Maia Kobabe

'Gender Queer' Author Sends GOP Sen. Kennedy a Message – The Book is Not for Kids


Last week members of the Senate and viewers from CSpan got an unusual reading from Louisiana GOP senator John Neely Kennedy.

"'I got a new strap-on harness today,' Kennedy drawled, peering through his spectacles from the dais of the Senate Judiciary Committee and reading the words into the official record of U.S. government. 'I can't wait to put it on you. It will fit my favorite dildo perfectly.' (He continued for a few more sentences, to the amusement of online politics watchers)," reported the Washington Post.

He was reading at a Senate hearing about a new Illinois anti-book ban law, the Post continued. The excerpt Kennedy recited was from '"Gender Queer: A Memoir,' a coming-of-age comic book by Maia Kobabe (who uses the pronouns e, em, er) that was published in 2019 and became the most challenged book of 2021 and 2022, according to the American Library Association. Kennedy's argument: that librarians alone shouldn't get to 'decide whether the two books that I just referenced should be available to kids.'"

It turns out neither does the book's author, whom the Post contacted for comment. Asked for thoughts on Kennedy's reading, Kobabe said: "The main thing was it was very clear that the senator picked the one page out of a 240-page book that he thought would be the most shocking. And it's interesting he chose to read the words without showing the images. Because the images on that page are not salacious at all – it's an illustration of me sitting at my job, which was in a library, reading text messages from someone I was dating."

The book was originally written for Kobabe's parents and family to better understand issues surrounding non-binary identity, the author explained. "I was having a really hard time explaining this. I have a supportive community. My parents are super open! But they hadn't thought that much about gender identity. So the point of the comics were initially to be a tool to help me come out to my own family. A way to say: 'This is what I'm talking about when I talk about gender. The pronouns are the tip of the iceberg,'" Kobabe told the Post.

Perhaps, Kobabe continued, the book being a comic book has led to the mischaracterization of it as a children's book. "Senator Kennedy implied it was a children's book. But I think that's coming from a misreading of the comic-book form. 'Gender Queer' is a comic, and in full color, but that doesn't mean it's for children. I originally wrote it for my parents, and then for older teens who were already asking these questions about themselves. I don't recommend this book for kids!"

Kobabe said that what follows in the book, which Kennedy chose to ignore, is a sequence where one character is having sex with another and asks to stop the sexual act they are doing and choose another. "This is the page that most conservatives cite when they say my book is too explicit. But it's a scene about showing the reader that it's okay, even mid-sexual experience, to stop and check in with your partner and say, 'This isn't working for me, and I need to back off.' I think that's a message that's important to share, and it's not one that I heard often when I was a teenager."

And if Senator Kennedy wants to read something else from the book, Kobabe recommended: "There's a whole passage where I talk about my asexual identity, and realizing that dating and sex might be something I don't care about at all. There are parts where I wrestle with whether to come out and share nonbinary pronouns as a teacher in a classroom and whether or not that's too political. There are other sections about connecting with friends and being met with love and support. He could read any of those other passages out loud. Literally any."

Read the rest of Kobabe's comments to the Post here.

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