LGBTQ Rights

The Book Banners Are Now Coming For Your Local Bookshop

  Rob Boston

Not content with banning books in public schools and public libraries, two far-right Republican legislators in Virginia are demanding that a bookstore curtail sales of two titles they dislike.

A member of the Virginia House of Delegates, Del. Timothy Anderson (R-Virginia Beach) has joined forces with Tommy Altman, a candidate for U.S. Congress, seeking a court order that would bar a Barnes & Noble store in Virginia Beach from selling the books to minors, media outlets have reported.

The targeted books are Gender Queer, a memoir by Maia Kobabe, and A Court of Mist and Fury, a fantasy novel by Sarah J. Maas.

I’ll admit I have not read either book. But Gender Queer is an award-winning tome that School Library Journal lauded as “a great resource for those who identify as nonbinary or asexual as well as for those who know someone who identifies that way and wish to better understand.” A Court of Mist and Fury, meanwhile, is a work of fiction by a best-selling author that’s part of a popular series. The book contains graphic sex scenes and is clearly intended for adult readers.

So how did these two dissimilar titles get linked? Most likely what’s happening here is that Anderson’s real target is Gender Queer, the most-censored book of 2021 and a title that often raises the ire of religious conservatives who are stepping up their attacks on the transgender community.

Gender Queer is a book that some young people (especially those who have questions about their sexuality or who have friends who are non-binary or transgender) could find valuable. By tying the memoir to a violent, sex-filled fantasy novel, Anderson seeks to create a false equivalency – the two are equally “obscene” and must be banned.

But the fact is, many works of fiction contain sex scenes, and many non-fiction titles include frank, factual discussions about human sexuality. Parents, as part of their many duties, guide their children toward books they feel are appropriate and away from material they conclude their kids should not see.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that, historically, the label “obscene” has been slapped on books that offend the far right’s political sensibilities. The goal here isn’t to protect anyone from smut but to curtail access to ideas in these volumes that ultraconservatives find threatening. John Steinbeck’s classic The Grapes of Wrath contains no sex scenes but was called “obscene” in Kern County, Calif., in 1939 and publicly burned. The companies that ran the state’s fruit/vegetable oligarchy were worried that the novel’s socialistic message would resonate with field workers who might be inspired to demand better wages and working conditions.

Parents don’t need Anderson’s and Altman’s help in “protecting” their children. In fact, the only thing these two are protecting is ignorance, fear and the denial of useful information to young people.

Now that’s really obscene.

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