The ALA's 2016 list of the Top Ten most challenged books in American Libraries and school has revealed that a vast majority of those challenged and banned are books containing LGBTQ characters or themes, particularly the transgender aspect of the community. There are also a significant number of graphic novels, both original and collected editions, included in the many book challenges, including Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky's Sex Criminals, Drama by Raina Telgemeir and This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki.
As their findings suggest, the majority of the complaints and challenges received, and indeed books banned, are banned under the notion of the content being 'sexually explicit', and that this particular reason is overwhelmingly levelled at books with LGBTQ content or characters most often. In fact, one of the books challenged, Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan, is largely challenged because it's cover features, well, two boys kissing.
Excuse me if I'm wrong, but last I checked, kissing isn't in and of itself 'sexually explicit'. Seen as pretty much every Disney film I have ever seen involves some kissing, I'm pretty certain society at large accepts kissing as something that happens and is natural and fine. The issue, clearly, is that it is people of the same sex kissing.
This is the case throughout the list when it comes to LGBTQ it would seem. A couple of the books which are in fact children's books, I am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings and George by Alex Gino, have the 'sexually explicit' label aimed against seemingly solely because they include transgender characters.
One other book that has the label levelled against it and actually does contain sexual content is Sex Criminals. Whilst it is true that the series includes a lot of nudity, including full frontal male and female nudity, to suggest that the book is pornographic is stretching it. In fact, if anyone is getting off on that book, they are very odd people indeed. Rather, Sex Criminals honestly and frankly tackles ideas of sex, relationships and specifically, our relationship with sex, which in the modern age is…complex to say the least.
Sadly, the LGBTQ community often has the trouble of seeing sexuality mixed into sex. For many, it seems the idea of sexuality other than their own being about anything other than sex is really just too hard to grasp. Though there is an argument that there is an element of language use involved – after all, particularly in books aimed at young readers it can be hard to actually explicitly state or discuss homosexuality, bisexuality or asexuality because the words actually contain the word sex.
And while it may be the case that some of the titles explore the romantic and sexual side of these identities, these are often kept at books aimed at the more mature, teens and up. In the majority of cases, these titles explore the identity and other associated feelings around it.
Sadly, we still live in a world where people see the image of two same sex people kissing, or even just holding hands or hugging, as too 'sexually explicit' to possibly be included in public consumption.
But there is really only one way to challenge such misconceptions and help people who are struggling with such feelings – by being out there in the world, accessible for those in need of the inclusion and representation.