Why Amazon Is Stiffing Trans-Dissident Authors
Amazon informed senators on Thursday that it instituted a new policy banning books that treat gender dysphoria as a mental illness from its platform.
The e-commerce giant explained its policy, which had previously not been public, in response to a request for clarification from senators concerned about the banning of When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment by Ryan T. Anderson. Amazon pulled the book from its shelves on February 21.
“We have chosen not to sell books that frame LGBTQ+ identity as a mental illness,” said Amazon. Author Ryan T. Anderson pushed back on Twitter, saying the ban is based on misinterpretations of his book.
First reported by the Wall Street Journal on Friday, the news comes as further confirmation of the ideological guidelines Amazon uses to determine which books it will allow. Amazon is the largest bookseller in the country, with over half of all book sales coming from the platform.
Three years ago, Anderson pushed back hard against the claim from a trans New York Times columnist that in his book, he refers to transgendered people as “crazy.” He says he does not, and challenges the Times to identify a single passage from his book in which he does that.
Also three years ago, the Washington Post ran a hit piece on the book that baldly misstated what Anderson’s book actually says. The Post corrected its mistakes — see Matt Franck’s thread here — but the errors were so basic that they would not have been made had the reporter been interested in doing fundamental journalism, instead of writing a propaganda screed.
In a tweet today, Anderson gets at why this is such a monumentally important case:
There is a debate, which Amazon is seeking to shut down, about how best to help patients who experience gender dysphoria. Amazon’s delisting of my book cuts off vital political and cultural discussion about important matters when we need it most. https://t.co/4CBQzLODoL
— Ryan T. Anderson (@RyanTAnd) March 12, 2021
He’s absolutely right about that: Amazon is using its unparalleled cultural power to make the public debate over a controversial issue go away. As I have been saying here, no matter what the issue, if Amazon will not sell books on particular issues, or books that take a particular position on an issue, then that means books like that will by and large not be published. Publishers cannot afford to publish books that will not be sold on the most important book retailing platform in the world. If intellectuals like Ryan Anderson — whose book is well-reasoned and documented, and in which he repeatedly urges critics of transgenderism to treat gender dysphorics with respect — cannot even make their case in the public square because the monopsony bookseller refuses to sell certain books, then we are not living in the country we thought we were.
Note well that this is not a decision driven by science. This is a decision driven by politics and politics alone.
Where are the free speech, no-banned-books liberals? I don’t expect to hear from them. That kind of liberal has died out.
What can we do about this? For one, Congress can hold hearings about the effect of Amazon’s monopsony, and Big Tech’s power, on free speech and debate. Congress can pass laws restricting book retailers who have a large share of the market from doing things like this. And conservatives (and others) can think creatively about creating a big online retailer for dissident books — this, given that if Amazon is prepared to take this extraordinary measure to shut down sales of books that offend against progressive ideology, there is no reason to think that it will stop there. If Amazon refuses to sell books that characterize LGBT as mental illness, why would they still sell books that characterize this as sinful? You know, books like The Bible.
I remind you that you can still buy Mein Kampf on Amazon.
I also remind you that you can still buy Ryan T. Anderson’s book on Barnes & Noble’s website. I imagine that there is nobody at Barnes & Noble’s corporate HQ who agrees with Anderson’s point of view. But they are booksellers, and they know that with that comes a moral responsibility to support free debate and expression. In a liberal democracy, it is as dangerous to have the sales of books dominated by a single seller as it is for the news media to be dominated by a single source.