It’s Not Porn

Texas governor Greg Abbott’s actions are all about politics, not protecting kids

It’s been a week since Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who wouldn’t know a book if it hit him in the face, declared war on his state’s school librarians. On November 10, he ordered the Texas Education Agency to “to investigate any criminal activity in public schools involving the availability of pornographic material that serves no educational purpose.” My goodness, yes, if public schools are showing porn to students, then, by all means, investigate. The problem is: It’s not porn.

This is all part of a hot new wave of censorship moving through our school systems. The irony is that the books parents and craven government officials are trying to censor are minor affairs. In the past, and even in recent years, we’ve fought censorship battles over undisputed classics like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, and 1984. Now parents in Katy ISD, in suburban Houston, are in a tizzy over ‘Jack of Hearts,’ a YA novel where the protagonist “doles out sex tips to teens of all orientations.” Well, that sounds titillating, but it also doesn’t sound important. And it doesn’t even sound like porn.

I don’t know about you, but when I was a teenager, sex interested me quite a lot. While I never had any questions about my gender identity or sexual orientation–women interested me before life turned me into a withered husk–I still enjoyed reading about sex. And I also enjoyed reading porn. But there’s a big difference between a book that has a sex scene and a book that contains pornographic material deliberately designed to titillate.

It’s certainly true that YA literature has come a long way since Judy Blume’s Margaret getting her period shocked young adults and old adults alike. At the time, that was kind of taboo. Now, TV commercials talk about menstruation. For a more contemporary example of what works people into a lather, witness the hoo-ha over ‘Gender Queer,’ the most controversial book of our time. As Maya Kobabe, Gender Queer’s author, wrote recently in The Washington Post, the book exists because the author felt that “queer kids need queer stories,” not because “queer kids need access to pornographic materials that serves no educational purpose.”

I looked at the most controversial pages of ‘Gender Queer,’ which involved kids giving other kids blowjobs on their little cartoon nubs. And I’ll admit: The illustrations made me feel kind of squidgy. But why ban them? I hate to break it to the parents crying “pornography” at school-board meetings, but a lot of kids have sexual experiences, and many of them are weird. Gender Queer isn’t encouraging kids to have sex. And it isn’t forcing them to have sex. It’s merely reflecting reality.

porn

The types of people who want to censor books they find strange or unappealing don’t seem to understand this. The world has changed. On rare occasions, literature and other art forms create that change. But usually, they’re just a product of it. ‘Gender Queer’ and ‘Jack of Hearts’ aren’t going to turn your kids queer any more than disco was going to make kids gay, Elvis music was going to make them juvenile delinquents, comic books were going to corrupt them, Ice-T was going to make them cop killers, or 2 Live Crew was going to do anything other than vanish into history as a trivia question.

Anyone who’s waving a book at a school board meeting, and calling things that they don’t like or disagree with “pornography”, should maybe consider how people who’ve done things like that in the past look now. Anyone who advocates for censorship, for any reason, will end up playing the part of history’s fool.

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Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of 11 semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer for both film and television, Neal has written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

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