Monthly Archives: April 2009

April 13, 2009

The short version: has instituted a new policy whereby, if the company decides a book has “adult” content, for all intents and purposes it doesn’t come up in a search. LGBT books, including mine, are disproportionately represented in this group. If you’re as outraged and frightened by this de facto censorship as I am, go to to find out what you can do about it.

The longer version:’s new policy, as set forth in an e-mail from one of its customer service representatives, is to strip “adult” books of their sales rank, which means that the books in question no longer appear in a search. LGBT books seem to be especially subject to removal, including not just my own memoir SWISH: MY QUEST TO BECOME THE GAYEST PERSON EVER AND WHAT ENDED UP HAPPENING INSTEAD–the Kindle edition is available but neither the hardback nor the upcoming paperback can be found without great effort, which means that nobody without a Kindle can read the book–but also books like NOW THAT YOU KNOW: A PARENTS’ GUIDE TO UNDERSTANDING THEIR GAY AND LESBIAN CHILDREN, DEAD BOYS CAN’T DANCE: SEXUAL ORIENTATION, MASCULINITY, AND SUICIDE, and Foucault’s THE HISTORY OF SEXUALITY. “Adult” books with a more heterosexual slant seem to be much less affected–PLAYBOY: SIX DECADES OF CENTERFOLDS, for example. If you do a search for “homosexuality,” the first result on is A PARENTS’ GUIDE TO PREVENTING HOMOSEXUALITY.

If you are as outraged and frightened by this as I am, here are some things you can do:

1) Sign the protest petition:

2) Call Amazon customer service at 1-866-216-1072 or Amazon executive customer service at 1-800-201-7575.

3) Complain via an e-mail form at or complain via e-mail to Amazon’s “executive customer service”:at .

4) Twitter using the #amazonfail hashtag.

5) If you belong to a group that cares about books or rights, encourage your organization to make a public statement.

6) Close your account via an e-mail form at .

You can read more about the situation at .

Here, in case it’s helpful, is a copy of the e-mail I just sent.

Dear Mr. Bezos:

I am horrified at’s new policy of stripping books with “adult” content of their rankings and thereby of their appearance in searches. I’m astonished to find myself writing that the fact that books with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual themes are disproportionately likely to be among the deranked books is almost beside the point; the disgusting thing is that you’re deranking any books at all. Although is a private entity and entitled by law to sell the books it wishes to sell in the manner in which it wishes to sell them, it is also the first bookstore of choice for the plurality, if not the majority, of book buyers in the world, and for many of them it is also the last bookstore of choice. This policy, in other words, amounts to de facto worldwide censorship; and it’s simply impossible for me to patronize an establishment that operates in such a repulsive way. Over the years I have spent thousands of dollars at, but I have written to close my account; I’ll also be forwarding this e-mail to everyone with whom I’m in touch via e-mail, Facebook, and my blog–this is thousands of people–and encouraging them to cancel their accounts too.

If revokes this policy immediately and issues an abject apology for showing such astonishing scorn for the principle of free speech upon which this country has operated for hundreds of years, I will consider signing up again for a few months, to give you the chance to begin to rebuild the trust you have destroyed. Otherwise, I will never purchase anything from again.

Yours truly,

Joel Derfner

Update: Amazon is apparently now claiming that the disproportionate representation of LGBT books is a glitch. Whether you find that believable or not, what isn’t a glitch is that they’re deranking any books at all. And that’s much worse.

Posted on by Joel Derfner | 9 Comments

April 2, 2009

Okay, so I just watched the pilot of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency on HBO, and of course it was as delightful as I was hoping it would be.

Most of it was a pretty faithful adaptation, and what changes they made all seemed very sensible to me. The addition of the swishy gay hairdresser friend, for example, in the person of Desmond Dube: in the novels there are innumerable passages representing Mma Ramotswe’s inner monologue; the only way to convey these thoughts on film is to give her somebody to speak them to. Or, I suppose, to have her speak them to herself, thereby making everybody around think she was a crazy person and cringe from her in fear, which was not I think what the show’s producers were going for, so the swishy gay hairdresser friend it is.

Except they seem to have left out the part about how in Botswana homosexual sex is punishable by up to seven years’ hard labor. Actual prosecutions are apparently rare, but, from what I can divine, Botswana isn’t the kind of place where a boy can flounce around talking about being uninterested in women and not risk getting beaten up, even in big cities like Gaborone. So what gives?

Posted on by Joel Derfner | 5 Comments