By Ian Kirkpatrick
“Maybe one day you’ll wake up craving dick or vag;” says a prominent LGBTQ-friendly book available to 12-year-olds at Kent School District in Washington State.
Around the country, a heated battle is being waged between parents, librarians, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU): Parents are protesting sexualized content made accessible to minors, forcing libraries to pull LGBTQ books they deem inappropriate.
Parents vs. Schools
Librarians and the ACLU are arguing against these new measures. Schools in New York have failed to ban certain LGBTQ+ books, a county in Michigan recently defunded its library over a catalog of books patrons didn’t want to see on the shelves with a 3:1 vote, Texas has officially pulled at least 50 books from school that its administration has deemed inappropriate, and in Florida, Governor DeSantis recently passed the Parental Rights Bill to strength the rights parents have over the content their children are receiving in public schools.
The two sides of this argument usually center around defendants of the banned books saying this is a freedom of speech issue for LGBT students while defendants of book removal state this is an issue of inappropriate and sexually explicit materials being accessible to minors at government institutions.
Some defenders of the books argue the rules regarding the removal of these books are too vague. “What’s implied nudity? I ask that with all seriousness,” said Vic Walczak of the ACLU. Katherine Semisch, a retired English Teacher in Michigan, stated the new policy in Central Bucks could, “prohibit an array of literary works like Romeo and Juliet, Dracula, the Odyssey, East of Eden,” and more.
“The board has no basis for denying students access to a specific book based on the disagreement and discomfort of certain parents with the book’s content,” the ACLU wrote to a middle school in Kent School Distract after voting to remove the book Jack of Hearts and Other Parts by Lev A.C. Rosen from its library, only to later reverse that decision after LGBT activists raised concerns that LGBTQ characters were being targeted.
As far as I’m aware, Jack of Hearts has not been assigned reading but has been made available in many schools and public libraries across the nation. Librarians argue that the removal of these books is unconstitutional and bigoted targeting LGBTQ students in the area. In the case of Jack of Hearts, librarians argued the book “covers a lot of issues that are relevant to some of our LGBTQ students.”
This is a common argument, but is it accurate?
What’s in Jack of Hearts and Other Parts?
Jack of Hearts is a book about 17-year-old Jack Rothman who is very sexually active and proud. The story opens up with a prologue of girls in a bathroom talking graphically about Jack’s sex life. One day, he’s invited by his best friend to write a sex column on her website due to his immense knowledge and experience in sex. This creates the scenario wherein every couple of chapters, a sexually specific question is asked by an anonymous person in the novel, and in the next chapter, a sexually explicit answer was provided.
The first email received in the novel is by a user named ‘His Anaconda Want’ asking about anal sex. In part, the answer reads, “he says to me, ‘I want to fuck that pretty little ass of yours.’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know, I’ve never done that before.’ And he smirked and said, ‘Sure, right.’ And I said, ‘No, really.’ ‘ Well, I paid for the hotel room,’ he said, ‘so let’s use it. I’ll take it easy on you.’ But it was pretty clear he didn’t believe I was an anal virgin. So he bends me over the bed and drizzles some lube on my ass. I made him wear a condom, of course. And he starts pushing it in. And WOW, that hurts. I tell him to stop, it hurts, and he says he’ll go slower.” (Chapter 3)
A further section asks about how to give a blowjob and the author writes a how-to guide: “And now, since you’ve made it through talking and erections, finally, some blowjob tips: (1) Use your lungs to suck, not your lips to pull. You’re not trying to yank the dick off with your mouth, you’re trying to make it feel good. (2) Use your tongue. Lots of different ways. Ask him what works as you’re trying them. (3) Use your hands—stroke the shaft if it’s too big to swallow, or grip his balls, or touch his taint, or finger his ass. Don’t forget you have hands. (4) Each dick is different, and sometimes the same dick is different day to day. So always try new things—suck the head, lick the shaft, or vice versa. Listen for his moans and breathing, juggle what parts of your mouth you’re using and what parts of him you’re using them on.” (Chapter 9)
Another email is a lesbian asking about her participation in hardcore BDSM (Chapter 29), and another email details how to dehumanize a sexual partner so feelings are not established to help with having promiscuous sex: Focus on how good you feel… You don’t have to act on every emotion, after all. I think it’s about how society is always like, “Sex = love + these chemicals…” But any other emotion, they’d tell you, Why should it be any different with sex? It’s not an easy task, but in the end it’s about restraint, and selfishness.” (Chapter 23)
Another explains to a minor how they may be asexual or, “Maybe one day you’ll wake up craving dick or vag.” (Chapter 28).
