Metoo mori

Remember #MeToo? How about #BelieveHer? Remember when, for a brief moment, it looked and felt like the world was committed to finally banishing the four horsemen, who have plagued every women to ever try reporting sexual assault?

My, how far we’ve come from there, as the Wi Spa incident shows.

Who’d have thought that in those days when we finally seemed about to let daylight into the murky world of male sexual aggression towards women that we were only a few years away from women being told they were bigots for being made uncomfortable or that they were siding with Nazis in wanting it to stop? Who’d have believed that the people saying that define themselves as feminist, or that they claim, straight-faced, that those who disagree with them are, by definition, not feminists.

Wi Spa has been a tremendous victory for the men who want to women to keep quiet about sexual violence, because it has perfectly demonstrated that all of the old weapons are oiled, loaded and in full working order, and that new arms have been added to the arsenal. Every woman has got to see that, even there, where the case turned out to be as cut and dried as one could hope for in such matters, the cost to the woman at the centre of it was terrible. They can all vividly imagine how things would go if their own case was even a little more marginal.

#MeToo felt like the start of the end of the easy ride for male abusers, instead they can now cite feminist scholars, saying that their accusers are no better than racists. Women were angry then, the best of them – the ones who understand how men have learned to use ideology to not only wound women directly but also to cut them adrift from feminist support – are furious now. Come and see.

Easy way in

Here’s a scenario; you’re woken in the middle of the night by noises elsewhere in your house. Your partner, the only other person in the house, is asleep in bed next you. What do you do? Call the police? Sneak out of bed to investigate? Do what my wife does, and wake me up, arm me with a pool cue, and then send me to deal with it? All valid options (although, unless you’re my wife, sending me personally may be inconvenient and involve quite a lot of travel).

While you decide whether to call for me, and my trusty pool cue of household defence, lets switch to another problem, homelessness. Every night in this country tens of thousands sleep rough. At the same time millions of households go to bed, confining themselves to just a couple of rooms, and leaving the rest of their warm, dry, safe home unused.

A house, pictured yesterday

Obviously there’s a solution here. If everyone just left their doors unlocked at night then anybody in the area without a home could just let themselves in and crash out on the sofa. One of our major social problems could be solved at a stroke, and for no cost at all.

I’m not naïve, I can see that some people from the privileged class (those with a home) might object, but these legitimate concerns are really just punching down against a marginalised community (the homeless).

The concerns aren’t even legitimate. It would still be illegal to steal from your house, illegal to threaten or hurt you or your family, illegal to cause any damage to your property. Your enjoyment of your home wouldn’t be impacted in any way at all.

Let’s face it, burglaries haven’t been stopped by it being illegal to come into your house, have they? And there are already plenty of easy ways to get to you and your stuff. You don’t have steel bars on your doors, or shutters at your windows, but you feel comfortable slamming that door in the face of someone who just wants somewhere to sleep.

Plus, all of the statistics show that homeless people are far more likely to be the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators of it. Nobody is going to pretend to be homeless, with all of the stigma that entails, just to steal your shitty telly, Karen!

I think it’s safe to say that anybody objecting to this plan is doing so purely on the ground that they hate the homeless and want to protect their own privilege, in exactly the same way that bigots didn’t want ethnic minorities moving into “their” neighbourhoods. It is literal racism.

Back then to our original scenario.

Heard a noise downstairs? Relax, it’s probably just a member of a marginalised community using their new legal right to find somewhere to sleep.

Voices? Yeah, well you’ve got friends and family, and homeless people are allowed the same.

Sounds like they’re searching around? So what? Perhaps they’re going to make themselves a sandwich. OK, that’s technically theft, but what kind of bitch would you have to be to call the law on someone who maybe hasn’t eaten for days?

Footsteps coming up the stairs? They’re doing nothing wrong and are entitled to be there. They probably just need to use the bathroom. You’re not going to make your visitors go outside to do that, are you?

Your bedroom door is opening? Perhaps they can’t find the bathroom. They don’t have a floorplan of your house, you know.

Someone coming into your bedroom? Could be they just want to ask if it’s OK to make themselves a sandwich. How nice of them, and after you were ready to call the police on them just a few sentences ago. Hope you feel disgusted in yourself now.

Knife against your throat? They’re probably terrified. Remember, they’re at far more risk of violence from you than you are from them. Just be kind and put them at their ease.

Of course, in the very unlikely event that a homeless person (or, more likely, someone pretending to be homeless) does hurt you, then you haven’t lost your right to call the police. In fact, you’ve lost nothing. Nothing at all.

Material Girls: A review

Given the vicious and partisan nature of the debate over trans issues, it was guaranteed that any book on the subject would be lauded by one side and renounced by the other, based almost entirely upon the tribal association of the author.

This seems particularly unjust in the case of Material Girls, by Kathleen Stock, which, despite its sub-title, Why Reality Matters for Feminism, goes out of its way to be both fair-minded and balanced. Indeed, based on the first two chapters, I was wondering if a trans activist had snuck into the printers and quietly substituted a work of their own. Of course, in times of war, attempts at being non-partisan can result in both sides shooting at you, thus the bravery of Dr Stock’s decision not to simply preach to the choir for 300 pages should be recognised.

The book opens with a look at the history of gender identity, the concept of ‘woman’ meaning a performance of womanhood and of sex being a spectrum, rather than a binary. Although I read almost exclusively non-fiction, I have no experience with philosophy (excepting the kind that comes free with pint glasses), and I found this section of the book quite tough going. It’s to the author’s credit that she recognises that these are heavyweight discussions for the lay-person, and explains the concepts involved briefly, but with sufficient clarity to hand-hold the reader through the sections that follow. The issue is more that it’s difficult to read at a steady pace, rather the reader (or, at least, this reader) has to read a sentence or paragraph and then pause, to take in what has just been said.

From chapter 2 – What is sex? – onwards this problem intensifies, as scientific and medical terminology are added to the mix. Again, this is all explained well and the amount of details given feels pitched perfectly to give an understanding of what is being discussed. The reader’s progress may be slowed, but you never feel lost. This section of the book is important, as it demonstrates that Dr Stock is not going to waste words knocking down straw men. The various flavours of gender ideology are all treated seriously, their historical origins are explored, and, in several places in the book, the author specifically denounces what might be thought of as typical ‘TERF’ (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist) positions.

Indeed, anybody who has bought this book, expecting it to be a non-stop assault against the idea of gender identity is likely to be disappointed, as is anyone in the opposite camp, who was expecting a tome of TERF talking points to pitch into the flames. Instead, it delivers what is part history of how were got to where we are and, almost, a manifesto for compromise (something that is sure to find detractors in both groups).

Dr Stock identifies 4 distinct meanings of ‘gender’, from GENDER1 – a synonym for biological sex – through to GENDER4 an entirely personal and internal experience of gender, that is psychological rather than physiological in nature. None of the meanings are invalidated, and each is fully explained and explored and, with the aid of a simple decision tree (and I do love a good flowchart) evaluated.

This all builds a strong case for using gender identity, whatever it may be, as a supplement to, rather than a substitute for, GENDER1 – biological sex. Undoubtedly is this section that will attract the most ire from those opposed to allowing biology to be the determinant of gender, but this is not a work that can be dismissed in a couple of tweets. It is methodical, clearly designed to withstand unfriendly scrutiny. The time taken to precisely and fairly describe what gender identity is pays off when it comes to describing what it isn’t.

