Disappointment at Characterization of Award-Winning LGBTQ+ Book as “Disgusting”

Written by Allison Kahn, Greenwich

If you spot an item on the menu at a restaurant that you don’t think you’ll like, there’s an obvious default response: don’t order it. You could opt to be brave and try it, but it’s also perfectly acceptable to move on and select something else that you think you will better enjoy. Same goes for your teenager.

You can suggest what they order, even mandate what they order, but you would never go over to the table across the restaurant and demand that a stranger’s teenager order what you want, or not be allowed to order the item that you don’t like. That would be weird, borderline harassment. You most certainly wouldn’t ever think to ban the item from the menu so that no one else could order it ever again. Why should your opinions inform what others can do?

The same is true for books available at the public library.

That’s why I was surprised to see language in First Selectman Fred Camillo’s July 29 Community Connections newsletter that felt unprofessional, short-sighted and potentially harmful. It felt like slap in the face, to be honest. At first, I was just surprised to see that he used the word “disgusting” to describe an award-winning book from a major publisher. More concerning, though, was that the word was used to describe a book authored by a person in the LGBTQ+ community. I’m sure he is aware, though I want to give him the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t realize in the moment what he was doing, that our community has a long history of being called bad names and worse.

I appreciate how our First Selectman has been intentional in bringing people together, including through some of the most trying times in this town’s and arguably in our nation’s history. But his pandering to a small minority of extreme right-wingers who do not represent the moral majority of this town is a misstep and, despite my fondness for him and his assumed good intentions, one that must be called out.

I speak out for our teens and young adults who are at their most vulnerable.

The book under the moral police’s firing squad, “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” written by Maia Kobabe, a nonbinary, queer author and illustrator from the Bay Area, is a graphic novel about a young person coming of age. It touches on so many of the relatable themes that all young adults face – self-identity and discovery, family, friends, bodily autonomy and violation, and so much more. And yes, gasp, it also talks about and illustrates on a couple of pages, cartoon images of teenagers – and specifically the author and protagonist, nude and engaged in intimate, sexual experiences. It is not gratuitous for the sake of being gratuitous; rather, it is the author’s personal story and the passage describes, if you actually read it, how they came to better understand their gender identity through these experiences.

This nonsensical witch hunt on literature that we’re seeing across the country and which our town is clearly not immune to, led by a disinformed fringe, is nothing short of draconian and dangerous. Indeed, the right-wingers who peddle misinformation and 17th Century Puritan practices (spewing the suspiciously same vitriol from the same playbook as other groups around the country, right down to targeting the very same book that none of them have likely even read) are stifling discourse, education and progress towards greater equity and inclusion. Their actions in attempting to ban a book feels eerily reminiscent to a dystopian Ray Bradbury or Margaret Atwood novel. If those waging these purposeless culture wars put down their pitchforks long enough to read these books, they’d quickly realize it didn’t turn out well for anyone involved.

We cannot pretend that life is the thing that happens somewhere else to people who aren’t our 12, 16, or 19-year-olds. We can’t let our teens have cell phones and internet and friends and pretend they don’t already know way more than we think they do, or than we might have been exposed to when we were their age. What’s more, we cannot impose our views on others in a way that limits all our access to information. It’s pretty simple: If you don’t like the book, don’t read the book. But by all means, do not fire up your torches and strip your neighbors of their right to.

With upwards of 25% of young people identifying as gender nonbinary or LGBTQ+, so many of our town’s young adults, including our own children whether we are aware or not, may be in that process of self-discovery. Finding an affirmative book or resource or mentor during a time of heightened vulnerability can be the difference between life and death for some young adults. With heightened rates of depression and anxiety and an uptick in attacks against LGBTQ+ people, both legislatively and in our streets and schools, we ought to be extra vigilant about how our words and actions impact their safety and wellbeing. That’s doubly true for our leaders who purport to represent and look after the wellbeing of all under their jurisdiction. I hope all Greenwich parents care about supporting our most vulnerable children more than they do blind causes from far-flung political action committees that they don’t even fully understand.

“Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love,” sounds like a line from a smut novel that some might feel a reflex to ban or shield their teens from, but it’s actually a line from the bible, Proverbs 5:18–19 ESV to be exact. We also haven’t banned Genesis 2:24, which reads, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” If it’s from 2,000 years ago and connected to Christian religion, it’s apparently OK for public consumption. But when it’s written by a 21st Century queer person, we must break out the torches and burn it down.

As someone approaching middle age, hearing my town’s leader use the word “disgusting” alongside a word I identify with, “queer” was alarming, jarring, hurtful. For someone who is just coming of age and
not yet confident in who they are, it could be devastating beyond reproach.

There is a distinction between porn and literature; small children and teenagers; disinformed factions and thoughtful educators.

We ought to be smart enough to decipher.

Allison Kahn, Greenwich