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Graphic book banned by schools for sexual illustrations was 'a lot less explicit than it could be,' author says

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Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The author of a controversial comic book-style memoir, which received intense pushback from concerned parents for its graphic illustrations of sexual acts, told NPR that the book is "a lot less explicit than it could be."

Maia Kobabe, who uses "e/em/eir" pronouns, is the author of "Gender Queer," an autobiographical novel that follows Kobabe's "journey of self-identity." The purpose behind writing the graphic novel was to explain to Kobabe's family "what it means to be nonbinary and asexual."

The book, released in 2019, covers "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."

In 2020, Kobabe was given two awards by the American Library Association for the book, which included "a Stonewall Honor, and an Alex Award, which recognizes books published for adults that hold crossover appeal for readers 'aged 12 to 18.'"

According to the ALA, "Gender Queer" was considered the "most challenged" book of 2021. The ALA stated that the graphic novel is "banned, challenged, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, and because it was considered to have sexually explicit images."

Many parents have raised concerns about Kobabe's book and claimed that it should not be stocked in school libraries where young children would have unrestricted access to the mature sexual themes and images contained in it. Specifically, critics have argued that it is the book's sexual illustrations – which depict and describe oral sex and masturbation – that make the book inappropriate for schoolchildren.

According to Kobabe, the pushback from parents was somewhat surprising, considering that when the book was initially released, it received praise.

"I braced myself for a little bit of that," Kobabe stated, referring to receiving criticism for the mature themes. "But when the book came out, what it was met with initially was just this absolute wave of love and support. And the pushback didn't come until late 2021. And at that point, I think what mostly surprised me was the timing of it — and then also the level of it, and then following that, the longevity of it."

When asked about the sexual illustrations in the book, Kobabe told NPR, "I drew as much as I felt like I needed to tell the story that I was trying to tell and get the points across that I was trying to make. And I honestly think the book is a lot less explicit than it could be or would have been if written by a different author."

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