The book then moves on to look at immersion; our willingness to suspend disbelief and even become angry at those who puncture our bubble, even though we intellectually know it’s a fantasy, such as actors and the audience glaring at someone whose phone rings during a play. This provides genuinely insightful in explaining so much of the behaviour we see daily on social media. In keeping with the book’s overall tone, the value of immersion is given as much page space as discussion of when it becomes problematic.

The focus then moves to institutional capture, how it was done, and the extreme perils of whole branches of public life becoming immersed in fantasy. This will be more familiar territory for those used to following the online battles, and is the only part of the book to really stand out as scathing of those involved in peddling the end of sex to public and private institutions. It’s refreshing to see all of the classics – misused suicide statistics, misrepresented figures on hate crime and violence towards trans people, etc – neatly laid out in one place and well-referenced, it’s just a little jarring that this comes before the book’s conclusion, a call for better activism, including finding common group between the two camps.

Material Girls is, then, a challenging, often surprising and thought-provoking read. It’s a record of where we are now, and how we got here, a suggestion of a path forwards, a look at the philosophical underpinnings of one of the bitterest disputes going, and, in places, a line in the sand for rights that women cannot be expected to concede. Throughout, Dr Stock pitches the book just right, for the non-specialist reader (I’ll put my hand up to owning exactly zero other books on either philosophy or feminism) and has been brave enough to make the work, in places, very personal to her. It’s a book to be read with an open mind, and I sincerely hope that those who read it do more than just judge it on the basis of only two words, the author’s name.

An open letter in the style of the last bunch of yahoos to write an open letter

Somebody, sooner or later, must speak up. So sad that it was us – whoever we are – and now, and that our chosen topic was, among other things, the distinction between a petty anxiety and the horror that arises when you become aware that you are witnessing persecution…apparently.

Topic change! In olden times, a letter that anybody could read was called a postcard. On one side it had a picture of some landscape and, on the other, 3 or 4 bland and formulaic statements. “Wish you were here”, “Having a lovely time”, “It has pissed down for 8 solid days”, etc. Now that we’re modern, it takes 3 pages of bland and formulaic statements to paint a picture of an entirely fictional landscape. We’re calling that progress.

“When we consider the paradox of tolerance – that is that in order to be inclusive we must intolerant of some ideas – we soon see that… (postcard 1 of 517)”

Topic change! Only by completely refusing to allow some people a voice can we make things more inclusive of everyone. That sounded better in my head. The important thing is that, at the moment, everyone has a voice, but things would clearly be fairer, apparently, if the anonymous people who wrote our letter decided who was allowed to speak and who wasn’t. To quote Ernest Hemingway, “Fuck literature!” Now that we think about it, that quote doesn’t entirely support any of the 47 points we were trying to make, but this is a letter about the book industry, so we need a couple of quotes in, don’t we? As William Shakespeare said, “Yes.”

There is no cancel culture, but there really should be. Once again, that sounded better before we wrote it down. The point is, if we don’t cancel people then the people we don’t cancel may use their un-cancelled status to cancel others, and the people they’ll be cancelling are a tiny minority. By cancelling the people we want to cancel, which is quite a lot, then we’ll be protecting the very small number of people from cancelling, which means that, on the whole, more people will not be cancelled. Hang on, we might have forgotten to carry the 3.

Topic change! When you think about it, the real damage is done by those who stay silent in all of this. Those people are tacitly supporting the people we don’t like, possibly because they think they don’t know enough about the subject to comment. Hopefully this open letter will show them that needn’t be a bar.

Topic change! Stereotypes, eh? Maybe when women think about allowing trans men into women’s spaces their silly girl brains picture a huge man invading their spaces. What they’ve done – bless their feeble minds – is mistake being trans for wearing some kind of costume. There’s not space here to discuss how a transwoman might look a lot like a regular man wearing some kind of costume, or might look like a regular man not wearing a costume, who says they’re trans anyway, or to discuss the hundreds of objective and fool-proof ways to tell these groups apart. No, indeed, women are silly and we’ve got another 3 pages of open letter to write. Onwards!

Topic change! The things people are saying now sound very much like hateful incidents from the past, if you change some of the words they’re using, and ignore the context, and make up your own facts. Dear god, all the injustices in the world, and the one we’ve decided to write an open letter about is the one that only stands up if you prop it against an actual civil rights issue and then blur the language, until they sound like they’re sort of about the same thing.

If you just change “meek” to “Anglo-Saxons” then you’ll see that the bit about them inheriting the Earth was straight-up white supremacy. That’s how this works!

Anyway, the point is, some things that happened in the past are now seen as bad, and we’ve decided to use the spectre of history’s judgement as a stick to beat you with, because if the open letter isn’t the format to have a free-form, footnote free, reckon about the future course of humanity, and why it should turn out the way we want, then nothing is.

Topic change! As Blake said, “All right, Avon. You were right and I was wrong. You said persuasion wouldn’t work and it didn’t. So now we use force.” Again, not really our point, but it’s a great line.

Topic change! As creative people, the idea of gender being more than pink or blue has always been with us. Writers have created stories about people who weren’t men or women, male or female…some of them were robots. Because literature always describes absolute reality, and dictates how society should be organised, we can infer books should only exist if they support whatever we believe in, and are written, published and sold by people who also believe in whatever we tell them to, or are are at least prepared to make statements to that effect.

Topic change! Also, some cultures have more than two genders. We didn’t bother learning about them, so we’re just assuming that they’re great. Go them!

Topic change! The time to repeat history is past. Let’s not do any harm, or in any way consider that what we’re proposing could do harm! Just do what we want! Send!

Getting to the bottom of it.

I spent the early to mid 90s working for a multinational corporation. At around the same time the Daily Telegraph, the newspaper my parents read, started to syndicate Scott Adams’ Dilbert strip, a cartoon about a techie working for a large corporation.

I became a big Dilbert fan. I cut out the cartoons and pinned them to the wall of my cubicle, I bought the collections of strips that were released, I bought the hardback books written by Adams. Then I read The Dilbert Future, and never bought another thing of his.

This was the best part of two decades before Adams became a supporter of, or at least an apologist for, President Trump, so what did he do to upset me?

He proposed a new theory of gravity. Or, rather, he postulated that there was no gravity and that, rather, everything in the universe was constantly doubling in size, creating an illusion of gravity. The example he used was a person jumping into the air. This creates a gap between them and the planet, but then both the jumper and the planet double in size, which brings them back together again.

Adams seemed be seriously proposing this as a theory. In the introduction to it he said that he’d mentioned it on his emailing list, and nobody had raised any serious objections. Remember, this was back before the world was full of people who would happily spend their days arguing with what, they must have assumed, was a joke.

What annoyed me about this theory was that it has so many obvious little thought-experiments that would invalidate it immediately. The very first one that came to mind for me was asking why, under this theory of gravity, a child’s helium-filled balloon would float, but a melon with a piece of string taped to its bum wouldn’t. If you think for a few minutes beyond that, even with no specialist scientific knowledge, then you can come up with hundreds more. How would planets orbit a star? What is happening to the speed of light? Why wouldn’t big objects fall faster than small ones? How do clouds work?

As much as I hate Adams for putting this stupid, quarter-baked, idea into a book, which I paid actual money for, it is at least a scientific theory. It can be tested. It can be falsified.

