Exclude Access Too Explicit for the Young Brains of Bishop’s

A Note From the Editors: 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.

Just as roller coaster rides are thrilling and eye-opening at parts, they can also be dangerous and horrifying. The twists and turns of the Gender Queer roller coaster may be too much for young eyes to handle. 

Middle school is a time when cognitive development flourishes. Young minds are growing exponentially at this time when it comes to aspects of maturity, empathy, power, and influence. During such an influential time in adolescence, it is crucial for young kids to be consuming appropriate and safe information that will not, in time, damage their lives or habits. 

The emphasis on this development has served as the sole argument for banning the memoir Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe (e/em/eirs). Before October 2022, the book had been banned from 29 school districts specifically for LGBTQ+ and sexually explicit content, causing controversy to spew all over the nation; now that controversy appears on The Bishop’s School campus. 

Many middle school parents find themselves disturbed by the lack of age restriction over this book, believing it’s too sexually explicit for younger eyes. After studying this memoir in the Banned Books course, it is simple to see that this book requires an age restriction for middle school students here, to protect their minds from being prematurely exposed to mature content. Why would Bishop’s put young minds at risk of exposure to inappropriate mature content that could alter their adolescent lives? 

Students on the Bishop’s campus range in age, some students as young as 11 and 12, but the target audience for this book is 12-18. While no, students are not being forced to read the book, such young and impressionable minds may not be ready to be exposed to explicit sexual content inside. Exposure to explicit or dirty language and alarming panels in the memoir set examples for kids and can promote an early development of sexuality that isn’t positive. 

One of the most controversial images in the book portrays two biological female characters engaging in oral sex in highly graphic detail. According to a study conducted by researchers and the National Library of Medicine, exposure to sexually blunt media can cause problems with sexuality in later adolescence including “early sexual debut, unsafe sex, and [many] sexual partners.” Vulnerable young brains having this sort of sexual exposure has proven to be likely to cause personal obstacles with sexual relationships down the road. 

The captions and dialogue in the book are alarming, and at times, dirty and blunt. Subjection to this kind of language may promote the use of it in the lives of adolescents who are likely not sagacious enough to understand its weight and the trials and tribulations of the author on eir gender journey. The Head of School Mr. Ron Kim said, “I would think that we can all agree that there are some people who aren’t quite ready to read certain books” referencing the maturity levels of young students on campus. 

A specifically vulgar caption reads a detailed exchange of “sexts” about wanting to engage in oral sex and sexual intercourse (166). Imagining a 6th grader reading and visualizing these words is difficult, especially while lacking a mature understanding of this content. The community’s concern over this book not only exhibits that the content is inappropriate but it may facilitate the practice of the language and actions exhibited. 

Would you feel comfortable watching a middle schooler, maybe your sibling, pick this book up and consume these panels? Some people do. Members of this Bishop’s community and around the country believe that it is important for young children to read and see these images to help them get a better understanding of certain topics. One of the argued topics of importance is understanding the meaning of being someone who identifies as non-binary or what their personal sexual journey may look like while experiencing gender identity confusion. 

On The Bishop’s School campus, many faculty members and students have voiced their thoughts on the memoir and the importance of it being available on the shelves. Mr. Kim commented on why the book should be on the shelves and his personal experience with it, saying, “I haven’t gone through the experience that this person has and it really helped me understand to some extent what it must feel like to be that person. It helped me have a level of empathy that was probably greater than I had before and I think the more empathy I have for another person the more it helps me be a good person.” Mr. Kim expressed many others’ experiences to understand unfamiliar gender experiences and how this serves to educate the community. 

While this resource is said to be a great learning tool for those who are uneducated or lack knowledge surrounding these subjects touched upon in the memoir, students and faculty argue that it is useful for those experiencing gender confusion in their own lives. In a Washington Post publication written by the author of the memoir Maia Kobabe, e argues, “Removing or restricting queer books in libraries and schools is like cutting a lifeline for queer youth, who might not yet even know what terms to ask Google to find out more about their own identities, bodies, and health.” This opinion presents itself on campus through student, teacher, and faculty voices. 

While one can understand how gender and sexuality pack a punch when it comes to finding your self-identity, we need to let the young minds on campus form their own personal opinions and limit premature exposure to topics not suitable for these students. 

Students who consume this memoir should be at an age where they have already begun to form their own opinions and think for themselves. Not every girl will experience their period in the same way Kobabe does, imagining finding toilets “overflowing with a pool of blood and shit” or finding blood everywhere from eir’s waist down to eir knees (166). This is not the reality for the majority of people and might implement horror into girls who haven’t even experienced it for themselves yet. I find it unsettling to allow young girls to read these panels before finding out and forming their own viewpoints. 

I know other books far more vulgar or sexually explicit exist out there like Hunger Games or any Stephen King book. The difference is, those books are not being written and designed in a way so suitable for children. Kobabe created a memoir full of vibrant and cartoon-like panels which grasp the attention of young readers whom e wrote this book specifically for. For those of you, who when younger, read graphic novels like Dog Man or Smile, Gender Queer appears the same on the outside, but it’s a facade — what lies on the inside is far more unsettling than a typical children’s graphic novel. This book could serve as a useful resource in the upper school, where minds are likely able to handle its maturity, but currently, it is not directed toward the right audience. 

 There is a level of maturity needed in order to grapple the scenes illustrated in the book and the 12-year-old students on the Bishop’s campus are not quite at that level.