Maia Kobabe is the California-based author of Gender Queer: A Memoir, a graphic novel which has caused controversy in Northern Virginia’s school systems. Loudoun County Public Schools decided in January to remove the book from its libraries after parents said it contained depictions of paedophilia. Fairfax County Public Schools, which faced similar complaints from parents last fall, said that it did not contain obscene material and kept the book on its shelves.
In 2014, Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns, thought that a comic of reading statistics would be the last autobiographical comic e would ever write. At the time, it was the only thing e felt comfortable with strangers knowing about em.
Started as a way to explain to eir family what it means to be nonbinary and asexual, Gender Queer is more than a personal story: it is a useful and touching guide on gender identity—what it means and how to think about it—for advocates, friends, and humans everywhere.
So Kobabe, an illustrator who still lives in the Bay Area, started drawing black-and-white comics about wrestling with gender identity and posting them on Instagram. “People started responding with things like, ‘I had no idea anyone else felt this way, I didn’t even know that there were words for this,” Kobabe said.
Kobabe expanded the material into a graphic memoir, “Gender Queer,” which was released in 2019 by a comic book and graphic novel publisher. The print run was small — 5,000 copies — and Kobabe worried that the book wouldn’t find much readership.
Then, last year, the book’s frank grappling with gender identity and sexuality began generating headlines around the country. Dozens of schools pulled it from library shelves. Republican officials in North and South Carolina, Texas and Virginia called for the book’s removal, sometimes labelling it “pornographic.”
Suddenly, Kobabe was at the centre of a nationwide battle over which books belong in schools — and who gets to make that decision. The debate, raging in school board meetings and town halls, is dividing communities around the country and pushing libraries to the front lines of a simmering culture war. And in 2021, when book banning efforts soared, “Gender Queer” became the most challenged book in the United States, according to the American Library Association and the free speech organization PEN.
“‘Gender Queer’ ends up at the centre of this because it is a graphic novel, and because it is dealing with sexuality at the time when that’s become taboo,” said Jonathan Friedman, the director of free expression and education at PEN America. “There’s definitely an element of anti L.G.B.T.Q.+ backlash.”
The American Library Association, which tracks challenges, restrictions and bans on books in schools and libraries, recorded that the No. 1 most challenged book in 2020 was “Melissa” (previously titled “George”) by Alex Gino, a narrative of a trans elementary schooler written by a nonbinary author. Queer youth are often forced to look outside their own homes, and outside the education system, to find information on who they are. Removing or restricting queer books in libraries and schools is like cutting a lifeline for queer youth, who might not yet even know what terms to ask Google to find out more about their own identities, bodies and health.
*article completed from different sources