DISPROVED!

Falsification isn’t a particularly high bar to clear. Even the pre-Newton theory of gravity – that objects fell to Earth because Earth was at the centre of the universe, and everything naturally fell towards the centre – is testable. If we’d still been wondering if this was true by the late 1960s then Neil Armstrong stepping onto the lunar surface, rather than beginning a quarter-million mile plummet towards Earth, would have shown us the error. This is one small arrrrrrrrrrrrrg!

This is why I was so delighted to see a thread and blog post from Jordan Levi, which introduced falsification into the trans debate…

This, for me, is one of the key questions that I have yet to see asked in the constant to and fro. If the statement Trans women are women is supported by the science, as its advocates claim, and is not a religious belief, then what evidence would they accept to falsify it?

I’ve no intention of answering on behalf of the trans ideology supporters and, as we already see them willing to peer over mountains of evidence, to throw pebbles of pseudoscience at non-believers, I don’t think they’ll be prepared to answer on their own behalf either. Plus, of course, we already know that there is no testable definition or quantifiable metric of trans that will produce groupings that place women and transwomen together, but exclude men, while also identifying a group which is men and transmen, but not women.

So, don’t hold your breath weighting (see what I did there) for an answer, but however much you see claims that trans ideology is based on science, just remember that without a claim that is falsifiable…well, everything falls down.

Fringe benefits

Every group has its wild outer fringes; those who subscribe to the central doctrines of the group as a whole, but add their own madness on top. Christians have young-Earth creationists, who assert that the Bible is word-for-word literal truth, and deriving from there that the Earth was created in its current form, and with all of its life as it is now, fairly recently.

These days a tiny minority of Christians are young-Earth creationists. Subscribing to that view means arguing that evolution, geology, cosmology, physics and countless other scientific disciplines are wrong, which is an increasingly hard position to defend. They do still turn up every so often, mainly in America, demanding that children are taught their latest mishmash of pseudoscience.

The Earth, pictured in 4005BC

No matter how vocal they are, it would be unfair to treat the Young-Earthers as representative of all of Christianity. Indeed, the Vatican itself, having been on the wrong side of both heliocentrism and evolution, was so keen to salvage its reputation that Pope Pius XII had announced that the Big Bang theory was correct well before there was anything like scientific consensus that this was the case.

Christianity, of course, has had a couple of thousand years to pull together its central doctrines and define itself, and it’s something that most Westerners have a reasonable familiarity with. This means that when we see the Westboro Baptist Church protesting, saying that dead US soldiers are God’s punishment for America endorsing homosexuality, we know that they’re the fringe and not the main body.

What happens, though, when we’re dealing with a much newer group, which doesn’t have such a codified dogma and is more of a mystery to the general public?

I was lucky enough, a couple of weeks ago, to have a civilised debate with someone on the other side of the trans issue to myself. They are not a vocal trans-rights activist, but a firm believer in the mantra that transwomen are women (which, at least, we can all agree is core ideology, even if it’s considerably less likely that we’d all be able to agree what it means).

What I discovered, over 2 hours of discussion, is that they held many views that would see them denounced as a TERF, if they were to express them in public. They believe that sex is real, that self-ID alone is not sufficient to grant someone access to female spaces, and a host of other little heresies.

I was reminded of that conversation this morning, when I read Nicky Clark’s thoughts on the trans debate.

What really rang a bell was this tweet.

No trans woman I know claims to be biologically female, is the key sentence here. While this may be true, it’s also true that many transwomen do claim to be biologically female, including some very high-profile figures.

What happened in my real-life discussion was that, several times, the person I was talking to made similar sweeping claims, such as, Nobody is saying that sex isn’t real. Presented with contrary evidence, those views were then ascribed to a fringe group, “Nutters”.

As gender ideology is, currently, a religion without a church, nobody is really sure which prayers they should be chanting or which hymns to sing. Instead, every person is free to adhere to whatever parts of scripture speak to them, and assume that any views they can’t condone, or haven’t seen personally, are fringe views.

This creates a problem and an opportunity.

The problem is that while the majority are always quick to claim that the fringe don’t represent them, the fringe never have a problem claiming that they represent the majority. Christianity’s young-Earthers and gay-bashers are always willing to portray any dismissal of their views as a dismissal of all of Christianity. Similarly, there’s no demand made on behalf of trans rights that those doing the demanding won’t claim it’s transphobic to refuse.

This means that the “Nutter” edge of the trans rights movement does most of the deciding who is transphobic. Here, for example, is another vocal transwoman being rounded on by her own side, for suggesting that it’s too much to ask people to re-learn what kind of genitals they’re attracted to.

Gender critical people on Twitter are fond of sharing #PeakTrans moments, when people who were previously supportive of, or neutral to, trans rights finally encounter a bridge too far for them.

However, being able to ascribe these moments to the fringes of the movement negates this effect. The lunatic fringe, which should be damaging the TRA cause, protects the core ideology, because they carry the can for outlandish ideas, the unreasonable demands and the abuse and threats.

The opportunity is that there is a body of people who, if asked, would say that they support trans rights, but who also support positions that are core to the gender critical side; that sex is real and immutable, that self ID may not be the answer to everything, that women should still exist as their own class.

If these people get lambasted for saying that transwomen are women, or for defending high profile figures, like Eddie Izzard, from ‘misgendering’, and get worse treatment still, from our own fringe, then they feel attacked.

It then comes down to us calling them handmaids and idiots, for not being 100% gender critical, while the other side called them TERFs, for not being behind 100% of gender ideology. They’re being forced to pick a side, and if they already see themselves as a trans ally, and presumably had their own reasons for being so, and believe that the rhetoric against them from that side is just a fringe, then they’re likely to stick with that side.

We have the opportunity to gain allies amongst people who are, perhaps, 60/40 on the GC side, but see themselves as being on the TR side. Not by yelling about them about how wrong they are about the 40%, but by being supportive when they speak about the 60%.

Ultimately, settling the disputed ground between what transwomen want, and what women are willing to give, will come down to a numbers game, through voting, through polling, through protesting, fundraising, lobbying and grass-roots support, and it would be terrible to lose the numbers game because we made the mistake of demanding total ideological purity. Let the other side follow that path.

We’ve all come to hate the phrase Just be kind, but maybe, when we’re talking about those stranded in no-man’s land, shelled from both sides, there is, after all, some value to it.

And Gxd created womxn

When Dictionary.com added Womxn to its lexicon, early in 2019, it described it as term used especially by intersectional feminists to be inclusive of trans and nonbinary women.

Of course, if you live by intersectional sword then you die by the intersectional sword and, on Monday night, the Twitch streaming service was forced to take down a tweet and issue an apology after try to celebrate Womxn’s History Month.

What they quickly learned is that Dictionary.com had it all arse-about-face. Womxn wasn’t created by the good intersectional feminists, but by their evil rivals, the trans-exclusionary radical feminists! And it was never about inclusivity, rather it was maliciously designed to exclude transwomen, and shunt them from womanhood into mere womxnhood. Or possibly womxnhxxd.

By the time you read this the retroactive application of this etymology will probably be nearly complete. Trans-supporting social media accounts will be purging their history of womxn, university societies will be hurriedly pulping fliers about getting more womxn into science, and the LGBTQI+ activists, who gave interviews saying how great it was to see womxn in the dictionary, will have been hunted down and metaphorically nailed to a X.

