There I was, just scrolling through Facebook, when I discovered my hometown library, a sanctuary of my youth, at the center of a book-banning controversy. According to the Victoria Advocate, one group of parents did not appreciate sexual situations and queer portrayals in the city’s public library books. A few of the books in question:
The Moon Within by Aida Salazar
Sex Is a Funny Word: A Book about Bodies, Feelings and YOU by Cory Silverberg
The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta
While the powers that be haven’t decided whether the books will be reorganized or removed from the Victoria Public Library, the bombshell in this headline led me down a rabbit hole of nonsense.
What I believed to be a one-off act of censorship is actually a sweeping movement to hide queerness and sex from youth who may need this education the most. So let’s roll up our sleeves and unpack what’s happening here.
Sex Positivity (The Horror!)
As a young Latina residing in a religious community, sex education was, shall we say, frowned upon. Although I eventually received a scientific idea of sex in my high school health class, my ideas mostly came from the Bible, a middle school lesson that involved pictures of STDs and a signed purity pledge, vague descriptions from my parents, and forbidden late-night HBO.
Oh, the shame of having a body! Rather than learn about how my body worked and how to keep it safe, my physical framework was a forbidden mystery, and by extension, so were my thoughts and feelings of sex. At a time when every teenager’s self-hate is at its height, this did not bode well for my emotional, mental, and social state.
- If I had known just a little less about sex, what would have happened? Would I have ended up with an unwanted pregnancy?
- How different would my life have been if every part of me was treated as natural, with a trusted guide to help me along the way?
- Would the predators in my life have been avoided?
When we keep our children and teenagers away from sex education and literature that lets them know who they are as human beings, we take away their power and ability to control their own destinies. Instead, all they get is ignorance, and with ignorance comes harm.
Sex Shaming and Queer Phobia Go Hand in Hand
So what do sex and queerness have to do with each other? The way queerphobes tell it, LGBTQ existence should be kept behind closed doors. We can easily argue that there is a religious component to that idea in the U.S., but I believe that’s only one part. While hetero couples can make out on screen and on the page, hint at a queer couple and everyone loses their minds. (Looking at you Jon Kent, our new bisexual Superman. Rock on.)
To boil it down: cis man + cis woman holding hands = fine, while trans woman + cis man holding hands = perversion.
It’s as if the queer relationships are considered hypersexual by default.
I believe the true fear underlying queerphobia, sex-shaming, and today’s book banning movement boils down to a common denominator: fear of our own bodies and selves.
Act with Love, Not Fear
Banning public library books that include sexual situations and queer portrayals is a horrible idea for all the reasons listed above. What can you do in a time of censorship, sex-shaming, and queerphobia?
- Repeat after me: your body, your mind, and your feelings are valid. While the world may make you feel like you’re wrong, the truth is, you’re only human. As long as you’re approaching others with respect and learning from your mistakes, embracing the entirety of who you are can never be wrong.
- Be a safety net for others. Let the youth in your life know you are there for them, and they are not alone in navigating the world.
- Buy banned books! It’s a great way to push back against censorship and if you have youth in your life that would benefit, send them a copy.
- Take the old-fashioned route and speak up at school and public library meetings. While there will always be people who try to silence others, book banning won’t get rid of itself.
- Finally, tell your stories. A young person may just read your book, watch your video, or listen to your podcast and come out a little wiser and a little less alone.