A lawsuit aimed at stopping the sale of a ‘pornographic’ gender memoir to minors has been dismissed in the state of Virginia, and the decision is sparking controversy across social media.
Initial concerns about Gender Queer, a graphic novel by Maia Kobabe, began circulating after its release last year due to content many called inappropriate for children. The book, which is largely animated includes graphic descriptions of Kobabe’s sexual development and escapades as a young girl. Kobabe is a biological female who identifies as “asexual” and “gender queer,” and uses e/em/eir pronouns.
Among the graphic content includes descriptions of a 12-year-old Kobabe masturbating to the thought of having a penis, and a conversation between her and her sister which results in a minor Kobabe tasting her own vaginal fluid. The book also favorably depicts breast binding — a practice which has been found to pose multiple negative health effects for young women.
The book sparked widespread backlash due to its graphic content, and, as a result, it has been banned in many school districts and libraries across the United States.
In May, Virginia became the latest state to join the fight as Delegate Tim Anderson, on behalf of client Tommy Altman, filed an obscenity lawsuit at a Virginia Beach circuit court. Altman was seeking to have the book removed from schools and libraries in the state, but also sought to prevent major book retailers in Virginia from selling copies to minors. But the lawsuit was dismissed this week after a Judge determined that Virginia law did not allow her the specific authority to determine if the books were obscene for minors.
Judge Pamela S. Baskervill had earlier found probable cause that the book could be considered obscene.
As a memoir, Gender Queer tells of Kobabe’s childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. Kobabe describes how she began to question her identity after reading books that contained “gay sex scenes”. She explains how, at “11 or 12 years old,” she began “fantasizing about having a penis” and would masturbate by “stuffing a sock into the front of my pants and manipulating the bulge” while envisioning gay men having sex.
“Memorably, I got off once while driving just by rubbing the front of my jeans and imagining getting a blowjob,” Kobabe writes.
Several scenes in Gender Queer also positively portray the act of breast binding, and one panel references “Oh Joy, Sex Toy,” a web comic by Erika Moen which depicts graphic illustrations of sex. The site claims to be only for those who are over 18, but is accessible without age verification.
Some of the illustrated pornography on “Oh Joy, Sex Toy” depicts “furrydom,” a euphemism for anthropomorphic animals engaging in sexual activity. It also links to websites that host archives of pornography on the theme of tranvestic fetishism, or male sexual cross-dressing, and BDSM.
Many parents have objected to Gender Queer being available in school libraries. Miranda Stovall, a mother of four, spoke at a meeting with administrators of Kentucky’s Jefferson County Public Schools in July. Stovall had filed a formal dispute requesting the book be removed from four schools in the state.
“I’ve been told this book Gender Queer is necessary for children to see themselves and feel accepted. I believe that all children should be accepted and loved. Accepting and loving children does not mean putting pornography in their hands. [School administrators] all collectively disagreed that graphic pictures… and advertisements for porn sites are obscene materials for children… This book has the potential to lead children as young as 14 years old to actual pornography on the internet,” Stovall said.
In October of 2021, another parent was removed from a school board meeting in Florida by police for reading the book aloud to the audience during the public testimony portion of the meeting.
The Orange County School Board Chair, Teresa Jacobs, directed police officers to remove parent Jacob Engels from the meeting and said “the language he just read is inappropriate for this forum.” Engels had found the graphic novel in the her child’s high school library.
However, despite the criticism from parents and lawmakers, the book still received a number of awards and was one of the 2020 Alex Award Winners for “books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults ages 12 through 18.”
Among those who have championed Gender Queer include trans activist Eli Erlick, who recently came under fire for past sexual assault allegations, as well as offering to supply minors with free cross-sex hormones with no oversight.
In response to news that the obscenity lawsuit against Gender Queer had been dropped, TIME magazine issued a profile on Kobabe. When asked why she had decided to write her memoir, Kobabe told TIME, “I think I was really envisioning people like myself. People who were thinking about gender, who were probably either in their late-teens to mid-20s. Who kind of had the same level of language and media exposure as young people that I did.”
TIME received considerable backlash on social media for the interview with Kobabe. At the time of publication their tweet had received only 800 likes but had wracked up over 8,800 primarily negative replies from those dissatisfied with the glowing profile, which largely glossed over the public’s concerns about the book.
“This ‘asexual’ person is being celebrated by Time for writing to children about masturbation,” popular UK-based information service @ripx4nutmeg wrote.
“My favorite part of the book is when she learns that getting a pretend blow job while wearing a strap-on doesn’t actually feel like anything. A universal lesson kids need to learn, no?” Twitter user Sarah Beth Burwick wrote sarcastically.
In addition to those criticizing the content of the memoir, some in TIME’s replies were expressing amusement with Kobabe’s pronoun choice.
Sall Grover, founder of women’s social media app Giggle, replied to tweet calling it “The stupidest sentence I have ever read,” while conservative commentator Matt Walsh gained over 19,000 likes for his mocking keyboard-smash.
My pronouns are kwioaljfnaueakjnfkak/ealjnuaepasnfjnweounaljsnflajnelfnakjaf/ajnfoenfoiefnkjnfiuouenafef03910394— Matt Walsh (@MattWalshBlog) September 1, 2022
Please refer to me accordingly
Many of the replies also expressed concern that the book would confuse young teenagers about their gender.
A new report published by the UCLA Williams Institute found that the number of young people who identify as transgender has nearly doubled in recent years. Approximately 1.6 million youth over the age of 13 are self-reporting to have a gender identity different from their sex.
Illustrated pornography depicting homosexual male relationships has been cited as a source of gender identity confusion by an outspoken detransitioner. In February, Helena Kerschner published an article to her Substack detailing her dive “deeper and deeper down the trans identity rabbit hole,” which she first became exposed to through Tumblr at the age of thirteen.
Discussing the type of content that was shared online among teen girls who were identifying as transgender, Kerschner writes, “Pure erotica was popular too (often carrying heavy kinky themes). I began to identify with these representations of boys written by other young females, and the themes within male/male fanfiction were so much more titillating than anything in mainstream, professionally produced media.”
In June, a mother of a detransitioned daughter spoke with Reduxx to warn of the influence of pornography on girls’ decision to declare a transgender identity. It was after her daughter was exposed to Japanese anime pornography in the yaoi genre, which often features feminine men in sexual relationships, that she began to insist she was a boy.
“Girls in anime are highly sexualized, and no girl wants to be that. They want to be the guy. My daughter thought she was a gay boy because she likes boys but she didn’t want to be a girl,” the anonymous mother warned.
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