The United States is losing its mind. Dishonesty permeates every facet of life here, from academia’s illicit courtship with postmodernism to corporate buzzspeak to a journalism dominated by clickbait–to say nothing of political discourse. What has been going on since long before “I didn’t inhale” has culminated in “there is no pandemic” and since we accepted it then, we have little excuse to stop accepting it now. “Trans women are literally women” is but a symptom of this disease.
While the entire Western world is fucked in its own ways, I’ve come to understand–through travels abroad, conversations with international friends and now my experiences with presses and agents overseas–that much of the world is not as fucked as we are. Even in nations where the local conservative parties are more liberal than our liberal parties, people do not feel compelled to pretend that “trans women are women.”
Many have noted the similarities between the language of modern transgender activism and the truth-obfuscating “Ministry of Truth” in George Orwell’s 1984. Conversion therapy has come to mean not turning gay kids into straight ones. Taking on a practiced and purchased persona has come to mean becoming your “true, authentic self.” A surgery to remove body parts is described as a way to make someone feel “whole.” “Trans women are women” is the new two plus two equals five. And whole news stories, WordPress blogs, Reddit forums, and even inconvenient scientific studies have gone straight down the “memory hole,” lest someone get exposed to the wrong thoughts.
The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, a linguistic theory that has gone in and out of favor over time, argues that language influences or even dictates thought. Like other feminists, I’ve observed the erasure of the word “woman” and watched that translate to an inability to speak about an entire class of people, leading directly to an inability to pursue activism on behalf of that class. This isn’t hypothetical; it’s playing out in the real world. Male activists are infiltrating and shutting down rape support groups, crisis centers, feminist consciousness-raising spaces, reproductive rights campaigns and even resources for pregnant women in the name of reducing their feelings of “exclusion.”
What I hadn’t thought as much about was how language might foster delusion in mentally-ill trans people themselves.
A recent conversation with a native Japanese speaker showed me that the English language presents the “perfect storm” for the transgender lobby’s insistence upon “preferred pronouns.” In her language, she said, it isn’t possible to demand that others use particular pronouns because pronouns don’t exist.
The romance languages, like French and Spanish, also muddle the pronoun issue, but for the opposite reason. They have pronouns for everything. People have genders, objects have genders, concepts have genders, and even adjectives reflect the gender of other parts of speech. The word for “it” sometimes means “he” or “they” but not “she”–how would you affirm a non-binary femme in such a language? Choosing a pronoun isn’t straightforward; it’s subject to myriad and complex rules. The person being referred to is but one factor and not always the most important one.
In English, however, pronouns exist and they refer primarily to people. It’s easy to insist that others call you “she,” because “she” is a word and it isn’t being used so indiscriminately that it loses its “affirming” potency. When someone calls you she, they must think you’re a woman!
Though there’s a widespread belief that late-transitioning, primarily-straight men are “faking it,” my ex does believe that he is a woman. Yes, it’s hard to imagine the cognitive dissonance. And yes, the carefully-curated selfies, the cries of “exclusion” and the frequent identity-related meltdowns reveal a deep insecurity around identity. But delusions are a thing, however little sense they sometimes make. He also experienced delusions of grandeur and delusions of persecution (more in my book–coming soon!).
And here’s the thing–as he received more and more “affirmation” from others–from friends using “preferred pronouns” to social media accolades–his delusions grew worse, not better.
Suppose the idea that one is the opposite sex is a straightforward break with reality, not qualitatively different from other types of delusions. Perhaps, then, it doesn’t promote the health of a transgender person to “affirm” his gender, any more than it promotes the health of a schizophrenic to “affirm” the microchip a foreign government implanted in his brain.
Statistically, the numbers of transgender people are climbing exponentially in the U.S. and the U.K., both English-speaking countries. Anecdotally, though we don’t have sufficient studies, that isn’t happening in Japan or much of Western Europe. Are English-speaking people with gender dysphoria sicker than their counterparts who speak other languages? Could we be watching the power of language to influence thought, particularly in the vulnerable?