As the gender-critical feminists always hated the word, womxn will be left unloved by all. A word nobody takes credit for creating, nobody wants to use, and which describes nobody. Given that it’s impossible to pronounce, it can’t even look forward to rap-music revival, like the slightly less hated n-word.

Sometimes it’s hard to be a wom-ex-en, giving all your vowels to just please men

The demise of womxn was preceded by the embargo on transwomen (without a space) which, unlike trans women (with a space), does not convey the connotation that trans women are a kind of woman, and comes long after the denouncings of female, natal women, biological women, or even (sotto voce) real women. The language to distinguish between those who were born into a class that has experienced centuries of oppression, and those born into the class that has been doing the oppressing, is being eroded.

This creates something of a linguistical problem. Referring to transwomen as trans women, rather than just women, continues the distinction. To identify transwomen as trans is to suggest, even using the currently acceptable terms, that they are not part of the same class. If saying womxn reminds transwomen that they are not women, then the same argument can be applied to every trans-identifying term. Even the mantra, trans women are women, is either exclusionary or redundant. Yet some sort of term is still required. One cannot claim, for example, that trans women are more oppressed than cis women, if you lose the terms to separate them.

Speaking of cis women, elsewhere there is less inclusion to be seen. As the term woman is being widened, to include anybody who fancies a swing at it, the terms deemed acceptable for referring to biological women are being narrowed. Women, once a well-defined and cohesive group, is now a mish-mash of overlapping groups; people who have periods, uterus-owners, pregnant people, cervix users, vagina monoliths. The potential for women to identify themselves as a political group, with its own needs, is being deliberately removed. It’s hard to present a unified political force when you need a medical dictionary to discover what you have in common.

Stock photo of the three ages of woman, (left to right) Bleeder, Tavistock-fodder and HRT thief

The fallen womxn is a lesson in how important it is to protect the trans community from any reminder of reality, while allowing women to define themselves only in ways which reduce them to basic biological functions, and exclude women not at the same stage of their reproductive lifecycle. The chances are that in the next few years we’ll see trans women, and trans itself, go the way of womxn, and be denounced as exclusionary terms. Maybe even cis will go, although it hits all the important targets of being unappealing to women, sounding scientific, even though it’s being used incorrectly, and carrying an air of undesirability and wrongness.

Ultimately, the masters of gaslighting will redefine woman. It will turn out that it’s always been a term for everyone who identified as a women and that only TERFs think that it ever had some other meaning, and then we’ll have lost something.

Women, for a start.

In defence of gender

A list popped up on Twitter this week of all 112 genders “at last count”. A full version can be found here (which gives Tumblr as the source, but links to the homepage, rather than the original), but here is a sample.

Obviously it’s easy to mock such navel-gazing, especially when, reading the list, you realise it’s not 112 distinct anythings, but rather a set of construction tools for building yourself a fascinating trait.

Take Demigender (a gender that is partially one gender and partially another); this is clearly meant to be used in conjunction with at least two other genders. One could therefore be demigender between mascgender (a non-binary gender which is masculine in nature) and proxvir (a masculine gender similar to a boy, but on a separate plane and off to itself), and if that identity reflects who you’re with then your gender would be mirrorgender demigender mascgender/proxvir which, I think, means you’re masculine, but more laddish when you’re watching the football down at the pub than you would be, say, when out for a fancy meal.

How unique and interesting.

That would also make you transgender (the feeling of being any gender that does not match your assigned gender) because, presumably, your parents didn’t welcome you into the world and immediately spot your transgender mirrorgender demigender mascgender/proxvir nature. Those boring old squares probably just thought you were a boy, or some shit like that.

“I’m so happy ze is Surgender colorgender-pink with femgender supplementing it” “Hah, can’t believe the stupid midwife thought ze was just a girl. Do they even train those bitches?”

This is before we add in the 71 listed prefixes and suffixes that you can use to even more finely tune this precise description of yourself, which is incomprehensible to anybody without access to a glossary. I particularly like the prefix Thym-, which relates to those who feel attraction which varies depending on emotional state, and would love to chat with someone who, piling on another prefix, is athym- and, presumably feels an unwavering level of attraction, unconnected to their emotional state / surroundings / whether they’re on fire, etc.

Interestingly, more than a 10th of the listed genders are for people who don’t have a gender (agender), don’t care if they have a gender (apagender) or who think they should have a gender, only to find it vanishes when they try to work out what it is (vapogender), those who think their gender is just them (egogender), applies only to them (autogender), have a gender that only manifests if they think about it (existigender), know they aren’t cis (non-trans) in some unspecified way but have decided to act like they are (commogender), refuse to accept gender (exogender) or even feel that gender is nonsensical (quoigender)…many of which are thoughts that might well get you called transphobe or TERF, if you didn’t dress them up in gender nonsense first.

And nonsense it is, of course. All we’re really missing is someone whose entire gender is explaining their gender, in the hope it gets them a shag (genderendergender?) Shagging itself is a bit of a problem, especially if you’re gay, as the prefixes section tells us that the homo- prefix refers to the feeling of being attracted to your own gender. With 112 genders and 71 prefixes (plus -fluid and -flux prefixes) and countless combinations thereof, the chances of you ever meeting someone with the same gender as yourself are effectively nil. Are there really two homotransgender mirrorgender demigender mascgender/proxvir people out there, and even if there were, the chances are even smaller that they won’t find each other to be absolutely insufferable narcissists?

However, one shouldn’t object to nonsense just because it is nonsense. Teens and early-20s people have, forever, been doomed to live in a world that doesn’t understand how unique and special they are, in their brief window of opportunity to bloom, before life grinds them into the rights shape to fit into the entry-level-job-long-term-relationship-place-of-their-own-having-kids-buying-a-Mondeo machine that is adult life. If the worst they do to underline their individuality is declare they’re some weird gender, with its own set of pronouns, then, seriously, let them get on with it.

My own search for my individuality – thankfully before the days of social media – took in wearing a trench-coat (too much Highlander), growing a ponytail (too much IT), platting my pony-tail (too much cannabis), sporting a goatee (even I don’t know what this was about) and being obsessed with Ford Capris.

The author, circa 1993, with one of his Capris. Trench-coat, ponytail and goatee (thankfully) not shown

No matter what your gender is, it’s unlikely to demolish a traffic-island by going through it sideways at 25mph after a slightly damp bend (tailhappigender). At least in that respect, it’s harmless.

I can’t even find it in myself to get annoyed by Stonewall, an organisation which once had a purpose, championing Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week, to help out those who are, according to Stonewall’s definition, a person of any gender or sexual orientation who does not experience romantic attraction

I’m going to be honest, I don’t know what discrimination they face. Are they being disenfranchised? Not being allowed to not marry? Being refused jobs? I mean, I interview people quite often and if the interview ends up taking in their personal view of romantic relationships then it has gone badly off the rails. But, whatever, they need people to be vocal, so if you can work out what the hell you’re meant to be being vocal about then you go for it.

Ultimately, it looks a lot like those 112 genders are nothing more than a way of ushering people into tiny minorities, that can then lay claim to some sort of oppression, which gives organisations like Stonewall, erstwhile solutions, desperate to find new problems, something to campaign about. Where, really, is the harm in that?

