Across the country, an ongoing education controversy has erupted around queerness.
Republicans in Florida and other states have moved to eliminate any mention of queer people from public schools. Drag queen storytimes have been embraced by libraries but opposed by conservatives, with some deploying vicious slogans like “kill your local pedophile.”
It’s horrific but unsurprising in a country where more than a third of adults now say they support banning books with stories about transgender youth. School districts across the country are doing just that, with right-wing activists even shutting down libraries to do the same.
If you’re feeling deja vu, you’re not alone. Conservatives and fascists have baselessly accused queer people of pedophilia, obscenity, and pornography for more than a century. But what is everyone afraid of?
One possibility is that they’re afraid their children will choose to live life as a trans person. As the thinking goes, if queer people and stories are censored, kids won’t grow up queer. It’s a predictable logic, but also ineffective and cruel.
I know because it’s the kind of system I grew up in.
I grew up on Army bases in a Southern Baptist family. I didn’t know any trans people. Adults around me would refer to trans people with words like “shim” or say “that’s not a man or a woman, that’s an it.” Mainstream movies and shows like Ace Ventura, Little Nicky, Reno 911, and a million others taught me that “men in women’s clothes” were objects for scorn and disgust.
I tried to look up information on trans people, but I couldn’t find anything in my school’s library or other community libraries — and online tools at those institutions filtered queer content. I told therapists that I felt discomfort with my gender, but they said it was a temporary phase because my dad was deployed overseas.
My natal puberty progressed, giving me facial hair, six-and-a-half feet of height, and a deep voice. I hated every inch of my hairy, huge body. When my despair drove me to self-harm, yet another therapist insisted it was a phase.
I still remember the first time I read an article about a trans person that didn’t mock them in the famous “Transgender Tipping Point” issue of Time magazine in 2014. I was 22. I began my transition almost exactly 8 months later.
It’s a hard life. The size of my body and pitch of my voice keep me from the “passability” of trans celebrities with infinite money. Nothing can reduce my height, vocal surgeries are preposterously expensive, and my (pretty good) health insurance doesn’t cover facial hair removal.
Since I can’t hide my transness, I’m constantly exposed to transphobia whenever I’m in public or applying for a job. And I still deal with constant dysphoria.
My body and my pain are a consequence of censorship. It didn’t have to be this way.
If I had access to books like Imogen Binnie’s Nevada, T Cooper’s Real Man Adventures, or Jazz Jenning’s Being Jazz, I might have known enough to demand treatment sooner, or at least understand my needs better. My life would be safer and less painful in a multitude of ways today.
Your own child, or your neighbor’s, might be in the same position I was. They deserve a chance to learn about trans people so they can save themselves from a lifetime of consequences. They deserve your help making sure no one takes away their opportunity to learn that they might be trans.
So speak out in support of public access to queer literature in your community at library councils, school boards, and town halls. Don’t let the book-burners erase queer history from right under our noses again.
Robin Savannah Carver is a development associate at the Institute for Policy Studies. This op-ed was distributed by OtherWords.org.