Letter to the Editor

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The Great Neck Library’s Debate on Banning Certain Books

The center of the debate around the recent Great Neck Library board election is the banning of books like Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe, which has been called into question due to claims that it exposes sexually explicit imagery and obscenity to children. However, this argument, based entirely on a few panels of sexual exploration within the book, is not only misleading but also harmful to perpetuate.

Gender Queer is an honest, healthy depiction of the coming of age that naturally includes a few sexual experiences—fitting for its intended audience, given that Kobabe specifically recommended the book for high schoolers and above. Considering that said high schoolers and above have likely already gone through puberty, think and recognize sexual thoughts, and were probably properly educated on the topic of sex through their school system, it is hard to say that a few drawings have the capability to irreversibly damage their psyche.

Likewise, to claim that the book is marketed towards children is a gross misrepresentation of its undistorted form: it isn’t like people are deliberately placing Gender Queer among Charlotte’s Web and The Cat in the Hat. Rather, taking its rather mature subject matter into account, the title would be aptly filtered under the 16+ label. When cataloged properly within the library, then, the likelihood of a person picking up a book with the title Gender Queer without having at least a vague sense of the subject matter is extremely, extremely slim. Additionally, the book’s mere presence in the library will not automatically force every unwitting person over the age of 16 to pick it up and digest it: just as with any other book, teens who do not want to be subject to the topics within Gender Queer can simply exercise their ability to… well, ignore it completely.

But suppose this portrayal of sex really is awful, and no high schooler should ever be subject to its extreme obscenity. In that case, why stop at books? If this memoir should be banned for obscene content, why not shows like Riverdale, shows that feature on-screen sexualization and portrayal of underage characters having sex for no narrative purpose? Why is a realistic, healthy exploration of one’s sexual identity in an already restricted book banned when blatantly purposeless sex in shows marketed towards thirteen-and-olders are not only barely restricted, but extremely prominent in teen culture? Sure, little kids shouldn’t be allowed to view extremely explicit sexual content, but does that objection really apply to the matter of developing teens reading a coming-of-age story with only a few panels of sexual exploration?

Simple: it shouldn’t, but not even this reasoning is going to stop detractors from arguing their point. That’s because it’s not really the sexual explicitness of the book that’s being challenged, but rather, the open expression of LGBT identity. The best interests of the children are clearly only secondary to these concerned adults’ own agenda—if preserving their kids’ innocence is truly their goal, what kind of example are they setting to these naive eyes by hate-criming pro-LGBT library candidates on the streets? By banning the book, we perpetuate a bigoted system that reinforces itself: if the topic of sex itself is made taboo, it will be harder for books to discuss sexuality, diminishing awareness of the LGBT experience and in turn isolating many more LGBT teens from discovering themselves through the wisdom of others. Ultimately, then, banning books such as Gender Queer is not only a restriction of the freedom of expression, but also a harmful message to youth everywhere: at the drop of a hat, the adults around you have the power to actively inhibit your own coming-of-age experience simply to satisfy their personal wants.

—Submitted by Sue Zhang,
Junior at Great Neck High School

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