my advisor and I have come up with a plan of attack for a Directed Study this winter, and I will soon become “At Home with Pornography.” I’ve been fortunate enough to really engage with my instructors to date, and I feel a sense of pride in the work I’ve done so far. A part of me wonders if this isn’t an exercise in personal growth along with the professional and academic. Maybe an integral part of what you’re supposed to get out of graduate studies is learning to be comfortable with revealing such an intimate part of yourself, and to learn how to express your passions with enthusiasm and candour. Let’s hope I’m up for the challenge.
Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada
Deanna England is a member of the editorial collective at University of Venus .