Why is this being defended?
Reviews and opinions on this book say it is important for sexual education and sex positivity. Agreeing with the sentiment of the LGBTQ activists in Kent County, the author, Lev A.C. Rosen accuses his book of being targeted by others saying, “these parents are primarily targeting books with BIPOC and queer characters (often without much sex at all), when in fact there are many many more young adult books with straight sex scenes that are far more graphic,” and “The book itself contains no sex scenes,There’s plenty of discussion of sex, but any moments when Jack actually has sex are fade to black moments.”
While the sex scenes in Jack of Hearts may not be play-by-play, it is hard to argue with the graphic nature of the quoted material.
The sexual content of this book is immediate and maintains a majority of the narrative. Jack is driven by sex entirely, though not everything inside Jack of Hearts is sexually instructive content. Some other themes and elements included are friendship dynamics, sex and sexual pursuit, sexting, stalking, blackmail, peer pressure, family dynamics with a single mother, law enforcement distrust, and assumed prejudice. This novel also includes a negative opinion of long-term relationships and the demonization of “heteropatriarchy” or straight relationships, underscored by things like a t-shirt saying MAKE HETERO ILLEGAL (Chapter 28), a teacher who says, “Lord save me from straight people,” (Chapter 32) when it turns out the stalker is female, and the main character’s insistence that “straight people are the worst.” (Chapter 16 & 25)
While there may be a place for and relatability for some teenagers when it comes to friendship dynamics, sexting, relationships, stalking, blackmail, family dynamics, and loneliness, these are not things that only LGBTQ deal with, and the packaging of these issues in sexually explicit material does not make them more relatable or helpful to twelve-year-olds.
Making matters worse is the more recent open push to normalize pedophilia. Explicit sexual content has no place in schools; not only is it it’s inappropriate for a state learning environment, but especially when placed in the hands of middle schoolers, it blurs boundary lines that can lead to abuse by teachers or other adults in that child’s life. Jack of Hearts specifically is an example of a book that normalizes casual sex and implies there’s never a reason to say no to sex, even if you don’t like the person asking (“But if he invites you back to his place, maybe have an excuse prepared if you’re not ready,” Chapter 24).
Defenders of the banned books may argue that implied nudity is too vague and the ruling may affect classic works, that argument may be a trojan horse to keep sexually explicit materials in the hands of children. There’s a wide difference between the materials of Romeo and Juliet or Catcher in the Rye and the sexual exploitation and titillation revealed by reading Jack of Hearts.
Only YOU Can Protect Your Children
Parents have become aware of the sexual content that has been penetrating the school and local libraries for years. With that awareness comes the voting, protestation, and ban of explicit materials. Some less explicit materials may be caught in the crossfire. Is it justified to remove every book? Maybe, maybe not. But when the lines of acceptable content have been blurred to this extent, it is not surprising to see communities reject every book that fits under the same classification. Parents and communities should remain observant and involved in the books available through schools and local libraries, encourage others to pay attention, and vote for the removal of content they do not want in their community.
Although the ACLU may become involved, this is a matter for a community to determine, not a national agency. However, there is something to be said about large organizations such as the ACLU and the American Librarian Association (ALA) attempting to usurp the authority of local community members on what constitutes dangerous or inappropriate for their children.
Should the books be removed from local libraries? Read them and decide for yourselves. In the case of Jack of Hearts, it clearly has no comparative value to the classics in terms of content.