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The Very Real Trauma from Book Bans: Book Censorship News, December 23, 2022

Kelly Jensen


Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

“Trauma” has become a bit of a buzzword around the internet. This is the case in part because more and more research and understanding of trauma has come to light, and we’re better articulating the impact of trauma on the body and mind. Trauma is an emotional response to an event; it is not the event itself. Perhaps the easiest way to think of trauma is that the body’s natural fight, flight, or freeze response — which normally is a short lived experience — does not dissipate once the triggering incident ends. It is being consistently on guard, with less and less opportunity to shut down the body’s sympathetic nervous system. There are many life situations that create trauma for a person, and because it is so individual, some are more sensitive while others are more resilient. It is, of course, much more likely for those living in the margins to have more trauma than those who fit the cishet, white, Christian mold. Young people are especially vulnerable to trauma, as those experiences directly impact their development (and if this is a thing you’re interested in knowing more about, dig into the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study*).

Trauma is a public health issue.

It’s been fascinating to watch teachers this year talk about how unmotivated and disinterested in learning their students are. This is a real concern, but there is a lot to be said as to why: today’s students have had one of the biggest trauma-inducing events happen to them with the pandemic. Imagine during your early developmental periods (be it preschool or elementary school, middle school or high school) that everything is pulled out from beneath you. Suddenly, you’re being removed from school and put into a variety of virtual learning environments. Imagine on top of that being sick from COVID or having a loved one die from it. Over eight million children across the globe had this happen between January 2020 and May 2022. While there are many children who will bounce back, as many, if not more, will not. They do not have the same brains as adults, and those experiences lead to trauma that not only impacts their thinking, it impacts their physical body and health (this could be why we’re seeing so many sick kids right now — the lack of care for their wellness throughout this experience has weakened their immune systems, and the body keeps the score).

We have to stop thinking about these kids as the same kids from 2019. They aren’t. They’re kids who have had so many traumatic experiences pile up. Add to that the reality today’s kids worry they won’t come home alive because of our culture’s fetishization of guns, it is absolutely not surprising they do not care about their grades or about turning in homework or about how if they fail they won’t get into college.

So what does this have to do with censorship and book bans?

The ongoing fight over the rights of young people to access books is contributing to their trauma. This is especially true for queer kids and kids of color, who are seeing grown adults fight against their rights to live their lives. Who are witnessing adults who began their Joyful War against access to literature saying that kids were struggling in school because they were “muzzled” by masks. Who kept it going, saying that requiring vaccinations was an invasion of bodily autonomy for children. Who then moved on to fighting against the very books on school and library shelves under the guise of “caring for the kids,” because teachers and librarians were not actually interested in the well-being of young people but are instead “groomers” who are “sexualizing them” at young ages.

These messages are being piled on top of the trauma already circulating within young people from the past two years. They’re further confused and, if they’re from groups already under the spotlight of bigotry and racism, they’re wondering if they’re even safe to go to school. If they can show up as they are. We’ve seen schools wanting lists of students who identify as queer and we’ve seen states eager to shut down any gender-affirming healthcare young people desperately need to be their truest selves.

Imagine the kids seeing their parents showing up to these board meetings and creating a scene. Especially if those young people identify with the very groups targeted by their parents in public ways. In ways that get them their 15 minutes of fame on social media.

These young people are living every moment in fight, flight, or freeze. And when they speak up, they’re sometimes ridiculed by the adults who should be nurturing them.

Further, it’s worth some concern that today’s young people, who are dealing with this level of trauma and who understandably lack the motivation to put in the effort in their education, are also those more easily recruited by these right-wing groups. These groups, with their talking points and handy “research,” can influence the self-same young people they’ve had a hand in traumatizing. It’s not that young people do not want to think for themselves; it’s that the trauma is so deep in their body and mind they can’t think for themselves. The cheat sheets these groups offer are a way of filling in gaps with the same lies used to traumatize them in the first place.

And of course, this situation impacts educators, anti-censorship groups and individuals, parents who aren’t under the influence of Christian nationalism, and other adults whose lives involve working with young people. It impacts the authors whose books — and identities — are deemed inappropriate, pornographic, explicit.

Is there a solution? I’m not sure. But it is vital we talk about this and sound the alarm on the reality of our current generation of traumatized young people…and the ways book banners are contributing to their trauma and profiting from it.

Trauma is real, and our young people are aching for the opportunity to see and be seen wherever they can with it. Book bans are only making it worse.

