Is Amazon’s Book Censorship Going Too Far By Banning Only Gay Rape Fiction?

It’s getting harder and harder to figure out which books Amazon.com will and will not sell. First there was last year’s banishment of gay fiction to the “adult section.” Then for the longest time it was willing to ship that how-to guide for pedophiles, until it wasn’t. Then came the removal of adult incest erotica, but not any from sci-fi scribe Robert A. Heinlein. And now writer Kyle Michel Sullivan says Amazon.com has yanked his self-published titles simply because they feature gay rape themes.

“During our review process, we found that your titles contain content that is in violation of our content guidelines,” Amazon wrote to Sullivan to explain his titles’ disappearance. “As a result, we have removed the books from our store.” And what titles were they? How To Rape A Straight Guy (ASIN B003ZYFCA6) and Rape In Holding Cell 6 (ASIN B00403N14A). Now before you start thinking either of these are how-to guides to rape, allow Sullivan to explain — as he did in a letter to Amazon — what his books are about.

I’m at a loss as to understand how my books violated your content guidelines. They are not pornographic and have solid stories and meaning behind them. The sex in them is not that much more detailed than what you find in Jackie Collins’ and Judith Krantz’s novels, all of which can be found in a library. Also, you carry items that celebrate the torture and murder of women (see “Saw2” “Hostel 2” (oops) where a naked female is strung upside down and butchered so her blood can bathe another naked female lying under her) and the gleeful slaughter of human beings (“American Psycho”, for example).

“How To Rape A Straight Guy” has a very provocative title, yes, and its narrator, Curt, is a very in-your-face sort of guy who thinks he can get even with the world by assaulting men. But it winds up hurting innocent people and destroying him. I even have a moment of foreshadowing in it, where Curt as a 6-year-old boy watches a cousin of his torture a dog until it bites him, then the boy’s father kills the dog and goes off to buy another one. The moral of the whole book being, if you treat a man like a dog his whole life, you shouldn’t be surprised if he bites you. And the sad reality is, when he finally does bite back, he’s the one who’s punished. Does that sound like porn?

“Rape In Holding Cell 6”, both volumes, is about corruption in the judicial system, and its main character, Antony, is investigating the brutal rape and murder of his lover in the county jail. He finds a legal and political system that thinks it can get away with anything and nearly drives himself insane in his quest for revenge, a quest that threatens to harm the innocent as well as the guilty as he becomes exactly what he hates. Does that sound like porn?

You pulled my titles because that reporter at the Fox affiliate labeled my book pornography. If you actually HAD done your research, you’d see that they do not fall under that category. I can see them being viewed as erotica because the sex is very intense…and not at all sugar-coated…but that’s it. And they were on Amazon’s website being offered for sale for years without a problem. So will you also be removing other books once viewed as porn, like “Ulysses” and “Henry and June” and “Lolita”? Will you continue to offer DVDs of movies that depict the torture and rape of women, like “Straw Dogs” and “A Clockwork Orange”?

I ask that Amazon reconsider this. My books are not pornography and should never have been labeled as such. According to the Supreme Court, “in Miller v. California , 413 U.S. 15 (1973) (The basic guidelines for the trier of fact must be: (a) whether “the average person, applying contemporary community standards” would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest, Roth, supra, at 489, (b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law, and (c) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.” (Emphasis added.)

Please have your panel look further into the matter and reconsider your actions.


Amazon did “look further” into the matter, and isn’t budging in its promise to keep them offline. Without having read them, clearly. The hypocrisy of the web retailer’s censorship policy is becoming more and more evident with each round of removals. But here we have an example where books about male-on-male sexual violence are pulled from Amazon’s store, while literally hundreds, if not thousands of titles that feature heterosexual sexual aggression and rape remain in stock. And no matter where you stand on whether these books constitute the “glorifying” of rape (which, really, they do not), shouldn’t patrons of Amazon demand the company either sell any type of book, or apply its censorship policy uniformly?

Which it won’t do, of course. Because that would wipe out some of its best-sellers.


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    You don’t need a book, a six-pack will do the job………. :p

  • paulD

    @PLAYS WELL WITH OTHERS: So true!…..Once again we have Fox news to thank for the hysteria.

  • Alex

    Goddamn, I just got two amazon cards for christmas.

  • Franky

    Hmm… The title made me a little queasy but now that I know what the book’s about I might just pick it up. In fact, I probably will. Free publicity! :D

  • Steff

    @Alex: @Alex: That was the best comment. Ever.

  • JAW

    Sadly we gays have allowed places like amazon take over gay business’ The gay book store is a dying breed. Store have closed all over the country including NYC, DC, Balt. Philly still has Giovanni’s Room. They have been there for over 30 years selling all the LGBT books that the mainstream stores would not.

    Looks like it is time that we head back to the gayborhoods and support the local businesses that have been there for us

    As an FYI… their web site is… /giovannisroom.lbu.com
    and they ship quickly

  • Paul

    Are we really defending a book whose title promotes rape? Maybe Amazon is being unfair, but maybe we should be asking if there are other rape promoting books that Amazon still stocks, and why they haven’t pulled them as well.

