GENDER QUEER (& other books in our School & Town libraries)
What follows is a statement NK School Committee Chair Greg Blasbalg made at the Oct. 26 SC Meeting. For more background on the controversy surrounding the book Gender Queer: a Memoir by Maia Kobabe, see our Oct. 18 post by Kahlia Schmerer.
"Unfortunately, many of those individuals who have had objections to this book and have been publicly criticizing it on social media, and even on flyers distributed around town, have mischaracterized its content and its availability, either by using terms incorrectly or in misleading ways. Having said that, there are many who will object to this book regardless of context or value, usually without having even read more than a page or two, due to its frank discussions of homosexuality, trans-gender and non-binary identities, and sexual content. I am not speaking to you, as your opinions are set in stone.
"For those who are willing to listen, I offer these observations.
"First, this book has been labeled child-pornography and pornography. Words in the English language have established meanings, and under the dictionary and legal definition of those terms, this book is neither. Pornography is a noun defined as “sexually explicit videos, photographs, writings, or the like, whose purpose is to elicit sexual arousal.” Yes, the book has sexually explicit content, but that is only half of the definition. Those who have never read this book have no way to comment on what the purpose of that content is. As Dr. Auger has explained, that content serves a clear narrative and an informative purpose in the book, and is clearly not designed to elicit sexual arousal. In this internet world, any student who wishes to find actual pornography can easily find far more stimulating material than this book with a few swipes on their cellphone. It is also not Child Pornography. Child pornography under RI Law is pornography that contains images of actual children. This is a graphic novel (i.e. a comic book) and has no actual images. So, despite what some have said, the book is not pornography or child pornography by any established definition of those terms.
"The NKSD has libraries (known as media centers) in elementary, middle and High Schools. The elementary libraries serve K-5. In any elementary library there will be books that are perfectly appropriate for a 5th grader, but not for a 2nd grader. Yet, we do not pull all 5th grade-appropriate books from an elementary library just because a second grader might pull it off the shelf. I have heard the narrative that this book is available to children. It is in our High School library which serves grades 9-12. High school students are not children. They are young adults ranging in age from 14 to 18 years old. Let’s look at the milestones and legal realities for some of those ages. Under RI law a 16-year-old sophomore is old enough to consent to any medical or surgical procedure without parent’s consent. A 17-year-old junior is old enough to enlist in the military, be handed a rifle and to die for our country. Finally, an 18 year-old senior is a legal adult and old enough to view, or even appear in, actual pornography if they so choose. No teacher is assigning this book in a class as required or even optional reading. No one has to check out or read this book.
"Yes, it clearly contains sexual content. Yes, it is available to High School students who wish to read it. For the appropriate student in the High School questioning their sexual and gender identity it contains material that would help them understand that they are not alone. I assure you that the students who attend this high school have sexual and gender identities. Just like elementary libraries, our High School library cannot simply ignore or remove certain material because it may not be appropriate for the entire school population.
"If this book offends your sensibilities or morals, then this book was clearly not written for you. Simply do not read it - and tell your children to follow your lead. But that does not mean that it should be removed from the library and made unavailable to the population that it was written for — and that population absolutely includes some students who attend and will attend this school."
Chair, NK School Committee
October 26, 2021