TrendRadars > Culture > It’s one of America’s most challenged books, but we shouldn’t ban Gender Queer
It’s one of America’s most challenged books, but we shouldn’t ban Gender Queer
It’s one of America’s most challenged books, but we shouldn’t ban Gender Queer,There are signs the raging appetite for banning books in the US could be gaining a foothold in Australia.

It’s one of America’s most challenged books, but we shouldn’t ban Gender Queer

If there’s one thing I hope Australia never imports from the US, it’s that country’s raging appetite for banning books. But there are signs the culture wars have reached our shores.

The latest move to ban a book is an approach to the Australian Classification Board to censor Gender Queer, a graphic memoir by non-binary author and artist Maia Kobabe. It comes from conservative activist Bernard Gaynor, and if successful after review, this could mean the book will have to display a sticker warning at the very least. The board could also decide to ban it for certain age groups, or to ban it altogether.

The Australian Classification Board has been asked to censor Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer.

The Australian Classification Board has been asked to censor Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer.Credit:AP

First published in 2019 with a modest print run, by the following year Gender Queer had reached the melancholy distinction of being the most challenged book in the US, banned in 41 districts. Some schools removed the book without ever receiving a complaint. A parent who wanted the book banned from her child’s school library campaigned to the school board with posters of enlarged illustrations from the book. Her tirade was uploaded on social media. It went viral, and the conservative media continued the pile-on, labelling the book “Gay Porn”.

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What is all the fuss about? Kobabe’s memoir is heartfelt and painfully honest, an account of being brought up as a girl but becoming increasingly bewildered about sexual identity and gradually refusing to conform to any gender. It won an American Library Association Alex award, for books “written for adults that have special appeal to young adults ages 12 through 18”.

Reviews have been glowing. It has been hailed as “an immensely sympathetic memoir of self-discovery”, and as “a comforting voice from someone who has walked the same paths”. A very small proportion of the text and illustrations is certainly graphic and explicit. These scenes show masturbation, a Greek vase scene of a boy and an older man, and a fantasy involving oral sex and a strap-on dildo.

What is all the fuss about? Kobabe’s memoir is heartfelt and painfully honest, an account of being brought up as a girl but becoming increasingly bewildered about sexual identity and gradually refusing to conform to any gender.

This sounds alarming, perhaps; and taken out of context, you might at a stretch describe these scenes as “gay porn”. But they fit seamlessly into the story as a whole, a story that is subtle and poignant, aiming to help young people understand themselves and feel they are not alone. It also helps parents and teachers to understand. I learned a lot from it.

Some US protesters claim they are not opposed to LGBTQI+ issues, only to sexual material that they consider obscene. But the move to censor Gender Queer is part of a larger and very powerful conservative movement that has focused lately on banning any books from school libraries that deal with LGBTQI+ issues and identities.

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Last year there were 1597 challenges against individual books, the most ever made. Librarians have resigned after being harassed for refusing to remove books from the shelves. Residents have called for the defunding of their local libraries. Politicians have tried unsuccessfully to sue the Gender Queer publishers for obscenity. And activists have accused librarians – and even the whole Democratic Party – of “grooming” young children.

Now this pressure is beginning to be felt in Australia. I hope the Australian Classification Board will resist it. There is perhaps a case for a warning sticker on books that might contain material that a child of 12, say, is not yet ready to see, and parents and librarians might want to monitor that themselves.

But whatever your views might be on gender identity, I can’t see any good reason why older teens or young adults should not be allowed to see a book such as Gender Queer and make up their own minds about it.

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