VOYA Magazine, a publication for youth librarians, recently said some really gross and bigoted things about bisexuality and the queer community. Bisexual Books has a good run-down.
The short version is that they said a book was for ‘mature readers’ because it had a bisexual character and foul language (the section on the maturity rating neglected to mention the actual heterosexual sex in the book. Just the existence of a bi character). When criticized, they issued a series of increasingly bizarre and hostile statements, then eventually deleted everything and locked down their social media accounts.
I want to focus on something VOYA said in one of its now-deleted non-apologies:
“I simply did not recognize that including bisexual and ‘bad language’ in one sentence was effectively ‘lumping them together.’ I saw it as two pieces of factual information that led to the age recommendation.”
They use the existence of a bi character as a contributing factor when labeling the book as ‘mature.’ They’ve doubled down on this repeatedly, in spite of being told—repeatedly—that it is offensive, insulting, and harmful to children.
They don’t seem to understand how their actions could possibly be harmful. They claim to support our ‘lifestyle’ (yes, that’s right, they called bisexuality a ‘lifestyle’ in this, the year two thousand and sixteen). We must be overreacting, or ‘looking for enemies to destroy’ (yup, they said that too), because they have said repeatedly that they are not bigots, and saying it makes it so.
I thought perhaps an example might help them out.
When I was in middle school, I was outed as bisexual against my will.
I knew I was bi before I even started sixth grade. In fact, I had the good fortune of growing up in a faith community that loved and affirmed same-sex couples, so until I started middle school I thought everyone was bi.
Reality caught up with me pretty fast. I learned that any deviation from heterosexuality was considered wrong and gross, and bisexuality was particularly bad because even gay and lesbian folks didn’t hesitate to let the hatred directed their way roll downhill to us. I found myself a safe enough closet and I stepped inside.
Until I trusted someone who didn’t deserve it, and suddenly the whole school knew.
I was not a quiet kid. I was used to advocating for myself to authority figures. But when it came to being bullied for being queer, most of the adults I sought help from were useless. They didn’t even want to discuss it with me. They couldn’t look me in the eye and have a conversation about what was happening, because they considered bisexuality an inappropriate topic for a middle schooler to be discussing.
So they let the whole school go right on discussing it around me, rather than acknowledging that my childhood was a perfectly normal and appropriate childhood, and that it was perfectly normal and appropriate for me to be discussing it, and for me to ask for help when I was being bullied because of it.
When you tell people that even acknowledging the existence of bisexuality renders a book ‘too mature’ for kids, you’re contributing to a hostile environment for bi and other queer kids. By treating their stories as dirty, you’re treating them as dirty. You’re not just denying the lived reality of bi kids; you’re depriving them of support they desperately need at a time when they’re trying to figure themselves and the world out. You’re normalizing the shameful cowardice I experienced when I needed help and couldn’t get it.
There is nothing shameful about being bi, and kids need to hear that. Not just bi kids—straight kids need to hear it too. In fact, they might need to hear it even more, because they’re the ones bullying queer kids to death.
And if you’re trying to warn parents that a book contains bisexual characters in case the parents find it offensive—why? Why are you choosing to help parents pass their bigotry on to their children? Why are you placing their feelings of discomfort at having to justify their bigotry to their kids over the feelings of fear, pain, and alienation that bi kids face growing up in a world that treats them as dirty?
Bisexuality is perfectly appropriate for children, because many children are bisexual. Treating bisexuality as an ‘adult’ topic? As if it’s a deviation kids couldn’t possibly understand? That’s what’s not appropriate for children. It’s not appropriate for anyone, really, but it’s especially not appropriate to leave that toxic waste of an opinion in the middle of a library, where kids will trip over it on the way to the information desk.
3 responses to My Childhood Was Appropriate For Children
Thank you for writing this. I realized I was bisexual in 6th grade but struggled with it until my late twenties because of harmful attitudes like the ones expressed by the people at Voya. I have been glad to see so many wonderful people advocating against this biphobia.
I’m not bisexual, but I’m close to some individuals who are and have been largely pleased with Bi Visibility Week. I hope that this issue doesn’t mar anyone’s enjoyment of it and that, ultimately, it becomes merely a footnote in history. An educational and perhaps cautionary footnote, but a footnote nonetheless.
However, as a teen services librarian myself, I’m appalled and overwhelmed with disappointment at VOYA not just for the review itself but for their handling of the situation. Given their responses, I would find it hard to believe they’ve ever worked with young adults at length, let alone how important it is to send a positive message to teens about their identities, sexual or otherwise.
Librarians should always seek to add more MOGAI voices and characters to our collections not just because it increases visibility of an ongoing struggle, but because everyone deserves to see themselves reflected in what they read. ALA standards roundly forbid us from discriminating against materials based on personal or even societal bias, and for most of us these standards are simply an extension of our own personal beliefs. While RoseMary’s professional history proves out the notion she was a YA librarian, if this is how she feels about bisexuality and how she responds to criticism, I doubt she was a very good one.
I think people need to get over it. It’s life. Like heterosexuality, being gay or bi just is. It’s not wrong, it’s not right. It’s not an answer on a test. People are who there are. There is nothing to understand, they just have to accept.
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