Jumping to Conclusions

Fans rallied around a gay author after his book was pulled. Then the truth came out. 

Last week, disabled gay children’s book author Paul Castle came on TikTok to tearfully share his story. He’d sold over 100 copies of his self-published queer-friendly kids book The Secret Ingredient to a local bookstore earlier this year, along with rainbow penguin plushies to sell during Castle’s author appearance in June.

But the bookstore canceled and sent him back his stock, and Paul seemed to believe there could only be one reason for that cancellation: homophobia.

While tearing up, Castle shared the text of an email sent by an employee of the unnamed bookstore who signed off simply as Tanya. Soon enough, the video had racked up nearly a million and a half views, with fans rallying around Castle and supporting his queer-friendly work. Small bookstores wrote in the comments saying they’d be proud to carry his book, and his sales increased to the point where he was able to sell all the remaining stock that he’d been sent back after the event cancellation.

And then, things got ugly.


There are real people being caught up due to a lack of information and clarity. @matthewandpaul you owe it to your impassioned fans and those on the receiving end of these comments to provide closure. As people with large platforms, we have a duty to be good stewards of the privilege that comes with it.

♬ original sound – Don Martin – Don Martin

It didn’t take long for Castle’s fans to start combing TikTok for the woman known only as “bookstore Tanya.” Since Castle didn’t out the bookstore that had cancelled the event, TikTok sleuths tried to find her on their own. They ended up harassing a Black woman bookseller with no known ties to Castle or the bookstore he was dealing with. Castle’s over 4 million followers were so fired up over what they believed to be anti-gay censorship that they attacked the account @tanyaandfriendsbookshop simply because it had the name Tanya in it.

But even before this attack, folks were raising their eyebrows at Castle’s story.

“I do think, as an advocate for banned books,” explained @goodneighborbooks on TikTok, “word choice is important. “A bookstore opting to not carry a book does not mean that book is banned.” Instead of explaining the situation, Castle told his audience that his book was “banned,” which does a disservice to the many queer books that are banned across the country, notably George M. Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue and Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer.

“I can only think of one reason they wouldn’t want to carry [the book,]” Castle said in his original video. But as Don Martin of @headonfirepod pointed out later, Castle’s omission of specific information around the return of the books, along with the fact that he didn’t name the bookstore, led fans to start “leaving a deluge of hate-filled comments” on accounts they believed to be the offending bookstore.

That’s when the truth started to surface. As other booksellers started to be tagged in the conversation, it became clear that there were other reasons why a bookstore might realistically not be able to carry 100 copies of a self-published picture book that had nothing to do with homophobia.

“Bookstores need to be able to return unsold stock to the publisher in order to make room for new stock,” Don Martin explained. This is on par for most bookstores, and when the original email explained to Castle that they couldn’t carry his book due to policy, the policy might just have referred to stock policy, not a homophobic conspiracy against Castle.

Martin is a gay author himself, and as he explains, there are a few things about Castle’s story that feel not entirely truthful due to certain omissions. Sometimes not being able to carry a smaller title—especially a self-published kids book—is about finances rather than bigotry. “Despite the assumptions by those in the author’s comment section, we still known next to nothing about this situation. We do not know the name of the bookstore, we do not know exactly what policy is being referred to: is it a policy regarding LGBT content on their shelves, or is it a policy regarding event cancellation?”

As Martin states, most bookstores simply can’t carry 100 copies of a self-published picture book “indefinitely.” Even more importantly, “we do not know why the situation has been categorized as a ban.”

All of this is to say that the activism some fans feel they’re performing in response to videos like Castle’s often does more harm than good, and that harm more often than not ends up being aimed at the wrong people. No matter the reason why Castle’s book was returned, it’s never okay to harass folks online this way.

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