What’s It About? Describing Gender Queer, Book At Center of Great Barrington School Flap

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2024/01/02/whats-it-about-describing-gender-queer-book-at-center-of-great-barrington-school-flap/

Police investigated a claim last month that a sexually explicit book had been shown to children at a middle school in Great Barrington, a town in western Massachusetts.

The book, Gender Queer: A Memoir, by Maia Kobabe, a self-described trans nonbinary person who uses “e/em/eir” pronouns, is labeled 18+ by Amazon. The book tells Kobabe’s story of coming to identify as non-binary in graphic novel form. It was published in 2019.

Supporters of the book say that it assists children who are questioning their gender by providing a role model.

Critics say that the images contained in the book are obscene and aren’t appropriate for anyone. Schools in several states have removed the book from their libraries. Gender Queer has been called the “most banned” book in the country.

NewBostonPost read through the book, a description of which is below. Several of the book’s images contain sexually explicit material including masturbation, oral sex, and frontal nudity. Discretion is advised.


The book begins with Maia Kobabe, biological female and cartoonist, about to leave home in 2013 to begin a master’s degree program in Comics. Kobabe was 24 at the time.

In the pictures, Kobabe appears to look like a man, with short hair, a baggy sweatshirt, and jeans. One of Kobabe’s classes involves an autobiographical assignment where students are instructed to consider their “demons.” All of Kobabe’s demons involve gender. Kobabe tapes paper over Kobabe’s stories due to embarrassment, but Kobabe rips off the paper later to reveal the title Kobabe gave the assignment — Gender Queer.

The story describes Kobabe’s childhood, including the author’s struggles to understand the author’s gender identity. Scenes depict Kobabe as a child urinating with a male friend, taking Kobabe’s shirt off at the beach, and taking pleasure when a kid at school can’t perceive if Kobabe is a boy or a girl.

Kobabe grows more confused with Kobabe’s identity when Kobabe begins to get a menstrual period. Kobabe begins to wish for breast cancer:  “I started daydreaming about getting breast cancer thinking it would give me the perfect excuse to have my breasts removed.”

During high school, Kobabe goes through various crushes on both sexes. The author looks up the words “gay” and “lesbian” in the dictionary and joins a Queer-Straight Alliance. One scene depicts Kobabe and Kobabe’s sister discussing various masturbation techniques. Two naked men are shown kissing, including the bare back of one.

Kobabe describes a gradual discovery of a potential “third option” between male and female.

“My deepest emotional relationships have always been with women,” Kobabe writes. “Did that mean I was a lesbian? But my sexual fantasies involved two male partners. Was a gay boy trapped in a girl’s body?”

Kobabe describes wanting a gender-neutral name, hating Kobabe’s breasts, never wanting children, and wishing to be a boy.

The author quotes the author’s journal from when the author was 14:  “I don’t want to be a girl. I don’t want to be a boy either. I just want to be myself.”

At various points during high school, Kobabe expresses feeling bisexual and then asexual and is indecisive about coming out to Kobabe’s parents.

Later the author describes confusion as a search for balance — balancing being “assigned female at birth” with male attributes such as short hair and baggy clothing. “If I had been born a boy I would play with this stuff every day,” Kobabe writes, gesturing at things like makeup and dresses.

Many of the novel’s scenes portray Kobabe in situations where Kobabe’s biological sex is revealed to Kobabe’s dismay. One episode involves Kobabe going in for a first pap smear. The drawing shows Kobabe stripping naked from the front and then shows Kobabe turn around. During the procedure, Kobabe is horrified at the idea of things going inside her, the book providing an image of a sword running through the author’s naked body. At another point, the author portrays a discussion with the author’s mom about a woman’s body.

“I hope you don’t hate your body,” the mom says.

“No, I don’t hate my body,” Kobabe replies. “There are just a few bits I don’t like. For example, if I could just remove my entire reproductive system, that would be ideal.”

While in college, Kobabe writes fan-fiction and wants to draw a make-out scene. She decides to “research” by creating a Tinder account to kiss a stranger. A bubble text appears over a thinking Kobabe:  “Where do I find a stranger who will make out with me? Tinder?” Eventually, Kobabe ends up going on a date with a divorced woman named “Candidate Z” who is also the manager of a sex toy store.

At several points in the book, Kobabe states that Kobabe never wants to get married or have children. The author describes the thought as leaving a narrow alleyway into an open field. “These realizations were like gifts that I gave to myself,” Kobabe writes.

Towards the end of the book, Kobabe begins to identify as transgender. Kobabe becomes friends with Jaina Bee, who identifies as non-binary and is an “ordained … pagan priestx.” Bee introduces Kobabe to “e/em/ei” pronouns, letter combinations identified as gender-neutral pronouns, and developed by mathematician Michael Spivak. Kobabe embraces the new pronouns over using the more common gender-neutral pronouns “they/them.”

The book concludes right after Kobabe starts teaching comic workshops to junior high students.

At first, Kobabe decides not to come out to the students, but then begins to consider that it might benefit the students to have a nonbinary role model:  “How many of them have never seen a nonbinary adult? Is my silence actually a disservice to all of them?”

The book ends with Kobabe saying:  “Next time. Next time I will come out.”


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