For more about my research on romance, see “The History of Romance”, which is basically a simplified re-working of my major research paper. For some thoughts on Brideshead Revisited (the book) you can read my reviews of the movie and the mini-series.
Early in my M.A., we were given an assignment to write a mock Ph.D. proposal. When one of my new colleagues in the programme asked me what my proposal was about, I told him it was for studying romance in literature from an asexual perspective. It was my first time revealing my interest in asexuality to a member of my cohort, and I waited nervously for his reaction.
“How interesting!” he said with sincere enthusiasm.
It was a significant moment in terms of feeling comfortable an accepted within the cohort, but it was also emblematic of my entire graduate experience.
When I first discovered asexuality, AVEN had just taken off; the Bogaert study had come out; asexuals were getting exposure on Montel Williams, The View, and 20/20. But, while there was lots of excitement within the community, asexuality was still almost unknown to outsiders. At the time, I was working on my B.A. in Film Studies. I dreamed of bringing these two passions together, of pioneering the new field of “Asexual Film Theory”, but for the life of me I couldn’t think how to do it. My theory classes were dominated by Freudian and Queer reading, both of which encouraged us to hunt down the hidden sexuality of film. In such an environment, there didn’t seem to be much space for talking about the lack of sexuality. I did successfully prod my Psychology prof to talk about asexuality as a valid orientation. But when I mentioned my interest to a friend, she insisted that everyone had sexual desire; asexuality didn’t come up in my Queer Cinema class; and a prof once assured me that of course Ernie and Bert were gay. Over all, it was not an encouraging environment, and I left with my dreams unrealised.
Fast-forward a decade. I was back at university, doing a qualifying year in English and preparing to apply to grad school. At a meeting with the department’s graduate coördinator, we were discussing scholarships and how to apply for them. When he asked me if I had any particular research interests, I half-heartedly mentioned the only two things that jumped to mind: something about religion and something about asexuality. He wasn’t too enthusiastic about the former, but the latter clearly grabbed his attention. He said, with cautious optimism, that asexuality was a new, important, and under-studied area. In other words, a well thought out proposal for asexual research was exactly the kind of thing that committees would want to fund.
It was my first indication that asexuality could be taken seriously as a research topic, but it wasn’t the last. I next got in touch with the Queer Theory prof, and she, too, seemed excited about the potential of the subject. I received encouragement from multiple teachers throughout the application process. I got scholarship offers and found myself being actively courted by multiple schools. My fear that my topic wasn’t good enough evaporated and was replaced by a new fear: that I wasn’t good enough to do justice to my subject and would never be able to live up to everyone’s expectations!
The year I spent doing my Master’s in English was one of the best and most fulfilling of my life. Gradually, I grew in confidence writing about asexuality: from my first tentative allusion in an undergraduate essay on Sherlock Holmes, to an experimental paper on “Goblin Market”, to a term paper on The Picture of Dorian Gray, to, finally, my major research paper, “Asexual Romance in Brideshead Revisited”.
I also grew more confident speaking about asexuality. I presented at conferences. I brought it up in class discussions. I could even talk about it casually with peers. Being in an academic context made it comparatively easy to bring up the subject without having to formally “out” myself or do Asexuality 101. It also meant I could usually count on what I said being treated with respect.
Besides the enjoyment I got while doing it, my graduate experience has had at least four lasting effects. 1) It helped to build asexual awareness. I know that all the teachers and students I worked with now think about asexuality more, and differently, than they otherwise would. 2) It helped me to figure out myself and my own thoughts on romance. I came to think of myself as “platoniromantic” partly through the research I did. 3) It showed me that I could write usefully about asexuality, giving me the confidence to try other projects – like this blog! 4) Finally, I made friends. Drinking and dating are two of the main ways young people connect; not doing either of those things, combined with being an introvert, means I often find socialising difficult. But grad school requires you to interact with people, allows you to bypass the small talk and have really great conversations, and forces you to rely on the help and encouragement of others. A year later, I’m still in touch with most of my cohort. They’re a great set of people, and still the only large group of non-asexuals I’m comfortably “out” to.
Life outside of academia has had its challenges, and one of them has been not being able to write and talk and share my thoughts on asexuality as much. I don’t bring up the subject at work because I don’t know how it would go over and I don’t need my employers knowing all my personal information. Still, I have found other outlets. Starting a blog has meant that I’m finally writing about film from an asexual perspective and also connecting with people in the ace blogging community. And, though it may be over, I continue to feel good about my time in academia, about the fun I had, the relationships I formed, and the work I did.