Language Mediates Reality
From the Miami Herald, the sad story of Eric Peter Verbeeck, a transgender teenager who killed himself:
Eric Peter Verbeeck was only 17 when she died on March 6. The smiling, bespectacled teen who grew up in Key Biscayne was a month shy of her 18th birthday, which would have been April 14.
The obituary [that his parents placed in the newspaper] begins, as so many do, by recounting the individual’s loves and accomplishments. Eric loved the theater. She had a nearly perfect “A” record and was excited about high school graduation in June. Eric, who was on the Student Council at the MCA Academy in Coconut Grove and a 2016 honoree by the National Society of High School Scholars, had been accepted by 11 colleges with several scholarship offers. She planned to study theater and arts management.
Eric, the obituary noted, was “pure love and joy with a unique innocence about life.”
Those who kept reading would learn that Eric committed what some might say is the most private of acts. Her parents made it public in the obit:
While Eric lived life to the fullest, he had his own personal struggle. He was in the process of transitioning to his identity as a girl. It simply became too much for him and he sought relief from his suffering. He left a beautiful letter letting his parents know that he knew he had been loved unconditionally, but he needed to move on.
In her letter, Eric left explicit instructions on how she wanted to be remembered:
I would like to be remembered as a transgender pansexual teenage girl named Hope. Being transgender is my gender identity. My sexual orientation, or sexual identity, is being pansexual, meaning that I do not care about what the person is; I care about who they are. Sexual orientation is who you go to bed with and gender identity is who you go to bed as.
The thing is, Eric Verbeeck was popular at school, and involved. He had a great relationship with his supportive mother (his parents were separated). His mother tells the Herald about his coming out to her as trans:
I said, ‘Eric, what is the next step you would like to take on transitioning from a boy to a girl?’ I said, ‘I don’t want to tell you what to do or think you should do. You tell me the journey you want to take.’ ”
And so she did. Eric decided she would first start by dressing a bit more like a girl, but only undergarments at first. “He didn’t want to take the step yet on external clothing, I knew we’d head there this summer,” her mom said.
Mother and son met with “a marvelous team at the University of Miami” that specializes in transgender transitioning. Eric went for sessions with a psychologist. They met with an endocrinologist and surgeon. Eric began hormone replacement about 10 months ago. This summer they planned on laser hair removal. Eric joined support groups but didn’t have a lot of time for them because she was very much into pursuing the arts.
Verbeeck, who retired at 59 from a successful career in banking and finance to devote time to her son’s high school years, traveled with Eric up and down the East Coast to nearly all 11 liberal arts colleges that had accepted Eric. That acceptance was complete, her mother said.
“We were very open with our meetings at the colleges that he’s transitioning. These colleges were all accepting,” she said. “He was so excited about college, and graduation. He knew these were colleges he could fit in.”
Eric told her mother she had chosen a new name. After graduation in June, at age 18, Eric would become Hope.
No one saw Eric/Hope heading in this direction, including the psychologist she saw for weekly visits. “She never felt Eric was going to take his life,” Verbeeck said. “She had a moral obligation to let me know. She said there was never an inkling. She told me, ‘He loved you. He was excited about college.’
“As far as I know, he wasn’t bullied,” Verbeeck added. “Everybody we talked with, no one would have guessed.”
But then on that morning of March 6, Eric took her life.
“He left behind a letter, the most beautiful letter you could imagine, and it was on his pillow,” Eric’s mother said. “I got up and realized I didn’t see him in my apartment.”
The letter began: “Dear Mommy and Papa, I am so sorry to do this to you but I have killed myself by jumping off the top floor …”
Eric was always precise, Verbeeck said.
“I could no longer live my life as a lie,” her letter continued. “I’m so sorry I lied to you. I was losing hope in the world and could not see my way out of the wrong body so I decided it was time for my life to end. Please forgive me for any sins I committed.”
Verbeeck: “He didn’t have any sins. I never used the word sin with him.”
