GUY ADAMS asks - do you know what's in your child's school library? trends now
Maia Kobabe is a 33-year-old comic book illustrator who lives in San Francisco and has achieved a mixture of fame and notoriety as the author of a highly controversial graphic memoir called Gender Queer.
Released in 2019, it tells how Kobabe was raised as a girl but ‘came out’ as bisexual in high school before deciding, seven years ago, to identify as non-binary, choosing to adopt the preferred pronouns ‘e, em and eir,’ instead of ‘she, them and their.’
Along the way, the book takes in a number of unconventional and extraordinarily graphic sex scenes. One page depicts the protagonist wearing a ‘strap-on harness’ fitted with a ‘favourite dildo’, on which a partner of indeterminate gender performs an intimate act.
Another shows a ‘$10 bullet vibrator’ which Kobabe purchases. ‘I remember leaning in my bedroom doorway, imagining how good this vibrator was going to make me feel,’ the text reads. Later, the young Kobabe is shown telling a lesbian girlfriend: ‘My main kink is auto-androphilia [a sexual preference in which a biological woman becomes aroused by imagining that she’s a man]. Penetration is a HARD NO for me...’
Despite or perhaps because of its explicit content — and the above is tame compared to some of it — Gender Queer made commercial waves, becoming an instant bestseller in Kobabe’s native America.
Yet a backlash soon followed. And today, as a result, it sits at the epicentre of the country’s increasingly acrimonious culture wars.
Released in 2019, it tells how Kobabe was raised as a girl but ‘came out’ as bisexual in high school before deciding, seven years ago, to identify as non-binary
Along the way, the book takes in a number of unconventional and extraordinarily graphic sex scenes
To blame are two inter-related facts. Firstly the memoir — which also graphically depicts masturbation and intercourse — was heavily championed by sections of the Transgender lobby.
Secondly, copies began turning up in America’s school libraries. There followed a ferocious dispute, in which parents demanded that the nation’s ‘school boards’ — elected bodies which decide how local institutions are run — remove Gender Queer from their bookshelves, saying it contains scenes that are pornographic and wholly unsuitable for children.
Meanwhile progressive types not only campaigned for it to remain in schools, but also launched fund-raising appeals so that free copies could be sent to children anyway.
So furious and widespread was the row that last May, The New York Times dubbed Gender Queer ‘the most banned book in the country’. Kobabe was, it declared, ‘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.’ This week, that explosive debate crossed the Atlantic.
For Gender Queer has now found its way onto the shelves of British schools — and parents are deeply upset. Among them is the country’s most expensive day school: The American School In London, where next year’s fees are an astonishing £38,000.
Elsewhere, the library of this London school contains Beyond Magenta, a non-fiction text by Susan Kuklin, a journalist who interviews six transgender or gender-neutral young adults and teenagers about their sexual identities
Here a furore has broken out over the presence of Kobabe’s book among a host of sexually explicit texts in its main library.
Parents have kicked up an almighty fuss after discovering no fewer than nine highly controversial books in the facility’s online catalogue, which is used by pupils as young as ten.
An explosive document containing excerpts from each of the disputed works, several of which portray transgender issues in explicit ways, is now being circulated among them. The file, a copy of which has been obtained by the Mail, contains uncensored images from Gender Queer along with eight other books the parents regard as problematic.
Astonishingly, for work acquired by a school library, they feature vivid and sometimes grotesque descriptions (and images) of everything from group sex and self-harm to child rape and anal intercourse.
Some of the most controversial sections — aside from Kobabe’s work, which according to Amazon is only suitable for readers over the age of 18 — come from This Book Is Gay, a sort of instruction manual aimed at homosexual teenagers by British author Juno Dawson, a transgender woman.
In sections that seem wildly inappropriate for younger children, it encourages readers to use gay ‘hook-up’ apps to meet random strangers for sex (‘meet the trick in a public place for a drink first. That way you can assess if you fancy them in the flesh’) and contains detailed descriptions of how to perform various sex acts.
It’s punchy stuff for a school library and much of it is unsuitable for a family newspaper. Another of the flagged texts is a comic called Flamer by Mike Curato which has been the subject of fierce controversy in the U.S.
A second row broke out in December over reports that Stonewall is promoting books about transgender issues on its list of recommended books for children aged two to four, including a book called 10,000 Dresses about a fictional transgender toddler called Bailey
The book tells the story of Aiden, a 14-year-old Catholic boy who becomes confused about his sexuality during a Scout trip in which older teenage boys perform a number of sex acts. In one illustration, the protagonist tells readers: ‘Here I am in this tent full of people j***ing off and I feel like I’m in moral danger.’
Elsewhere, the library of this London school contains Beyond Magenta, a non-fiction text by Susan Kuklin, a journalist who interviews six transgender or gender-neutral young adults and teenagers about their sexual identities.
One of them is quoted recalling how ‘from six up, I used to kiss other guys in my neighbourhood, make out with them and perform oral sex on them. I liked it. I used to love oral. And I touched their you-know-whats. We were really young, but that’s what we did’.
Then there is Me And Earl And The Dying Girl which is littered with profanity and sexual references, including a notorious scene involving teenagers which lasts two pages and contains eight mentions of the word ‘p***y’, two of ‘vaginas’ and a description of ‘how to eat a b***hole’. This content, let us not forget, is being stocked in a library used daily by children as young as ten.
‘It’s abundantly clear that some of these are unsuitable for children, especially those below the age of consent,’ is the verdict of Tanya Carter of the Safe Schools Alliance lobby group. ‘Any school exposing children to self-harm and pornographic images has quite clearly failed in that duty.’
The books were recently the subject of a vigorous complaint to the head teacher, Coreen Hester, plus the chair and vice chair of its governing board of trustees.
Yet remarkably — in the view of concerned parents — it fell on stony ground. ‘He [the parent who complained] was called to a meeting where he expected to be told that these clearly unsuitable books had ended up in the library via some sort of oversight and would be either removed or put somewhere where only the oldest