However, from that list, a full 50% of the genders described are either impermanent to some degree, or are defined by literally being impossible to define (my favourite is anongender – a gender that is unknown to both yourself and others) and that shit doesn’t belong on a census any more than my stupid choice of facial hair did.

Nineteen eighty-four is now

Nineteen Eighty-four, viewed through the lens of gender politics

A personal note
I first read George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four in its titular year, the year I turned 13. It’s a good book to read young, and to keep returning to as you age, because it’s a text that ages with you. I’ve re-read it more than a dozen times and, every single time, I’ve found a new aspect of the book that I didn’t fully appreciate previously.

Also, as we will see, events in the real world change the way the story can be viewed, often tempting one to wonder if Nineteen Eighty-four was prophetic or has provided a template for totalitarianism. The answer is more the former than the latter. Orwell was a socialist, highly critical of both the far-left and the far-right, and had enough experience of both to see where their methods overlapped and the one became indistinguishable from the other. He was, after all, the original Blairite.

The purpose of this essay isn’t to suggest some shadowy gender organisation is diligently working their way through the novel, applying the techniques that were only a step or two ahead of those Orwell had seen in real life, but rather that Orwell had already seen how those with an ideology could come to see it as the only thing in the world with any meaning and, from there, reason that any methods used in its name were justified.

Nor do I want to get too drawn into mere superficial similarities, such as saying that both the ruling party in Nineteen Eighty-Four and the gender supporters want to eliminate sex. It’s true, in both cases, except the latter wishes to remove sex as a biological classification, whereas the former wants to eliminate the sex act itself (ironically, of course, by 1984 they would have had the means to do so, but Orwell didn’t foresee test-tube babies, and settled for reducing the sex act to an annual, loveless, formality).

Children will be taken from their mothers at birth, as one takes eggs from a hen. The sex instinct will be eradicated. Procreation will be an annual formality like the renewal of a ration card. We shall abolish the orgasm. Our neurologists are at work upon it now.

Nineteen Eighty-Four, Part 3, Chapter 3

The closest Orwell gets to the current meaning of eliminating sex is with honorifics, rather than pronouns.

‘Mrs’ was a word somewhat discountenanced by the Party–you were supposed to call everyone ‘comrade’–but with some women one used it instinctively.

Nineteen Eighty-Four, Part 1, Chapter 2

For the same reason it would be incorrect to draw sexcrime into the discussion. Again, that’s a reference to the sex act, rather than it being a crime to recognise that sex exists. The similarities between Orwell’s world and the gender wars is deep enough that we don’t need to dwell upon superficial similarities.

Finally, I do sometimes get asked why I write so much about trans people. In truth, I don’t think I have ever written about trans people. Why would I? My interest is only in the ideology and its methods, which I have argued against and mocked. Trans people have my best wishes. Their lives are their own, to live as they wish. When they, or more commonly people claiming to speak on their behalf, insist that the world adopt a secular religion, complete with all of the commandments, ahistorical stories and anti-scientific pronouncements of such, they infringe upon my freedom and the freedom of everyone who does not wish a religion imposed upon them.

This essay, then, is not about trans-people, it is about gender theory and ideology.

And, of course about Nineteen Eighty-four

About Nineteen Eighty-four
The story, in case you’re not familiar, is fairly slight. Winston Smith lives in dystopian 1984 London and works at the Ministry of Truth, altering old newspaper articles, so that they always reflect the current views of the ruling Inner Party. He begins an illicit affair with another ministry worker, Julia, and the two of them set up a love-nest in a rented room above an antiques shop. Together they join a covert organisation, dedicated to the overthrow of the party. They are arrested and the final third of the novel details Winston’s torture, within the Ministry of Love.

The birth through death of Winston and Julia’s affair is just a mechanism for Orwell to take the reader on a tour of his own vision of totalitarianism. The first act of the book takes us through the details of everyday life on Airstrip One. Act two shows us how the lives of the inner party are different and, when Winston gets a copy of the book by Emmanuel Goldstein, the arch-enemy of the people, we get to see how the wider world works. The final act reveals the true motivations and methods of the party.

The novel has given the English language the terms Thought Police, Room 101, Big Brother, and, of course, the adjective Orwellian, almost all them misused every time they appear. That said, it’s hard not to have some grudging appreciation for the idiots promulgating the #1984IsHere hashtag, after Twitter removed Donald Trump’s account. The Party, you have to feel, would have loved Twitter. The idea that with a single keypress you could remove everything that a person had ever said, every photograph they’d shared, every link to every friend they’d made, everything they liked, would be irresistible to them. Twitter moderation is The Party’s wet dream.

And above all we do not allow the dead to rise up against us. You must stop imagining that posterity will vindicate you, Winston. Posterity will never hear of you. You will be lifted clean out from the stream of history. We shall turn you into gas and pour you into the stratosphere. Nothing will remain of you, not a name in a register, not a memory in a living brain. You will be annihilated in the past as well as in the future. You will never have existed.

Nineteen Eighty-Four, Part 3, Chapter 2

During the course of the novel, Oceania (the superpower bloc that contains Airstrip One, formerly the UK) changes alliances, and shifts from being allied with Eastasia to being at war with them. The change is instantaneous. Angry crowds tear down propaganda poster which claim that Eurasia is the enemy. Winston and his colleagues have to work flat out changing old newspaper articles, so that they now correctly identify Eastasia as the enemy. It is not sufficient to recognise that Oceania is now at war with Eastasia, Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia.

Who controls the past controls the future

Party slogan, Nineteen Eighty-Four

From 1984 to the 21st century
At the start of December 2020 the actor formerly known as Ellen Page announced that they were a transgendered man, called Elliot. Within hours their IMDB and Wikipedia entries had been edited, to reflect this new reality, even when such edits were nonsensical at points where they clashed with reality.

Page also received recognition for his role in the film Hard Candy (2005), and won the Austin Film Critics Association’s Award for Best Actress

Wikipedia entry for Elliot Page (emphasis added)

From the point of Page’s announcement anybody suggesting that nothing material had changed, that Page was female, or ever had been female, would be guilty of misgendering them. To refer to Elliot as Ellen would be to deadname them, a term worthy of inclusion in the B vocabulary of Newspeak.

The B vocabulary consisted of words which had been deliberately constructed for political purposes: words, that is to say, which not only had in every case a political implication, but were intended to impose a desirable mental attitude upon the person using them. Without a full understanding of the principles of Ingsoc [English Socialism] it was difficult to use these words correctly. In some cases they could be translated into Oldspeak, or even into words taken from the A vocabulary, but this usually demanded a long paraphrase and always involved the loss of certain overtones. The B words were a sort of verbal shorthand, often packing whole ranges of ideas into a few syllables, and at the same time more accurate and forcible than ordinary language.

[…]

The B words were in all cases compound words […] always a noun-verb

[…]

No word in the B vocabulary was ideologically neutral. A great many were euphemisms.

Nineteen Eighty-Four, Appendix: The principles of Newspeak

It’s staggering how well deadname fits Orwell’s rules. Aside from being a noun-verb compound word, with the stress equally on both syllables, it cannot be easily translated into Oldspeak (standard English). Deliberately calling someone by a name they formerly used, might be as close as it’s possible to get, but that fails to convey the ideological overtone that this is a malicious or hateful action. It is even euphemistic, given that as the old name is removed from records and official documents, even, in some cases, birth certificates, it becomes not the name of one who is dead, but one who never existed. People lifted from the stream of history.

