Over the past year, Maia Kobabe'sGender Queerhas been at the center of the culture war. The unassuming but wonderfully written and illustrated memoir is the American book facing the most attempts to remove or restrict access to it, with conservatives and bigots calling it "grooming" and "child pornography." They are even trying to defund libraries that carry it. So far, it has been banned in at least 41 districts across the U.S.
Initially, the 2019 graphic memoir garnered nothing but praise. It received a Stonewall Book Award and won the American Library Association's Alex Award in 2020. It soon started appearing in libraries and schools nationwide. That's when conservatives found it. Now, the book has been challenged in at least 11 different states.
When Kobabe (who uses 'E' as a pronoun) wrote the book, E was honestly worried that people would find it a little boring. "Almost all of my conflict, and what I talk about in the book, is very internal," Kobabe explains. "I was really left alone by the world for a long time to just quietly think about my identity, my gender, and my sexuality on my own terms and at my own pace. And I never worried that my family would reject me or that I would lose friendships. It's a very small-focus story on one person's experience," E continues. "And I wasn't trying to make broad statements about 'This is what it's like to be nonbinary,' because I can't speak to that. I can only speak to my one singular experience of being nonbinary."
That very normalcy and lack of drama might be one of the main reasons Kobabe's book is being targeted. E wonders if the reactions are so violent because people don't want to see a book where a trans and a nonbinary person is accepted without conflict or negative consequences.
"At any turn, when I come out to someone [in the book], I'm faced with either acceptance or perhaps some confusion, but never rejection. And in many ways, I'm just really a normal, nerdy adult," Kobabe says. "I'm just a cartoonist who mostly works from home in my pajamas, and goes to conventions, and occasionally teaches workshops, and just goes about my super normal daily life as an adult, nonbinary-trans person. But that is a narrative that some people in this country don't want to be widely available."
Kobabe knows that not everyone can find that supportive community, but tells readers, "You are the foremost expert of your own identity. And whether you are questioning gender or sexuality, maybe some other facet of yourself, or none of those things -- you know who you are, and you are the one who has lived your own interior experience. Don't let other people make you question yourself too much."
Wanting readers to not internalize the hate the book engenders, Kobabe says these detractors are not voices to pay attention to. E also encourages other writers, especially those who might not have been published yet, to not let these bans and challenges silence them. "I'm really hoping that nobody ends up self-censoring themselves and being afraid to write your authentic true voice, or the story that you have burning inside you, for fear of being challenged later on down the line," Kobabe says.
This story is part of The Advocate's 2022 People Of The Year issue, which is out on newsstands Nov. 1. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe -- or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.