Gender Queer author says it’s ‘dangerous and unfair’ to ban books on LGBTQ+ identities and sex

Maia Kobabe holds up a copy eir graphic memoir Gender Queer during an interview

Gender Queer author Maia Kobabe said it’s “really dangerous and unfair” to ban young people from accessing books with information about LGBTQ+ issues and sex. 

Eir graphic memoir has faced numerous right-wing attacks since it was published in 2019. Gender Queer: A Memoir was the most banned title in school districts and libraries across the US as it was banned 30 separate times.

The memoir was at the centre of a legal challenge in Virginia brought by Republican officials. The lawsuits claimed Gender Queer and A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J Maas violated the state’s obscenity law and shouldn’t be sold by private businesses to minors. 

However, a Virginia judge dismissed the case Tuesday (30 August) after she said state law doesn’t give her the power or authority to determine if the books were appropriate for minors. 

Kobabe said in an interview with Time that e was “relieved” the lawsuit was dismissed and was “pretty confident all along” because the legal case didn’t appear “constitutional”.

E said those who read eir’s book will “discover that it is unbelievably tame” though it does include topics like “masturbation, sex toys and sexual health”. There is also a scene where Kobabe describes getting a pap smear, which e described as “probably the most intense scene of the book”. 

“And my opinion is that these things are part of life,” Kobabe said. “These are things that pretty much everyone will encounter in some form or other in their life.”

Gender Queer author Maia Kobabe looks into the camera during an interview

Maia Kobabe says the “dangerous and upsetting effort” to ban LGBTQ+ books makes it harder for trans, non-binary and queer people “to live”. (YouTube/GLAAD)

Kobabe said it was unfair for conservatives to claim Gender Queer is inappropriate for young people as e thought “encountering a difficult subject” in literature is “just about the safest way” to face “something that you might find challenging”. 

“I think it’s really dangerous and unfair to shield young people from things like sex and health and information about their bodies — partly because there is so much misinformation online,” Kobabe added. 

“I would rather a young person learn about topics of sex and sexuality from a book that has passed through many levels of editorial and fact-checking and is written by an author who is interested in sharing accurate information.”

Kobabe believed Gender Queer is “specifically vulnerable to challenges” because it’s a graphic novel, includes illustrations and focuses on LGBTQ+ topics. 

E said the growing number of cases seeking to ban LGBTQ+ books from classrooms and libraries is part of a “very organised effort to era trans and queer and non-binary voices from the public sphere”. 

“And I see it as linked to also the rise in bills trying to limit access to trans healthcare and limit the rights of trans athletes and trans students to access various activities and sports in school,” Kobabe said. 

“I see it as a very dangerous and upsetting effort to make it harder for trans people and non-binary and queer people to live.”

More than 1,145 books have been banned by school districts and libraries in the US between 1 July 2021 and 31 March 2022, according to data collected by the literary and advocacy group PEN America

Of the banned titles, 379 (33 per cent) explicitly addressed LGBTQ+ themes or have protagonists or secondary characters who are part of the queer community. This included a subset of 84 titles that deal with trans characters and topics. 

PEN America said the move to ban fiction and non-fiction books containing diverse characters and experiences – including racial, ethnic and religious identities as well as gender identities and sexualities – reflects a “backlash against attempts to bring a more diverse and inclusive set of voices and perspectives into the curriculum”.