We can quibble over the word “banned”: the Los Angeles Times even says that the controversy over “Gender Queer” has increased the size of the author’s royalty checks, so for a banned book, it’s selling really well. Then again, there are those who call it a “ban” when a school removes it from the middle school library for not being age-appropriate. Teachers are still going to put it on their summer reading lists, though.

So how did Maia Kobabe’s graphic novel become America’s most banned book? It’s not too difficult to figure out — it includes graphic illustrations of oral sex, for one thing. Can you believe some parents would have a problem with their fourth-grader bringing that home from school? It’s an outrage.

We haven’t sufficiently covered “Gender Queer” because we’re not going to publish the offending illustrations on our site, although a lot of people have passed them around on social media. And you know what? The Los Angeles Times hasn’t reprinted any of the illustrations that are getting the book “banned” — why is that? Jeffrey Fleishman reports:

Kobabe’s insightful and moving coming of age discovery of identifying as nonbinary (using the pronouns e, em and eir) is told in the 2019 graphic memoir “Gender Queer.” Two years after its publication, the narrative, notable for its startling honesty and explicit drawings, became the most banned book in America, a target of school boards, conservative candidates, preachers and parental groups who condemned it as pornography aimed at impressionable children. Supported by librarians and vilified by Moms for Liberty, Kobabe was tugged from the writing life into the nation’s cultural wars.

“Gender Queer” became part of the pandemic landscape, when parents’ concerns — about school closings, vaccines and mask requirements — expanded to how race and gender were taught in classrooms. PEN America found that in an increasingly politicized atmosphere at least 50 parental groups, a number with ties to conservative causes, were working at national, state or local levels to ban books. Seventy-three percent of these groups and their chapters were formed since 2021.

What was that, Fleishman? “Its startling honesty and explicit drawings”? Tell us more:

The book’s illustrations, including masturbation, an oral sex encounter and an erotic image of a man and boy illustrated on an ancient Greek urn, have been considered too graphic by many school boards and parents who are alarmed that children are increasingly questioning their gender and sexual orientation.

No, they’re alarmed at the illustrated oral sex encounter. This is not rocket science.

Note that Fleishman refuses to connect the dots, and instead blames parents upset by their kids questioning their gender. Maybe this is a book that parents can choose to buy for their own kids to read if that’s their thing.


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