Saturday 5 August 2023

CBR15 Book 35: "Gender Queer" by Maia Kokabe

Page count: 240 pages
Rating: 5 stars

CBR15 Bingo: Picture This (can also be used for Queer Lives)

Official book description:
In 2014, Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns, thought that a comic of reading statistics would be the last autobiographical comic e would ever write. At the time, it was the only thing e felt comfortable with strangers knowing about em. Now, Gender Queer is here. Maia's intensely cathartic autobiography charts eir journey of self-identity, which includes the mortification and confusion of adolescent crushes, grappling with how to come out to family and society, bonding with friends over erotic gay fanfiction, and facing the trauma of pap smears. Started as a way to explain to eir family what it means to be nonbinary and asexual, Gender Queer is more than a personal story: it is a useful and touching guide on gender identity—what it means and how to think about it—for advocates, friends, and humans everywhere.

Despite this being a pretty obvious pick to read during Pride month, I actually finished Gender Queer in May. I got it from the library and was going to save it for June. I was just curious and started reading a few pages. After about four pages, I didn't put the book down until I was finished. I am cis-gendered and straight, so for me, a lot of this was just learning to understand about someone else's experiences. I'm also asexual, though, and know how long it took me to discover that this was an actual thing and not just that I was some sort of aberration, so I can understand both why this was a difficult book for Kokabe to write and illustrate, but also why it felt important for em to share eir experiences, so that others in eir situation (or similar ones) could see that they are not alone out there. 

The internet tells me that in 2023, this book has been banned from shelves in more American states than any other book, because of its subject matter, and illustrations. The book deals with Kokabe's journey exploring eir gender and sexuality, and because the memoir is graphic, there are also pictures. I didn't think anything was particularly graphic or shocking, and some of the topics explored, like body dysphoria and discomfort with periods or gynecological exams, I suspect would be just as applicable to a lot of cis-gendered people as trans-gendered or non-binary individuals. 

The deeply puritanical and backward thinking of people who ban or challenge books never fails to surprise and depress me. I'm assuming that the justification for wanting this removed from shelves is that it might turn kids gay, or non-binary or something? I'm in my early forties and it wasn't until my mid-thirties that I even knew that asexuality was something that existed. I know how uncomfortable I felt until I realised that this was an actual orientation, and not just me being weird. Questioning one's gender identity and not feeling comfortable in one's body must be a million times worse. Books like this, which can show teens and adults that there are others out there that feel the same are hugely important and can change and even save lives. So this book should not be banned. It should probably be taught in schools, at least for older teens and college students. Only a day or two after finishing the library copy I had borrowed, I went out and bought a copy for myself, so I can lend it to friends. That's how important I think this book is. 

I applaud Kokabe's bravery, and reading about eir intense discomfort of being referred to as a 'young lady' or having people use the wrong pronouns has made me try to be better about using more neutral pronouns with the students I teach because you never know which of them might not be comfortable being lumped in with other cis-gendered, binary classmates. I am sorry to say that I still need to work on remembering not to misgender my non-binary and/or trans-gendered friends on occasion, but I am trying to be more sensitive to these issues. 

Judging a book by its cover: I really like both covers of this book, the one on the original edition and the one on the hardback special edition. Both covers feature two versions of Kokabe, one a more youthful and innocent depiction, the other an older, more reflective one. E is a very good artist, and subsequently, the cover illustrations are evocative and tell a story in their own right. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

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