By August Sender, Training Coordinator – OUT Maine

The book Gender Queer, a memoir by Maia Kobabe, has been in the news consistently recently. If you haven’t been following along, the book is a graphic novel – a comic-style story of the author’s experience learning about their own gender and sexuality.

The media around this book focuses on one specific image. This image depicts imaginary oral sex. It is an image from the author’s perspective, looking down at a person on their knees. However, in the pages leading up to this image and the pages that follow, the story is not at all about sex or arousal. It is not even about gender. The image is part of a longer story about consent.

In the scene right before the image, the author is on a date with a new person.
The author is nervous, has little experience dating, and has concerns and apprehensions about sex. On this date, they are walking along the beach talking about their insecurities, boundaries, and concerns about sex in general. It’s an incredible scene where two adults actually talk to each other about what they do not want to do during sex, ask each other to respect their boundaries and come to understand what would feel safe and healthy for both of them.

The oral sex itself, when it does happen, is awkward and uncomfortable for the author, and they ask their partner to stop. Their partner says, “Of course,” and the author adds a yellow heart in the speech bubble. That is the end of the scene..

What a refreshing example of consent! Where adults talk about their boundaries and desires, safely try something new, decide it is not what one person wants- and stops! What an incredible experience to be able to safely say “no” and have that respected!

This book is called pornographic, so I ask – how often does porn show loving, safe consent? How many examples of respecting sexual boundaries does the average person see represented in the media at all?

There has been a lot of talk about “grooming” lately. Grooming is when someone who is planning on sexually abusing someone else – usually an adult who is looking to sexually abuse a child or dependant adult – builds up their trust and manipulates the relationship, in hopes that the abused person will not tell. Grooming is a real issue. It happens to many kids, and the betrayal of trust that a child and family goes through, alongside the horrendous violent crime of sexual assault, can and does have massive impacts.

The best way to prevent grooming is to teach consent. Consent for kids means respecting when they say “no” about something related to their body (as long as it’s not a safety concern), so they learn that no one can do things to their body that doesn’t feel right. Consent education advances through the developmental stages so that when they start to engage in sexual acts, they have the foundational knowledge that their body belongs to them, their boundaries deserve to be respected, they should be able to say “no” to any sexual act at any time without consequence, they never have to engage sexually if they don’t want to, and that no-one should ever pressure them to do anything they don’t want to do sexually. Is this not what we want for our children? To never have to experience rape, coercion, or manipulation? In a world where almost 1 in 2 women, 1 in 4 men, and 1 in 2 transgender individuals will experience sexual violence ( every example of consent is a blessing.

The book Gender Queer, by Maia Kobabe is not grooming our children. It is not promoting sex. It is doing the exact opposite. It offers the reader simple, relatable examples of consent, boundaries, and respect – all things we desperately need and want for our children.