Trans activists shut down controversial book launch, sparking free speech debate

A trans activist said the book was dangerous because it's meant for parents and family acceptance is essential for trans people.

 The trans flag drawn with chalk on a sidewalk (photo credit: PEXELS)
The trans flag drawn with chalk on a sidewalk
(photo credit: PEXELS)

When journalist and author Abigail Shrier’s book Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, positing that transgenderism in teen girls is a social contagion, was released in 2020, Amazon would not allow her to advertise it, and employees of the book-selling giant petitioned for it not to be sold at all. It was twice removed from Target’s shelves, and even a lawyer from the American Civil Liberties Union called for “stopping the circulation of this book.”

With the book’s recent release in Hebrew by Sella Meir, a publisher that specializes in bringing heterodox and conservative voices to light, the debate over whether Shrier’s ideas should even be available in the public square has reached Tel Aviv’s public square: Kikar Atarim, to be precise.

Sella Meir and the Tel Aviv International Salon (TAIS) planned a book launch for Shrier for her to advise parents on what to do if their teen daughters say they are transgender. The event was planned to take place at the glass-windowed strip club-turned-event space overlooking the beach, run by the organization Social Space, for next Sunday, until the publishing house’s owner. Rotem Sella, and TAIS founder Jay Shultz were told it was canceled.

Cancellation of the book's launch in Israel

“We do not host such events,” a woman named Omer wrote. Sella said she called the event “homophobic” in a phone call.

The Transgender Pride Flag flies on the Foreign Office building in London on Transgender Day of Remembrance, 20 November 2017. (credit: FOREIGN COMMONWEALTH & DEVELOPMENT OFFICE)
The Transgender Pride Flag flies on the Foreign Office building in London on Transgender Day of Remembrance, 20 November 2017. (credit: FOREIGN COMMONWEALTH & DEVELOPMENT OFFICE)

The Social Space, which repurposes unused buildings for social projects, did not respond to numerous emails or calls from The Jerusalem Post. But it told Haaretz it would not have signed with Sella Meir in the first place had it known about the book’s content, adding that it “will not allow for any incitement.”

Sella and Shultz plan to hold the event, which has more than 150 registered attendees, on the same date at the nearby Carlton Hotel’s beach lounge.

Controversy surrounding the cancellation

“Nothing is more important than vibrant civil discourse and debate,” Shultz said. “Bad things happen in darkness, and sunlight is the best medicine. More speech, more insight, more conversation and more dialogue is always the only solution for tensions in society. This is the nonpartisan honest broker mission of the Tel Aviv International Salon.”

Sella said Irreversible Damage is a “book full of compassion meant to defend teens… It does not criticize lifestyles, and the attempts to prevent the conversation about it comes from ignorance and incitement. We will not give in to bullying and narrow-mindedness.”

Meanwhile, Sella Meir has begun marketing it as “the book and event that they are trying to censor.”

Steimatzky, Israel’s largest bookseller, initially declined to carry the book but said on Tuesday night that it would order copies. Tzomet Sfarim, Israel’s second-largest bookstore chain, has a small number of copies of the book around the country, but not in Tel Aviv or its liberal suburbs. The two chains hold 80% of the book market in Israel.

The Jerusalem Post was able to order a copy from a Tzomet Sfarim store in Tel Aviv upon inquiry.

“What [the booksellers] are saying is that the Israel public cannot decide for itself what to read,” Shrier said Tuesday.

“These are the same activist forces we’re seeing in America, which is a very intolerant minority that says we can’t get a message out about girls’ health,” she said. “A bunch of adults, mostly biological men, decide what we’re allowed to talk about when it comes to the health of teenage girls… It’s a very intolerant group of people that push the censorship.”

Shrier said she has had many Israeli parents contact her to say they are seeing girls in their daughters’ classes decide they’re transgender.

“We’re talking about a peer contagion that has caused harm to thousands of American girls, and the peer contagion is now in Israel,” she said. “Unless parents are aware of the risks, they have no way to protect their families.”

The transgender experience in Israel

In contrast to Shrier’s experience of opposition to the book in the US, one of the leading figures in the battle to ban and banish Shrier in Israel is a “trans-non-binary” 16-year-old named Reut from Petah Tikva, who asked that her last name not be shared. She, together with other transgender youth, run a WhatsApp group with more than 200 members that is called “Anti-transphobic demonstration,” which the Post was able to view.

The effort is grassroots and not part of an organization, Reut said, though when asked if adults are involved, she said to contact Ma’avarim, an NGO that provides support for transgender Israelis.

After the Social Space canceled Shrier’s event, Reut wrote: “Following inquiries to the place… it canceled the event (which is totally a victory as far as we’re concerned)!”

Reut told the group she would send an update of the protest location when she knows where the book launch will be held.

In between classes on Tuesday, the trans activist said she and her fellow teens from different cities in Israel had commented against the book on the social media accounts for the venue and Sella Meir, and they plan to put similar pressure on any stores that carry it.

“This is a dangerous book,” Reut said. “It’s meant for parents, and one of the most important things for trans youth is to be accepted by their families.”

Without support from families, she said, “the percentage of suicides rises very sharply.”

Reut also said the book mischaracterized what she called “gender-affirming care.”

Regarding whether Shrier should be free to share her research, just as Reut and her fellow activists are free to protest her, she said: “Freedom of expression is very important, but there has to be some kind of limit.”

“To try to convince parents of trans children not to accept their children and directly harm them is something that, in my opinion, cannot be accepted in our society,” she said.

Shrier detailed the argument that she makes in her book, which is that over a 100-year diagnostic history, gender dysphoria was practically never diagnosed in teen girls. Rather, it occurred in boys aged two to four who felt profound psychological discomfort with their biological sex, and most outgrew it, she said.

“When you see it, as we see in US and England and across the West, where teenage girls suddenly say they’re transgender with their friends – that is not classic gender dysphoria,” Shrier said. “That’s something else. That’s part of the social contagion.”

When an adolescent girl tells her parents she is trans, she said, the parents should treat her like the age that she is, like a girl “who doesn’t really know very much about herself or what she’s going to want long term, because that’s the truth… There’s nothing more normal than a young girl feeling really uncomfortable in her body at the onset of puberty.”

The “irreversible damage” to which Shrier refers to in the book is from hormone treatments or surgical interventions that could lead to infertility, as well as other medical side effects, such as lower bone density, that have come to light in recent years.

“In many cases, they are infertile,” she said. “Their bodies are forever changed, and they are not leading the lives that they would have hoped and their families would have hoped for them.

“If there’s a chance of arresting this in Israel and saying to your daughter, ‘Listen, we love you, but I’m not going to pretend you’re a boy’… that’s a really good place to start.”

Shrier said the way Israel handles this book “will determine the fate of a lot of girls between the ages of eight and 20, their quality of life and whether they can be healthy and whether they’ll be permanent medical patients.”

Asked where she thought the line should be drawn for freedom to disseminate controversial ideas, she said: “Whatever the line is, it shouldn’t be drawn [to prevent] giving information to parents on the very real risks of gender medicine.”

Shrier cited several European countries, including the UK, Sweden, France and Finland, which are reconsidering their policies and curtailing gender-related treatments for minors.