We Are All Winston Smith Now

“Trans women are women.”

 

Among the most important themes explored in Orwell’s 1984 is that of language and its relation to oppression.

One of the most compelling moments in that book describes the protagonist, Winston Smith, realizing that the most valuable freedom of all is the freedom to tell the truth.

Later on, he is tortured for the thought he had—the idea that freedom means the ability to tell the truth, to be able to say that two plus two equals four.  His torturer, hired by the state to break his will, seizes upon this idea:

 

“Only the disciplined mind can see reality, Winston. You believe that reality is something objective, external, existing in its own right. You also believe that the nature of reality is self-evident. When  you delude yourself into thinking that you see something, you assume that everyone else sees the same thing as you. But I tell you, Winston, that reality is not external. Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes: only in the mind of the Party, which is collective and immortal. Whatever the Party holds to be the truth, is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party. That is the fact that you have got to relearn, Winston. It needs an act of self-destruction, an  effort of the will. You must humble yourself before you can become sane.’

He paused for a few moments, as though to allow what he had been saying to sink in.

‘Do you remember,’ he went on, ‘writing in your diary, “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four”?’

‘Yes,’ said Winston.

O’Brien held up his left hand, its back towards Winston, with the thumb hidden and the four fingers extended.

‘How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?’

‘Four.’

‘And if the party says that it is not four but five–then how many?’

‘Four.’

The word ended in a gasp of pain. The needle of the dial had shot up to fifty-five. The sweat had sprung out all over Winston’s body. The air tore into his lungs and issued again in deep groans which even by clenching his teeth he could not stop. O’Brien watched him, the four fingers still extended. He drew back the lever. This time the pain was only slightly eased.

‘How many fingers, Winston?’

‘Four.’

The needle went up to sixty.

‘How many fingers, Winston?’

‘Four! Four! What else can I say? Four!’

– 1984, George Orwell

 

It’s a powerful scene. So powerful, in fact, that at least two science fiction television shows have used the same concept.

In the Babylon 5 episode, Intersections in Real Time, a government torturer works to destroy Captain Sheridan’s sense of time, but more than that, to get him to agree that time—one of the most measurable, readily perceived concepts available to human consciousness—is malleable to the will.

 

INTERROGATOR: This is really excellent corned beef. You have to get just the right mustard. The brown with the seeds, not the yellow kind. And not too much of it. If there’s too much, it irritates the corners of my mouth.

Oh, would–would you like some? I know they haven’t fed you since you got here. That’s at least two days. Besides, it’s lunchtime. Isn’t it? Isn’t it lunchtime? You just said it was morning. Well, you can’t have a corned-beef sandwich for breakfast. It would upset your stomach. Corned-beef sandwiches are for lunch. If it’s morning, you can’t have it. If it’s lunchtime you can. Is it lunchtime?

SHERIDAN: I’m sure it’s lunchtime somewhere.

INTERROGATOR: Excellent answer. Here. I ate half of that myself. Killing you does nobody any good. I told you, I’m here to ensure your cooperation. And I can’t do that if you’re dead, now can I? It does prove, though, how everything is a matter of perspective. You think you see daylight, and you assume it’s morning take it away, you think it’s night. Offer you a sandwich, if it’s convenient, you’ll think it’s midday. The truth is fluid. The truth is  subjective. Out there, it doesn’t matter what time it is. In here, it’s lunchtime if you and I decide that it is. The truth is sometimes what you believe it to be and other times what you decide it to be. My task is to make you decide to believe differently. And when that happens the world will remake itself before your very eyes.

— Babylon 5, “Intersections in Real Time”

 

Star Trek: The Next Generation borrows even more liberally from Orwell in its episode “Chain of Command: Part II,” even re-using the numbers four and five as the basis for the torture.  Picard’s captor insists there are five lights on a ceiling which, objectively, has only four.

