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Less Censorship, More Unicorns

I hate Banned Books Week. There. I said it.

Well, not the week itself, obviously. As a lifelong supporter of the freedom to read, though, I hate that Banned Books Week is still necessary in 2016. You’d think we’d be a bit further along by now.

And yet, here we are, still living in a world where individuals and governments frequently decide that they should be the arbiter of what is appropriate for everyone else. Which is pretty much not how it works.

At least, that’s not how it works in my fantasy world, where libraries and schools are never asked to remove materials that some community members want and need, just because other community members don’t approve of them.

(My fantasy world has unicorns, too. Dream big, or go  home.)

Domenichino / Maiden and Unicorn / 1602

Last year two of the most frequently banned and challenged books were true stories about transgender people.

I Am Jazz, a memoir for children, tells the story of Jazz Jennings, a transgender child who knew from a very early age that she was a girl. Reasons for challenge/ban include inaccuracy, homosexuality, sex education, religious viewpoint and unsuitability for the intended audience’s age.

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out is a collection of interviews with transgender teens in which they tell their stories of coming to terms with their true selves, often under challenging circumstances and without a lot of support. It has been banned/challenged on the grounds of being anti-family, containing offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuitability for age group and other (“wants to remove from collection to ward off complaints”).

(The above information comes straight from the American Library Association, which collects the data annually.)

Jazz and Magenta were, respectively, the third and fourth most frequently banned books of the past year, eclipsed only by Fifty Shades of Grey and John Green’s novel Looking for Alaska.

Unlike banning a novel, banning a work of non-fiction doesn’t address questions of literary merit. Instead, it speaks to what people believe to be true. Some people believe that transgender people’s stories shouldn’t be told or shared via the social mechanisms designed to hold and share stories.

It’s not a far jump from banning a person’s story to devaluing a person’s life.

So, as this year’s Banned Books Week draws to a close, I want to remind everyone that public libraries are, have been, and will ever be, places where everyone’s story is told. And the purpose of this week is to lift up voices that are frequently shouted down.

I’d like to invite you—challenge you, if you will—to read works by and about transgender people. Magenta and Jazz are great places to start, but there’s a lot of other fiction and non-fiction to explore. For those of you who enjoy it, more and more poetry is becoming available, too.

The choice is yours. Just make sure you’re not taking that same choice away from anyone else. Because libraries certainly won’t.

Here’s to a future where unicorns are real, and book-banning is history.

–Leigh Anne

Leigh Anne recommends good books and outwits Google daily. If you hear anybody singing or whistling in the stacks, it’s probably her.

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