As the appendix notes, as of 1984 no-one used Newspeak for their day-to-day communication, although its words and grammatical constructions were becoming more common. This is analogous to our current situation, where only a small percentage of the population would be comfortable with terms like misgender, deadname, cisnormative, or gender-fluid, and their ideological overtones are not yet fully integrated into the outgoing language…#1984IsNow

It would be easy to dismiss similarities between Orwell’s Newspeak and the terms of gender ideology as an amusing observation were it not for two things. Firstly, how closely one mimics the other. Indeed, it takes only a few word changes, and a loss of none of the sense to turn Orwell’s essay into a discussion of the current language of genderism. Second is how not just important but fundamentally intrinsic to Orwell’s vision of totalitarianism the use of language is. The language is not designed to simply describe the world, but to enforce a particular worldview, to make any argument against that view literally impossible, even to curb the limits of thought, by denying heretical thoughts a form in language.

Trans women are women

Popular nonsense

Newspeak even has a word for forcibly preventing oneself from thinking anything heretical. Crimestop.

CRIMESTOP means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc, and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction. CRIMESTOP, in short, means protective stupidity.

Nineteen Eighty-Four, Part 2, Chapter 9

Look through any on-line debate on gender and you’ll see crimestop in action and you’ll see crimestop everywhere someone, almost always a woman, is being polite but firm. Crimestop is the sudden block, the “Muting you now,” response, it’s in the ever-popular “Shut the fuck up, terf” graphic and, indeed, in every other insult and threat thrown out there. Why does crimestop exist in Orwell’s world? Why has it become such a motif on Twitter? Because gender ideology shares what Orwell called the special feature of Ingsoc…the denial of reality.

We know about this denial of reality from relatively early on in the novel. One of the novel’s most famous lines comes towards the end of chapter 7, The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential, command. Orwell, however, tricks us into believing this is simple lying, for political purposes.

For example, the Ministry of Plenty’s forecast had estimated the output of boots for the quarter at 145 million pairs. The actual output was given as sixty-two millions. Winston, however, in rewriting the forecast, marked the figure down to fifty-seven millions, so as to allow for the usual claim that the quota had been overfulfilled. In any case, sixty-two millions was no nearer the truth than fifty-seven millions, or than 145 millions. Very likely no boots had been produced at all. Likelier still, nobody knew how many had been produced, much less cared. All one knew was that every quarter astronomical numbers of boots were produced on paper, while perhaps half the population of Oceania went barefoot. And so it was with every class of recorded fact, great or small. Everything faded away into a shadow-world in which, finally, even the date of the year had become uncertain.

Nineteen Eighty-Four, Chapter 4

Our first indication that the underpinnings of Oceania aren’t so aligned with our own political expectations comes in Part 2 of the book where, through Winston, we get to read part of Goldstein’s banned book. Goldstein tells us that the constant war between the three superpowers, with ever-shifting alliances, isn’t a struggle for survival, or a battle to protect borders, and that there is, in truth, no real differentiation between the three ideologies. Instead, it suits each of the three to have war continue indefinitely, with no prospect of any power being defeated, or of defeating the other two. War is desirable because it provides a cause to rally the people, it allows endless production without ever raising standards, it delivers an excuse to give for The Party doing whatever it must do.

Yet it is within the Inner Party, the very people who understand that the war is a sham, that Goldstein tells us that we find those most convinced that the war is a necessity. The people who understand best that it cannot, and should not, be won are those most convinced that it will end with Oceania triumphant.

In the gender-wars we see the same thing. Those who must be reminded every single day that they are not who they claim to be are the most adamant that they are, and that the rest of the world is mistaken. The people who fundamentally understand that no amount of validation will make them as they wish to be are the ones who fight hardest for more validation.

The war is eternal because it can never be won. Just as no external force can conquer any of Orwell’s super-blocs, so no external force can deliver to trans people what they think they want. Oceania is at war with itself and the trans-rights movement is at war with the irreconcilable dichotomy at its own heart, TERFs are just the people who remind them they can’t possibly win such a battle.

In his capacity as an administrator, it is often necessary for a member of the Inner Party to know that this or that item of war news is untruthful, and he may often be aware that the entire war is spurious and is either not happening or is being waged for purposes quite other than the declared ones: but such knowledge is easily neutralized by the technique of DOUBLETHINK. Meanwhile no Inner Party member wavers for an instant in his mystical belief that the war is real, and that it is bound to end victoriously, with Oceania the undisputed master of the entire world.

Nineteen Eight-Four, Part 2, Chapter 9

Doublethink is Orwell’s term for being able to hold two, or more, contradictory ideas as being simultaneously true. It is to believe what you are told without question. To use crimestop to prevent oneself from noticing the glaring logical inconsistencies that arise. It’s tempting to think of this as akin to cognitive dissonance, but that recognises that the mind is conflict by contradictory facts, doublethink implies no such mental torture and, rather, a straightforward acceptance that mutually exclusive statements can both be true.

How else would we see doctors and scientists insist that transwomen are women, while carrying out jobs that require them to know that they are not; that there are differences between the sexes and that sex cannot be changed, except at a superficial level.

Until the final act of Nineteen Eighty-Four it’s still possible for the reader to believe that they are still seeing ‘normal’ political lying, that those in a position of power tell untruths to keep themselves there and deny knowing any different. The events after Winston’s arrest undermine that view.

At first he is merely tortured, interrogated, forced to confess to crimes real and imagined, but then, a physical and emotional wreck, he is delivered to O’Brien.

‘I am taking trouble with you, Winston,’ he said, ‘because you are worth trouble. You know perfectly well what is the matter with you. You have known it for years, though you have fought against the knowledge. You are mentally deranged. You suffer from a defective memory. You are unable to remember real events and you persuade yourself that you remember other events which never happened. Fortunately it is curable. You have never cured yourself of it, because you did not choose to. There was a small effort of the will that you were not ready to make. Even now, I am well aware, you are clinging to your disease under the impression that it is a virtue.

Nineteen Eighty-Four, Part 3, Chapter 2

In modern terminology we’d call this gaslighting, and it has been a major weapon in the arsenal of those supporting gender ideology. An exhaustive list of the outright fabrications used by the genderist would, indeed, be exhausting, but one doesn’t have to delve very far into the debate before one is assaulted by notions that society has always recognised that there is no real difference between men and women, or that the idea that there are two sexes is a relic of racist colonialism, or that differences in sporting performance between males and females is down to women not trying hard enough.

O’Brien, who merely wants Winston to believe that he never saw an incriminating photograph, starts to look like a bit of an amateur at this.

As O’Brien continues, however, we find that his aims go beyond this. He believes that The Party – the dominant ideology he represents – control reality, that there is no reality beyond how the collective perceives it, and that The Party control that perception and, therefore, controls reality. Winston is not an enemy because he opposes The Party, he is an enemy because he refuses to accept the reality that the orthodoxy mandates.

You preferred to be a lunatic, a minority of one. 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.

Nineteen Eighty-Four, Part3, Chapter 2

It is during this conversation that Winston assures us that O’Brien is not a hypocrite, is not pretending, that he truly believes every word he says. This goes beyond even religious belief. Every religion since the dawn of time has had to deal with non-believers. While it has certainly not always been the case that religions have been tolerant of heretics Ingsoc goes beyond that. It even goes beyond the fundamentalist view that non-believers must be killed. Instead, Ingsoc and The Party, seeks total and absolute conversion to their worldview.