Book Censorship News: December 23, 2022

  • Incredible work from The Marshall Project showing every book banned in prisons across the country.
  • All of the LGBTQ+ books in the children’s section of Crawford County Public Library (Arkansas) are being moved because right-wing Christian nationalists demanded that happen. “Van Buren Library Director Deidra Grzymala said she believes everyone is reaching a compromise and the books have been moved to their own section at each of the Crawford County Library System’s five libraries.” That’s not a compromise; it’s called censorship.
  • While we’re in Arkansas, here’s the current status of “the library wars” in Jonesboro.
  • I’ve kept tabs on my book being challenged and banned, but this was a new one to me. Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative Middle/High School (New Hampshire) decided to keep Body Talk on shelves, but middle schoolers need parental permission to access it. The gold in this one is the parent complaining about how white men are demonized in the book and her two citations are…the white men in the book.
  • Granville Independent School District (Texas) is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education for their removal of LGBTQ+ books.
  • At the Wayne County Public Library (Ohio), children’s books that have been targeted will not be removed.
  • Clark County Public Library (Kentucky) has put a restriction on Gender Queer and to borrow it, students need parental permission.
  • Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me will be removed from all middle school libraries in Robertson County (Tennessee).
  • 79 books are under fire in St. Tammany Parish public libraries (Louisiana). Close to 100 books are now being “sequestered” behind the reference desk as they undergo review for appropriateness. This is still censorship.
  • “Tennessee’s textbook commission has wide new powers to determine which books students can and can’t access in public school libraries. But members say the panel doesn’t have enough resources to finish its most pressing new task: providing guidance to school leaders on how to comply with several recently enacted library laws.” Huh, who’d have guessed a volunteer committee made up of non-professionals would have a hard time doing the work of professionals?
  • Ten books — all of which are named in the article — are being challenged formally at Old Rochester Regional School District (Massachusetts).
  • The teacher who had a copy of Gender Queer on her desk in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, will not face criminal charges because SURPRISE, there is nothing criminal about it.
  • It’s bizarre that the Darien Public Schools (Connecticut) did NOT have a formal procedure for book challenges in place prior to now. This is a crucial policy to have and to keep updated, as it is a living document.
  • Cranston Public Schools (Rhode Island) did not have a policy, either, but now they do.
  • One Parent complained about a social justice unit in her student’s high school English class and now the entire unit has been ended. The parent tossed out the usual CRT buzzwords. ONE PARENT in Lansing, Kansas.
  • “In response, Gallagher said that there are already policies in place to address these issues, including a resource policy to weed out inappropriate material and disciplinary action for teachers who engage in “political and sexual indoctrination.” He also said that parents are notified if their child requests a name or pronoun change. But his reassurances did not appease everyone. This is a bizarre report about the last school board meeting at Souderton Area School District (Pennsylvania). Apparently books that are inappropriate are simply “weeded” and students’ parents are alerted when they change pronouns?
  • State Representative Mike Soboleski of Maine showed up to the MSAD 58 school board meeting, demanded more than the allotted three minutes for public comment, and used it to complain about books…including Gender Queer, which is not even in the district.
  • An English teacher in Florida is part of the book banning club, wanting 150 books removed from school libraries.
  • Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry wrote a letter to the paper about why he thinks having a tip line to complain about teachers and librarians who “indoctrinate” students is essential.
  • As of writing, there has not been an update, but the Carroll County School Board (Iowa) discussed another title of the ten being formally challenged in the district.
  • “Amber Smith said parents are called hateful bigots and homophobic fascists because they don’t want sexually explicit materials in the classroom.” It could be because that’s what they are, especially as this story was one that garnered attention from Fox News and led to a FAKE BOMB THREAT toward a queer teacher with an LGBTQ+ classroom library (California).
  • Abilene Public Library (Texas) has been dealing with several book challenges this year and finally updated their materials policy. Now, the city manager has significant power in determining whether or not a book is banned. City managers are known for their background in literature, literacy, and intellectual development of young people.
  • “A new flurry of requests to ban or relocate books and library district activities in the Gunnison County Public Libraries [Colorado] has been filed with the district through its ‘Request for Reconsideration of Materials’ form. In addition, the Gunnison County Sheriff’s Office and Gunnison Police Department were asked recently to remove some books and file charges in connection with books that two library patrons considered obscene.” The police were asked to remove books. The police. Were asked. To remove. Books.
  • GLAAD released a new report this week that showed at least 140 drag shows were targeted with protests this year. Texas, Illinois, Virginia, and New York were among the top places where protests occurred.
  • Speaking of Drag shows, “Most of the drag story times have gone on smoothly. But in November, four neo-Nazis protested outside the library during that month’s drag story time, Connell said. And on Dec. 10, about two dozen people who appeared to be members of several different neo-Nazi groups congregated outside the library, holding signs condemning the event as pedophilic and shouting anti-LGBT slurs and accusations of pedophilia at people going into and out of the library.” This is Fall River, Massachusetts.
  • This article is from October but it offers some insight into the current motivations of Moms For Liberty, as the chapter in Tarrant County, Texas, decided to leave the national organization and regroup.
  • In Augusta, Georgia, a parent is trying to get a book pulled from Ollie’s Bargain Outlet because she was “shocked” that it depicted sexual intercourse. Ma’am, this is a private business.
  • Love the stretch to not call a book ban a book ban in this editorial from Millard County, Utah.
  • In Beauford County School District (South Carolina), The Lovely Bones and Stamped will remain on shelves for high schoolers. Stamped will be pulled from K–5 shelves (this is the young reader edition). Ten more books are currently under discussion for the January school board meeting.

*There is a lot to be said about the limitations of this study and how fat people were the initial research participants because of their lack of “initiative” in a weight loss program. But it is groundbreaking work that has been built upon for the last couple of decades.