A US state shelved my book – yet all I was doing was trying to help children

<span>Photograph: Daniel A Varela/AP</span>
Photograph: Daniel A Varela/AP

I check Twitter and nearly spit out my coffee. I’m tagged in a post by the Florida Freedom To Read Project, stating that a number of library books have been taken off the shelves, including mine.

I stare at a photograph of a trolley full of banned books, rounded up in one day, in one library, and locate the black spine of the Trans Teen Survival Guide – a book that I wrote with my partner, Owl. It is sitting next to a book called This Book Is Anti-Racist, and I think to myself that you can’t get much more explicit than that in your agenda to ban books that are meant to support people.

Since mid-2022, the policy in Clay County, Florida, has been to remove a book from shelves in libraries as soon as there’s a complaint from anyone. It transpires that my book, among 150 other “controversial” ones, is now having to await review after a complaint from one member of the public. With just a few books being reviewed each month, some life-saving, educational and thought-provoking titles may be off the shelves and trapped in limbo for years, if not for ever. Our book is just one of 133 titles removed from the district on 31 January.

Owl and I created the Trans Teen Survival Guide to help support transgender people and their families, and to educate allies. If anything like it had existed when I was growing up, it would have been a gamechanger for me. I was considered a naughty child for not conforming to what was expected of me as a girl. I had to muddle through so much, trying to navigate the wrong puberty, with no green light to explore my gender.

At one point, when I was 10, my mum used to save empty plastic egg boxes so I could stomp on them when I was frustrated. It might have fixed the moment, but it didn’t fix that aching feeling that I felt like an alien in my body. A book like this would have given me hope, and a better quality of life. If I had only got the memo then that it was OK for me to not be a girl, it would have saved me hours of therapy later in life, unpacking years and years of trauma and bad decisions. I would have shown it to my parents, who might have started to understand why I was so angry.

The book is dedicated to a close friend, a young trans woman who provided great support in the community and who took her own life while the book was still being created. Although it was personally important for us to write it, I was surprised that it’s become our publisher’s biggest-selling book to date in the LGBTQIA+ category, and has since been translated into Spanish and Polish.

This is not the first time that our book has been targeted. It was shared on an anti-trans forum, where users who had never read it orchestrated a flurry of one-star reviews on Amazon. Some wrote that the Trans Teen Survival Guide is a form of propaganda, and that it’s irresponsible to tell a child they can change their biological sex. Others said the book was “unscientific nonsense” and even somehow homophobic. If the people objecting to the book had bothered to read it, they might realise that it’s gentle and supportive of individual exploration of self.

Related: Florida teachers forced to remove or cover up books to avoid felony charges

In the end, their campaign had the opposite effect to the one they had intended: we had the reviews removed, and, after raising awareness of the issue, received a wave of gushing reviews from trans people and their families. The response has been so positive overall that we were encouraged to publish a companion book, the Trans Survival Workbook, full of colouring pages, comic strips, quizzes and creative prompts to explore your gender and expression.

Removing books from school shelves means a safety net for children is no longer there. I know first-hand the negative consequences of not being supported at school, and what it was like to grow up in a time when being like me was considered a shameful perversion. Anyone growing up as LGBTQIA+ during section 28 would tell you the same. Sadly, there seems to be a resurgence of the same views that led to section 28, here in the UK and farther afield, as this example shows.

Governor Ron DeSantis has passed a bill, also in Florida, banning certain books from classrooms, including those touching on gender identity themes for grades 3 and below, and books relating to race discrimination. This forms part of a long history of the erasure of books about identity – Nazi book burners destroyed many important texts with LGBTQIA+ themes. Ninety years ago, in 1933, an academic foundation for sexological research and advocacy of queer rights was occupied by the Nazi Youth. A few days later, Magnus Hirschfeld’s entire body of work was removed and set ablaze in Berlin’s Bebelplatz Square. All that work, gone.

Thankfully, there is a lot of pushback against this current ban. But conservative and restrictive forces are pushing hard against equality and equity. It’s more important now than ever that we all stand up and protect our freedom of expression and liberty.

  • Fox Fisher is an author, artist and co-director of My Genderation films