In the last few days, we’ve seen calls on social media to request that the Kingston Frontenac Public Library remove a recent addition to their collection for blatant transphobic hate speech. The book is Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters by Abigail Shrier. It’s written for parents, in particular “progressive” parents who support gay rights and vote left, but who are not fully on-board with the “trans thing”. It presents them with an alternative perspective to trans issues, one based in pseudoscience, stereotypes and overreactions.
We believe its addition to the library was a mistake, as the book has many problems like misinformation and the inclusion of deceptive and unethical interviews that indicate a lack of “honesty of presentation” as per the Library’s Collection Policy. However, what we find most harmful is the potential impact this book can have on trans and non binary youth in Kingston who live with adult caregivers who want to deny their existence and experience. This is a kind of intimate abuse and harm that studies show can lead to suicide, homelessness and other negative consequences for young people. According to a study by 519 Centre in Toronto, 77% of respondants seriously considered suicide and 45% attempted suicide, and that “LGBTQ2S Youth experience 14 times the risk of suicide than straight cisgender youth”. Additionally, “risk of suicide decreases by 93% with strong family support”.
Children and youth don’t get to choose their parents or the ideas their parents subscribe to, and communities have a responsibility to step in when there is risk of harm to children. Shrier’s screed reads like a handbook for abuse. Books that enable people to abuse children, or provide strategies for people in positions of power to abuse children, should not be in the library. The Library’s Collection Policy states that quality materials are those “designed to increase an individual’s ability to function effectively as a member of society.” This book encourages the opposite.
(Content warning: the next two paragraphs are an analysis of the book, including descriptions of abusive parenting, transphobic language, and discussion of suicide. Please skip ahead if you don’t want to read any of that.)
There are many case studies throughout the book from parents who “lost” their children to the so-called “transgender craze”. The parents interviewed have a concerning tendency to invade their children’s privacy by reading their private messages and opening their mail, and to offer opinions like “maybe you should try appearing less unusual”. One couple isolated their child from their friends and support system at school and moved the family to a rural Southern US town to “outrun the forces that had ensnared” their child. The book also repeatedly describes how parents generously paid for their children’s hobbies and education, only to be betrayed when they start transitioning. The implication to parents is this: if your child doesn’t comply with your wishes, you should withhold resources until they do. Could that be why many of the stories end with the child cutting off contact and moving away?
Shrier is not concerned with the wellbeing of the children she writes about. She is concerned for narcissist parents who lose the ability to control and manipulate their children when–after being pushed away–the children depart into the care of a found family instead. Her contempt of trans teens is perhaps best exemplified in Chapter 6, when Shrier is faced with the irrefutable evidence that trans youth are at a much higher risk of suicide than the general population. Her response is dismissive, sarcastic, and apologetic to the abusive parental behaviours that contribute to that risk. She writes, “put out of your mind every manner of very understandable parental interjection. You don’t want your child to hang ‘himself’ in the garage just because you accidentally referred to her as ‘Rebecca’.” What exactly are her readers supposed to think beside: your child is just making threats of suicide because they aren’t getting their way and are throwing a teenage tantrum. You know better than them–don’t fall for it. This is an incredibly dangerous response to threats of suicide that could result in kids in our community being hurt or worse.
(End of content warning)
What can the library do?
Remove the book from the collection, based on its misinformation and potential to enable child abuse. If the library chooses to keep the book in the collection, it could provide a label stating the book contains misinformation, or introduce a different sign-out process for the book like that used for “reference” materials that must stay in the library.
Other recommendations for anyone:
Borrow and read books by Trans writers (books that are frequently borrowed will remain in the library’s collection while books that just sit on the shelves are more likely to be removed). Think about and discuss books by Trans authors. Ask the library for book club copies of the titles you like best and organize discussion groups.
Request books by 2SLGBTQI authors at your kid’s schools, from public schools all the way to universities. Request that the public library purchase more books too! You can request up to 3 books per month.
If parents in your life are needing resources, direct them to helpful books (all of which can be borrowed from the Kingston Public library!), such as:
A message for trans, questioning, and gender non-conforming children & youth out there:
You are beautiful and worthwhile. The struggle is real but you don’t have to fight it alone. Here are some local resources out there for you:
Fuse (Kingston LGBTQQIP2SAA Group for youth under 19)
Reelout (Kingston queer film festival)
Trans Health Clinic
Trans Family Kingston (support group)
Education on Queer Issues Project (EQuIP – queer student group @ Queen’s)