Today, May 17th, marks the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, a day that’s been recognized here in the LGBT reading, reviewing, writing and blogging community with the help of the folks who organize the newly re-named Hop for Visibility, Awareness, and Equality. It’s always such a great privilege to be a part of this event and to stand up in support of the efforts to promote equality and stand in allegiance with the LGBT community, and I’m so glad The Novel Approach is able to take part again this year.
I wish I had some earth-shattering and world-changing commentary to make today. I don’t. I wish I could make it so we all woke up tomorrow in a world where people were as concerned about judging themselves as they were about judging each other. I can’t. I wish I could create a world where people weren’t so concerned about who uses what bathroom but were very much concerned that suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24. I wish.
So, in lieu of being able to single-handedly change the world, I’ll talk about fighting censorship instead, and Banned Books Week 2016: September 25-October 1. Because books are a world unto themselves.
“There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.” – Oscar Wilde
According to the American Library Association, the top 10 frequently challenged books of 2015, as compiled by the Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF), are:
- Looking for Alaska, by John Green
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
- Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James
Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and other (“poorly written,” “concerns that a group of teenagers will want to try it”).
- I Am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
Reasons: Inaccurate, homosexuality, sex education, religious viewpoint, and unsuited for age group.
- Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, by Susan Kuklin
Reasons: Anti-family, offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“wants to remove from collection to ward off complaints”).
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon
Reasons: Offensive language, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“profanity and atheism”).
- The Holy Bible
Reasons: Religious viewpoint.
- Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
Reasons: Violence and other (“graphic images”).
- Habibi, by Craig Thompson
Reasons: Nudity, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
- Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan, by Jeanette Winter
Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group, and violence.
- Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan
Reasons: Homosexuality and other (“condones public displays of affection”). **bolding mine because, yes, it really does say this**
There are documented pleas to have these books removed from schools and libraries by groups and/or individuals who don’t want them on library shelves or, in some cases, in classrooms. It’s not enough that these people simply don’t read the books, or forbid their own children to read them. They don’t want anyone else to have access to them either. In the past this list has also included the likes of Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye, Brave New World, and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, to name just a few. The push for censorship is, as always, alive and well and threatens, in some cases, to keep important reading materials out of the hands of children and young adults, default morality policing me and passively parenting my children. The OIF, thankfully, is here to promote awareness and celebrate our freedom of access to books.
What this is all leading up to is a news piece I saw recently on these challenged and banned books featuring author Susan Kuklin and her book Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out (three of these 10 books, you’ll notice, have been challenged on the basis of homosexuality, which appears to be the catch-all term for books containing LGBT themes, people, and characters). So, in light of this day—the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia—I bought and read the book after watching Kuklin’s interview. I read Beyond Magenta with a keen eye towards the challenges brought against it and can say, without a doubt, that I feel it would be beyond unfortunate for questioning teens and young adults not to be able to get their hands on this book, and other books like it. This book isn’t about promoting a “lifestyle” or furthering some sort of agenda. It’s about recognition and representation and education and shared experiences between six strangers who have something in common and something valuable to share. That’s what Beyond Magenta is and is likely why it made this list. The people who oppose its access are the people who would be less likely to accept an LGBT child.
“While everyone else my age is saving up for a car or a house, I’m saving up to look possible.” Christina ~ age 20
While Beyond Magenta itself isn’t broad in scope, chronicling only six young adults, Kuklin did attempt to bring diversity into their stories. The teens featured in this piece come from different social and ethnic backgrounds, and are FTM, MTF, and intersex. Rather than it being presented in interview format, the author transcribed her conversations with these young adults into a more stream of consciousness journaling format, giving each of the kids the chance to extemporize on a wide range of subjects from the obvious: When did they realize their bodies and gender identities didn’t match? To personal details about family and friendships and how their transitioning has affected their schooling (i.e., teachers who balk at using the new and correct pronouns). Kuklin herself isn’t overly present in this book, which I appreciated, though she does interject her own notes from time to time. Instead, she allows these kids to speak for themselves, and to do so candidly—some of their stories ending on an up-note, and some not, as in the case of one teen, Mariah, who says she’s “not a success story right now,” and has had myriad issues which have required counselling and intervention. Each of these youths have impactful stories and have experienced something negative along the way: from parents, siblings, kids at school, strangers whose intrusiveness can feel threatening when they ask, “Are you a boy or a girl?” which uniquely informs each story. These teens talk candidly about their journeys, which sometimes have included self-harm, and they speak honestly about the process of transitioning—not via sex reassignment surgery but via things as simple as the way they dress and identify to the more complex emotional and physical impact of hormone therapy.
“Everyone goes through one kind of transition or another. We go through transitions every day. Except mine is maybe a little more extreme. I’m not at the end of my transition. I’m barely at the beginning.” Mariah – age 19
All the kids featured in this book do have one…I hesitate to call it an advantage, but in some case it is, so I’ll use that word…advantage, though, that being they are all from major metropolitan areas of the US and have access to at least one place where their acceptance is unconditional and where services are accessible to them; which is also the thing that makes this book so important for teens and young adults to be able to get hold of. It’s imperative that questioning teens in rural mid-America be able to see kids just like themselves, and to hear stories just like their own, and to know they aren’t alone. Which makes the argument for censorship on the basis of the book being anti-family, containing offensive language and homosexuality, offering sex education and political/religious viewpoints, it being unsuited for its age group, and that illusive “other”—wanting it removed to ward off complaints—reason to fight its censorship all the more. Questioning teens everywhere need representation and affirmation so they know they aren’t alone.
“They told me No/Said, ‘What are you?’ said, ‘you gotta choose’/said, ‘Pink or blue?’/and I said I’m a real nice color of magenta.” Luke ~ age 16
In the wake of the current social and political debate over transgender bathroom use and the won’t somebody please think of the women and children? outrage, it’s imperative for questioning teens to have access to this book and books like it, to see kids who look like them and who are struggling with some of the same issues they are. I can’t stress that enough. In a world that’s doing its best to make these kids feel “wrong,” it’s so important for them to know that they aren’t and that they’re not alone. And it’s also imperative for parents of questioning and transitioning teens to know that their children aren’t made “wrong,” either. Parents of questioning and transitioning teens need access to this book, and books like it, so they know they aren’t alone and that having an LGBTQ+ child gives them the unique opportunity to be their child’s greatest source of strength and encouragement.
This day is not only about sexual and gender visibility, awareness, and equality; it’s about psychological and emotional health. It’s about providing a safe and supportive atmosphere for LGBTQ+ adults and kids—at home, at school, at work and anywhere prejudice exists. It’s about providing opportunities for young adults to explore, question, and see there are kids out there just like them who may be struggling and who may be a source of support and encouragement. This is not about what I want, what you want, what those who want to remove these books from library shelves want. It’s about what these kids need that matters.
The I don’t want it so you can’t have it mentality should never apply to books. And certainly never on the basis of fear, ignorance and prejudice. Be the rebel–read a banned book.
About Beyond Magenta
A 2015 Stonewall Honor Book.
A groundbreaking work of LGBT literature takes an honest look at the life, love, and struggles of transgender teens. Author and photographer Susan Kuklin met and interviewed six transgender or gender-neutral young adults and used her considerable skills to represent them thoughtfully and respectfully before, during, and after their personal acknowledgment of gender preference. Portraits, family photographs, and candid images grace the pages, augmenting the emotional and physical journey each youth has taken. Each honest discussion and disclosure, whether joyful or heartbreaking, is completely different from the other because of family dynamics, living situations, gender, and the transition these teens make in recognition of their true selves.
Find more information about the book and author, including buy links, HERE