Opinion | Carmen Maria Machado: Banning my book won’t protect your child
In my early twenties, I was in an abusive relationship with another woman. Soon after, I did what I always did when my heart was broken: I was looking for art that spoke of my experience. I was surprised to find surprisingly few memories of domestic violence or verbal, psychological, and emotional abuse in queer relationships. So I wrote in this silence: a memoir, “In the Dream House”, which describes this relationship and my struggle to leave it.
This year, a parent in Leander, Texas – furious that “In the Dream House” appeared on recommended playlists by high school classes – brought a pink strap-on to a school board meeting. Her voice trembling in disgust, she read excerpts from my book – including one where I spoke of a dildo, inhaling the prop – before arguing that letting a student read my book could be considered child abuse. child.
She, and other parents like her, demanded the removal of my book and several others from the district reading lists for high school English reading clubs, from which students were allowed to choose one of 15. securities. The school board finally decided to remove a number of books, including “V for Vendetta” and a graphic novel version of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and is currently considering removing more, including mine.
I have teamed up with Margaret Atwood, Jodi Picoult, Jacqueline Woodson, and many other authors whose work has been targeted for removal from class playlists in Leander. Together with PEN America, a group that promotes literary free expression, we wrote a letter to the school district demanding that our books remain available to students. While our books may contain potentially uncomfortable, stimulating, or even offensive passages, exposure to our books is vital for expanding minds, affirming experiences, creating an appreciation for the arts, and developing empathy – in short, respecting the adults as students from Leander, Texas, will soon become.
Schools rarely provide education on relationships. Teens aren’t often told that extreme jealousy isn’t romantic, but is a sign of an unhealthy relationship. The sections of my book read aloud by the outraged parent at this reunion are part of a larger story, examining what it means to be so head over heels in love, in lust, or both that you let someone treat you badly. .
It was painful and difficult to recount this experience for my book, to highlight my own vulnerabilities and dark moments. But I’m glad I did. Now that it’s in the world, I easily get ten or so messages a week from readers. They thank me; they open to me; they describe the life changing experience of feeling seen. More than one person told me that my book gave them the clarity and strength to leave an unhealthy relationship.
America’s book bans are nothing new. As long as there have been writers, there have been reactionaries at their heels. (Boston had its first book burned in 1650.) Today in the United States, books that feature Black, Latin, Native, queer, or trans characters – or are written by authors who identify that way – constitute often the majority of the American Library Association’s Annual List of the 10 Most Frequently Censored Books in Libraries and Schools. These book bans deprive students of a better understanding of themselves and one another. As a writer, I believe in the power of words to cross borders in times of deep division. More than ever, literature matters.
Those who seek to ban my book and others like this try to exploit fear – fear of the realities that books like mine expose, fear of desire, sex and love – and distort it. into something ugly, in order to wish for strange experiences. .
They don’t try to hide their contempt or their homophobia. They accuse teachers who want to attribute my book to “grooming” students, language often used to accuse someone of being a pedophile and a common conservative dog whistle when it comes to queer art. They want to protect their children from anything that suggests a world beyond their narrow perception.
As anyone can tell you – as history can tell you – this is ultimately a dumb race. Ideas do not disappear when challenged; forbidden books have a funny way of lasting. But that does not mean that these efforts are without consequences.
The high school students concerned by this action are at the dawn of adulthood, if not already here. Soon they will go out into the world. They will go out and fall in love and start relationships, good and bad. I understand that for a parent it is almost unthinkable to imagine that your child could experience such trauma. But preventing children from reading my book, or any other book, will not protect them. On the contrary, it can deprive them of the means to understand the world they are going to encounter, or even the lives they are already living. You cannot recognize what you have never learned to see. You cannot put language in something that you have not received a language for.
Why don’t we see these acts of censorship for what they are: myopic, violent and unforgivable?
Carmen Maria Machado (@carmenmmachado) is the author of “Her Body and Other Parties”, a collection of short stories, and “In the Dream House”, a memoir.