What Are We Really Teaching Our Children?
Over the last several weeks, the book Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe has become the subject of many conversations, Facebook posts, unsolicited flyers, and threats of legal action. As noted in the title, this book is a memoir – someone’s true, personal story. It’s also a graphic novel, a book presented in comic strip format. Like many memoirs, this story contains content that is serious and sometimes explicit. The focus has been on one page depicting an experience Kobabe had as a 25-year-old. One page from the book of 240 pages has sparked a lot of discussion in our community, much of it containing harmful anti-LGBTQ rhetoric.
People are suggesting this book is harmful to children. What’s actually harmful to children is watching adults respond in this bullying way to differences in gender identity and sexual orientation. The language used around this particular book is dehumanizing. It conflates LGBTQ identities with pedophilia and other criminal activity, a false assumption especially detrimental to vulnerable teens. That conflation also diminishes the gravity of actual sexual abuse cases, and it diminishes the experiences of victims of abuse.
It also teaches young people that bullying their LGBTQ peers is acceptable. It teaches them that if they don’t understand or agree with another person’s identity, they should tear them down for it. That’s how we raise a generation of closed-minded, hateful people. And that’s detrimental to everyone.
I encourage anyone reading this to think critically about the ramifications of responding this way to the true story of a gender non-binary person. What message does that send to queer people? What message does that send to anyone else? Would you love your child less if they were queer? Would you be proud of your child if they bullied someone for being queer?
Having books available that represent the LGBTQ community is not only rightly inclusive but has proven to prevent self-harm among teens. Representation matters. Seeing yourself reflected in your high school library is life-affirming, and we should want that for everyone. Kahlia Shmerer, she/her Elected Member of the North Kingstown Democratic Town Committee