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‘Gender Queer’ author reacts to senator reading sexual excerpt aloud in Congress

· Updated on September 21, 2023

The coming-of-age memoir Gender Queer has been earning praise and prompting controversy since it first appeared in 2019. Written and illustrated by Maia Kobabe, attention toward the book reached a new peak last week when Louisiana Senator John Kennedy decided to read out a passage in congress.

The Senate Judiciary Hearing last Tuesday focused on what literature is available in US schools.

Many on the right of the political spectrum point toward Gender Queer as a book that needs banning. In fact, it already has been banned by many school districts.

Kennedy, a Republican, chose to read out a passage that talked about a character trying on a strap-on harness.

“I got a new strap-on harness today. I can’t wait to put it on you. It will fit my favorite dildo perfectly. You are going to look so hot. I can’t wait to have your cock in my life. I’m going to give you the blowjob of your life, then I want you inside of me,” Kennedy read.

“I don’t recommend this book for kids!”

Author Kobabe—who uses e/em/eir pronouns—has been dealing with concerned parents reading out passages from the book at school board meetings for the past couple of years.

Speaking to the The Washington Post last Thursday, Kobabe said that Kennedy seemed to think that because the book was in comic book format, it was aimed at kids. This is not the case, Kobabe said.

Gender Queer is a comic, and in full color, but that doesn’t mean it’s for children,” Kobabe said. “I originally wrote it for my parents, and then for older teens who were already asking these questions about themselves. I don’t recommend this book for kids!”

Kobabe also pointed out the passage Kennedy chose was presented without any reference to the images accompanying it.

“Because the images on that page are not salacious at all — it’s an illustration of me sitting at my job, which was in a library, reading text messages from someone I was dating.”

Kobabe also pointed out the scene revolved around the issue of consent — something everyone exploring sex for the first time should know about.

“That it’s okay, even mid-sexual experience, to stop and check in with your partner and say, ‘This isn’t working for me, and I need to back off.’”

“It’s a scene about showing the reader I think that’s a message that’s important to share, and it’s not one that I heard often when I was a teenager.”

“Please read it before you judge”

Gender Queer was named the most banned book in the 2021-22 school year by Pen America. The organization notes that although the book was not originally marketed toward young adults, it earned itself an Alex Award from the American Library Association for being of special interest to teens.

In a previous interview with Pen, Kobabe said the book was written first as a letter to eir parents to explain being non-binary. Kobabe said e wished such a book had been available when e was younger.

“I spent my teen years searching for queer stories and I was a high schooler in the early 2000s. There was a lot less representation at that time and I felt like what I found was crumbs, side characters, tiny little side plots, one-off episodes and TV shows. And I was so hungry for queer stories, and I was so hungry for stories that touched on gender. And I was able to find very, very few. But I think if I had been able to find a book like Gender Queer as a teenager, it would have meant the world to me.”

Kobabe went on to say, “Please read it before you judge it … And if I’d had a book to read like this, specifically, when I was like a freshman in high school, it would have saved me years of questioning and confusion about my identity.”

Maia Kobabe photo: Chelsea Kurnick

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