Why are queers shopping at Amazon.com anyway?

My butch dearest and I just returned from a relaxing (and much needed) weekend away in the North Georgia Mountains. Upon checking my email, I was bombarded with multiple messages about Amazon.com removing LGBT books from being ranked on their website.

Now, I get the general reasons people are upset: labeling anything with queer content as “adult” while letting hetero books that clearly contain “adult” content stay is not cute. I was lucky to come from a book worshiping home where I was allowed to read anything and everything I could get my hands on. As a high school drop out with little formal education, I credit this access to books and information with giving me a great, although non-traditional, education. Queer folks (especially youth) need these books – a way to figure out the answers to the questions we sometimes can’t say out loud. To find out what the options are. To know we aren’t alone. Many isolated folks are not aware of alternative sources for books and information and Amazon.com is a likely a place someone struggling with or figuring out their queerness would go.

I also understand that it conjures up all kinds of images of crazed PTAs storming the school library and confiscating copies of Judy Blume books.

All that said, I’m still a little baffled by all the hoopla.

I am fortunate to live in one of the cities that is home to an independent, queer owned and run, feminist bookstore, Charis Books and More.

Charis opened in 1974 and has managed to survive in spite of Borders and Barnes Noble/Amazon.com. As of today there are only 10 feminist bookstores in the U.S. and Canada (compared to 120 in 1994.) I first found Charis as a kid when my mom would take me to its original storefront location on Moreland Ave. in the Little Five Points neighborhood of Atlanta. When I was 15, a hot angsty mess, and starting to figure out my queer identity, I rediscovered Charis, on my own this time. They had moved to a house caddy-corner to their original location. Inside I found hundreds of books to help me sort my shit out, as well as a community. I began volunteering at the bookstore and continued to do so off and on. I learned about Charis Circle, the non profit sister organization to the bookstore which puts on free author readings, books groups, writing groups, and social justice programming in the store. When I was 20 I volunteered as a mentor in the fabulous but now defunct ‘Sistergirls’ program and a year or so later joined the board of directors and served for 2 years. I also completed a 7 month fellowship with the Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities by spending 20 hours a week as part of the Charis Circle staff organizing disability specific programming and outreach via Charis Circle. This fellowship allowed me to create an ongoing disability series at Charis, which continues today, more than a year after my fellowship came to an end.

Charis (both the Circle and Store) have changed my life multiple times in the 10 years I’ve been going sans mom. They have offered me a never ending world of books, the opportunity to meet my favorite authors and even share a meal with one of them (Michelle Tea!!), a space to further my social justice and community organizing work, and above all else, a community. I’ve grown up at Charis. Gone from an awkward and angry punk rock baby dyke to a confident (and still angry) femme 20-something.

My question to folks outraged by Amazon’s shennanigans: Why aren’t we buying our books from the Charis or any of the feminist bookstores or LGBT bookstores (do a google search if you want to see if there is one in your area) or even your local indie bookstore which you can find listed here? Why is anyone surprised that a mega corporation, who is currently controlling the books that most people in the U.S. buy and have access to, is censoring queer, feminist and sex positive voices? Why are we allowing Amazon.com to be our source for progressive and radical information in the first place?

Bookstores like Charis exist to support OUR voices, to fight damage done to our communities by corporations like Amazon.com and Co. Even if you are somewhere with no indie bookstore, you can order online from most indies these days and most are more than happy to special order any book your heart can dream of (or recommend a damn good one if you don’t know what you’re looking for.)

Charis offers 10% off all online orders, so what are you waiting for? Click here and start shopping today! Let’s stop trying to force corporations to accommodate our community’s needs or think that buying corporate support will liberate us. Let’s instead support those who truly support us, in part because they are part of our community. Borders and Barnes and Noble/Amazon.com may be on every corner and always offer free shipping, but they can’t come remotely close to provide the never ending list of things a good independent bookstore does. If these aren’t enough reasons to shop independent, here are some more from the Indie Bound website:

Why shop Indie?

When you shop at an independently owned business, your entire community benefits:

The Economy

  • Spend $100 at a local and $68 of that stays in your community. Spend the same $100 at a national chain, and your community only sees $43.
  • Local businesses create higher-paying jobs for our neighbors.
  • More of your taxes are reinvested in your community–where they belong.

The Environment

  • Buying local means less packaging, less transportation, and a smaller carbon footprint.
  • Shopping in a local business district means less infrastructure, less maintenance, and more money to beautify your community.

The Community

  • Local retailers are your friends and neighbors—support them and they’ll support you.
  • Local businesses donate to charities at more than twice the rate of national chains.
  • More independents means more choice, more diversity, and a truly unique community.

4 Responses to Why are queers shopping at Amazon.com anyway?

  1. Emma says:

    Catlin,

    Amazing response. Excellent point. Love Charis!

    -Emma

  2. crabgrass says:

    hey Caitlin, where did you get the figure for the # of feminist bookstores in the US/Canada? I’ve been researching the same thing and hadn’t found anything definitive.

    thanks!
    Sarah of Crabgrass

  3. Caitlin says:

    Hey Sarah,

    I got that figure from Sara Look one of the owners of Charis Books and More. I am pretty sure it is just a mental list she has kept of the stores from being in the feminist bookstore world for many years. You can reach her via info (at) charisbooksandmore.com if you want to chat with her about it. She is pretty knowledgeable and I am sure she will be happy to talk to you.

    Thanks for reading!
    Caitlin

  4. […] “Why Are Queers Shopping at Amazon Anyway?” […]

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