Censorship of Gender Queer: A Memoir (2019)

The GENDER QUEER controversy began in the United States in 2020.

It was targeted in Australian libraries in early 2023, with the protest soon expanding to include manga and comic books.

Gender Queer: A Memoir

Author Maia Kobabe / Publisher Oni-Lion Forge Publishing Group / 2019 / USA

On 27 February 2023, an article drew attention to the availability of GENDER QUEER and Alice Osman’s NICK AND CHARLIE (2020) in libraries in Sydney’s Sutherlandshire.

Gender Queer: A Memoir (2019) - Book Cover 1
Book Cover

The second title, NICK AND CHARLIE (2015), was in the news after the father of an 11-year-old complained after his son borrowed it from his school library in the US state of Maine.

Nick and Charlie (2015) - Book Cover 1
Book Cover

Both were described as graphic and repulsive and questioned why ratepayers were funding Australian libraries to stock them.

March 5, 2023
In an email to councillors on Friday, a Sylvania resident called on the council to remove the book from the library, declaring it did not represent “the vast majority of reasonable people in the Shire”.

“GENDER QUEER should be removed from Sutherland Shire Council libraries completely. This should happen today.”

Councillor Jen Armstrong wrote back to defend the “memoir”…As for objections to references to sexual behaviour, [she] said the library may as well also remove Prince Harry’s book given he detailed how he had lost his virginity “to an older woman” and nearly lost his penis.

– Fury over ‘obscene’ library book

At the same time, a protest at Queensland’s Logan City Council library saw it removed from the shelves but remaining available on request.

A complaint was then made to the police on March 4 about it and four other titles, which included manga and graphic novels.

March 16, 2023
[GENDER QUEER] referred to the Australian Classification Board (ACB) after a complaint made by a conservative activist saw the book removed from the shelves of a Queensland library.

Following a four-day investigation, Queensland Police confirmed to 9news.com.au that on March 9 they flagged GENDER QUEER: A MEMOIR to the federal government’s Department of Communications and Arts, which runs the ACB.

9news.com.au has seen correspondence from Logan council stating the council was not breaking any laws by stocking GENDER QUEER, because there had been no ruling or review from ACB dictating otherwise.

– Gender identity memoir removed from Queensland library shelf, referred to classification board
article @ 9news.com.au

March 17, 2023
A federal arts department spokesperson confirmed the department was contacted by Queensland Police on March 9 regarding GENDER QUEER: A MEMOIR. The department told police the book had not been classified, nor had an application for classification been received.

The department then advised the board’s director, Fiona Jolly, of “concerns raised regarding this book”. Jolly determined to call in publication on March 15. Classification may take five weeks.

– Censor to assess ‘Gender Queer’ graphic memoir after activist’s complaint
article @ smh.com.au

March 17, 2023
It is unknown whether all [GENDER QUEER] copies have been removed while the council investigation is under way.

Since the initial complaint on March 4, four others books have been targeted.

Logan City councillor Karen Murphy said the council review had already started.

“This review will be undertaken with reference to council’s Library Collection Development Policy,” Ms Murphy said online.

“This policy is consistent with national public library standards and guidelines.

“Council will make no further comment until the review is completed.”

– ‘Porn’ comic book taken off SEQ library’s shelves

March 20, 2023
[Queensland] Police investigated the complaint for several days, and then contacted the federal government’s Department of Communications, which runs the ACB, on March 9.

The department told police the book had not been classified at that time and nobody had, so far, lodged an application for classification.

It is not unusual for a book to not be classified.

The department then flagged the situation to the ACB.

After assessing developments, on March 15 Fiona Jolly, director of the ACB, officially “called in” the book from publisher Oni Press.

The publishers were given the standard three days to comply.

At Jolly’s discretion, a single board member or a group panel will read the publication in order to reach a decision.

– Clock ticking on ‘Gender Queer’ censorship decision
article @ 9news.com.au

Policing your comics

On 15 March 2023, the NSW Police received ratings for four American comic books they had sent to the Classification Board. The background to these seemingly random submissions is unknown. However, it is interesting they came at the same time as library censorship began to take hold in Australia. Please e-mail us if you have any information about this case.

Benn Dunn’s WARRIOR NUN AREALA: RITUALS ran for six issues between August 1995 and June 1996. Three issues were submitted.

No. 3 (Dec. 1995) received an ‘Unrestricted’ rating.

Warrior Nun Areala: Rituals No. 1 (December 1995) - Comic Cover 1
Issue No. 3 (1995)

No. 1 (Aug. 1995) and No. 5 received ‘Unrestricted’ ratings but with added consumer advice of ‘M – not recommended for readers under 15 years’. The National Classification Database lists No. 1 (Aug.1995) as BOOK II.

Warrior Nun Areala: Rituals No. 1 (August 1995) - Comic Cover 1
Issue No. 1 (1995)
Warrior Nun Areala: Rituals No. 5 (April 1996) - Comic Cover 1
Issue No. 5 (1996)

The fourth submission, CROSSED: BADLANDS No. 41 (2013), received a Category 2 rating. It restricts it to people 18 years and over and sale in certain places in opaque packaging. Queensland prohibits the sale of all Category 1 and 2 publications.

