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Further Consideration: McMaster's book ban shows he is out of touch with 21st century culture

South Carolina economy doesn't slow; state now has extra $1B (copy)

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster is pictured during a news conference in Great Falls. 

In his latest attempt to harness government as a cultural bludgeon, Gov. Henry McMaster has targeted the written word.

McMaster recently ordered the award-winning graphic novel “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe be removed from the state’s schools, after he became aware of its presence in the Fort Mill School District.

His move is in lock step with other conservative policy makers around the country, who have targeted this book and others.

McMaster announced his order last week, saying he was “shocked and disappointed” by its presence in the school and ordered SC Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman to put forth “both a comprehensive investigation and a detailed explanation of how these materials were allowed to be introduced in our State’s schools.”

Further, he notified the State Law Enforcement Division for further evaluation on the legality of the book’s presence, saying the book meets or exceeds the “statutory definition of obscenity.”

McMaster and his peers’ assessment of the book’s message of healthy gender identification as “obscene” are at odds with those of not just the American people, but South Carolinians, as well. Once again, South Carolina's governor has demonstrated how far out of touch he is with the 21st century and the people he represents.

In Kobabe’s graphic novel the author shares a journey of self-discovery from early inklings of sexual awareness through coming out to their mother as bi-sexual at age 17, to finally publicly identifying as gender queer at age 25. According to the GoodReads summary of the book, the “intensely cathartic autobiography … is a useful and touching guide on gender identity — what it means and how to think about it--for advocates, friends, and humans everywhere.”

From the story of Odysseus’s son Telemachus in his 8th century “Odyssey” to Holden Caulfield and Harry Potter, coming of age stories fill the shelves of young people’s libraries as they navigate the unfamiliar territory of puberty and early adulthood. In a culture that commodifies and exalts sexuality as much as it forbids it, the journey to healthy orientation and identity can be rocky.

And there are, thankfully, far more paths one can take to help them along this journey these days.

As social and scientific research continues to illuminate, the binary constructs for sexual orientation and identity have been supplanted by a more authentic fluidity that accommodates many different representations of sexuality across nature.

This is healthy and good.

In a 2019 study by the Public Religion Research Institute, 76 percent of Americans support the rights and protections of the LGBTQ community, including 62 percent of Republicans, 78 percent of Independents, and even 58 percent of South Carolinians.

However, while 86.7 percent of adults in a 2021 U.S. Gallup Poll say they are straight and almost 6 percent identify as LGBTQ, the rest of the sample simply did not answer the question.

How heartbreaking is it to not know where you fit or to be afraid, uncomfortable, or ashamed to claim one’s place in the human family on a survey instrument?

The Trevor Project, an American nonprofit organization founded in 1998 focused on suicide prevention in the LGBTQ community, conducts an annual survey assessing the state of LGBTQ youths. This year’s survey underscored the need for books like Kobabe’s — and damaging actions like McMasters to be quelled.

The survey found that 94 percent of LGBTQ youth reported that recent politics negatively impacted their mental health. Frighteningly, the survey also found that 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.

In an Oct. 29 op-ed piece in the Washington Post, Kobabe addressed their book and its appropriateness for children. They wrote that their typical answer is “’High school or above.’ But the truth is, the readers I primarily wrote it for were my own parents and extended family. When I was first coming out as non-binary, I kept getting responses along the lines of, ‘We love you. We support you. But we have no idea what you’re talking about.’”

Maybe if more adults had had access to a coming of age story when they were growing up that addressed a more complete assessment of sexual orientation and identity possibilities, like Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer,” the other more than 7% of Americans from that Gallup poll would have been able to say “this is who I am,” without fear, shame, or confusion.

Cindi Boiter is a writer, editor and arts advocate. She is the founding editor of Jasper magazine and the Fall Lines literary journal and the executive director of The Jasper Project.

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