Harry, Sally and Jeff
A little over a month ago, I saw an op-ed headline in the Wall Street Journal that stated, “Amazon Won’t Let You Read My Book.” Intrigued, I read the editorial. Ryan T. Anderson’s book, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment, offers arguments opposing the wholesale transitioning of people who believe that their biological bodies at birth do not reflect their preferred gender. I can understand differences of opinion on this topic can get heated, but to me banning books by Amazon is like waving a red cape in front of a bull. In response to a letter from Republican senators Rubio, Braun, Hawley and Lee addressed to Jeff Bezos, Amazon Vice President of Public Policy Brian Huseman stated, “we have chosen not to sell books that frame LGBTQ+ identity as a mental illness,” even though they had previously carried the book which was originally published in 2018.
So I clicked onto Amazon’s webpage and sure enough, the search for When Harry Became Sally turned up nothing. If you do a search now you will find a Summary prepared by Fireside Reads but not the original. But I didn’t want a summary, I wanted the real thing. So I went to Barnes & Noble. My search for the book got a hit but it was a nook book -the physical book was listed as out of stock. Maybe all the publicity has increased sales of the book because, after all, there is no such thing as bad publicity. I was eventually able to get a paperback version of the book from Barnes & Noble and have just finished reading it.
Anderson’s book opposes the contention of transgender theory (which Anderson labels transgender ideology) that gender is a social construct and that people have a right to choose the gender that they prefer and even demand that medical insurance cover the cost of gender reassignment surgery. Transgender theory has been adopted by the progressive left as the new social justice cause of the day and activists have pushed (successfully) to label all other theories of gender as hate speech. Transgender activists have been able to convince (or perhaps coerce) medical and psychiatric associations to adopt their theory which is the purported reason that Amazon stopped selling Anderson’s book.
All theories, like other hypotheses, should be subjected to the scientific method through rigorous research studies and experiments to determine if the theory is valid. In the case of transgender theory, there is very little research to prove or disprove the theory of the transgender movement. This lack of research, in itself, suggests caution in applying this theory. Unfortunately, caution does not appear to be part of the vocabulary of the movement. Activists do not just recommend, but rather demand, that persons suffering from gender dysphoria have access to immediate social transitioning, to hormone treatments and to gender reassignment surgeries to alter the bodies of the sufferers.
Dr. Anderson’s arguments also suffer from a lack of scientific research. Most of the assertions made in his book are based on the research of a single doctor, Dr. Paul McHugh, and a small group of his colleagues. Dr. McHugh, however, appears eminently qualified. He is the University Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. McHugh is also a prominent Catholic and served on President Bush’s Presidential Council on Bioethics. It should also be noted that Dr. Anderson got his PhD from Notre Dame and, while there is no blatant reliance on religious arguments, the book is in line with the Catholic faith’s views on these subjects.
In his book, Dr. Anderson makes two principal contentions in regard to the transgender movement; 1) that hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery does not improve the lives of the patients, and 2) young children with gender dysphoria are pushed to transition socially (such as dressing as the opposite sex) and provided puberty blocking drugs even though most children not so treated, eventually accept their sex at birth (called desistance).
Dr. Anderson backs up these contentions with research that shows that transgender people, even those that have had sex reassignment surgery, have very high rates of suicide (nineteen times greater than average according to a Swedish study). But only a few studies have been done so there does not appear to be a scientific consensus on this assertion. And the rate of desistance described in the book is based on an amicus brief Dr. McHugh wrote for a court case as no scientific study was referenced.
So, both those in favor and opposed to gender transitioning lack a solid body of evidence to back them up. This is a John Stuart Mill moment where we need a great deal more discussion in order to determine the truth or even something approximating the truth. But Amazon’s taking the book off its marketplace (and Amazon has a near monopoly accounting for about 70% of book sales) is an attempt to stifle this discussion.
It is clear that Amazon does not agree with the nineteenth century philosopher John Stuart Mill who said, “The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”
The Amazon bookstore sells many books that assert outrageous, outlandish and even dangerous opinions, with free shipping if you are a Prime member. These include Das Kapital by Karl Marx, Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler, Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn, Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky, How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, and many others. But the censors at Amazon apparently believe a thoughtful and heartfelt book by Ryan Anderson (as well as some books by Dr. Seuss) express an opinion too horrible for readers to bear or depict other people in a hateful manner.
Mill would have said that you do not have to believe Anderson’s opinion. By refuting Anderson’s opinion through scientific research or other investigations, transgender theorists would bolster the validity of their argument. But rather than engage in dialogue, they denounce him and try to silence him as well as his sources.
This is the essence of cancel culture. Contrary opinions are not welcome on our college campuses. Conservative speakers like Heather Mac Donald and Charles Murray are met by violent protests. Even Mr. Anderson has been subjected to such protests. The cancel culture seeks to not only silence the objects of their wrath but portrays them as hateful and evil. Mill stated, “The worst offence of this kind…is to stigmatize those who hold a contrary opinion as bad or immoral men.”
The reason behind this behavior is that social justice warriors are not acting on logic or reason but on emotion. Their causes are fair. They seek equitable outcomes. They are good people so whoever opposes them must be evil. Logical arguments cannot alter their good intentions. You must comply with their social justice goals or be silenced.
And Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Twitter and Google agree with them.