The reader who sent me this story points out that Eric had everything that transgender activists say they want — and still, he killed himself. The poor kid was plainly tormented, but doesn’t that indicate that the entire world can rearrange itself to suit what these people want to believe about themselves, and it still won’t be enough? What more could have been done for him?
The thing that jumped out even more about this story is this: the Miami Herald chose to call this male teenager who had not yet transitioned “she”. This might seem like a small thing, but it in fact is a massive one. In this case, the media is attempting to change the way we use language, which is to say, trying to change at a foundational level how we think.
We cannot conform to this lie. We cannot. The stakes are enormous. You change a people’s language, and you change the way they construe reality. George Orwell addressed this point in his famous essay “Politics and the English Language.” Here:
I have not here been considering the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought. Stuart Chase and others have come near to claiming that all abstract words are meaningless, and have used this as a pretext for advocating a kind of political quietism. Since you don’t know what Fascism is, how can you struggle against Fascism? One need not swallow such absurdities as this, but one ought to recognise that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end.
The Miami Herald — along with almost all our media today — insist on calling a thing what it is not, for entirely political reasons. I could understand using the feminine pronoun if Eric Verbeeck had completed his transition. I wouldn’t agree with it, but I could understand it. But Eric was still legally named Eric, and had only begun to transition. Yet here are major English language newspapers destroying the language to accommodate a politically correct mental condition. What they’re doing is accustoming their readership to accepting as real and true the claim of a mentally ill teenage male that he is in fact a female.
Last week in the Czech Republic, the Benda children — all adults now — told me that growing up under communism, their mother and late father taught them every single day about the lies that their school and the state-controlled media proclaimed as true. It was essential to building their internal resistance to the Big Lie that was Communism. Their parents kept them connected to the true and the real. It required constant effort. But it had to be done.
Over and over in Hungary and the Czech Republic, I had to answer questions about political correctness from the curious and mildly horrified people I talked to. They honestly struggled to believe that we Americans were surrendering to it. I told them, by way of explaining how it’s happening, that the media were mainstreaming it by the constant-bordering-on-obsessive sympathetic coverage of transgenderism. The Herald story, with its “she,” is one example. This piece from last week’s New Yorker, about complex surgery a male-to-female transgender had to carve up his face to make it look more feminine, is another. The pronoun stuff is a given. But read on:
The next day, in San Francisco, she would be undergoing a seven-hour operation at the hands of Dr. Jordan Deschamps-Braly, a craniofacial surgeon who specializes in a process called facial feminization. His practice serves transgender patients like Abby, who was designated male at birth [Emphasis mine — RD], and publicly identified as a man before she began transitioning, almost two years ago. Abby would submit to an array of surgical procedures—on her brow, chin, jaw, nose, and throat—that would leave her looking subtly altered: like her own cousin, or her sister.
The surgery would, in another sense, unwind time. It would give Abby the face that she might now have if the baby who was once carried around Muir Woods had been spared the unwelcome ravages of puberty—if testosterone had not thickened her brow, sunk her eyes deeper, and weighted her jaw. As Abby saw it, testosterone had blighted her with an Adam’s apple that, no matter how long she grew her curly hair, or how soft her skin became from hormone-replacement therapy, irremediably read to a stranger as male.
Notice how the journalist assumes as fact the highly contestable claim that gender is a matter of arbitrary medical designation — that is, that it has nothing to do with one’s body. And notice how the normal physiological development of a male human is here presented as some sort of biological tragedy. As if normality were wrong. More, from the operating room:
Some surgeons prefer to reduce the forehead only by burring it, but Deschamps-Braly, like Ousterhout before him, is committed to procedures that yield more dramatic results—drama, in the context of facial feminization, being measured in millimetres, or in fractions thereof. Deschamps-Braly marked the problem area, six centimetres by four centimetres, and, using a reciprocating saw, he sliced the piece of brow bone off, placing it on a side table. In a few minutes, he would reshape the bone and then reattach it. For the moment, though, he resumed burring her forehead bone, grinding certain areas until they were only a millimetre thick. To examine his handiwork, he gently restored the skin of Abby’s forehead to its proper place, smoothing it down with his hand to see whether the more rounded shape was emerging. “It’s better,” he said.