  • Franky

    How does the title promote rape? Because the title says “how to” in it, it’s promoting it? If you bothered to read the summary of the book provided in the post you might have noticed that it’s not a “how to” guide. From what I’ve gathered of the book, nowhere does it applaud rapists. If they aren’t getting applauded or being shown in a positive light and neither is the act, how then does it promote rape?

  • Heidi

    Makes me wonder if the author did nothing more than change the title of the books whether amazon would continue to sell them or ban them? The stories themselves sound good but I think many people might find the titles offensive and not even pick them up to read the back.

  • Tony X

    Get off your butts ans support the remaining gay book stores!

    An online community is not a replacement for real places with hard copies of books and humans.

    Support the gay community not Amazon.

  • K Waller

    Isn’t this an opportunity to open a book selling website titled “Banned by Amazon?” I would think it would be very popular and actually sell more of the featured books than would have sold by amazon.com. I would be scanning the titles there first, for really interesting reading material. Anything censored or banned definitely increases my attention.

  • Aaron

    Does this mean they’re going to stop selling The City and Pillar, too? I mean, a gay guy rapes a bi guy (who’s in denial about his sexuality) in it. Or will that be allowed because it features two non heterosexuals, rather than a gay raping a straight? Typical cultural hypocrisy…..

  • Daez

    @Paul: The title “How To Rape A Straight Guy” with the subtitle “Sometimes Revenge is Reason Enough, But Can it Ever be the Answer,” is not a book that I’m going to rally to support. If anything, I would demand that Amazon pull all books that glorify rape in general.

    Also, why must we play right into the fundamentalists hands? Sure, they will hate us no matter what, or so everyone claims, but really…

    Stop giving the Christian Right enough ammunition to load a cannon with 1000 times.

  • Tangelo

    And this is a moment where I am glad we have a society willing to sue. This just reeks of a big old discrimination lawsuit.

  • jackieohboy

    Well looks like his cheap shock tactics backfired. Based on his letter it sounds like the books could potentially be interesting, perhaps if he had decided on a better title people would have an easier time purchasing them.

  • missanthrope

    Ummmmm…..rape is bad mmmmky. Why is this so hard for people to get?

  • a

    From a neutral point of view, Amazon.com can dictate their inventory however they want. If you don’t like it, don’t support them.

  • craig

    Amazon just had a public relations crisis over the how to manual for pedophiles written by some nobody, of course they are not going to want to carry a book titled How to Rape a Straight Guy written by some other nobody. I doubt they’d be interested in carrying some nobody’s book titled How to Rape a Woman either.

    The pedophile book guy had justifications for his book and for child molestation. This guy is also peddling sexual assault justifications based on what he’s saying – “The moral of the whole book being, if you treat a man like a dog his whole life, you shouldn’t be surprised if he bites you. And the sad reality is, when he finally does bite back, he’s the one who’s punished.” – so in other words straight men had rape coming to them and it’s sad that the rapist was punished for his crimes. “Does that sound like porn?” – man goes on rape rampage against demographic group who deserves it as written by author sympathetic to rapist? That does sound pretty porny.

    Books like Ulysses are well established to have serious literary value relating to the third part of the Supreme Court’s Miller test. Sullivan’s books are not well established to have literary value.

    We don’t know if Amazon people read the books. They may have read them or skimmed them and still decided they will not carry them. It doesn’t look like the author of this article read the books himself, so criticism about drawing conclusions about the books without reading them seems hypocritical anyway.

    Amazon isn’t the only one being inconsistent. In the article on the Modern Family gay couple quietly admiring James Marsden in a hot tub Queerty said “Quick, someone say something about how this perpetuates the stereotype of gays lusting after — and targeting — unsuspecting straight men.” Meanwhile in this article about a book that reinforces negative stereotypes of predatory gay men targeting straight men and only being deterred if the punishments are great enough the issue of perpetuating stereotypes isn’t even raised.

  • John

    @Tangelo: On what grounds will you base your lawsuit? Amazon is a private business and choose not to sell these or any other books as it pleases. Criticize them, protest their decision, take your business elsewhere if you like, but you have zero standing to file suit against them. I know I certainly wouldn’t support any such move because the same tactic could be used against groups I DO support.

  • Josh

    It’s a work of fiction with a provocative title, NOT AN INSTRUCTION MANUAL. The reason people are getting so bent out of shape is because they are, literally, judging the book by its cover.

  • Charlie

    I hear folks saying “Amazon can stock what they like” and that’s true but the author pointed out that Amazon still sells films where women are brutally raped and murdered, where does one draw the line? Is Amazon being sincere when it says it removed the book because it didn’t meet Amazon’s standards? If Saw didn’t sell well would it be removed?

