Released in 2019, Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe details eir journey to identify as nonbinary and asexual and how e learned to navigate family and society. It won both the Alex Award and the Stonewall Book Award in 2020 and was a nominee for the Ignatz Award for Outstanding Graphic Novel and the YALSA Great Graphic Novels for Teens. It is a refreshingly genuine resource for readers, and as Publishers Weekly describes, “with a script that’s refreshingly smooth and nondidactic for the topic.”
Gender Queer: A Memoir was the number one challenged book for 2021 according to the American Library Association and the number one banned book for 2021 according to PEN America. During the explosion of book challenges in the past two years, Gender Queer has been the target of several well-funded groups prioritizing theatricality over a nuanced discussion of the material; this is part of a greater push toward identity censorship.
In response, students, their communities, and organizations like CBLDF have been organizing to ensure book challenge policies are followed and that students have the opportunity for diversity and representation in their education. This graphic novel is a part of filling a void that has long existed for that representation. In an interview with Kobabe, e remarks:
I think having a book like Gender Queer would have probably maybe cut 10 years out of my process of questioning and confusion and wrestling with gender and being just deeply uncertain about who or what I was.
And I did not have a book like that for myself, and it has been very, very powerful to hear from readers saying that the book meant a lot to them.
That the book helped them understand themselves or helped them have language to explain experiences.
We’ve put together these resources for librarians and educators who may need assistance justifying or defending the addition of Gender Queer: A Memoir to their collections. You can also reach out to Comic Book Legal Defense Fund for support at email@example.com.
Summary of Gender Queer: A Memoir from the publisher:
In 2014, Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns, thought that a comic of reading statistics would be the last autobiographical comic e would ever write. At the time, it was the only thing e felt comfortable with strangers knowing about em. Now, Gender Queer is here. Maia’s intensely cathartic autobiography charts eir journey of self-identity, which includes the mortification and confusion of adolescent crushes, grappling with how to come out to family and society, bonding with friends over erotic gay fanfiction, and facing the trauma and fundamental violation of pap smears.
Started as a way to explain to eir family what it means to be nonbinary and asexual, Gender Queer is more than a personal story: it is a useful and touching guide on gender identity—what it means and how to think about it—for advocates, friends, and humans everywhere.
Reviews for Gender Queer: A Memoir
Kobabe, who uses the pronouns e, em, and eir, was assigned female at birth but never felt that this designation fit. As e grew up, e learned about the spectrum of gender designations and settled on nonbinary as the best descriptor. E came out to eir family as nonbinary and asexual and found that eir family supported em however e identified. In this memoir, Kobabe chronicles eir life from the time e was very young through eir coming of age and adulthood. E describes common situations from the perspective of someone who is asexual and nonbinary: starting a new school, getting eir period, dating, attending college. The muted earth tones and calm blues match the hopeful tone and measured pacing. Matter-of-fact descriptions of gynecological exams and the use of sex toys will be enlightening for those who may not have access to this information elsewhere.
VERDICT A book to be savored rather than devoured, this memoir will resonate with teens, especially fans of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and Mason Deaver’s I Wish You All the Best. It’s also a great resource for those who identify as nonbinary or asexual as well as for those who know someone who identifies that way and wish to better understand
This heartfelt graphic memoir relates, with sometimes painful honesty, the experience of growing up non-gender-conforming. From a very young age, Kobabe is unsure whether to claim a lesbian/gay, bisexual, or even transgender identity: “I don’t want to be a girl. I don’t want to be a boy either. I just want to be myself.” Kobabe comes of age having to navigate expressions of identity such as clothing and haircuts, with fraught attempts at romantic and sexual entanglements. Eventually, Kobabe’s supportive sister concludes: “I think you’re a genderless person.” (Kobabe: “She knew before I did.”) Kobabe continues to explore the challenges of a nonbinary identity, including the use of alternate pronouns (in Kobabe’s case, e/em/eir), the trauma of cervical exams, refuting misplaced concerns from a loving relative who believes “female to male” transgenderism could be rooted in a form of misogyny, and learning that the term autoandrophilia actually applies “for me.” Intermixed are lighthearted episodes relating Kobabe’s devotion to LGBTQ-inspired Lord of the Rings fan fiction and hero worship of flamboyant ice-skating champion Johnny Weir. Kobabe is a straightforward cartoonist who uses the medium skillfully (if not particularly stylishly), incorporating ample cheery colors, with a script that’s refreshingly smooth and nondidactic for the topic. This entertaining memoir-as-guide holds crossover appeal for mature teens (with a note there’s some sexually explicit content) and is sure to spark valuable discussions at home and in classrooms.
