By Grayson Barnes
WICHITA - Alex Gino, the author of George, is a diminutive, elfin character. They laughed and gesticulated animatedly, perched atop a very high stool during their reading and discussion of their book at Wichita State University’s CAC theatre on Nov. 3. Gino was brought to WSU by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and Greater Wichita chapter of GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network).
GLSEN works with the public schools and has been the center of a recent controversy involving getting copies of George placed in school libraries. The issue is that George is about a transgender girl. To the rest of the world, she appears as George, but Melissa knows who she really is. Through the vehicle of a school play about Charlotte’s Webb, Melissa begins to reveal herself to the world. While she meets bullying and other types of opposition, she is, more significantly, welcomed by supportive friends, family, and school administrators.
George, a 2015 Scholastic publication, has won the Stonewall Book Award, the Lambda Literary Award, the E.B. White Honor, and is a nominee for this year’s William Allen White Children’s Book Award. However, George was not included in a set of William Allen White master list titles provided to every Wichita public elementary school. Gail Becker, a library supervisor for Wichita Public Schools, decided the book included references that are not appropriate for young children.
In response Gino donated more than 50 copies of the book. GLSEN is currently distributing them.
It is interesting to note that also on the William Allen White Award list are books on the KKK, slavery, government incompetence, war, life-affecting illness, and dyslexia.
Gino says that the debate surrounding George is nothing new to them. In another situation at a school near Chicago, a student wanted to do her book report on George. She was told she wasn’t allowed because other students would then hear about the book. The girl’s mother called Gino to ask how she could support her daughter.
Gino, who was going to visit the area soon, invited the two out for ice cream. During this social call, Gino (with permission) tweeted about their outing. This was picked up by John Green, who, according to Gino, “is the biggest name in Young Adult Literature.” Green then retweeted it.
The inspiration for George was Gino’s own experience. They did not know they were genderqueer until they heard the word at the age of 19, but it got them to thinking what it might have been like to have had positive representations of transgender or genderqueer people when they were younger. George is the result of Gino’s desire to tell the “stories we know and stories we seek.”
While the adults and administrators seem to be grumbling about George, Gino says that the students they have visited and read for have been overwhelmingly receptive. “Kids don’t have a problem until they learn to,” they said, with a joyously sylphlike wave of their hand. “Besides, discomfort is a space for conversation. There IS ROOM for uncomfortable books in a library.”
For more information on Alex Gino and their first book, George, visit www.alexgino.com. l