Commentary on Political Economy

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

 

Amazon Won’t Let You Read My Book

An enterprising state attorney general might want to look into why it was withdrawn from sale now.

By Ryan T. Anderson
ILLUSTRATION: PHIL FOSTER
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A decade ago, most Americans had never had a conversation about transgender issues. Now a question few had asked has only one acceptable answer. “Transgender equality is the civil rights issue of our time,” President Biden tweeted in January 2020. “There is no room for compromise when it comes to basic human rights.”

Can we talk about that?

We might want to talk about what policies are best when it comes to athletics, for example. Should high-school girls be losing championship races to boys who identify as girls? How about female-only spaces, like shelters for victims of domestic violence? Should women in dire straits be forced to spend the night with men who identify as women?

And what’s causing the surge in the number of girls seeking sex-reassignment procedures in the past decade? Might we want to find that out before we rush to conclude that puberty-blocking drugs and cross-sex hormone therapies—and even double mastectomies for 13-year-olds—are a human right?

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We should take a lesson from the United Kingdom. In September 2018, the U.K.’s minister for women and equalities launched an investigation into why girls increasingly feel uncomfortable with their bodies. In December 2020 a U.K. court put strict restrictions on the ability of doctors to “transition” a minor—after one minor who had done so sued the National Health Service because of the irreparable damage adults had inflicted upon her body.

Can we talk about this in the U.S.?

Not if Jeff Bezos ’ companies get their way. The Washington Post has allowed its writers to spread falsehoods about me and my work, and Amazon is using its outsize market power to prevent readers from accessing one side of this debate.

Three years ago the Post ran a hit piece titled “ Ryan Anderson’s book calling transgender people mentally ill is creating an uproar.” The second sentence read: “In the 264-page book, ‘When Harry Became Sally,’ Anderson makes an inflammatory claim—that transgender people are mentally ill.”

My book made no such claim. I contacted the Post asking them to quote a single sentence from the book supporting their contention that I had called transgender people mentally ill. They couldn’t, because it doesn’t exist. Within a day, the newspaper had entirely rewritten the story, removing the falsehoods and changing the headline.

Three years later, the world’s largest e-commerce platform—owned by the richest man on the planet—has canceled my book. In a letter last week to four U.S. Senators, Amazon justified its decision to delist “When Harry Became Sally” by claiming it frames “LGBTQ+ identity as a mental illness.” This recycled charge is as false now as when Mr. Bezos’ newspaper first made it.

But unlike the Washington Post, which at least aspires to journalistic standards and must respond to market forces, Amazon occupies a singular place in e-commerce. As one literary agent once told the Journal: “They own the system.”

In a 1999 letter to shareholders, Mr. Bezos promised to build the “Earth’s most customer-centric company, a place where customers can come to find and discover anything and everything they might want to buy online.” For two decades, that strategy worked and Amazon consolidated market share. Today it has a stranglehold on the book-selling market, commanding 72% of all adult new book sales online and 80% of ebook sales. Amazon’s decisions to censor books have enormous consequences for authors and readers, and Amazon knows it.

Why would Amazon exercise its unrivaled market power to banish my book? Because the book is changing minds in a continuing debate about how best to help patients who experience gender dysphoria. “When Harry Became Sally” has been praised by medical and legal experts—and that’s what makes it unacceptable to the woke.

The timing of Amazon’s move is telling, coming the weekend before the House voted on a radical transgender bill—the so-called Equality Act—of which I have been publicly critical. Why did Amazon suddenly delist my book without warning me or my publisher? Did an advocacy group or elected official reach out to Amazon on the evening of a big vote to ask it to remove a book it had happily sold for three years? An enterprising state attorney general may have ways to find out.

State attorneys general have the authority to investigate Amazon’s conduct to learn whether the company is abusing its vast market power, doing so in a patently dishonest and deceptive way, or otherwise violating state consumer-protection and antitrust laws. Amazon’s actions potentially run afoul of both. Authorities in both the U.S. and Europe have raised serious questions about the company’s dominant position in online retail. No bookseller can deny the critical importance of placing its products on Amazon’s platform. For an author, to be banished from the site is akin to being silenced.

The sad reality is that very little is known about the causes of gender dysphoria, yet powerful institutions are promoting radical experimental therapies for children. We need to respect the dignity of people who identify as transgender while also doing everything possible to protect young people and foster their healthy development. This will require a better conversation about gender-identity issues, and that’s why I wrote my book. No good comes from shutting down a debate about important matters on which reasonable people disagree.

“When Harry Became Sally” addresses the scientific, medical, political and philosophical issues at the heart of our national debate on transgender issues. We should have that debate, and Amazon shouldn’t get in the way.

Mr. Anderson is president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and author of “When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment” (Encounter, 2018).

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