Gender Queer serves multiple purposes. More than simply a memoir, the book is designed to explain the very concept of being non-binary, beginning with the author’s first memories of gender and ending with the discovery of Spivak pronouns (e, em, eir) and eir first steps towards getting the people around em to accept and understand said pronouns. While these ideas can seem imposing or strange in isolation and outside of context, biographical details are the best way to illustrate concepts that could otherwise seem extraordinarily dry.
Awards and Recognition
- 2020 ALA Alex Award Winner
- 2020 Stonewall — Israel Fishman Non-fiction Award Honor Book
- 2019 Ignatz Award Outstanding Graphic Novel Nominee
- 2019 YALSA Great Graphic Novels for Teens Nominee
Review Committee Recommendations
“Students with a related experience will feel affirmed and others can gain understanding and empathy.”
Fairfax County Public School
“The book was an encouraging and uplifting account on what it means to not understand who you are or your place in the area of LGBTQ. It offers important information on diversity. It is difficult to find these types of books. It is extremely well done, literary, intelligent and honest. It is meant to be a guide for people trying to find themselves.”
Rockwood School District
“It provides students who may be struggling with their own gender identity with unique perspective and support.”
Hudson City Schools
“The work is accurate and objective in that the narrative of the memoir is enhanced with
scientifically-based information and references to reliable resources for further reading.”
Cozby Public Library
“The ability to build compassion in readers is one of Gender Queer’s strengths. The book approaches the topic with sincerity, which encourages empathy and compassion from readers who approach the book with an open mind.”
Billings Public Schools
“While there were a few ‘explicit sexual situations,’ the sexual images depicted in the graphic novel were not detailed nor were they present to create sexual excitement, but rather to portray sexual and identity struggles.”
Yorktown Central School District
What should I do if Gender Queer is challenged?
Most challenges to comics in libraries come from well-meaning individuals, frequently parents, who find something they believe is objectionable in their local public or school library. These challenges are often difficult and stressful for the library staff who must manage them, but there are resources to help them in the process. Below we’ve identified a number of tips and links to assist libraries to increase the likelihood of keeping challenged comics on the shelves.
1. Make Strong Policies.
Strong selection and challenge review policies are key for protecting access to library materials, including comics. The American Library Association has developed a number of excellent tools to assist school and public libraries in the essential preparation to perform before books are challenged here.
2. Face the Challenge.
What do you do when a comic is challenged? Much of the material in this post can be used to help defend Gender Queer: A Memoir against a challenge. The American Library Association has developed these helpful tools to cope with challenges:
- How to Respond to Challenges and Concerns about Library Resources
- Working with Community Leaders
- Selection & Reconsideration Policy Toolkit for Public, School, and Academic Libraries
CBLDF can also help by providing assistance with locating review resources, writing letters of support, and facilitating access to experts and resources. Call 800-99-CBLDF or email firstname.lastname@example.org at the first sign of a First Amendment emergency!
3. Report the Challenge.
Another essential step in protecting access to comics is to report challenges when they occur. By reporting challenges, you help the free expression community gather necessary information about what materials are at risk so better tools can be created to assist. To report a challenge to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, call us at 800-99-CBLDF or email here. You can also report the challenge to the ALA here.
CBLDF and its partners have been battling ongoing and organized attempts to censor comics and other books in schools and libraries. You can join the struggle by making a donation or reporting censorship today!