At the library check-out desk, over a heap of Georgette Heyer novels:
DESK PERSON (obviously a student): You teach here. (not a question. she recognizes me.)
ME: I do. (internal dialogue: Georgette Heyer novels! Oh god oh god, why do I not read more Proust or Balzac?)
DP: Do you know if you’ll be teaching your class in fall 2011? I want to take it.
ME: Spring 2012. (internal dialogue: When I checked out “Streetcar Named Desire” and the anthology of Roald Dahl short stories, there was a professional staffer at the desk, but when I’m getting a heap of Georgette Heyer novels, of COURSE it’s a STUDENT!)
DP: I’ve heard a lot about your class.
ME: And yet you still want to take it? That’s good. (internal dialogue: I’VE READ THE COMPLETE WORKS OF NABOKOV, HESSE, AUSTEN, VONNEGUT, HARDY, AND DICKENS! DON’T JUDGE ME!!)
DP: I guess so. (friendly smile, clearly not judging me, hands over heap of Georgette Heyer novels)
ME: Thanks. (internal dialogue: It could be worse. They could have nauseating cover illustrations of heavily muscled men in half-buttoned white shirts swooping over a buxom lady in a gravity-defying dress. That would be worse. Please tell me that would be worse.)
DP: Have a good weekend!
ME: You too! (internal dialogue: oh god oh god oh god.)
Christ. I mean I know I’m a snob in the general run of things, but really! These are books written in the late 40s/early 50s; they’re really the romance novel equivalent of checking out “Singing in the Rain.” It’s mid-C20th pop culture and nothing worse. Even contemporary pop culture isn’t wicked – I feel nothing but comradery with folks when I find out they read romance novels. People admit to watching Glee and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire without a blush, so what exactly is my problem? Why do I… oh, hang on. Oh.
It’s the SEX.
People see romance novels and think girl-porn. I think people see these books and think I’m reading books with explicit sex in them. Some of them DO have explicit sex in them… and it turns out I’m bothered by the idea of people seeing that I read them!
Oh my god I’m not a snob – I mean, I *am* a snob, but that’s not the problem here; the problem here is that I’M A PRUDE!
OH MY GOD!
I… I have no idea what to do with this thought. On the one hand, I’m a sex educator and being comfortable with all things sexual is part of my job. Nothing sexual phases me. On the other hand, keeping an appropriate boundary between my professional life and my personal life is crucial, for reasons both practical and ethical. Any actual sex I might have I can keep utterly private from students simply by not having it on campus. Easy. But my choice of fiction, mediated as it usually is by the public library across the street from campus, is more in the public domain.
So there’s Emily the sex educator with a heap of romance novels that may or may not contain scenes of explicit sex – written with an unknown degree of literary merit, for whatever that’s worth.
Yes? What about it?
I don’t know, man, but it feels weird.