Sure, there are probably a few intrepid, right-minded souls who'd like to pluck that Stephen King novel out of your hands and pitch it onto a bonfire so that it can be enveloped in the unholy flames whence it came. But, for the most part, your average censorship zealot has given up on your immortal soul and mine. They're out to save the children. And this is exactly where and why censorship becomes such a dodgy issue. Because everyone wants to save the children, right?
Here's another thing about this breed of book banner: they're so easy to mock.
How can you not make fun of someone -- even if only in your head -- who misspells "obscene" in their scrawled Post-It note critique of a well-known children's classic? It's hard not to laugh when you envision someone angrily counting the number of times the word "fart" appears in an international bestseller. And let's face it, it's just plain funny to use the word "scrotum" in a debate.
The trick is knowing when to laugh and when to get pissed off. For me, the line in the sand (well, one of many lines in the sand) is drawn when people take it upon themselves to ban books that promote values of tolerance and acceptance.
Take, for example, the groundbreaking children's book Heather Has Two Mommies, which has been getting under conservatives' skin for almost two decades. (You can read the backstory here.) Now, this isn't a book we have in our house... yet. We'll get a copy some day. It's a good story. It isn't just about the fact that Heather's mothers are gay: it's about the fact that there are all kinds of families -- single-parent families, blended families, interracial families -- and all are equal. I simply do not get why this is a message people are against. Do they think that, by banning the book, these families will disappear? Do they think that reading about gay people will, horror of horrors, make their own kids gay? (To this charge, Heather's author, Leslea Newman, retorts, "After all, I grew up reading books that all had straight characters.")
Here's why we have to fight against book banning: because if we don't take seriously the free speech attacks against innocuous books of nursery rhymes and books about flatulent canines and books that incidentally name body parts, we give censorship advocates every reason to believe they have the right to ban books about capital-I important issues such as homosexuality and tolerance. And while the right to tell silly stories about farting dogs may not feel like a right we need to go to battle over, the right to tell stories that help people understand that it's OKAY to be different -- that, in fact, MOST OF US are different in some way -- well, that's a right that definitely needs to be protected.
Here's the real, honest, no-messing-around reason why we have to be pitbulls on the pantsleg of censorship: because you never know when and how this issue will affect you personally. And trust me, if this ever does affect you, you're going to be mighty irked with yourself for not speaking up earlier.
Here's how this issue affects me: I'm not gay (though I play a gay woman on TV! Ba-dum-bum!) but Sam's legal guardian is. And let's take a moment to follow the logic of someone who wants to ban books about gay parents:
- Books about gay parents are bad.
- Because gay people are bad.
- Gay parents are DEFINITELY bad.
- Gay people shouldn't have kids.
- Not even adopted kids.
So, yeah, this issue hits home for me. It's not like I really think (touch wood!) that Rusty and I are planning a visit to St. Pete any time soon. Given the fact that we rarely leave the house, we'd both have to fall in the tub simultaneously, which... well, it could happen, but we got one of those sticky tub mat thingies, so we feel pretty good about things. But say we DO suffer a fatal simultaneous tubbing accident, we want to know our wishes about Sam's guardianship will be respected. The fact that there are people out there who might, even in theory, like to overthrow my wishes makes this censorship issue more than academic for me. P.S. It also really, really, REALLY pisses me off. That sound you hear? That's my blood boiling.
It's so easy for the free speech debate to become overly academic and abstruse. I think it's important to break things down and consider -- really consider -- how this issue affects us in our day-to-day lives. So I've told my story (one of them, anyway). What's yours?