I’m not #sorryamazon

Of all the blog posts I’ve been obsessively following, Richard Nash’s (the straight white male former head of Soft Skull Press) has been the best at explaining why this issue in particular exploded:

Not so long ago, gay, lesbian, bi, trans, and queer/questioning individuals had bookstores that functioned effectively as community centers—providing books, videos, bulletin boards, safe spaces, workshops, to the community. However, of the course of the past twenty years “mainstream,” heteronormative capitalism made social contracts with GLBTQ persons. We’ll sell you all that stuff, and we’ll give you discounts, and it’ll be even more convenient, and customer service will be more predictable. We’ll have shelves just for you, we’ll have categories and tags that will allow you to find all the stuff you need. (No, no one signed this contract—like the social contract that made democracy, it’s one you go along with, it’s not handed to you at birth, or on reaching the age of majority.)

Amazon breached that social contract. 

A few years ago, I heard Greil Marcus, author of Lipstick Traces, make a comment during a talk that he’s very doubtful of people who claim that such-and-such a book changed their life. As in, if he heard somebody say that Lipstick Traces changed their life, he would think to  himself–really? Sure, it’s hyperbole in a lot of instances, but an understatement in others. Books have saved the lives of me and countless others.

I’m a transwoman. Like so many other transfolk, I’ve contemplated suicide in the past. For years. Made one kind-of attempt. It’s hard to explain to people how much it hurts when you’re treated like somebody you’re not and people can’t, don’t, or won’t treat you like who you really are. Not to mention the public harassment, institutional discrimination, physical violence, economic penalization, etc. etc. etc. you’re likely to face. Knowing that there were other people like me out there wasn’t the only thing that kept me from jumping off the Jacques-Cartier Bridge. What really kept me going, nerd that I am, was that I knew there were smart people out there, and that I knew I could hold their brilliant thoughts, their wonderful humour, their histories of pain, safely within my hands, and that I knew I could just take the pleasure of flipping through their pages when I was crying myself to sleep, or waking up feeling like shit.

The History of Sexuality, by Michel Foucault. Orlando, by Virginia Woolf. Gender Outlaw, by Kate Bornstein. I don’t think I’d be here if those books weren’t on my shelves. All of these were recently deranked by an “embarassing and ham-fisted cataloguing error.” You know what else was deranked? KB’s Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws. And really, that’s what so many of these “adult” books are for so many of us: alternatives to suicide. Then, to have them replaced by books that give us reason to commit suicide. (Why live in a world that has lots of people who still believe “homosexuality” can be cured or prevented? Why live in a world that treats you, at best, as a joke?) It wasn’t just “content” that was made inaccessible. It was everything, it seemed, that created the very possibility of our lives: the gay man able to give up years of self-loathing; the lesbian who doesn’t want to act like a straight woman; the lesbian who does want to act like a straight woman; the crip  (I’m using the term used by the blogger in the link) who would rather have sex than be patronized; the brave soul who realizes that even though she was born a boy, and isn’t attracted to boys either, doesn’t have to live as a boy. This is why, as the disgustingly (if unintentionally) queerphobic meme that’s currently spreading would have it, we’re “hypersensitive,” and “overreacting” to some “harmless glitch.” 

I realized fairly early on (after reading other people’s suspicions) that this couldn’t have been an intentional policy change on Amazon’s part. But if it wasn’t intentional, then what was it? A “conservative” organization that figured out some way to game the system? An attack by hackers who did it “for the lulz”? Some internal prank? A mistakenly ticked box by some stupid Frenchie? (If it were that simple, why couldn’t the appropriate field have been corrected and fixed within seconds instead of days? Can you say Epic IT Fail?) Amazon’s been stringing us along with their disastrous and contradictory PR attempts, and now we’re supposed to accept their “apology” and act like they’re the victims? I’m sorry. That was not an apology. It was “here’s another explanation now leave us alone so we can get back to our Easter dinners you stupid dirtbags.” Amazon front-paged an apology from Jeff Bezos for understocking Kindle 1 in March 2008. Now? Still nothing on the front page. And you still get tons of yuck when you search for “homosexuality.”

I purposely left out the de-ranked book that’s been the most important for me: Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet. She passed away on the evening of April 12, the day of #amazonfail began. Eve was not just the smartest person in the world, she was also the nicest, and the strongest, and the beautifulest, and I feel so lucky to have been able to take one seminar with her. She would understand our rage. We’ll make sure the kids can order your books for years and years to come.



  1. vanderleun said

    Hey, once you’ve internalized your victimhood you’ve doomed yourself to a lifetime of pain and disappointment.

  2. nadiacooke said

    Thank you! I’ve been following #amazonfail as best I can, and this is the best explanation I’ve read of why it was so important! We *need* to be able to find these books. Amazon has *no idea* how this kind of thing affects our community, and apparently they’re not too interested in finding out.

    • Mia Chen said

      Thanks! It means a LOT to me that somebody out there in the interwebz read my rambling post and got something out of it. Take care.

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