Picard doesn’t yield to the torture—he’s rescued just in time.  Smith does, and is executed by the state once he truly loves Big Brother.  Lest anyone believe that starship captains are simply made from sterner stuff than a Winston Smith-style bureaucrat, the episode’s most poignant moment comes from its coda:

 

PICARD: One thing I didn’t put in my report… at the very end, he offered me a choice… between a life of comfort… or more torture… all I had to do was say there were five lights.

Troi regards him for a brief moment.

TROI: You didn’t say it…

PICARD: No… but I was going to. I was ready to tell him anything he wanted… anything at all. But more than that, I was beginning to believe there were five lights.

— Star Trek: The Next Generation (Chain of Command: Part II)

 

And therein lies the real lesson of all three works.  The goal of the torturers, in all cases, was not simply to urge the profession of belief.  The ideal party member, in Orwell’s 1984, is capable of a rather neat mental trick known as doublethink.

When a person doublethinks, they simultaneously believe something to be true and not true.  The government in 1984 tells its citizens, over and over, that “war is peace,” and “freedom is slavery.”  This enables editors like Winston to more readily change history, since people are more likely to accept being at war with a nation one day and at peace the next, for instance, if they believe that the two concepts aren’t really all that different.

Which brings us to a four-word statement:

 

“Trans women are women.”

 

I’d like to unpack this statement a little bit.

I’ve now asked a number of people making it to talk to me about what it means.  Specifically, I’ve asked them what “woman” means, in this sentence.  I’ve gotten the same answer repeatedly from trans advocates:

“A woman is a person who identifies as a woman.”

This is a statement that is literally devoid of content; a semantic nothing.  When one identifies “as a woman,” what is one identifying with?

When I have asked this question, the answers change drastically depending on the person I am speaking to.  Sometimes, I am told of boys who longed to have “the feeling of a hole between my thighs being filled” and who insist on surgery to correct their feelings of bodily wrongness (even when told that girls don’t feel a “hole” where their vaginas are), or who believed that a vagina, being cleft, would enable them to do the splits in a way their scrotum would not (just in case you’re reading this, V, splits are easier for girls because of their ligaments–not their vulvas).

Other times, I’ve heard of people feeling forced out by imposed sex roles.  “I always empathized more with women.”  “I have a softer side and abhor violence.” “I think I was supposed to be a dad, not a mom, because of the way I interact with my child.”  Many of these people profess to have little or no actual genital dysphoria, and are upset at the idea that such dysphoria is considered necessary to change sex on government forms and so forth.

In other words, when someone says “trans women are women,” they may be saying one of several things.  It can be, for instance, a statement that means “trans women have female brains.”  In this instance, “trans women are women” is being used cover for a much more controversial statement, one that forces the person saying it to agree with the notion that there is “brain sex,” a badly outmoded and anti-feminist idea.

Other times, “trans women are women” means “trans women feel they fit in better with women’s social roles.”  Again, this uses a deceptively simple four-word sentence to cover a much more problematic truth.

“Trans women are women” is a statement that means a hundred different things to a hundred different people, and it all hinges on this question: what does it mean to identify as a woman?  Simply saying that there is only one answer to this question (no matter what that answer is) will yield accusations of transphobia and cause in-fighting.  So the only safe statement—since more clear and unambiguous statements will lead to disagreement and strife—is the four-word mantra, “trans women are women.”

Yet this simple statement has worked to serve another purpose, as well.

In 1984, as well as Star Trek: The Next Generation and Babylon 5, counterfactual statements are used to wield power.

“If it’s lunchtime, you can have a sandwich.” It isn’t, of course, but you haven’t eaten.  So you agree to the counterfactual, starved and not caring.  “If there are five lights, we’ll treat you well (and if you don’t, they’ll torture you).”  There aren’t, of course, but you’re so tired, and the lights are so blurry…two plus two might equal five, mightn’t it?  Of course, it doesn’t, but does that matter when simply saying so will make the difference between captivity and freedom, between contentedness and suffering?

Consider the statement “trans women are women” again. This time, think about how this statement is actually used in online activism circles, rather than how people explain its definition when pressed.

