By Brendan O'Neill — April 11, 2016
For a worldview that claims to be all about freedom and choice and “being oneself,” transgenderism sure is tetchy and intolerant. Consider what has just happened to the celebrated British novelist Ian McEwan. Last week, during a speech at the Royal Institution in London, McEwan took a genteel swipe at the politics of identity. He said identity politics is becoming increasingly consumerist, where we now pluck a ready-made “self” from “the shelves of a personal-identity supermarket.” The making up of one’s identity has gone so far that “some men in full possession of a penis are identifying as women and demanding entry to women-only colleges,” he said. Then came his killer line: “Call me old-fashioned, but I tend to think of people with penises as men.”
Can you guess what happened next? Yes, McEwan was subjected to a Twitch hunt, to that 21st-century bloodsport in which anyone who expresses an unpopular view or makes a less than PC utterance or simply misspeaks a little will be “called out” (shamed) by the bedroom-bound, Twitter-living, self-styled guardians of correct thinking. Twits went berserk over his apparently perverse linking of penises with maleness. They branded him a bigot, weird, a transphobe. Trans-rights activists put the boot in, too. Stonewall, the LGBT activist group, slammed McEwan for being “uninformed” and said his weird worldview doesn’t only “denigrate the trans experience, it denies its very existence.” Paris Lees, a trans woman and journalist, scolded McEwan, telling him his “ideas about penises are outdated.” He should apologize, the mob said.
And he did. All the virtual tomato-throwing at this heretic who dared to say that people with penises are men had the desired effect. It elicited a public backtrack. In an open letter in the Guardian, McEwan accused some of his critics of being “righteous and cross,” yet he then bowed and scraped before the trans religion. Transgenderism “should be respected,” he said. Then, most strikingly, he obediently expressed the key tenet of the trans ideology: “Biology is not always destiny.” Remarkable. In the space of a few days, he went from raising interesting, awkward questions about trans identity to repeating in a national newspaper the trans mantra that “biology is not destiny.” For those of us who believe in freedom of thought, it was an ugly sight, reminiscent of those poor souls dragged before the Inquisition and set free only when they dutifully bought into their inquisitors’ belief system and publicly declared: “I believe in Jesus Christ.”
We all know by now that speaking your mind can be a risky business in the 21st century. Holders of unpopular opinions on climate change, multiculturalism, and a host of other ideological outlooks that have come to be force-fielded from ridicule or questioning now face being hounded off campuses, branded “deniers” (a favorite insult of the Inquisition, too), and Twitch-hunted. But what’s significant about the mauling of McEwan is that his speechcrime was not to express an outré opinion — it was to state what the vast majority of people consider to be a straight-up fact, a biological reality, a self-evident truth: that people with penises are men.
McEwan didn’t insult trans people or use derogatory terms against them or do that Germaine Greer thing of referring to a trans woman as “a man who gets his d*ck chopped off.” He simply said that he holds to the biological fact of sex, and that having a penis is a pretty good indicator of being male.
The moral shaming of McEwan for stating what most people consider to be an objective fact shows how Orwellian the trans ideology has become. We’re living through an era of trans Orwellianism. Almost everything the trans lobby does smacks of Big Brotherism.
There’s its howling off campuses, its attempted silencing, of any feminist or thinker who is skeptical of the idea that men can become women. There’s its strict policing of people’s pronoun use and its punishment of those who “misgender” people: After Caitlyn Jenner came out, giving rise to a great religious fervor, an activist group sent word-watching bots out on Twitter to catch and correct anyone who was committing the speechcrime of saying “he” rather than “she” in relation to Jenner. There’s its memory-holing of inconvenient historical facts: In some countries, you can now have your sex changed on your birth certificate when you decide to swap genders, which represents a flagrant rewriting of a publicly recorded, historically indisputable fact, of a biological reality. “It’s a boy,” the doctor and everyone else recorded, yet now those records are trampled on.
And now there’s its punishment of people for saying there’s such a thing as reality, such a thing as tangible, measurable facts. This, too, is straight out of Nineteen Eighty-Four. In that novel, O’Brien, Big Brother’s torturer, ridicules our hero Winston Smith for believing in objective reality. He takes Winston to task for believing “reality is something objective, external, existing in its own right,” and that “the nature of reality is self-evident,” when in fact “whatever the Party holds to be the truth, is truth.”
“This is a fact that you have got to relearn,” says O’Brien — just as McEwan and other mad believers in self-evident, tangible underpinnings to maleness and femaleness must now learn the higher, better truth of the trans lobby. Today, what the trans lobby holds to be the truth is the truth, and woe betide anyone who says, “But people with penises are men, surely?’
The McEwan madness shows what is at stake in the trans debate: the freedom not only to dissent from fashionable nonsense and to be skeptical of activists’ claims about the crazy fluidity of gender, but also the freedom to express a fact; to be objective; to resist the lure of a swirling relativism that says that nothing is solid and instead to say: “This thing is true. This thing is a fact.” In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Winston cleaves to the idea that 2 + 2 = 4 in the face of tyrannical, truth-rewriting Party officials who tell him that 2 + 2 = 5 if they say it does. Today, those who believe in freedom of speech must defend the right of individuals to say “people with penises are men,” in the face of authoritarian forces insisting that people with penises can be women and, in essence, that 2 + 2 = 5.
— Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked and a writer for The Spectator.
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