So my parents have no idea what I do.
Oh, sure, they could tell you the basics [or what they see as the basics, anyway]: grad student, PhD, large state university.
If you pressed, they might manage to add: goes to “conferences” [whatever those are]. Teaches freshmen how to write. Writes papers about stuff.
But they have no clue as to what I study, what I’m fascinated by, what I, you know, do. They’re not really that interested, haven’t been for a long time. What matters are the letters behind my name: right now, it’s MA squared. But they’re really looking ahead, waiting with baited breath for: PhD.
At some level, I understand this. “PhD” has a connotation out there in the real world of, I don’t know, intelligence? Or some special kind of worth? A betterness, maybe?
But we in academia know better, of course. We’re different. Not better, or smarter. Just wired funny: all critical and analytical and boy does that make us fucking confused a lot of the time, in our interactions with the “real” world. But we think we’re awesome. We think what we do is the most interesting thing on the damn planet.
So, at some level, there’s part of me that’s like, hey disengaged parents: how come you’re not interested in what I study? It’s awesome!
Still, how do you have that conversation?
Mom, Dad: I study gay incest porn.
Mom, Dad: I write gay incest porn. Really well. Oh, and I study it, too, or something.
Of course, I like to tell myself that their approval doesn’t matter. And it really doesn’t, most of the time.
Like, all kinds of cool stuff about me has changed, metamorphasised or whatever, in the past six or nine months. And the most important part of all of that is that I’m a writer, damn it. I’m a writer.
Granted, what I write is slash fiction. But come on, that is so fucking cool! It makes me so happy to say that, to share that with people, even if it usually leads to the “what is slash?” conversation.
One thing I do love about conferences is that the first question one is asked is usually: So what do you study? Or, tell me about your research. As I said, we academics think that what we do [which = who we are] is frickin’ fascinating.
That said, I had a colleague ask me at a conference this past week if people make certain assumptions about me when they find out what I research. He told us about a female professor he knows who’s in porn studies. She gets propositioned constantly at conferences and other “professional” settings. The assumption being, he assumed, that studying porn = doing porn.
I assured him that this was highly, highly unlikely to happen to me. For a whole host of reasons. First and foremost, many people are squicked out by slash, but toss incest in to the mix and oh hell yes, you can really scare people off. I had a middle-aged woman at my presentation last week tune out immediately once I dropped the phrase “gay incest porn” in my opening paragraph, which, yeah. Was totally a strategy on my part. Heh. Dude, it’s fun to freak out academics. But their approval is very very nice, too.
So let’s be clear: my parents’ approval is in no way in hell forthcoming. Nor do I want it, not really, though that’s hardwired into my attitudes towards academics, even now. But I’d take curiosity, I think.