The Unjustified Banning of Gender Queer: How One Act of Censorship May Snowball

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.



Censorship in a country that boasts freedom of speech is as ironic as a fire station burning down. So why are book bans occurring in 138 school districts in 32 different states? And why is it happening on our own campus at Bishop’s?

In the 2021-2022 school year, Gender Queer, a memoir by Maia Kobabe, rose to become the most banned book in the nation. The memoir details Kobabe’s experiences and struggles with autoandrophilia (when a biological female is sexually aroused by the thought or image of herself as a man), gender dysmorphia, puberty, and many other subjects regarding eir gender identity. (Kobabe uses neopronouns, identifying with words that are not gender specific: e/em/eir rather than she/her/hers or he/him/his.)

The memoir itself is a graphic memoir, which has raised concern with many school boards. Many parents in different school districts feel that the illustrations in the panels may be too sexually explicit and contain discussions of inappropriate topics that should not be seen by students, especially those in younger grades. Even on our own campus, the book has been restricted from anonymous check out, making it required to specifically ask a librarian to borrow the memoir, a task that many could be embarrassed by. (The anonymous checkout system allows students to scan their own books in the library on the library computer and check them out without having to talk to anybody throughout the process)

 Reading the entire memoir and evaluating it as a whole, rather than only reading a few select pages out of context that were deemed “inappropriate” by parents, proved that the memoir was far from the ludicrous claims of “pornography.” Additionally, there are resources readily available to students that are much more explicit, most of which seem to be rooted in anti-LGBTQ+ beliefs or anti-taboo subjects, such as gender identity. But how would taking away resources regarding these subjects, such as Kobabe’s memoir, benefit The Bishop’s School claim of inclusivity? 

Many parents are concerned about the contents of Gender Queer, but there is an explanation for every concerning scene or page within the book. There are a couple of pages in the graphic memoir that seem inappropriate at first glance or a quick flip to the page without context. Some of these concerning pages include, but are not limited to, page 61 where masturbation and sexual arousal is mentioned, page 128 where a naked human with a sword stabbing through their stomach is shown, and page 167 where oral sex is depicted. 

Though these scenes seem inappropriate at first, they need to be read in context to be understood correctly. According to the New York Times, many critics and angered parents argue that a page like 167 constitutes “pornography.” However, there are an infinite amount of sources of real pornography or explicit information that are shown on the internet, as well as other books, some of which lie in our library unchallenged, such as “Kafka on the Shore” by Haruki Murakami which depicts rape. If pornography was the main concern regarding Gender Queer, shouldn’t other media also be challenged in the same way as this memoir?

Some parents of The Bishop’s School have also specifically challenged Kobabe’s memoir due to the panels that give the book a “picture book” feel that appeals to younger audiences.  However, similar to the reasons for the explicit topics discussed in a few pages, the illustrations in the panels may be crucial for Kobabe, a cartoonist, to fully express eir feelings. A fellow Banned Books classmate, Will Cluskey (‘24), said, “Reading that book [Gender Queer] in 6th grade would have scarred me.” 

Though that may be a bit of an exaggeration, a simple age recommendation on the cover of the memoir can easily resolve this concern. The age recommendation will not deter any middle school students who are in need of this resource as they are aware of the “risk” the book presents, but it will still be open for those that want to look to it as guidance. Since the book is not being forced upon anyone, it should remain on the shelves with an age recommendation to be available for those who need it.

Parents have complained that the book is overly inappropriate, having unnecessarily explicit scenes that serve little purpose. However, this book is a memoir that illustrates Kobabe’s personal experiences. Omitting the personal experiences of Kobabe that are explicit in nature (such as menstruation, masturbation, and sexual experiences) may completely change the intentional purpose of the memoir.

Additionally, Gender Queer acts as a resource for many teens and young adults who are facing the same problems and have the same questions that Kobabe once had. In fact, in an interview with the LA Times, Kobabe mentioned that many of eir high school friends actually came out to eir after reading the memoir and realized that they have struggled with the same questions, but never had anybody to talk about it with. Kobabe mentioned that e felt “honored by those truths.” 

Similarly, there are only a few resources, especially in Bishop’s own library, that students struggling with gender identity may find relatable, such as Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz and Too Bright to See by Kyle Lukoff. Eliminating another resource such as Gender Queer, would show questioning students that The Bishop’s School may not be the most inclusive space for students like them. 

Currently, the book is held in the librarian’s office, where students are able to access the resource by specifically requesting it from a librarian. However, the issue lies in the fact that many students may feel discouraged to request the book, as gender identity is often a personal dilemma that some may find uncomfortable to share with a librarian through asking for the memoir instead of an anonymous checkout. A letter from Head of School Mr. Ron Kim also describes the memoir as “profound and nuanced,” further proving that the resource is a benefit for many students. The problem that many parents have against Gender Queer may not only be the simple claim of “pornography” or sexually explicit content. Rather, it may be something relating to an anti-LGBTQ+ belief or a fear of queer identity. According to PEN America, a non-profit organization dedicated to defending free expression, one out of every three of the 1,145 books that were banned from school libraries and classrooms between July 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022, addressed LGBTQ+ themes. However, according to CCBC in 2017, only 3.68% of the books they received had significant LGBTQ+ content. These statistics exhibit the fact that books with LGBTQ+ content are often the target for book bannings — Gender Queer is no exception. 

One negative aspect of these anti-LGBTQ+ beliefs is that many students in schools all over the world are queer, and it is important for these schools, including our school, to make sure that those students are included and accepted for who they are. Putting Gender Queer: A Memoir back on the library shelves would be a good first step. 

 In many cases, terrible situations come from smaller mistakes that pile up. Book censorship starting with the singular banning of Gender Queer is no different. This idea is severely misleading as many people may start to feel entitled to banning any book that they simply don’t agree with or don’t like. Books such as Kobabe’s memoir talk about taboo subjects that many people feel strongly about, which is bound to lead to disagreements and controversy. Society needs to realize that. Showing that one book may be banned just because a group of people do not like its message demonstrates that people cannot write about that subject without being censored, which contradicts the First Amendment of Free Speech that Americans live under. Annalise Chang (‘23) describes a perfect solution in her Daily Urinal article, issue #55, to the problem of these “dangerously misleading” books: “if you don’t like it, don’t read it.” Parents may be able to control the media that their own children consume, but not limit the resources that other children may need. 

Kobabe’s memoir, Gender Queer, should not be banned or restricted in our school library or any other school library because of the guidance it may offer to students struggling with the same situations as mentioned inside the book, as well as the implications on censorship and freedom of expression if it were to be banned. Let’s show that The Bishop’s School supports its students for who they are and put Gender Queer back onto the shelves.