Family gatherings – aren’t they wonderful? When we often meet for a meal or a birthday celebration at my parents’ house on Sundays, my two brothers and their spouses and kids come too. With six kids between us, sharing our mutual parenting woes has become our most common topic of conversation. A couple of weekends ago was no different, but the subject matter was more serious than usual.
My oldest brother, Jason, described a viral video in which an 11-year-old boy reads a page from a book that he took out from his local library. The page from the book, called Gender Queer: A Memoir, contains not only profanity, but also overt descriptions of sexual activity. In the video, the boy reads the page at a school board meeting before his father takes the podium and sternly argues that this material should never have been available in the library, particularly for children.
Written by Maia Kobabe, “Gender Queer” provides a firsthand account of the author’s gender identity and sexuality. Kobabe is just 14 years old in the book. In one part, Kobabe fantasizes about a scene of an older man touching a youth’s genitals. In another part, a sexual act is performed on Kobabe (who is a youth!) by Kobabe’s girlfriend. Oh dear! The viral video is from the USA, but I was absolutely shocked to find out from Jason that the book is available in the public library of the town I grew up in – a library which students from the adjacent elementary school often visit. I was even more shocked when my other brother, Steven, showed me photo examples of some of the illustrations in the book, which included sexual acts depicted between 14-year-old Kobabe and others.
Knowing that I am fortunate enough to have a forum in the Times that lets me spread my voice far and wide, my brothers asked what I could do about it. My first genuine concern was, “How do I research the book to inform my editorial, without committing a crime?” The reason for the concern was that, having studied some law in undergrad, I know a thing or two about Canada’s laws. Section 163.1 of the Criminal Code of Canada reads, “In this section, child pornography means a photographic, film, video or other visual representation, whether or not it was made by electronic or mechanical means, that shows a person who is or is depicted as being under the age of eighteen years and is engaged in or is depicted as engaged in explicit sexual activity.”
Am I outright stating that some of the content of “Gender Queer” may constitute child pornography? Well to be bold… yes I am. The only exceptions to the very clear wording in the Criminal Code apply to when the material exists for legitimate purposes related to justice, science, medicine, education, or art, assuming that the material does not pose an undue risk of harm for minors. This exception is written into the criminal code to ensure that things like medical textbooks and legitimate sex education material in schools do not land qualified, well-meaning professionals in jail for possessing child pornography. I argue that these exceptions are not meant to protect an author who simply wanted to turn their own youth experiences into mass marketed smut.
I managed to research enough about the book, hopefully without red flagging myself as a predator, to know that it is real, it is widely available, and it is one of the most banned books in the USA. The parent in me is annoyed at how easy it is for kids today – even very young kids – to get their hands on explicit material. I imagine most of the parents reading this feel the same.
What is an absolute shame in all of this is that the LGBTQ2SIA+ community is often unwittingly associated with obscene material – and yes, I said “unwittingly”. Being gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender or non-binary or having any other “non straight, non cis” gender and sexual identity is still hard for many. One way for these individuals to overcome the discrimination is by being “loud and proud”, so to speak, which is the purpose of things like Pride parades. The problem is that even “loud and proud” demands a modicum of modesty, and I am sure that the overwhelming majority of LGBTQ2SIA+ individuals would agree.
It is unfortunate that all LGBTQ2SIA+ people end up getting painted with the same brush when one person decides to share their explicit sexual material involving minors, all in the name of sharing open gender and sexual identity expression. Gay people, bisexual people, transgender people, etc. do not advocate for the sexualization of children. They are not pedophiles or hebephiles, and they do not believe that every element of sexuality is fair game when it comes to talking to children, or writing material that they will inevitably read. In other words, I would argue that most LGBTQ2SIA+ people wouldn’t have a second thought about denouncing “Gender Queer”, or demanding that we “take the brush away” from people like Maia Kobabe.
The ridiculous and totally unfounded association between gay people and pedophiles and hebephiles is one that goes back centuries, and it is totally ridiculous that we are still battling with it today. When it comes to books like “Gender Queer”, we have to remember that just because a non-straight-non-cis person writes something so obscene that a humble newspaper editor fears having CSIS show up at his door just for researching it, does not mean that LGBTQ2SIA+ people are perverted. After all, when straight, cis people commit acts of perversion and sexual violence, we recognize that this is abnormal, and we don’t paint other straight people with the same brush. Let’s take the brush away from people like Maia Kobabe – don’t buy or read their material, and insist that it stay out of libraries. It’s time for parents to be empowered, and it’s time for kids to worry about nothing but play.
Not often does one see a ‘journalist’ advocate censorship.