The Colchester Craigin Memorial Library has pulled a biography on RuPaul Charles from a Pride display on the strength of one complaint to First Selectman Andreas Bisbikos. The Hartford Courant reports.
The book is part of the New York Times bestselling series Who Is/Who Was, which covers historic people, entertainers, and many more. The complaint stemmed from an unnamed woman saying that a picture in the book was “sexually provocative.” All the pictures in this book, and the entire series, are pen-ink-wash drawings. As a result of this sole complaint, the book, which is age-graded for 8-12-year-olds, was pulled from the display and put into the adult section of the library.
What follows is opinion: Both Selectman Biskbikos and library director Kate Byroade maintain that no censorship was involved since the book is still available in the library. However, removing the book from the display, separating the book from others in the series and placing it in the adult section is a kind of de facto censorship in that virtually buries the book in the stacks. Moreover, both Biskbikos and Byroade have relied on one complainant’s definition of what is “sexually provocative” in removing the book from the Pride display, saying that it is not age appropriate. To make matters worse, neither Byroade nor Biskbikos shared any published policies about what is age appropriate for this group. It’s fair to ask by what criteria the book and drawing were determined to be “not age appropriate.” Bisbikos’ statement “If this image was found in a book about George Washington in the children’s section, there would have been an identical response,” is at best disingenuous and a fig leaf to cover a discriminatory action, particularly since Bisbikos adds that no other books were taken out of the Pride display.
This shameful move is significant in that it comes at a time when Drag Queen Story Hours are coming under fire and subjected to sometimes violent protests at libraries around the country. In a tradition of cross-dressing that goes back to ancient times and includes Shakespeare, Mozart and others, the tradition of drag is not sexualized though it does play with gender norms, mostly for comedy. In contemporary art, drag is a way of exploring gender and identity and commenting on experience. Dancer James Whiteside, covered often by CT Voice, sees drag as a political statement as well about gender expression. What it’s not is porn. It is only seen that way through ignorance, bigotry, and fear.
Byroade says that no formal complaint has yet been filed, which in itself is another dodge. If she and Bisbikos had not caved, they would have instructed the person who complained to file the requisite form and wait for it to be evaluated. (Why bother to have a process if someone can just whine and achieve the same end?) Of course, Pride month would be over and display gone by the time the complaint was adjudicated, but the process would have been fair, rather than reactionary, discriminatory, and openly insulting to Colchester’s LGBTQ+ population. (See update below.)
And as for Bisbikos comment: “Protecting our children is important. If feel that it is imperative that we review to see if there are other books that may contain sexually suggestive imagery,” how would he feel about the following:
“When she carried on her whoring so openly and flaunted her nakedness, I turned in disgust from her, as I had turned in disgust from her sister. Yet she increased her whoring, remembering the days of her youth, when she played the whore in the land of Egypt and lusted after her lovers there, whose members were like those of donkeys, and whose issue was like that of horses. Thus you longed for the lewdness of your youth, when the Egyptians handled your bosom and pressed your young breasts.” That’s Ezekiel 23: 18-21 in the Bible. Probably doesn’t belong in the children’s section either because that’s a heck of a lot more sex than a guy putting on a dress. Just sayin’.
UPDATE: The formal review process has begun. Following is the statement from Library Director Byroade on June 29: “The Library has received a formal Statement of Concern about the book. We will follow the review process and respond directly to the patron who submitted it. The book has not been removed from the collection. Patron holds are being filled by other copies from within the system. Cragin’s copy is here in the building, available to anyone interested in looking at it for themselves while librarians read it in full and conduct the review process.”
This is the process that should have been followed in the first place, rather than the reactionary and discriminatory route the library and First Selectman followed. We believe this only came to light because of media pressure, which is why the state’s LGBTQ+ communities must remain vigilant and vocal.