Remember how last month we got all upset about how the Cape Henlopen, Delaware school board removed The Miseducation of Cameron Post from its summer reading list? We weren’t the only people riled up; the National Coalition Against Censorship lent its voice to the outrage, and the story gained further traction when picked up by Boing Boing and AfterEllen’s beloved YA author Malinda Lo. Here at AE, we launched a campaign to donate copies of emily danforth’s gorgeous novel to local teens through Browseabout Books (Lucy Hallowell’s brainchild, for which we are proud of her and grateful to everyone who pitched in.)
Unfortunately, all that attention had rather the opposite effect of what we were intending. Rather than bow to the expertise of the librarians who curated the Blue Hen reading list, the book’s author, or anyone who had actually read it, the School Board instead voted to do away with the entire reading list. I’d say that’s like killing a fly with a hand grenade, except neither YA literature nor its devotees deserve the insect comparison.
In moments of frustration such as this, it is sometimes helpful to go back to the root of the problem. What started this ruckus in the first place? If you’ll recall, the Cape Henlopen School Board insisted publicly (and in personal emails to AE staff) that the controversy was owed entirely to the use of curse words in Cam Post, NOT its lesbian content. According to the board, YA heroines are perfectly free to scissor their girlfriends all the live-long day, so long as they don’t use the word “fucking” to describe the activity. There’s just one problem with that explanation: It is complete and utter bullshit.
AfterEllen has received a copy of the original parental complaint that sparked this entire saga; having been read at a school board meeting, it is a matter of public record. Here it is, in full. (The names of the shocked and outraged parents have been removed.)
I am almost too outraged to unpack the astounding level of ignorance on display here. (I will, however, pause to laugh at its description of the book as “a roadmap or guide book on how to become a sexually active lesbian teen.” That is hilarious and someone needs write that actual book.) I don’t feel I owe these parents an explanation as to why Cameron Post is important. I doubt they would even understand it if I told them about how valuable it is as a teenager to hear your doubts and fears and desires echoed back to you in your own voice, from a character you can believe in. I will say that I think you are fucking delusional if you think your daughter won’t be offered a joint in high school, or want someone she can’t have, or have someone she can’t bring herself to want. That is just part of the human experience—whether you are determined to be a sexually active lesbian teen or not— and the best preparation for it are stories and PARENTS who aren’t too afraid to talk about it.
It also bears mentioning that of the two books they do feel are appropriate for incoming freshmen, Lord of the Flies is as horrific and traumatic as they come. Yet Americans have always been more comfortable with violence than sex, especially sex that does not adhere to heterosexual, Puritanical standards. (See: the thousands of PG-13 movies in which heroes mow down faceless henchmen by the dozen, but the woman wears a bra for the sex scene, because a boob is somehow more offensive than a shooting spree.)
But whatever. I don’t need every parent in Delaware to agree with me. And neither does the Cape Henlopen School Board. It is not the function of these bodies to kowtow to the wishes of the frightened and ignorant. The only thing that results from that kind of weakness is the education of future generations of frightened and ignorant children. Refuse to teach sex education to children, and they get pregnant. Refuse to teach science, and they become incapable of competing with their better-educated peers. Censor stories of gayness, hide them in dark, and gay teens will grow up feeling ashamed. (I’m sure the Cape Henlopen School Board has gotten enough letters by now to know that I’m not speaking in hypotheticals, but real, lived-in stories of gay children who feel they need to hide who they are.) It’s not enough to try and mitigate the damage or hush-up the hush-up by lying about the reasons for it. Because if you set an example of dishonesty—and that is exactly what this whole “it’s only because of profanity” line of defense has been—how can you expect the students in your care to grow up honest themselves?
The summer is ending, the students are returning—a great many more having read Cameron Post than would have otherwise—and it’s tempting to call the matter of this letter a moot point. But these elected officials don’t deserve to get off easy or clean. I hope, at least that this ordeal has taught them something about accountability, about honesty, and maybe, just maybe, we won’t have to fight this battle again next summer.
Oh, and don’t try to fool the lesbian internet.