4 min

When we become the censors

My teenage nephews should not have been sent away from an erotic reading

For the second year I have been granted the privilege of hosting my 14-year-old nephew from rural Alberta and his 16-year-old cousin for a week as they enjoy Vancouver, providing me an opportunity to have some influence on their view of city living, the enriching qualities of diversity and of course dispelling so many myths about my community that I am so proud of.

I take this challenge very seriously and planned taking a week off work to spend with them. But as luck would have it they arrived in Vancouver the very same day as the erotic reading evening, a Pride in Art event and my favourite part of the Pride festivities since its inception last year.

Naively, perhaps, I thought what a great opportunity it would provide to have the boys help with the Little Sister’s book table at the event and enjoy my community at its best. What a great occasion to have the boys see the celebration of art and the open and honest way we discuss sex and our sexual lives as people step to the microphone to read erotic passages. As we paraded into the room, carrying boxes of books and all the tools of commerce — and I feeling honoured that Little Sister’s had been invited to set up a table for the second year in a row — the cool and incredulous greeting at the door by the organizers quickly forewarned of trouble brewing.

We unloaded the boxes and prepared the book table at the back of the room and then did a tour of the amazing work by local queer artists that festooned the walls. The boys were engaged and challenged by the art and we began a great dialogue about some of the more demanding images, when the volunteer organizers surrounded me. One grabbed me by the shoulders and looked me intently in the eye, as if to grab my attention or to try to talk some sense into what must be my moronic actions. She slowly and methodically explained that she was the second reader to come to the microphone and that she would be talking about heavy duty SM, about tying people up and butt fucking them and she could not possibly be comfortable with “them” in the room and please send “them” away, as there was lots to do and see in the community centre.

I was stunned and quickly said I would comply with her wishes. As I walked towards the boys I immediately knew that I could not send them out of the room and that I would have to leave with them. Memories of a special event in my life over 40 years ago came flashing before me as I walked towards my summarily evicted charges.

When people try to figure out my opinionated and pushy personality I know they can never even begin to understand me unless they knew my amazing and bigger than life mother and a man I have always called My Bob. He was a teacher, English and Biology, who came to our small rural school when I was 14. We quickly formed a special bond that was to last all my life. He was the first adult to treat me as a complete individual — not a work in progress, but a total person capable of thoughts and ideas.

His love of reading bonded with mine and when he saw our small pitiful library one of his first actions was to go before the school board and demand a budget to augment the collection. He and I scoured the second-hand bookstores throughout Alberta, buying mostly paperbacks due to the limited budget. We catalogued them and proudly filled the shelves. It was not long until all hell broke loose when parents began examining the books their children were borrowing from the library. Many of the books in the new collection were deemed too sexual and adult in nature and we were forced to purge the collection of many of the best in literature to comply with the demands of the school board.

So My Bob and I read to each other the censored passages and discussed them and enjoyed talking about sex in all its variety, and I learned at an early age the importance of sexual expression in our lives. I lost My Bob some six years ago, but in his memory, and with the knowledge of who I was at 14, I would never tell my boys that they had to leave the room when sexually explicit matters are being discussed.

How quickly my situation had changed. I entered the Pride in Art event full of pride in my community and pride in my beautiful young nephews. Soon, I was making a phone call for help staffing the Little Sister’s book table so I could leave the event without further confrontation.

Some might say I set up the situation and I acknowledge some foreshadowing of problems but it is my deep belief that young adults are sexual in nature. Now that sexual imagery is much easier to access, we must as a community show more pride and confidence in the importance of our sexual lives. No longer do young people have to rely on their parents’ hidden pornography collection. Today, with the simple click of a mouse the most graphic images are readily available.

In my opinion, what young adults need is context to understand the sexual images they encounter. What better context than a community sitting, listening and indeed laughing with and applauding our deepest sexual fantasies. To the organizers of the erotic reading evening I apologize for pushing their boundaries, but believe further discussion is necessary if we are to make our events as accessible and profound as they should be.

Jim Deva is the co-owner of Little Sister’s bookstore, best known for fighting against censorship by Canada Customs.