6 Reasons to STFU if you don’t have a uterus

Emma Barnes
6 min readJul 3, 2022
Beatriz at Dinner is a goodie. John Lithgow’s character’s self-talk: “i’m nailing this”

Hi friend,

Yesterday my disabled, trans, uterus-owning friend in the USA noticed that the novel they’re reading (1984, by George Orwell) resembles the state they live in, and I shared that moment with you. When you scoffed at them and noted some differences between Airstrip One and the USA, you (and I cannot stress this enough) fucked up.

I’m going to describe for you here

  1. what you said
  2. what a category error is
  3. the two category errors you made in one short sentence
  4. some more about 1984
  5. why you’re not the first privileged person to make these errors
  6. a practice I developed for myself 6 years ago which means I don’t make this specific error any more.

And that’s all. Criticism can be hard to incorporate. Good luck.

What You Said

“The USA is not a communist dictatorship with state-controlled media”

True. All true.

One can say something true and be grotesquely mistaken all at the same time. Such is the magic of the category error.

Category Errors

Thinking 1984 is a book about situational facts is like thinking $50 is a slice of decorated plastic. It’s a category mistake. A category mistake is when we confuse something for another kind of thing — a monetary value for its token for example. In this case you’ve mistaken an allegorical novel for a recipe book. It’s the kind of mistake a citizen of Airstrip One might make, to be honest. Well, if they hadn’t burned all the allegorical novels it would be. You’ve picked up all the details and entirely missed the point. I’ll remind you that I’m the Autistic one here. Pull your socks up.

On second thoughts, leave them down. And quit golf. It’s greedy.

Your second category error? Well actually this one happened first. You responded to an observation made by a citizen of the USA. More than just a citizen, they are targeted by their government in various ways. They are queer, disabled, trans, and they have a uterus. Like, babes, when you hear from them about this, don’t talk. Listen. Dial down the corrections and dial up the curiosity! You’re about to learn something if you can STFU for a little minute. It’s hard. I know.


Welcome to Mount Stupid

So what’s the category error here? You mistook a lived experience report for an academic argument. There is no disagreeing with someone’s experience. You can try “that’s not how I understand the relationship between the USA and Airstrip One.” But, babes, you don’t live there. You’re not a literature scholar. You don’t even have a uterus. Whatever gave you the idea your opinion was an informed one must have come from the peak of Mount Stupid. What you learned in school and at university as a white dude in the colony was 1000 different shades of bullshit. You’re a big boy now. It’s time you noticed some of the ways in which you’ve been misled.

Mount stupid is an actual place. It’s a big place. Lots of people live there. It’s a nice time.

Sidenote — 1984’s details? Shmetails.

Here’s my top ten things to notice about 1984’s dystopia:

  1. the citizens police each other
  2. the citizens fear the state yet don’t “know” that they do
  3. This atmosphere is maintained by mass surveillance
  4. citizen policing and reporting
  5. media full of terror and war
  6. the state brands itself as “good”
  7. the citizens buy it
  8. the citizens perform their affiliation to the state
  9. the citizens’ diet of information is unreliable
  10. the normativity of the society is extreme

Think back on the novel and you may remember uniforms, guards and police, military visibility, and a protagonist who can see as clearly as you can how obscene it all is. You might remember the ministries of Peace, Plenty or Truth, where Winston worked at fiddling the historical record. You might remember “the Party”, or socialism, or Big Brother. These are not the only ways to hush a rebellion. And they’re not achievable ways in a proud free market. In a freedom-loving land, how about privatising some of those departments, like the Ministry of Truth? Something like Fox News, for example? I mean, the purpose isn’t to dupe everyone. It’s just to sow enough doubt that revolution is impossible, right? Secondly, you can’t afford guards in every corner, so you’ll need technology to do the watching. Well, I think that tech exists, the only trick will be getting everyone to install it themselves. And lastly, in a place where you can’t literally rewrite history, you’ll need a strong ideological lens. If your citizens adopt it of the own free will, so much the better. Something like, say, neoliberalism.

Far be it for me to convince you of all of this. Actually, you’ve made great strides if you notice that the factoids in 1984 aren’t really the point: Any dystopian society out here in the real world would love you to only notice the factoids. Congratulations on spotting this — you’re no longer the bitch of every possible dystopia bar one.

DARVO, Mt Stupid, Freedom, the Minsitry of Truth: I can’t keep up with the gymnastics of complicit people

You’re not the first privileged person to make this error

We’re trained to automatically discount the words of people less “statusy” than ourselves. The training begins well before we go to school, but notice that in the 12 years of schooling before you “came of age”, you were aware on some level that the truth-authority your teachers wielded over you was artificial and felt unfair. You often disagreed with them. Yet you learned to suck it up and wait your turn. By the time your turn came, you’d forgotten what a load of crap authority actually is.

You’d forgotten that when you were silenced throughout maths class in year 3, you knew exactly who in the class was following along comfortably and who was struggling, in a way that the teacher never could. You could have approached her and told her how her writing was too small for Jenny at the back, but she never asked. Jenny eventually tuned out and when the teacher embarassed Jenny in front of the class, your rage grew, and you piped up. The teacher scolded your tone. She called you insubordinate and sent you to the principles office.

This is a tiny, 8 hours-per-day version of what marginalised people experience 24–7. When they say “this place feels like Airstrip One”, They’re at the front line. They’re being scorched. They’re telling us so we don’t all get scorched. They’re little maths-class you but in a room full of teachers. We’re the teachers. We’re trained to doubt them because we because mistake their lived experience for a theory — the category error. This is what lies beneath the Dunning Kruger curve — privilege. Wake right the fuck up.

Here, meet the staff. Now, is anyone smart enough to listen?

A practice I developed to help me over Mount Stupid.

I read a pithy quote online somewhere from a writer I admired. It went something like this:

The thing about rich white people, especially the menfolk, is they think their voices belong in every conversation. They don’t.

I was a rich white people, especially menfolk. I thought, “well, if I’m sometimes speaking where I should be listening, and the people I should be listening to are people that don’t look like me. I need to STFU when I hear black and brown people talking. I’m gonna make it a practice to never offer an opinion to a black or brown person.” One decision has never gained me so much knowledge about the world. Everything changed for me. The first conversation I had with a black woman after making that decision was the most important conversation of my life. I did a lot of listening and I learned so much about myself and the world I inhabited. (I had a lot to learn!)

After that, I deliberately followed a handful of black disabled women on social media and just listened. For years. I never inserted myself in their feeds or engaged them in conversation. I just listened. You can too.



Emma Barnes

Autistic, trans, survivor, abolitionist @friedkrill on Twitstagram