BY ASHLEY SANDERS-JACKSON
There was a recent letter in this paper suggesting that the library book, If You’re a Drag Queen and you Know It, contained offensive material that was adult or sexual in nature. In this letter I 1) refute this argument 2) highlight the need for free speech in a democratic context and 3) discuss the distinction between sexuality and gender.
The content in the aforementioned book is basically the lyrics from the song, “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.” Suggested behaviors include giving a wink, striking a pose and laughing real big. These are all typical behaviors in children and in children’s songs. The images do not depict obviously sexualized behavior nor do the images display low cut clothing or sexual body parts. Though I disagree with the statements made in the letter I mentioned previously, there is a library board, which is an appropriate forum for these concerns.
However, this type of letter brings up larger issues of who belongs and censorship. Ideally democracy functions because of our diversity. Diversity of opinions and identities strengthens our ability to face challenges. Further, democracies function when public forums, like this newspaper, provide the opportunity for free discussion of ideas. Though the history of this country has not always been one of welcoming diverse perspectives (e.g. Black children not being allowed at White schools), it is my hope that we, as a community can, be welcoming of our vibrant diversity.
Diversity of identity and reading material is also a free speech issue. When we limit acceptable identities we begin down the slippery slope of limiting who can have a voice and who can be a full person. Libraries have long been an important forum for public discussion, public engagement and debate. Providing well-curated literature to children, showing them the beauty of people like them or perhaps just as importantly, the beauty of people who are not like them, is an essential part of a library’s function.
My third and final argument is directly addressing the notion that a book about an identity is sexual or adult content more broadly. Children develop a sense of gender identity between 2 and 3 years old. The means that children who are not cis-gender, that is, who do not necessarily identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, begin exploring these issues at that time. It is also true the cis-gender children explore their own identities a this time. Since this is an important development stage that helps children form who they are, it seems necessary to have content in libraries that supports gender exploration for all children. We certainly have significant information available to cis-gender children about how they should be in the world but our non-cis-gender children also need our support. Indeed, research and groups like the Trevor Project, have suggested that supporting transgender and non-binary children in their identities significantly reduces the risk of suicide, which is very high in these populations.
In closing, I support the Los Alamos Public Libraries and their thoughtful curation of children’s books. This type of literature, which supports our diverse children, is essential to the health of our youth, to the diversity of our community and indirectly to the growth of our democracy.