When women refuse to toe the line on the trans mantra, they are harassed, threatened, guilt-tripped.  Women—many of them abuse or sexual assault survivors—are told that any statement contrary to “trans women are women” is not simply rude or even untrue, but actually violent, because it could cause transgender people to feel suicidal.

Women are told that violence is unacceptable, time and time again.  When women are accused of violence because of “misgendering,” they often change their tone nearly immediately.  It doesn’t seem like it matters much whether there are four lights or five, after all.  What’s the difference?  And if it’ll stop me from getting accused of unfeminist behavior, if it’ll stop me being no-platformed, if it’ll stop all of this—if I can come back into the feminist fold—who’s to say two plus two hasn’t been five all along?

I used to use “she” to describe MTF trans people.  I used to use “he” to describe FTM trans people.  I will no longer engage in this practice, except for when directly speaking to trans people who could conceivably direct violence toward me.  Make no mistake, trans folks: many people outside your movement, even the ones who nod in agreement with the statement “trans women are women,” don’t really believe it.  When they are women, they have been trained to spare your feelings and to avoid potential conflict with males—especially those who are backed up by other males with violent tendencies.  I hope your pronouns feel like a hollow victory, wrested as they have been from the mouths of women who know the wrath they face for saying any other words but the ones you told them to say.

Remember this, when you’re told that misgendering is “violence”: “trans women are women” is a statement that is meaningless at best and is used a power exertion over women almost always, since they are not able to disagree or even clarify the speaker’s definition without being viciously attacked.

Do what you have to do, in order to get through your day.  But two plus two is never five.  There are always four lights.  And that corned beef sandwich he’s offering you is poison anyway (seriously, look it up).

 

[[A note to my readers: I expect my next post to be about the NCAA, Title IX, normal distributions, and exactly why “trans-inclusive” athletics policies fail.  I don’t know when I’ll have it out, but you can expect it to be sometime in the next couple of weeks.]]

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33 thoughts on “We Are All Winston Smith Now

  1. Thank you. There is no discussion of the identity “woman” without an accompanying discussion of power-over. Thank you.

  2. As transidentity gets more and more squishy (becomes even less tied to the medical/psychiatric condition of gender/sex dysphoria), transadvocates seem to be getting ever angrier over the idea that a subjective statement isn’t necessarily reality.
    And that’s where I feel more and more that I’m living in an episode of the Twilight Zone.

  3. The problem with this analogy is that it works from either angle. From the other side, you are a woman, you know yourself to be a woman. Yet your body doesn’t match and everyone keeps telling you that you are a man, even though this is not your identity. And everything will be fine if you just nod and say, yeah okay, I’m a bloke. They won’t hurt you if you agree with them (and statistics show this is a likely reality if you don’t). You will be welcomed back into the fold. You just have to pretend you don’t feel the way you do. You just have to pretend you’re a man.

    When it comes to transgender, it’s about identity and not biology. No ones saying they’re not trans. No ones saying a MTF trans person did not, at one point at least, have a dick. They’re saying they identify as another gender from the one they were physically born with. That is who are they are now. Because identity is not physically definable. Its a concept. Gender identity is not physically definable, it is not physical sex. So if someone whose sexual organs are male says they’re a woman, it’s not the same as them saying two and two don’t equal four, because they’re talking about identity, not their physical body. If someone has a vagina and they say they dont, that is two and two equalling five, but frankly, I’m not about to fact check that one.

    • Today, many–even most–transgender activists want to also say that they are the sex they identify as, not simply the gender, or at least to allow people to say this. If, for instance, MTFs had years ago said “you know what, we’re fine if you say we are male women,” I’d honestly have been quite okay with that, simply based on this notion of sex/gender split, if they were performing actions society associated with women. Female men, same thing. But that’s not in any way acceptable in trans dogma.

      Overall, the biggest issue is that this “identity” thing isn’t how oppression happens. No one’s oppressed for their identity, they’re oppressed for gender non-conformity REGARDLESS of whether they identify as trans, cis, queer, or whatever. Oppression occurs on the basis of sex, and you can see that people of the dominant sex are still being protected by these linguistic games.