Crossed: Badlands No. 41 (November 2013) - Comic Cover 1
Issue No. 41 (2013)

This decision has been mentioned on social media by the activist behind the GENDER QUEER complaint so may prove a link between the cases.

Policing your library

In late March, Sydney’s Daily Telegraph visited Surry Hills Library in search of titles to complain about.

March 29, 2023
Comic books with graphic sex scenes and violent pornographic imagery have been pulled from the shelves of the “Teenage Fiction” section of a major Sydney library, as questions are raised about the classification of explicit material in Australia.

And the City of Sydney library late Tuesday began removing some of the books from the shelves of their Surry Hills branch after the Daily Telegraph uncovered explicit material in the teenage fiction section, including a copy of THE BOYS VOL 1 by Garth Ennis, which includes bestiality and rape scenes.

… a different book [CROSSED: BADLANDS No. 41] by the same author was declared Category 2 pornography on March 15 by the classification board after the NSW Police brought it to their attention.

A council spokeswoman said the novels were catalogued as adult graphic novels but “unfortunately they were located very close to the young adult graphic novels at the Surry Hills library”.

The same Sydney library shelves also contain Japanese manga books depicting sex, including a series about two Japanese porn stars “engaging in a 10 day sexual romp” called EMBRACING LOVE by Youka Nitta.

– ‘Extreme, degrading, violent’: Graphic teen library books under fire

The full article quotes the anti-GENDER QUEER atavist, which explains why the journalist singled out THE BOYS.

The Boys Omnibus Vol 1 (2019) - Comic Cover 1
Omnibus Vol 1 (2019)

It is another title at the centre of attention in the censorship push.

Unrestricted in Australia

On April 3, the 240-page GENDER QUEER was rated Unrestricted M (M – Not recommended for readers under 15 years).

Gender Queer: A Memoir (2019) - Book Cover 2
Book Cover – Deluxe Edition

April 3, 2023
On 3 April 2023, the Classification Board (the Board) classified the publication, GENDER QUEER A MEMOIR, Unrestricted, with consumer advice of ‘M (Mature)—Not Recommended for Readers under 15 Years’.

When classifying a publication, the Board is required to consider the impact of classifiable elements within the publication in the context of the publication’s narrative and artistic merits. The Board applies the National Classification Code and the Guidelines for the Classification of Publications 2005 (the Guidelines) when classifying publications.

The Director of the Classification Board, Fiona Jolly, stated: ‘In the Board’s view, this publication can be accommodated in the Unrestricted classification as, within the context of the publication, the treatment of themes is not high in impact or offensive, and the treatment of sex and nudity is also not high in impact and is not exploitative, offensive, gratuitous or very detailed. Given the context of the publication’s narrative and its literary, artistic and educational merits, the Board does not consider that the publication contains material that offends a reasonable adult to the extent that it should be restricted.’

‘While considering that the publication should not be restricted, the Board noted that some content within this autobiographical text may offend some sections of the adult community and may not be suitable for younger readers. For this reason the Board has classified GENDER QUEER A MEMOIR ‘Unrestricted’ with consumer advice of “M—not recommended for readers under 15 years of age”.’

Ms Jolly reiterated: ‘This consumer advice does not constitute a legal restriction on its sale or availability.’

– Classification of the publication Gender Queer A Memoir
– Fiona Jolly, Director. Classification Board

Background to a classification

Despite the involvement of the Queensland Police and Fiona Jolly’s promise to ‘call in’ the book from Oni Press, neither was named. Instead, Kinokuniya Bookstores of Australia were the applicant.

Following the decision, they wrote a blog post explaining how this became the case.

April 5, 2023
On 17th March Kinokuniya received an email from The Classification Board of Australia “calling-in” GENDER QUEER: A MEMOIR for classification within three business days.

It is one of the most challenged and banned books in the U.S. right now, and the conservative challenge to it here in Australia should ring alarm bells and make us all more vigilant.

Once a title as been called-in we essentially have three options. The first is to approach the local publisher/distributor of the title and ask them to submit it to the board. In the case of GENDER QUEER there isn’t a local supplier. We have recognised the importance of this title and we import it ourselves, which makes us (and anyone else who sells it in Australia) the ‘publisher’, in the Classification Board’s terms.

Our second option is to remove it from sale and write-off the stock. Why would we do that, you might ask? We would consider doing that, as we have done before, because the cost to have a single book classified for a single store is prohibitive – in this case, based on the number of pages, it is $560. The process could take several weeks, and there is no guarantee of The Board’s decision.

So, there you have our third option – to pay to have it classified ourselves. And we feel so incredibly passionate about being able to represent and champion this title in Australia that we paid the fee, and then waited.

– Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe allowed to be sold “Unrestricted” in Australia
article @ kinokuniya.com.au

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