Fifteen Questions For...

How will you spend this Valentine’s Day? In protest. In mourning. No, really, it’s not my favorite holiday. It’s the
By Irin Carmon

How will you spend this Valentine’s Day?

In protest. In mourning. No, really, it’s not my favorite holiday. It’s the one day of the year when a spotlight shines directly on your romantic life, and it might not be that great on that particular day. In fact, the chances are that it probably isn’t. The whole holiday is supposed to remind you how great love is, but if you experience any discrepancy between that fantasy and your own situation, it can be pretty depressing. But I will probably go out for dinner and a movie.

You teach a class on the theory of sexuality. Forty-two students enrolled this year, up from 28 last year. How do you explain the jump?

Oh, because sexuality is really in this year? No, I think it was just a matter of publicity. is the home page of a self-described “amateur teen nude model.” What are your thoughts? Has anyone ever gotten confused?

You are not the first to bring to my attention. It’s because of that website that I started publishing under the name Heather K. Love, even though that academic habit has always struck me as being kind of silly. What can I do? Although if you actually look at the website, it’s very easy to tell us apart.

What are some awful puns people have made about your name?

In grade school, people used to always write a boy’s name after my name—you know, to indicate that I actually loved that random person. Gross! Then, when I grew up, nobody made any jokes for a long time. Sometimes now, though, since I have been involved more publicly with queer stuff at Harvard, I find people writing hostile things on various websites. They also seem to think it’s very funny that my last name is Love.

What are three things you cannot live without?

The only thing I can’t survive without is water. I am really neurotic about getting dehydrated.

You’ve been at the forefront of the campaign for queer studies at Harvard. What do you think it will take for Harvard to consent to the program?

Things move slowly in institutions, and this isn’t always a bad thing. I am pretty confident that queer studies will find acceptance here because it is a really vibrant field of intellectual inquiry. The problem for the past ten years or so, though, has been keeping it on the radar screen so that its merits can be recognized.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?

The answer to this question can be revealed only upon the occasion of my death.

At, a so-called Dr. Love calculates the probability of a successful relationship between two people based on the entry of their names. Has your own doctorate yielded anything this handy?

I think there is a kind of self-help payoff to my work, but it takes almost the opposite form of the love calculator. I spend a lot of my time trying to de-idealize love, to undermine the criterion of “success” in love. I have always been drawn to really tragic accounts of impossible love. I know lots of people find this really depressing, but somehow for me it’s sustaining. I guess it’s partly the solace of shared misery, but also I think it takes the pressure off. And it’s a nice reminder that beauty is on the side of the losers, not the winners.

What is a quality you most admire in a woman or man?

To me, self-awareness is the genie in the bottle. If you can see yourself with irony and with some detachment and with a bit of compassion, most other good qualities follow from that.

Rumor has it that you’re leaving Harvard. Can you confirm or deny?

I was hired for a two-year position at Harvard as a postdoctoral fellow. It was an amazing opportunity to teach literature, theory and gender studies, and I really enjoyed it. You know, people have spent a lot of time talking about how Harvard doesn’t support BGLTQ work. It’s quite true that the field needs further institutional support here, but I was hired here precisely to teach in this field. The territory is uneven but by no means uniformly bleak! But, yes, my term is up, and I am going to teach at the University of Pennsylvania in the fall.

If you leave Harvard, what will you miss most? What will you be happiest to have left?

I will miss the students, and my very happy institutional niche in Literature. I’m really attached to Harvard, but I also think after being here as an undergraduate and now again as a lecturer that the idea that it’s “the best” in everything can be stifling. The power of that myth can make people self-conscious, tense, insecure—at best, this kind of thinking is distracting, and at worst it can be pretty damaging.

What is your greatest vice?

I grew up sort of godless and in the counterculture, so I don’t tend to feel that bad about things like sloth, gluttony or lust. But pride is evil in my book and I struggle with it.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done for love?

I think being in love is the craziest thing.

Last spring, the Tennessee state legislature passed a resolution honoring Heather Love, valedictorian of LaVergne High School. What’s the best thing anyone has ever done honoring you?

I come from one of Tennessee’s many neighboring states, Kentucky. I will contact the legislature and get back to you.

What is love?

To me, love is the most profound and exciting way of thinking about the fact that other people exist.

For The Moment