      • Exactly this – it gets right back to your original question, “what does ‘I identify as a woman'” even mean? What does “feeling like a woman” feel like?

        …how does a born male person KNOW that these feels he has mean he “feels like a woman?” He has no basis of reference!

        Meanwhile, how do I know I am a woman? Easy – I was TOLD I am a woman, by other people outside of myself, outside of any subjective “feelings.” I have a certain phenotype and certain genitalia, and therefore, I am judged by other people to be woman, and I am oppressed on that basis.

        If identity truly trumps all, then why can’t I just magically say “actually, I’m a man” and get all of that sweet, sweet male privilege? Why can’t non-white people just say they identify as white and not have to deal with racism?

        Why, because we know that if we actually climb up to the ceiling and check out the lights, there are in fact only four of them.

      • Not to mention the issue with calling being a woman a feeling. It’s a problem for several reasons:
        1) Women are people, not feelings. Feelings are something fleeting, that change over the course of a day, and are generally based on your body/emotions/INTERACTIONS with other people. Eg. I can feel hungry (body feeling; my stomach rumbles; I eat, I stop feeling hungry). I can feel happy (I did well on a test, and am happy and proud and smug; this is an emotional feeling, based on me and my actions). I can feel sad/angry/ugly (because someone told me I was as ugly as a three-day dead hippo; this is an interaction with another person).

        So, you can see that it’s kind of a problem to say that you ‘feel’ like a woman, since feelings clearly change. I should also point out, all of the examples above are feelings that could apply to either sex. The sexes don’t actually have different feelings after all, do they? Women get mad, men get mad, both get sad, both can be happy, etc.

        As such, saying that you ‘feel’ like a woman is a problem. People have feelings. If woman is a feeling, like happy or sad, then women as a class are not people. This is stupid. This is also problematic for women as a class who are not trans, as it would mean that a) they are all identifying as a non-person and are okay with it or b) (generally if they are feminists) they identify as men, as people who have range of emotions. See how stupid this is?

        We are also capable of having more than one feeling at a time (unlike Tinkerbell).

        2) So the next option is for ‘feeling like a woman’ to be about having feelings that are attributed to having feelings that women as a class have. This v. problematic for two reasons.
        First, because it assumes that all women have the same feelings under the same situations (a guy whistles at me; I am annoyed. A guy whistles at my friend, she feels it’s a compliment. Not to mention that context matters), and it assumes that women have woman-exclusive feelings, which we don’t. We do have feelings that come out of woman-exclusive actions (eg. we feel angry because we are on our periods and are in pain/inconvenienced. But wait! Men can also feel pain and/or inconvenienced by their crutches from havign their leg broken!), but they tend to be biology defined (periods, pregnancy, childbirth), or else socially defined (how often do men get whistled at after all? Is it the same socially if they do? No).
        The biology cannot be changed, and therefor cannot be appropriated by transwomen/men (hence why they go to feminist groups and demand that women don’t talk about their biology, because it could be triggering for the penis-carriers/y-chromes).

        The social role, while changeable, is dependent on a) other’s actions and b) being recognized for what you think you are. If a transwoman is obviously male, then they won’t be treated as a female, and so won’t have the social interactions. If a transwoman does pass however, his feelings aren’t actually going to be in line with the general social feelings of the rest of women (which are pretty varied, but aren’t the nec. same as transwomen’s, because of the social situations/history). A couple of months ago, a transwoman wrote about how he LIKED it when men catcalled him, and sexually harassed him, and (possibly even groped him; I can’t find the article again), because he saw it as a VALIDATION of being a woman.
        Women as a class are not going to have ‘I feel validated as a woman because I was sexually harassed by men,’ because we have no need of validation.

        Second, it generally reduces women to a stereotype, such as ‘women are more motherly, more emotional, more caring;’ of course, that stereotype is always defined by MEN, and what are transwomen? Men! So of course they define women as what they want, and ten self-fulfill it. It’s like if I took the word doctor and said it meant ‘random uni student at home who is an insufferable know-it-all’ and then demanded that everyone recognize me as a doctor. This is stupid, and denies reality. It would also put people at risk if I demanded to be allowed to work in a hospital as a real doctor.

