“Do you remember,” he went on, “writing in your diary, ‘Freedom is the freedom to say that a transwoman is a man’?”
“Yes,” said Winston.
O’Brien held up a picture of Danielle Muscato. “Is this a man or a woman, Winston?”
“And if the Party says that she is not a man but a woman? Then what is she?”
The word ended in a gasp of pain. The needle of the dial had shot up to fifty-five. The sweat had sprung out an over Winston’s body. The air tore into his lungs and issued again in deep groans which even by clenching his teeth he could not stop. O’Brien watched him, the picture still in the air. He drew back the lever. This time the pain was only slightly eased.
“Man or woman, Winston?”
The needle went up to sixty. “Man or woman, Winston?”
“Woman! Woman! Woman!”
“No, Winston, that is no use. You are lying. You still think she is a man. Man or woman, please?”
“Man! Woman! Man! Anything you like. Only stop it, stop the pain!”
Abruptly he was sitting up with O’Brien’s arm round his shoulders. He had perhaps lost consciousness for a few seconds… He felt very cold, he was shaking uncontrollably… For a moment he clung to O’Brien like a baby, curiously comforted by the heavy arm round his shoulders. He had the feeling that O’Brien was his protector, that the pain was something that came from outside, from some other source, and that it was O’Brien who would save him from it.
“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? A person born male is a man.”
“Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are a woman. Sometimes they are genderfluid. Sometimes they are all the genders at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.”
He laid Winston down on the bed…. O’Brien motioned with his head to the man in the white coat…
The pain flowed into Winston’s body. The needle must be at seventy, seventy-five. He had shut his eyes this time. He knew that the picture was still there, and still the head of a man. All that mattered was somehow to stay alive until the spasm was over…
“Man or woman, Winston?”
“A man. I suppose it could be a woman…. I am trying to see a woman.”
“Which do you wish: to persuade me that you see a woman, or really to see her in her femininity?”
“Really to see her.”
“…Is the person in the picture a man or a woman, Winston?”
“I don’t know…. A man, a woman, a lizard—in all honesty I don’t know.”
“Better,” said O’Brien.
A needle slid into Winston’s arm. Almost in the same instant a blissful, healing warmth spread all through his body. The pain was already half-forgotten. He opened his eyes and looked up gratefully at O’Brien… If he could have moved he would have stretched out a hand and laid it on O’Brien’s arm. He had never loved him so deeply as at this moment, and not merely because he had stopped the pain. The old feeling, that at bottom it did not matter whether O’Brien was a friend or an enemy, had come back. O’Brien was a person who could be talked to. Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood… In some sense that went deeper than friendship, they were intimates; somewhere or other, although the actual words might never be spoken, there was, a place where they could meet and talk.
O’Brien was looking down at him with an expression which suggested that the same thought might be in his own mind. When he spoke it was in an easy, conversational tone.
“Do you know where you are, Winston?” he said.
“I don’t know. I can guess. In the Human Rights Commission.”…
“And why do you imagine that we bring people to this place?”
“To make them stop being TERFs.”…
“No!” exclaimed O’Brien. His voice had changed extraordinarily, and his face had suddenly become both stern and animated. “No! Not merely to make you stop being a TERF, nor to punish you. Shall I tell you why we have brought you here? To cure you! To make you sane! Will you understand, Winston, that no one whom we bring to this place ever leaves our hands uncured? We are not interested in those stupid hate crimes that you have committed. The Party is not interested in the overt act: the thought is all we care about. We do not merely destroy our enemies; we change them. Do you understand what I mean by that?”…
“How can I help it?” he blubbered. “How can I help seeing what is in front of my eyes? A man is a man.”
“Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes, a man is a woman. Sometimes, a man is a pansexual aromatic trigender. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.”