The Queer-azy Silencing of Gender Queer

A Tragedy of Acceptance, Inclusion, and Guidance

Luke Ball, Guest Writer

In January, students in Ms. Amy Allen’s Banned Books class composed a series of Op-Eds in response to the controversy surrounding Maia Kobabe’s graphic novel Gender Queer. Since then, the library has changed its policy regarding mature graphic novels. The library has separated the graphic novels into two sections: one for middle and another for upper school. We are choosing to publish this article because we want to highlight the community’s voice on important issues. We hope this sets the precedent to our community: if there is an issue you are passionate about, we encourage you to send us an article. 

The Bishop’s School, a safe place for students to venture through adolescence, transformed into a place of restlessness for LGTBQ+ students by excluding and restricting Gender Queer: A Memoir from the library shelves. 

On November 14, The Bishop’s School joined 138 school districts in 32 different states and unjustly stole access to Maia Kobabe’s (e/eir/em) Gender Queer. The memoir explores Kobabe’s arduous journey through gender dysmorphia, auto androphilia, and adolescence in vivid detail. The most banned book in America was once again swept under the rug because parents expressed their concern that its explicit content was influencing students’ ideas of identity and sexuality. Now, the graphic memoir can only be accessed if you request it. Even though Gender Queer was placed in the library to provide knowledge and support about sensitive subjects, it was hypocritically seen as a dangerous tool that should be restricted. Instead of protecting students, our school puts them at risk by creating a harmful stigmatizing barrier around Gender Queer. The Bishop’s School goes against its Episcopal Identity and limits access to an essential guide which offers support through inclusive literature that lets struggling and curious students know that they are not alone. 

It is hypocritical that a school that puts inclusion above all else, is excluding a book about identity and sexuality. It is also odd that one of the best schools in the country (ranked 27th best private school) is making changes just because parents told them to. In September 2021, the Governing Board of the National Association of Episcopal Schools released a statement on inclusion and Episcopal identity, “As Episcopal schools, we also are the beneficiaries of a strong intellectual tradition, characterized by questioning and probing further into the ideals and beliefs that ground us. This means often entering into difficult conversations on matters of how we differ from each other, instead of sidestepping them.” They continued to talk about how Episcopal conversations are characterized by honoring others, not shaming or dismissing them. However, instead of embracing the Episcopal identity, our school took parents’ advice and put up barriers around Gender Queer. ‘Sidestepping’ and ‘dismissing’ was clearly discouraged according to the Episcopal Identity, but they still managed to occur. The bottom line is Gender Queer is a positive story about inclusivity and navigating the depths of identity, sexuality, and gender. In order to create a safe and comfortable environment for queer and straight students who are struggling, curious, or confused, Gender Queer should be placed on the shelves again.

Although Gender Queer is graphic and includes mature content, it’s still a story about the depths of learning identity. Additionally, if you restrict a book about LGTBQ+ identity, you are restricting support for the community. In the Daily Urinal article “Reflections on Gender Queer,” Ava Bradley (‘23) stated, “When you limit access to these resources and stories, placing a barrier that can only be crossed with the permission of a potentially unsupportive adult, you create scenarios where these young students feel isolated and ostracized.” There should be no scenario where students may feel isolated, excluded, and ostracized, especially with topics like gender, identity, and sexuality in the equation. 

Exclusion of Gender Queer leads to gender dysmorphia, confusion, and self-hatred because it alienates those who identify differently. Acceptance is vital to prevent mental health issues. A safe environment for students to grow is crucial. According to the Trevor Project, “LGBTQ+ youth, especially those without support or language to describe their experiences, are at a greater risk of mental health distress and suicide than cis-gender, heterosexual youth.” The lack of language for gender, identity, and sexuality is a serious problem which Maia Kobabe presents in Gender Queer as well. On pages 66 and 67, Maia Kobabe shows how identity is not as black and white as people may think, “This seed put out many leaves, but I don’t have the language to identify the plant. In high school, I began to theorize that I had been born with two half-souls, one male and one female.” By taking Gender Queer off the shelves, The Bishop’s School is removing support and language for LGBTQ+ youth. This creates a feeling of alienation and exclusion which is detrimental to students who are struggling with their identities.

In Mr. Kim’s letter to the community, he stated “As an Episcopal school, it is vital that all students know that they are loved as they are, that there is nothing wrong with them if they don’t always feel like others, and having resources that remind them of that is essential.” Gender Queer targets everyone, not only the LGTBQ+ youth. It is an essential resource that provides support for all students during this pivotal time in our lives. In an interview with the L.A. Times, Maia Kobabe explained that, “It’s just a story about finding out who you are. Everyone has to find out who they are.” Maia Kobabe’s story of figuring out eir identity has helped many others, including some of her closest friends. E also stated, “I had never suspected they were questioning their gender. But after reading my book they felt safe to say, ‘I actually relate to this. I’ve really been struggling with this as well, and I’ve never talked to many people about it.’ I felt honored by those truths.” As a result of inviting the discussion of identity and sexuality, lots of people have come out to Maia Kobabe. This means the memoir helps all adolescents and is a supportive tool that should be taken advantage of, not dismissed in any way, shape or form.

On the other hand, some say Gender Queer should be restricted to younger audiences. Dr. Scott Ball, my dad, believes inclusion is imperative, but also says “Like a PG-13 or rated-R movie, it should not be totally accessible to a middle-schooler. I believe that the book should be in the library, but should be restricted for middle school students because the content is too mature.” Also, in an interview with the L.A. Times, the Republican Gov. Henry McMaster of South Carolina chastised a local school district for carrying Gender Queer. The governor said the memoir “contains sexually explicit and pornographic depictions, which easily meet or exceed the statutory definition of obscenity.” 

A concerned and active parent in the Bishop’s community, Beth Ball, offered an alternative opinion. “I want my kids to be exposed to stuff like this and learn about it, but not all parents are the same.” Overall, Ms. Ball thinks the school should provide a safe environment by placing Gender Queer on the shelves with no restrictions because “adolescents look for anything that could help them with what they’re going through.” Ms. Ball also believes parents should use it as a “teaching moment because each household and student is different.” Ms. Ball’s idea of letting the parents have more control over their children by helping them choose what to read prevents future backlash and creates a safe environment for the students at school and at home. Also, it opens up discussions at home while providing support for LGTBQ+ youth. Having a safe place at home is also essential. Despite facing numerous challenges, Maia Kobabe ended eir memoir with a positive note to eir parents, “Though I have struggled with being your daughter, I am so, so glad I am your child.” This goes to show just how important a safe home environment is for those who are struggling with their identity. 

Gender Queer: A Memoir should not be restricted because it provides a powerful and personal insight into the lived experiences of those who identify as queer. The book not only educates readers on the complexities of identity, but it also humanizes and gives a face to a marginalized community. This is too often taken for granted and devalued. Restricting access to this book would be a disservice to those who are seeking to understand the LGBTQ+ community, as well as to those who may be questioning their own character. It is a required resource for creating a more inclusive and accepting society for everyone. In a world that is often hostile to those who don’t fit into societal norms, it is key to have narratives like Gender Queer that can help foster empathy. Restriction of Gender Queer is a restriction of support. At a school whose students depend on it to be a safe place, barriers should be broken, not built.