    • My being a woman is not an “identity”. There is no Special Woman Club. No one woman culture or woman race. It’s a biological state. You are either in that state or you’re not. Your brain’s got the exact same DNA as your body. You turned out exactly the way you were supposed to.

      If you think you don’t match you were likely influenced that way. Identity issues usually are. Before you get mad, I never tried to inculcate homophobia into my daughter, and yet she came up with the idea that males kissing males was yucky independent of me. I realized she was being influenced by the media and probably by other kids. There was no one moment that someone gave her a class, she just picked up the idea somewhere. That’s what I’m talking about. You think you were born transgender and it’s every bit as likely that influences from very early in your childhood convinced you that you couldn’t possibly think the way you do and have a male body. And that’s ridiculous. Anyway, no baby is born with an identity except possibly for identifying with their mother.

  4. I would never compare a female to Winston Smith:
    “‘I expect I’m better at finding things out than you are, dear. Tell me, what did you think of me before that day I gave you the note?’

    He did not feel any temptation to tell lies to her. It was even a sort of love-offering to start off by telling the worst.

    ‘I hated the sight of you,’ he said. ‘I wanted to rape you and then murder you afterwards. Two weeks ago I thought seriously of smashing your head in with a cobblestone. If you really want to know, I imagined that you had something to do with the Thought Police.’

    The girl laughed delightedly, evidently taking this as a tribute to the excellence of her disguise.”

    • What do you think the description means though? Its not there for no reason. Its about how puritanical mandates from the state breed that kind of thinking about women. Like if sex is filthy and horrible you can hate women for making you have sexual thoughts. Andrea Dworkin said the same thing about conservative men in right wing women.

  5. Has anyone ever saved a tweet or gotten a screenshot of a trans person threatening them? I have yet to see any proof of this. I’m not saying its not true but I would like to see just how threatening they come off. Btw, I am not trans and I am not a trans advocate. But I don’t dislike trans people either.

    For awhile now I’ve been trying to understand the hostility towards trans people when I haven’t seen them threaten anyone. Also for this reason I come off as being some kind of jerk who is waving around his “male privilege”. I don’t even know what that means.

    Recently I struck a nerve with people over at gender trender for just saying that it’s better to counter trans people with facts about biology rather than just call them names. Was I really wrong for saying that? It’s always been my understanding that when you need to get a point across its better to stick to facts rather than just verbally assaulting your opponent.

    While I don’t like to take sides, I think that I’m more on women’s side than trans people’s. I too find it odd that when I asked a group of them to describe what it is like to “know” what another gender feels like, I was given a vague “you just know” answer. I can certainly understand identifying more with the opposite gender but how can you say you were born a certain gender when it all comes down to gender roles that vary depending on things like country and culture?

    Sorry if it seems like I’m rambling. I just wanted to unload a few things.

  6. The whole ‘female brain’ theory, which I’m not saying I agree or disagree with, is actually distinct from the outmoded one that ‘s been reprinted for over two hundred years (perhaps far longer than that, I’m no historian). It’s unfortunate that they seem so similar on the surface, because they aren’t.

    In essence, this is what trans people are being taught about their ‘female brain’ or ‘male brain.’ Your brain has certain chemical and physical expectations. One of these expectations the brain has is how much testosterone or estrogen it’s going to receive. Another is how the brain’s body is going to be shaped, which genitals it is expecting to possess, what it will go through during puberty. In a woman’s brain for example, the expectations align with reality. In a trans womans brains however, the brain is expecting to receive estrogen and experiencing distress when it receives testosterone instead, triggering dysphoria. Among many other things.

    Compounding the problem is that of course there is an excess of sexist and misogynistic people in the transsexual population, and a dearth of feminists – which I hasten to add, describes pretty much every population. So yes you’ll hear plenty of transsexual folks talking about the foolish notions that ‘male brains’ are better at understanding systems and ‘female brains’ excel at empathy. Because transsexuals get the same dose of indoctrination that everyone else does. And of course, whenever one of us speaks up, all of us get judged by their words. Because that’s how bigotry works.