Did I not tell you just now that we are different from the persecutors of the past? We are not content with negative obedience, nor even with the most abject submission. When finally you surrender to us, it must be of your own free will. We do not destroy the heretic because he resists us: so long as he resists us we never destroy him. We convert him, we capture his inner mind, we reshape him. We burn all evil and all illusion out of him; we bring him over to our side, not in appearance, but genuinely, heart and soul. We make him one of ourselves before we kill him. It is intolerable to us that an erroneous thought should exist anywhere in the world, however secret and powerless it may be. Even in the instant of death we cannot permit any deviation.

Nineteen Eighty-Four, Part3, Chapter 2

This is where Ingsoc and genderism finally meet in both their methods and objectives, for genderism can also tolerate no dissent. Gender ideology styles itself as a civil rights movement, but unlike any such movement before it demands that all conform to its view of reality. It, like The Party, advocates that reality is not some external, measurable and observable phenomena, but a product solely of the human mind, that if a man believes he has become a women, and all around him agree that this has happened, then it is the truth.

‘But how can you control matter?’ he burst out. ‘You don’t even control the climate or the law of gravity. And there are disease, pain, death—-‘

O’Brien silenced him by a movement of his hand. ‘We control matter because we control the mind. Reality is inside the skull. You will learn by degrees, Winston. There is nothing that we could not do. Invisibility, levitation–anything. I could float off this floor like a soap bubble if I wish to. I do not wish to, because the Party does not wish it. You must get rid of those nineteenth-century ideas about the laws of Nature. We make the laws of Nature.’

Nineteen Eighty-Four, Part 3, Chapter 3

Much earlier, in the first part of the book, Winston had written in his illicit diary that, Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows. Winston, and Orwell’s, point here is that if you are allowed to express even something so simple as child’s arithmetic as being true then that provides a foundation on which further truths can be built.

Through torture O’Brien first makes Winston lie that 2+2=5, then breaks him to the point where he no longer knows and, finally, drugs him, so that he sees 5 fingers held up in front of him, when he knows that there are only four. Winston inadvertently drew a line in the sand with his comment and created a fact from which O’Brien, on behalf of The Party, must distance him.

The same spirit can be seen in the rapid territory gains made by the gender movement. Despite their oft repeated claim that transgender people have been around throughout history, even 10 years ago it would have been entirely uncontroversial to say men are male, women are female. Five years ago it would have been equally untroubling to say that males and females are biologically different. Through as much torture as they can muster, normally in the form of threats and bullying, the most vocal supporters have changed that.

Through these tactics an artifice has been built that the gender-ideological view is the only correct and inclusive one. This ignores that it is based on complete fabrication and strongly seeks to exclude those who disbelieve in it.

As with Winston and O’Brien, both sides claim that the facts on their side.

‘But the whole universe is outside us. Look at the stars! Some of them are a million light-years away. They are out of our reach for ever.’

‘What are the stars?’ said O’Brien indifferently. ‘They are bits of fire a few kilometres away. We could reach them if we wanted to. Or we could blot them out. The earth is the centre of the universe. The sun and the stars go round it.’

Winston made another convulsive movement. This time he did not say anything. O’Brien continued as though answering a spoken objection:

‘For certain purposes, of course, that is not true. When we navigate the ocean, or when we predict an eclipse, we often find it convenient to assume that the earth goes round the sun and that the stars are millions upon millions of kilometres away. But what of it? Do you suppose it is beyond us to produce a dual system of astronomy? The stars can be near or distant, according as we need them. Do you suppose our mathematicians are unequal to that? Have you forgotten doublethink?’

Nineteen Eighty-Four, Part 3, Chapter 3

O’Brien’s view of science exactly mirrors that of genderism; science is not a process of discovery, based upon fact, it is something to be shaped to meet an ideological outcome. This can be seen in the many, many discussions of genetic or sexual disorders, which are being used to suggest that the scientific consensus is that sex is a spectrum. This, in turn, is used to say that the human world is not as straight-cut as being split into males and females.

The argument runs; Some people do not have XX or XY chromosomes ∴ sex is a spectrum ∴ males and female are the same, except that none of the conclusions follow naturally from the previous statement because what we’re seeing is not science, but the language of science being used to purely ideological means, as if trying to prove that the stars are both near and distant, depending upon requirements.

There is a story (I hope apocryphal) that the mathematician Euler, when debating an atheist, asserted, “Sir, (a+bn)/n=x, therefore God exists, answer please.” His opponent, Diderot, was no mathematician and was well aware of Euler’s prominence that field, and so could do nothing but concede the point. The story is sometimes presented as proof of Euler’s genius, but it is a trick no more capable of winning a debate than switching to a language that your opponent does not speak, or whispering your point too quietly for them to hear and refute. Worse than those options, though, it is a deception that has, at its heart, an appeal to authority, the very antithesis of science.

These days, O’Brien’s line, Do you suppose our mathematicians are unequal to that?, brings to mind that story and the current gender debate. In which people who have taken the gender ideology side of the debate present facts in the hopes of brow-beating those who are gender-critical, rather than because those facts have led them to a conclusion.

Yet this is the very core of both Ingsoc and gender ideology – what O’Brien calls collective solipsism – where a minority assert that they define reality for the majority and are self-perpetuating, in that only those who share their worldview are allowed to speak on behalf of that minority.

Where does it all end?
O’Brien famously tells Winston that if he wants an image of the future then he should imagine a boot stamping on a human face, forever. After that he goes on to give Winston a more detailed description of what’s coming.

‘And remember that it is for ever. The face will always be there to be stamped upon. The heretic, the enemy of society, will always be there, so that he can be defeated and humiliated over again. Everything that you have undergone since you have been in our hands–all that will continue, and worse. The espionage, the betrayals, the arrests, the tortures, the executions, the disappearances will never cease. It will be a world of terror as much as a world of triumph. The more the Party is powerful, the less it will be tolerant: the weaker the opposition, the tighter the despotism. Goldstein and his heresies will live for ever. Every day, at every moment, they will be defeated, discredited, ridiculed, spat upon and yet they will always survive.’

O’Brien to Winston, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Part 3, Chapter 3

What’s interesting is the need for The Party to be against something, and that this something – in this case Goldstein’s heresies – is something that they entirely control and have created for themselves.

In the real world, gender activists have declared themselves against transphobia, the definition and boundaries of shift ever outwards. They are fond of telling us that they are the most oppressed minority, and the exact nature of this oppression shifts all of the time. Activists are fond of claiming that transwomen have been using female facilities for decades, seemingly without ever questioning why that status quo shifted.

It shifted, of course, when simultaneously the bar to be considered trans was lowered and the idea arose that to make any distinction between transwomen and women was transphobia. This, however, has become their power move. The more they push for new rights the more people oppose them, and so the more that they can demonstrate that transphobia is rife to law-makers and those with a desire to be “progressive”.

They complain endlessly about TERFs, yet they create TERFs, they define them, and they need them. The difference is that in Orwell’s world Goldstein was subjected only to 2 minutes of hate per day, whereas those denounced as TERFs can find it a distinctly 24/7 affair.

