Warning: This piece includes sexually explicit content.
I wasn’t surprised when I got a call from the local newspaper telling me it wouldn’t run my editorial featuring graphic sex excerpts from a controversial teen book. The parts I included were definitely disgusting and over-the-top — no question. The South Bend Tribune’s editorial page editor, Alesia I. Redding, told me over the phone, “We’re not going to print these things. … We don’t print those things in a family newspaper.”
Exactly. That’s why moms and dads don’t want “those things” in the family sections of our public library either.
Just days before, Redding and the two others on her editorial board, Executive Editor Ismail Turay Jr. and Enterprise Editor Cory Havens, defended Indiana’s St. Joe County Public Library for refusing to reshelve the sexually explicit teen book in question to the adult section. Their own editorial self-righteously defended political free speech and implied prejudice in the hearts of parents protesting the book, This Book is Gay, noting that the books “most often deemed ‘inappropriate‘ are those that tell the stories of Black and LGBTQ people or are by authors in those communities.” Yet, even the Trib staff acknowledged the inappropriateness of the material when it refused to run such vulgarity in its own pages.
The editorial board was able to make its allegations under safe cover because its audience had no context. The column they wrote advocating to keep This Book is Gay in the teen section didn’t actually include any of the controversial material in question. As far as the newspaper’s readers were concerned, the debated book — designed for 14- to 18-year-olds — was no more scandalous than Catcher in the Rye.
My goal was to dispel them of that notion, which is why my rebuttal included some of the actual passages from This Book is Gay, including some of the same excerpts one mom had used when she asked the library to move it out of the kids’ sections. The following selections were included in the piece I submitted to the Tribune, which the newspaper rejected:
“Sometimes… in order to be able to cum at all, you or your partner may need to finish off with a handie… a good handie is all about the wrist action. Rub the head of his cock back and forth with your hand.” Pg. 202: “Blowies… massively misleading… it’s more about sucking… it’s more about sliding your mouth up and down the shaft of his cock.”
“The clitoris is a super sensitive cluster of nerve endings that, when rubbed, kissed or licked can make a woman orgasm (and that’s a good thing)… That clitoris really does like being licked and kissed… Toys, dildos, vibrators and strapons all fulfill the same purpose… a prosthesis to insert into the vagina.”
“An open relationship is one with a cat flap allowing other people to drift in and out of the bedroom… sometimes this means threesomes (or moresomes) with other people. All the intimacy with your partner, all the variety with extras!”
Other terms in the book include: rimming (licking the butthole), scat (eating poop) and golden shower (peeing on each other).
The author also introduces minors to Grindr, a hook-up site for adults only, saying, “If people want casual sex, then Grindr is a must.”
Redding told me on the phone that I should realize as a former journalist that a newspaper wouldn’t run the language I used above, but the language IS the story. As a former journalist, I know that. Writers are taught to show, not tell.
One cannot capture the severity of a book by simply saying it’s “sexually explicit.” Depending on generation, personal definitions, and exposure, the term can mean many things to different people. But by quoting from the original text, there can be no question as to why moms and dads were saying This Book is Gay was beyond what is acceptable for teenagers. It is the entire reason that the parents read from the actual text at a library board meeting.
It is likely also the reason the board originally voted to revisit the policy that allowed the library to keep the book in the teen section. They were certainly shocked by the contents as well. Yet, a month later, at a meeting overwhelmed with left-leaning library advocates, the board voted in no substantial changes that would protect children from sexually explicit and degrading materials.
Apparently, backroom discussions that took place in the interim convinced board members to keep the obscene material available for kids. Instead, a library employee gave a speech celebrating the library’s diverse political views and the importance of the First Amendment.
The library cleverly dodged the real issue. Obscenity is not the same as political speech. In fact, we have laws to protect minors from obscenity because it is developmentally inappropriate and harmful. And while Indiana law provides an obscenity loophole for libraries, it doesn’t mean that it’s right to sexualize children just because a library can’t get in legal trouble for it. In fact, even the St. Joe County Public Library itself has an internet policy that forbids pornography: “Use of Library computing resources to display or disseminate sexually explicit or sexually suggestive (obscene/pornographic) material in any Library building is prohibited.”
Most rational people know that porn isn’t for kids, and by its policy, the library acknowledged there are limits, too. One of the moms said on a complaint form that This Book is Gay should be removed because: “Children will be more likely to engage in sexual acts with adults, or might be at risk to be victims of sexual abuse by adults.” When asked what the library should do with the book, the mom wrote: “It needs to be far away from kids so that they won’t stumble upon it while browsing in the section for minors.” Sounds reasonable.
But the moms and dads did not realize the unreasonable force they were up against. No doubt a new Indiana law to rid schools of sexually explicit books — and recent controversy at the Hamilton East Public Library in Fishers, Indiana, also involving reshelving such books to the adult section — contributed to the hostile reception they received.
They did not expect to show up at a library board meeting filled to the brim with activists, who had responded to social media calls to flood the event. They did not expect to be labeled Nazis and book banners and be interrupted by insults while taking their time at the microphone to argue for a middle ground. They did not expect to be told not to question the expert librarians, who had “undergone rigorous schooling and preparation to decide the best place to put every title…” (As if a specialized library education somehow justifies keeping obscene material in the children’s section.) They did not expect that the library would end up doing nothing to protect kids.
The newspapers won’t tell the full story. The librarians disguise porn as free speech. The activists twist age-appropriate categories into book banning. The publishers hide the material under pretty rainbow covers that invite little hands to grab it. The librarians tell us not to question their selection decisions because they’re smarter than we are.
The South Bend Tribune editorial got something right in its op-ed when it said that the recent uproar over teen books is “about the minority deciding what books are ‘appropriate’ for the majority.” But the paper identified the minority incorrectly. The minority isn’t concerned parents. The minority is the activists who believe we should have no obscenity limits ever, not even for kids.