    Because of this, nobody ever argues against the above explanation of dysphoria, they always assume we’re talking about the older model and mock us for it.

    Now, is a transsexual woman a woman? Am I a woman? Not in a purely biological sense. While I understand why the trans community wants to insist there is no meaningful difference between a trans woman and other women, I find this idea harmful both to trans women and all other women, and it’s a dynamic I would desperately like to change.

  7. I don’t have a “gender identity”. I have a sex and I have a personality. I don’t “identify” as a woman, I AM a woman. I don’t need to identify as a woman any more than I need to identify as a human being. I take both for granted, based on solid biological evidence. It is a fact and it remains a fact, whether I like being a woman or not or “feel” like a woman. Facts are not feelings. Mentally healthy people accept such facts regardless of how they feel about it, and they play the cards they were dealt without engaging in magical thinking. It really boggles my mind that so many people have been so thoroughly gaslighted by the trans agenda.

    Four lights, indeed.

  8. I’m moderately hesitant to post in this persona, but I may as well not be ambiguous about my interest in this topic…

    I have thought a lot about this, and since there are so many points I simply cannot avoid (the immutability of chromosomes, the total impossibility of recreating reproductive systems, etc etc) I have to reach the conclusion that my male-to-female transition – for I am am now totally committed to that path – will render me only a genderless, genetically useless, rough approximation of a woman.

    Nevertheless, I don’t have any shadow of a doubt that when I become that indeterminate, chemically dependent, sterilsed lifeform, I will feel nothing but relief. I cannot account for such an irrational feeling except though a medical disorder called gender dysphoria. One might argue that GD is a misnomer, but the disorder itself exists (and I certainly have no bones about calling it a disorder, a disability, or whatever. I don’t consider it an asset in my life, that’s for sure).

    So I’m agreeing with pretty much everything practical here, other than the value of forcing unwanted identity markers and pronouns on either trans or gender-neutral people (Seriously, we would both, as groups, sooner put up with “them” or even “it”). As you ask elsewhere, cui bono? I could be called “he” and “him” all day without feeling the urge to detransition. On the other hand, I am long since persuaded that people such as myself should not be entitled to inclusion in any feminist circles, except by specific invitation. This is, at the end of the day, a positive discrimination issue, and unfortunate as our situation is, the priority should still be ensuring that feminism itself retains focus and strength. Trans people would, I think, much better direct their ire towards the conservative right, where the money and power is vested. Whatever minor depradations Cathy Brennan et al. may have inflicted on trans people (necessarily or not), they pale in comparison to those the establishment inflict on all of us every day.

    • I think you have touched upon something important here–people changing their “gender presentation,” wearing clothes normally associated with the opposite sex, etc., will probably continue to happen and gender dysphoria is a real thing (though I do believe it is a culture-bound syndrome to a huge extent). It’s only when such people decide that they really ARE what they wish to become that feminists and others are told to accept doublespeak.

      Best of luck to you on a difficult journey. You are in my thoughts.

      • Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I have checked out a lot of info on radical feminism recently, and though I have to concede there are one or two folks our there who, whatever they may have the right of, are spectacularly unnice people (e.g. Prof Greer, the aforementioned Cathy Brennan, though neither of them have anything on Jo Bev) the vast majority of radfems just seek the ideological freedom to impose what they see as a necessary positive discrimination policy to counterbalance centuries of denied female solidarity.

        Even if that occasionally rubs home to me the loathsome sense of my disability (being biologically male – though I have the choice to turn off my monitor at any time) I can completely see the logic in it. Also, until I can see that the main body of radical feminism is actively pushing to deny rights and treatment to GD sufferers – which it isn’t – I have no good reason to kick up a storm. In any case, we have enough vastly powerful common enemies who would gladly deny us all our rights…

        And good luck with your difficult struggle. I remain a supporter from the sidelines. 🙂

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