(Blogmensgo, gay blog of 5 October 2019) From 22 to 28 September 2019, the Banned Books Week took place once again. And as already mentioned here in 2016, almost any excuse to ban books seems good, regardless of the country or place of prohibition and regardless of the content of the books concerned. Many websites, mostly in English and especially American ones, mention the topic.
There is also a new form of censorship: Book readings by people who are perceived as offensive. In particular, there was a lot of turmoil over readings for small children by drag-queens. Shocking! This is what bigoted groups, parents of pupils, religious associations and other people had to say about this very open and nice initiative. In any case: Kids love these readings very much. For children, a reading by third sex persons is more of a festive and amusing event than a militant and disturbing one.
Nevertheless, there were prohibitions for drag queens to read to children from “harmless” books – hard to believe.
Kids do not see anything bad in this, on the contrary. And it is not for lack of imagination, as this nice anecdote told by a former female porn star in a book shows: Known for her rather revealing and trashy roles, the woman decides one day to explain to her little daughter that she makes films “for adults”. The mother then notices to her astonishment that the child imagines her playing superhero roles in vampire or gangster movies.
Robert’s review of the thirteen most banned books in the United States in 2019 points out that none of them were banned because of homosexual scenes or comments. The three main reasons for placing books on the index in the USA (by numbers) are (heterosexual) sex scenes, anti-religious statements and obscene language.
In 2019, the list of books banned in one or more countries included global bestsellers such as the Koran (North Korea), the Bible (Libya, Maldives) and Satanic Verses (many Muslim countries). Some countries also ban books that violate their political doctrine or “national pride,” or that are too reminiscent of the dark hours of their history. Mein Kampf is still banned in Austria, as are books about the genocide of the Indians in the United States and the Armenians in Turkey. Not surprisingly, many books on sexual practices that are considered deviant, in particular pedophilia and incest (Lolita in Argentina) or fetishism and sadomasochism (Fifty Shades of Grey in Malaysia), are also temporarily or permanently banned, as are books by political opponents (Liu Xiaobo in China) or with political satire (George Orwell in the United Arab Emirates).
What about books on male or female homosexuality? Of course we can imagine that works like Love! Valour! Compassion! by Terrence McNally will not be released or even presented on stage in countries like Iran or Indonesia.
Apart from these few countries where any reference to homosexuality is prohibited, most prohibitions depend on place, time, institutions and people. For example, Lillian Hellman could write and perform her play The Children's Hour without any special difficulties or censorship. But she had to rewrite the film adaptation of the same name, because it mistakenly created an impression of homosexuality: Hollywood with its very backward Motion Picture Production Code banned any reference to homosexuality. It also did not prevent the success of her masterpiece The Little Foxes in the theater or in William Wyler’s film, despite some lesbian allusions.
Most countries that once banned objectionable works or persecuted their authors for violating public morals have adopted a more conciliatory attitude in the decades since then and have refrained from prosecuting the authors. So everyone can read John Rechy or Sarah Waters in the United States, Oscar Wilde or Emma Donoghue in Ireland, Pierre Guyotat or Monique Wittig in France, Alan Hollinghurst or Virginia Woolf in Great Britain.
In these countries, however, the same authors occasionally still suffer from the unequal treatment of librarians, bigots, politicians and more or less fanatical associations, especially under the pretext of religious beliefs. However, this often happens in a hidden way: The books in question secretly disappear from the shelves or never reach the official shopping lists. And in the United States, books continue to be burned, either secretly or in public places.
In fact, homophobic censorship today seems to come to the foreground especially for (very) young children. Particularly critical and reactionary adults report loudly and clearly when a children’s book tells of the love between two lions or two lionesses, two male penguins or two female giraffes or even two people of the same sex. Homophobic people often try to make children believe that they are too young to understand homosexuality, and that books with homosexual adventures or characters can affect their psychological development.
This so-called “virtue” will only disappear when the narrow-mindedness itself has disappeared.
Censorship is not only about writing or images, but also about the performing arts, especially theater and musicals. Here, too, many censors sit at strategic points in schools (teachers, parents, headmasters, directors of cultural institutions or events), festivals (programming) and public or private theaters (organization, programming, partnerships).
It is not surprising that the stage version of works that were already banned when they were published as books is a recurring reason for censorship. In 2009, the children’s book And Tango Makes Three was banned from many American libraries because it deals with homosexuality and same-sex parents, based on the true story of a gay penguin couple who adopted little tango at the zoo. Six years later, the parents banned the performance of a play of the same name in a school in Fresno, California. There is no doubt that the play will be banned elsewhere in the United States and in other countries.
Even openly or implicitly homosexual themes or scenes continue to be grounds for censorship, despite some prestigious awards. For example, parents of students from a Catholic school in California banned the famous musical Cabaret by John Kander and Fred Ebb in 2013 under several pretexts, including the “vulgar” nature of the show and “homosexual behavior” on stage. A year later a school in Pennsylvania not only prevented the performance of the musical Monty Python’s Spamalot because of “homosexual themes”, but also fired his theater teacher because he protested against this censorship.
The American Library Association’s list of 11 most controversial books in 2018 shows cases where works are either banned or censored, or are actually banned or censored in places in the United States. The first three books on the list were criticized for a trans person (George by Alex Gino), “LGBTQIA+ content” (A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, by Jill Twiss) and a same-sex couple (Captain Underpants, a series by Dav Pilkey). Three other books on this list were criticized for LGBTQIA+ content, characters, or topics, and the last two were even burned.
Below and in reverse order of ranking, we see the Top 11 book bans that were asked for in the USA in 2018.
Unfortunately, there are countless other examples, whether in the United States (where civil rights and LGBT organizations are often better structured than elsewhere) or in other countries. It is a pity that the Banned Books Week has only become an important event in the Anglo-Saxon countries. It is true that in other countries, such as France, censorship has become illegal for homophobic reasons and perpetrators risk criminal and civil prosecution.
Fortunately, only a few homophobic groups foresee one of the consequences of their stupid activism: the usually even bigger success of censored works. Scandalous success means scandal, but above all success. And that is quite something, after all.
Frank-S / MensGo