  • ~R~

    @Charlie: Right on! I agree. If Amazon is going to pull one thing because of something it blatantly suggests, why does it still sell other things that do the same thing. Look at the cover for Hostel 2: a naked woman hanging upside down screaming… hmmm, provacative. The double standard is evident. I also urge people to type in “Rape” as a search criteria when at Amazon.com. Some interesting titles come up. Some are helpful to rape victims, but others such as “Rape Me!” scream inappropriate. How is “Tales of Terror 2; More Rape, Perversion and Gore” any less provactive and innapropriate than “How to Rape a Straight Guy”. All you dummies that think this is a matter of changing the title, wake up and smell the hipocracy. Obviously, it isn’t about that at all.

  • MJ

    This book should be banned…it’s about RAPE.

  • andrew

    The title is a bit contentious, probably deliberate to get attention. I can understand why people would fly off the handle, sadly there are too many people in the world who will start screaming before being informed. The best example was the Heins advert, people in the USA got upset about a “gay” advert in the UK without ever seeing it.

  • scott ny'er

    @~R~: Seriously, get real!!! This is supposed to be a democratic society. And if Amazon offers other books with rape in the title then this book should be fine.

    The point is not that it’s about rape, it’s about a gay book being discriminated against. It’s stereotyping. Profiling.

  • Jeffree

    @Scott NY’er:
    If Amazon wants to stop selling books about Albania, by people with a Z in their last name, or by anyone who’s ever been on Oprah—the show, not the person!— that’s their right and their business decision. I don’t like their policies, but I’ll defend their right to their own standards no matter how convoluted they seem.

    P.s. Yet another reason to get your LGBT books locally.

  • ~R~

    @scott ny’er: Um… Scott… I see it your way here… I don’t get why you are attacking me. I’m simply pointing out the “flaw” in Amazon’s logic because of the other RACY titles that came up when I entered the term ‘rape’. My stance is if they are going to remove one, remove them all and since the chance of that is slim, they shouldn’t remove this one. Copy?

  • kelehe

    @MJ: Yes, and we need to ban all that “art” that depicts rape too! Clean out the Louvre!

  • Anthony

    Here’s an interview with the author: http://tinyurl.com/37remsa

    Kyle got in touch with me for the interview — I was wary at first given the title, but it’s a deliberately provocative title for a book that doesn’t glorify rape (he gave me a free copy). While the book isn’t my cup of tea, it’s not a how-to for wannabe rapists.

  • helena

    No books should be banned.

  • scott ny'er

    @~R~: Yeah, I know. I should have said I agree with you in the beginning.

    @Jeffree: Interesting point. I can’t argue with you on that. It is their business. It’s like a bar that won’t carry a certain brand, I suppose. Very frustrating but not much we as a community can do other than buy our products elsewhere. We don’t even know the reason why they won’t carry his book, do we?

  • Don

    I think that when the author offered and Amazon accepted the books to sell, a contract was created that governs the rights and responsibilities of the parties involved. Meaning, at least, that, no, Amazon cannot just decide what it will and won’t sell just because it is a business. It’s decision to pull these books is based on their violation of its content guidelines which are undoubtedly part of their contract language. The books may legitimately violate those guidelines and, thus, be legally rejectable by the seller. What disturbs me, though, is that there is no citation of any specific guideline that they violate. The author seems well within his rights to challenge the decision and is on the right track when citing works with comparable themes or tone that continue to be sold. I also think there would be grounds for the author [only]to take legal action if the application of the content guidelines remains so vague and general, or is exposed to be specifically rendered, as to imply unfairly selective and discriminatory application of the contract provisions. The expense of pursuing such an option would likely be much greater than the return unless one is willing and able to sustain a costly legal challenge for the benefit of a principle. In other words, I think the guy got screwed and Amazon will probably get away with it. We live by, but do not necessarily benefit from, the rule of law.

  • Jeffree

    @Don: If there WAS a contract, it would have been between the publisher & Amazon, not the author and Amazon (unless the book was self-published). The author may choose to fault the publisher but Amazon didn’t contract with him.

    That’s how the book biz works.

  • Ken S

    I just checked and the Canadian version of their site, amazon.ca, still has it listed (though there’s only one copy left). I guess amazon here is a bit less afflicted with Headupitsass Syndrome?

  • jbbishop

    I can’t even get this fu+king book at the public library Go* dammit.

  • jbbishop

    Hey Mr. Sullivan, this is a book I’d like to read in full. I think I’ve only read the first five chapters. Maybe you could send me a free signed copy? I’d gladly pay for it directly to you :) jbbishop at gmail

  • Matt

    Hahahahah! Yes! :D

    I hope Amazon keeps banning even more books! If Amazon bans just one book, then they all deserve to be banned. Let it destroy itself that way.

    By the way, nobody read Phillip Greaves book either, they were judging it by its title. The howling idiots who started this whole mess with amazon certainly did not read it, especially this part: “Avoid becoming sexually involved with any minors…not because it is morally wrong but because it is illegal.” He recommends masturbation instead.


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