For Winston the story is nearly over. After his sessions with O’Brien he tries to bring himself to agree with The Party, to share its ideology.

He set to work to exercise himself in crimestop. He presented himself with propositions–‘the Party says the earth is flat’, ‘the party says that ice is heavier than water’–and trained himself in not seeing or not understanding the arguments that contradicted them. It was not easy. It needed great powers of reasoning and improvisation. The arithmetical problems raised, for instance, by such a statement as ‘two and two make five’ were beyond his intellectual grasp. It needed also a sort of athleticism of mind, an ability at one moment to make the most delicate use of logic and at the next to be unconscious of the crudest logical errors. Stupidity was as necessary as intelligence, and as difficult to attain.

Nineteen Eighty-Four, Part 3, Chapter 4

He has reached the point where he accepts that The Party cannot be defeated, his only hope of freedom from them is to have a final, unspoken, hatred of Big Brother swell in his mind, in the moment that they finally shoot him.

O’Brien, of course, has already planned for this, and takes even that hope of freedom away from Winston.

The novel closes with Winston’s only moment of true happiness, as he finally realises his love for Big Brother, and daydreams about them shooting him now, while is mind is perfect.

In the here and now we find many people – predominantly women – where Winston is at the start of the novel. Keeping their heads down, faking conformity, even fermenting thoughts that, through PeakTrans, the proles will rebel and overthrow the Inner Party. The rest of the novel is yet to be written, we can still yet create a happier ending for them.

DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER (whatever he identifies as)!

The emperor’s new cause

In September of 1859 a bankrupt businessman, around 40 years of age, named Joshua Abraham Norton, reappeared in his adopted home city of San Francisco.

He’d vanished from there a couple of years previously, after losing a lengthy series of legal battles and, with them, his modest fortune – perhaps $7- or $8-million in today’s money, and the property which had helped him build that fortune. He’d lived hand-to-mouth for two years and owned nothing more than the clothes he stood in.

Naturally, he declared himself to be the rightful Emperor of America.

For the next 21 years, the remainder of his life, he lived as Emperor Norton I. He walked the streets of San Francisco, wearing a military uniform provided by the city, talking to his subjects. He issued his own bonds – each one numbered and signed by hand – for values of 50¢ to $10. He wrote to heads of state, offering them counsel and, in the case of Queen Victoria, proposing marriage. He issued proclamations, via letters to local newspapers, starting with the declaration of his emperorship (At the peremptory request and desire of a large majority of the citizens) and continuing on to dissolve congress and, when he grew sick of his edicts being ignored, ordering the soldiers of the United States army to arrest its elected representatives.

Norton died 140 years ago, but his final resting place (inside a suitably grand coffin, paid for by a local business association) still recognises the life he chose to lead.

I think about Norton a lot in these days of identity politics.

First off, I think we can agree that ’emperor’ is the mother of all social concepts. You could grind an emperor to dust and not find a single atom of physical evidence of their status (please check with your local constitution or law-enforcement before grinding).

Were you of such a mind, we could fill an evening and empty a few bottles arguing over the definition of emperor. I might smugly suggest that it was cut and dried, that you can’t be an emperor without ruling an empire, and you’d shoot back with emperors who lived in exile, commanding nothing more than some windswept rock in the sea or 100m2 of hotel room in a country foreign to them. There are those born into the title, those who seized it, and those who had it thrust upon them. Some emperors rules over millions, some, doubtless, over fewer than the 10,000 who took to the streets to watch Norton’s funeral procession.

With sufficient bottles – providing sufficient excuses to visit the bathroom and do a spot of Googling – I doubt I could come up with an argument for Norton’s role being illegitimate that couldn’t be disproved with some outlier who history regards as a rightful emperor.

“Must an emperor not,” I may argue, “Be recognised officially by others? Heads of state, and so forth?”

“One second, nature calls…Ah, that’s better. Did you know that, towards the end of his life, King Kamehameha V of Hawaii (1830-1872) refused to recognise the democratically elected government of the US, and would only deal with Emperor Norton? Plus, of course, the 1870 census records his occupation as ‘Emperor’. How’s that for official?”

Norton proposed a bridge from San Francisco to Oakland and, only 56 years after his death, one was built. Now that’s Emperor-power!

Rationally, of course, we both know that whatever may bestow upon a man the role of emperor it’s not a 40-year-old man with problems (financial ones, at the very least) unilaterally deciding one morning that the title applies to him. What it would be easy to miss in this wine-driven battle of wits is that while the history of emperors will, by the very chaotic nature of humanity, contain many oddities, edge-cases and curios, Norton will be the only “emperor” who must be adjacent to them all in order to be considered legitimate.

If we were to meet again, absent alcohol and richer in time to consider this, and you were to continue to insist that Norton was a “real” emperor then I would be forced to conclude that either you were a liar, or that you were in thrall to one.

If you then tried to shore up your position with talk of lived experience or claimed that Norton’s personal understanding of what he was outweighs any objective evidence then I’d merely take comfort in you being as willing to lie to yourself as you are to lie to me.

Thankfully, ‘you’ here are an imaginary opponent I’ve created, and the real you, the one reading this piece, isn’t so entwined in some clearly ludicrous argument that you have to constantly lie in the face of empirical (cough) evidence contrary to your position, nor go searching the Fortean Times for vanishingly rare counterexamples to reasonable and rational points.

This means that we can both enjoy that Norton was an interesting character, and we can both be happy that many around him – without any obligation to do so on their part – chose to validate him; tourists flocked to see him, police officers saluted him when they passed in the street, his friends forged replies from the heads of state that he corresponded with, so that he wouldn’t feel ignored. We can delight that, when he was arrested for lunacy, the Alta California rallied to his defence, saying that, he had shed no blood; robbed no one; and despoiled no country; which is more than can be said of his fellows in that line.

We can, perhaps, even chuckle that a 1923 history of Norton complained that some of the printed proclamations from Norton were jokes, which originated with the graceless wags and inspired idiots of the day, and agree that even something as new as Twitter isn’t really that new at all.

Emperor Norton, pictured yesterday in Victorian-era America

Because we’re not interested in lying to each other, or suggesting that basic facts are wrong, we don’t need to worry about why Norton did it. Was he insane? The census that records him as Emperor also records him as such. Was it all a grift? He died with less than $10 to his name but he had lodgings, restaurants accepted his home-made currency and he definitely enjoyed a better standard of living than most of those destitute in late 19th century America. He was a wealthy landlord, he spent his fortune trying to wiggle out of a contact that was signed in good faith, and the purpose of that deal was to make him richer, by screwing over the poor on the price of rice, so we’ve no reason to suppose he was fundamentally a nice person.

We don’t even need concern ourselves with the problems that would arise if we generalised from Norton and suggested that the trappings of office, he was afforded freely by those who chose to do so, were to be legally mandated to anyone who claimed the title of emperor for themselves.

A Norton $10 bond. Beautiful if your restaurant decided to accept them, economic ruin if it was forced to

Whatever the financial cost of providing a uniform and food to everyone who wanted to bash our their own currency, it would be nothing compared to the cost to freedom of forcing everyone to pretend that something everyone knows is not true is fact.

So it’s a good thing, then, that you’re not the kind of person who is so dishonest that they’d build up a Jenga tower of lies to stand atop while they battled for rights for marginalised emperors.

Norton is a century-and-a-half dead, the emperor does not need a new cause.