In mid-May of last year I met a trans boy; I’ll call him Jay. Jay was 9, with a bowl cut and a goofy smile. He waddled like a penguin over to the snack table to fill his pockets with candy, because who doesn’t want to walk like a penguin and have pockets full of candy?

I had signed his copy of my book Call Me Max, an early reader introducing a trans boy and his friends. When I handed it back, his dad paused. “I just realized,” he said. “This is the copy he brought in. That started all this.”

We were in Utah. I had traveled there to support teachers rallying at the Capitol to protest anti–LGBTQ+ bias in education. As an openly trans author who writes children’s books featuring trans characters, I had played a small role in that mobilization.

Jay, this child who loves soccer and was learning to tell time, found the courage to tell his parents that he was trans earlier in 2021. They were immediately supportive, looked up books featuring kids like him, and found my work. Jay wanted to share about himself with his class, so he brought Call Me Max to school and asked his teacher to read it aloud. She did, of course, because that’s what good teachers do, and accidentally put Jay in the middle of a local controversy with national implications.

That was the first time I found out about a school banning my work. A few weeks later, a similar situation erupted in Texas, when a fourth grade teacher read Call Me Max to her class and the district responded as though it was a crisis. In the latter half of 2021, hundreds of other books—mostly, but not exclusively, by authors from marginalized communities—encountered censorship ranging from subtly pernicious to cartoonishly over-the-top. There are other calamities to attend to (an ongoing pandemic, accelerating climate change), but this one is also deadly.

Common responses to book banning include talking points like “All children deserve to see themselves in literature,” which is true, and “parents shouldn’t decide what other people’s children can read,” which is also true.

It’s also common to talk about how banning books is an attempt to ban people and identities. In the fall of 2021 I watched a YouTube video of a school board meeting in Indiana where Call Me Max was read aloud to jeers of derision. I’ve spoken with embattled educators in southern California and central Pennsylvania, and a wealthy private school near New York City rescinded an invitation to have me speak, citing fears of parental backlash.

When I watch these school board meetings or read the bills introduced to penalize librarians for their collections, I see bloodlust barely disguised as civility. I see the veneer of due process peeling around the edges of genocidal fantasies. I see Jay, and his peers, and his adult counterparts like myself, twisted from human beings into points of rhetoric and symbols of societal degeneracy. And I see allies struggling to engage with the other side on their terms, allowing them to continually move the goal posts of acceptability, dragging the rest of us with them. It’s beyond time to reclaim those goal posts and pull them entirely in our direction, but it’s not too late.

Kyle Lukoff is the author of Call Me Max and other titles for young readers; his novel Too Bright To See was a National Book Award finalist.