Deschamps-Braly then turned to the brow bone on his side table. It was the color of raw squid. In some cases, the piece could be restored intact, but angled in a way that produced a flatter profile. Abby’s brow was quite prominent, however, so Deschamps-Braly cut the bone into four pieces, with the plan of reconnecting them into a more refined shape. It was important that the edges be carefully aligned. When operating on the skulls of children, he could be less precise: young bodies easily generate more bone, filling in minute gaps left by a surgeon. But with adult patients Deschamps-Braly aimed for something closer to marquetry. When he had shaped the four pieces to his satisfaction, he joined them with stainless-steel wires, then placed the reconfigured object back on Abby’s brow. He reconnected it swiftly to her skull with the twisting of more wires.
It was now ten-thirty. Deschamps-Braly began work on a scalp advancement—bringing Abby’s hairline forward by five millimetres. He loosened her scalp from her skull, exposing the front part of her head. Abby’s skull, a vulnerable, bloody orb, looked like the head of a newborn. With three tiny sutures, Deschamps-Braly reattached the scalp, moved slightly forward, to her skull. Having folded Abby’s forehead back up, so that her face was visible again, he sliced a ribbon of flesh off the top of her brow, then stitched along her hairline, rejoining the scalp and the forehead.
Read the whole thing. It’s horrifying the extent to which we will slash, hack, and mangle bodies and language to create our own realities. It’s the violence done to language that is more dangerous, because language is how we order our experience of the real.
This is ultimately not a sexual, medical, political, or linguistic problem. It is ultimately a metaphysical problem. The 21st century is going to be one hell of a ride. The war of the century will be the battle for reality.
UPDATE: Beowulf writes:
Lord Karth is a little weird and maybe slightly creepy, but he speaks the truth. Reality always wins in the end. Still, I am reminded of Keynes and the business cycle: in the long run we are all dead.
But back to the trans movement and the incredible economic resources it presumes, it is absolutely true that this phenomenon is one that can only occur among a leisured class. (No one who works for a living has the time or reason for it.) I’d say we are seeing the inner logic of capitalism coming close to completion: the human body itself is now a product to consume.
All this consciousness-raising of trans issues functions like an advertisement for a product. It creates dissatisfaction for both men and women with their bodies (we know this is happening with teen girls) and suggests a possible satisfaction condition. Only now the scope of the product and the scale of the transaction has reached an incredible level.
If you look at advertisements in early 20th century magazines or even on the radio and early tv, they tended to tout the virtues of the product–often to absurdity. They seem so innocent and goofy now. When advertising found its groove, it was because the advertisers no longer approached the consumer as a rational agent with fixed aims. They no longer viewed the consumer as an authority they had to satisfy on his own terms.
They recognized the consumers are not so rational and that they could be manipulated into irrational purchases to fulfill desires symbolically. The ad men learned to identify a deep and universally-experienced human need, the sort that no product could truly satisfy, and project it on to the product. This would create an identification with brand and encourage symbolic purchasing. I suppose we have all been conditioned to do this.
The product we see today, a transformation of body and social identity, promises to fulfill the deep human need of social acceptance and self-satisfaction. Change your “identity” and you too can become a hero! Change your body and you can enter the group with power and no social stigma, you can join the entitled victim class! And of course there are all sorts of other things going on like the fact that boys and girls do not know how to be men and women and this promises an easy way out: identify as the cheap and recognizable stereotype to resolve this very natural discomfort we all experience as we mature.
The Left here seems to be caught in the final absurdity of consumer society. The sick commodification of all life has reached the body and shrewdly branded itself as social justice!