Born This Way
‘You are a slow learner, Winston,’ said O’Brien gently.
‘How can I help it?’ he blubbered. ‘How can I help seeing what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four.’
‘Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.’ — 1984, Part III Ch. 2
I feel like there is little I can add to the great Internet debate of the first week of June 2015. I fully agree with this article in the UK Spectator about the Jenner controversy. To it, and to the thoughtful commentary and spirited resistance of conservatives all over the web, I will add this, with the disclaimer that I am 100% serious and not trolling or being sarcastic:
We are told that we must accept Jenner’s claims about himself. We cannot know or judge what is happening in his head. For as long as he has been alive, he has felt that he ought to be a she, that he was born with the wrong body.
I do not deny his feelings. This is not, for me, a debate over his authenticity – I believe him. It is a debate over truth and language, which was also the central theme of Orwell’s 1984. For just as Jenner has always felt that he ought to be a woman, I have always felt that I have a strong moral obligation to call things by what I am absolutely convinced to be their rightful names.
The feeling is so strong that to resist it, say, by referring to Jenner as she/her/Caitlyn, would cause me great psychological distress. This isn’t really the place I want to debate the nuts and blots of the transgender issue, though. I suppose if I were thoroughly and honestly convinced, I could and would change my language to reflect what I believed to be true. But I’m not there, and I won’t change my language unless/until I am. In fact, I don’t believe I can. Like Winston Smith and Captain Picard, you would have to torture me for a few days before I would even begin to consider uttering what I believe to be a manifest falsehood. Few things are more psychologically difficult for me. It might be easy for some people, due to their own psychology, personality, ideological predisposition, etc. to immediately make the change. There’s no delicate way to put it: some people simply do not place truth at the top of their value hierarchy.
I am not suggesting that everyone who affirms transgender claims about identity fails to value truth. Many who do so do believe those claims sincerely. But there are many who are skeptical or indifferent and who cannot understand why someone us simply won’t go along to get along. What’s the big deal? They can’t possibly understand what it is like for those of us who believe a) that something contrary to popular opinion, something that may even hurt someone’s feelings, is true and b) that we have absolute obligation to speak the truth in such matters. We don’t (yet) live in a dictatorship in which the state will throw us in prison for refusing to affirm what we believe to be a lie. We do have a toxic totalitarian culture which seeks to personally and financially ruin us, though, for exercising what used to be a universally cherished right.
So, like Jenner, I simply can’t help it. I was born this way. I’ve always been this way, and it has cost me throughout my life to be sure – more than most could understand. I don’t believe I can choose to be another way, except after extreme and/or prolonged physical torture. This I say with all sincerity. As a realist, I am willing to make many compromises and accommodations. I am willing to tolerate and even respect from a distance a great many things I find undesirable or repugnant. But I will not say that 2 + 2 = 3 or 5, at least outside of a torture chamber.
Unlike many transsexuals and those who purport to be their allies or enforcers, I’m ok with people hating me for something I can’t help. Because I don’t think they can help hating me either.