Last week, I got news that one of my own books was pulled for review as part of a book banning effort in Collierville schools in Tennessee. Body Talk, which is an exploration of the physical and political realities of having a body, was among 300 titles the district pulled and evaluated. The school district devised their own book rating system of five tiers that correlate to the kind of LGBTQ+ content in the story, and those books were given a label accordingly. This development of an internal ranking system for LGBTQ+ content is the first known of its kind, even in our current censor-friendly climate.
Body Talk was put at tier one, the lowest rating, because it only includes side characters who are queer. Unfortunately, this categorization is wrong–Body Talk is nonfiction, and both its editor and several contributors identify as LGBTQ+. At the same time our real lives are being slotted into a book rating system based on the level of queer content, the very people behind the system manage to erase our queer experiences.
It’s impressive as much as it is sad.
If books are being ranked this way in a school system, and they’re being ranked incorrectly, imagine what it must be like for students and staff.
Here’s the Collierville school system’s tier system for ranking queer content and the books associated beneath each one. According to a local reporter, the district claims books are back on shelves, but there’s no confirmation which books are back on shelves (read the reporter’s entire story here, which may be paywalled–as I’ve said over and over, keeping stories like these behind paywalls is not the fault of the reporter but a fault of media companies and is why censorship like this thrives). This is important to articulate as a whole tier of their ranking system is about removing books from the school.
The review of books began in April and some may still live in places like the counselors offices, where they were put temporarily while being evaluated. All of this evaluation was done in preparation for Tennessee’s “Age Appropriate Materials” act, though Collierville’s system is one developed internally. The books were pulled before the law ever passed. This is what those of us doing this anti-censorship work mean when there is a chilling effect to these proposed mandates and laws; this is what’s meant by quiet/soft censorship initiated within a school or library.
If other schools currently processing book challenges right now are still looking at books challenged last fall, there is no way all of these books were read and evaluated between April and now.
Take a look at the targeted titles. Know this is happening elsewhere around the country but going unreported. Know, too, your voice is crucial in putting an end to this. Write letters. Show up. Put the pressure on administration in schools and libraries to fulfill their missions to educate and create a robust, open, accepting environment for all, not for politicians and their Moms For Liberty (and similar) cheer squads.
It is truly a whole different experience to be someone who writes about and fights against censorship and see your own book on a list. . . and for it to be wrongly categorized, too. If Body Talk was wrongly categorized into a safer tier, what are the chances that the opposite has happened for so many other books?
And who the hell gets to decide how to tier rank queerness in books? What are the chances anyone read these books at all before creating this list?
Hopefully a look at this list makes it crystal clear this is about systematic erasure of queer people and people of color. This isn’t about the content and it’s not about protecting children.
It’s about (re)encoding bigotry into practice and into law.
Collierville Schools Tier Breakdown
Tier level descriptions come from their own documents. This list does not quite add up to 300+ titles as has been reported, so it’s likely others are included and/or that number includes titles where there are multiple copies in the district.
The book may contain secondary characters in the LGBTQ community; however, this is not the main focus of the book nor the driving conflict. There is minimal to non-existent sexual interactions.
- It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living by Dan Savage and Terry Miller
- Channel kindness: Stories of Kindness and Community by the Born This Way Foundation
- Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon
- Body talk 37 Voices Explore Our Radical Anatomy by Kelly Jensen
- The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
- The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli
- Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders
- Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
The main character of the book is part of the LGBTQ community; however, their sexual identity is not the main focus of the book nor the driving conflict. There is minimal to non-existent sexual interactions.
- We Are Not Broken by George M. Johnson
- The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Decoded by Jim Ottaviani
- Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
- Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert
- Blue Flag, volumes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 by Kai Kaito
- Soul of Cinder by Bree Barton
- Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust
- What We Devour by Linsey Miller
- Out Now: Queer We Go Again! by Saundra Mitchell
- The Hammer of Thor (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard Series) by Rick Riordan
- The Ballad of Ami Miles by Kristy Dallas Alley
The main character of the book is part of the LGBTQ community, and their sexual identity forms a key component of the plot. The book may contain suggestive language and/or implied sexual interactions.
- Seeing Gender by Iris Gottlieb
- The Bride Was a Boy by Chii
- The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
- Pride: The Celebration and the Struggle by Robin Stevenson
- No Way, They Were Gay?: Hidden Lives and Secret Loves by Lee Wind
- The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater
- What Drowns the Flowers in Your Mouth: A Memoir of Brotherhood by Rigoberto González
- Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
- Ask The Passengers by AS King
- Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli
- I’m a Wild Seed by Sharon Lee De la Cruz
- How It All Blew Up by Arvin Ahmadi
- Kate in Waiting by Becky Albertalli
- The Weight of Stars by K Ancrum
- The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta
- Cinderella Is Dead by Kaylynn Baron
Several characters identify in the LGBTQ community and the main focus of the text centers on their lifestyle and/or LGBTQ concerns. The book may contain mature sexual references throughout the text.
- Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender
- Gender Issues and Sexuality Essential Primary Sources by K. Lee Lerner, Brenda Wilmoth Lerner, and Adrienne Wilmoth Lerner
- Your Rights as an LGBTQ+ Teen by Barbra Penne
- Coming Out and Seeking Support by Robert Rodi
- Jay’s Gay Agenda by Jason June
- What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera
- The Sky Is Mine by Amy Beashel
The books are being pulled.
- Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler
- Queer: The Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens by Kathy Belge
- Understanding Gender Identity by Don Nardo
- Self-ish: A Transgender Awakening by Chloe Schwenke
- Ripped-apart: Understanding, Coping and Living with Gender Dysphoria by Traci M. Knight
- Beyond the Gender Binary by Alok Vaid-Menon
- Nonbinary Gender Identities: History, Culture, Resources by Charlie McNabb
- Be Strong, Be Wise: The Young Adult’s Guide to Sexual Assault Awareness and Personal Safety by Amy R. Carpenter
- Trans Mission: My Quest to a Beard by Alex Bertie
- A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer & Trans Identities by Mady M. Giuliani
- Trans+: Love, Sex, Romance, and Being You by Kathryn Gonzales
- All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson
- The Gender Quest Workbook: A Guide for Teens & Young Adults Exploring Gender Identity by Rylan Jay Testa
- The New Queer Conscience by Adam Eli
- A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns by Archie Bongiovanni
- She/he/they/me For the Sisters, Misters, and Binary Resisters by Robin Ryle
- Being Transgender: What You Should Know by Thomas E. Bevan
- This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson
- Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen by Jazz Jennings
- The Pride Guide: A Guide to Sexual and Social Health for LGBTQ Youth by Jo Langford
- The ABCs of LGBT+ by Ashley Mardell
Note that there are other books on the Collierville list that appear to be unranked. Perhaps because they’re not clearly LGBTQ+ but instead are books about race and anti-racism?
- This Book is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell
- Say Her Name by Zetta Elliott
- How to Be an Antiracist by Ibrim X. Kendi
- So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo
- Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds
- No Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black & Free in America by Darnell Moore
- When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors
- On The Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope by DeRay Mckesson
- The Black Lives Matter Movement by Peggy J. Parks
- Teaching When the World is on Fire by Lisa Delpit