Not Everyone Has a Uterus in a Jar
On Libs of TikTok and the problem of defining Woke Ideology
The recent controversy and attention given to the wildly popular Twitter account, Libs of TikTok, is illustrative of a longstanding problem anyone attempting to define Woke Ideology faces.
Some background is probably needed here, since I suspect most of my readers have, like I have, attempted in the last few years to remove themselves as much as possible from the outrage circus of social media. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about (good on you, seriously!), Libs of TikTok is a Twitter account that aggregates an often horrifying collection of some the most extreme excesses of populist Woke Ideology posted on another social media network called TikTok.
Most people know what Twitter is, I suspect, but TikTok is newer and requires explanation as well. On TikTok, videos replace text posts as the format of social sharing: users film themselves saying or doing things and then other people watch them and share them. For the vast majority of users, these are generally short videos of themselves singing songs or doing silly things, while there is a secondary but significant set of users who create political content such as short screeds about Biden or taxes or the Ukraine war, etc.
Being social media, the format of TikTok compels a certain kind of narrative style which constrains what it being said. Just as Twitter’s character limit and refusal to allow users to edit previous posts defines how statements are made, TikTok’s video format encourages a kind of compressed narration meant to elicit immediate reaction rather than deeper engagement.
So, now, Libs of TikTok. Since November of 2020, that account has been regularly reposting videos from TikTok and other sources comprising some of the most extreme and ridiculous excesses of Woke Ideology. Here is one, for example, of a person explaining their use of neopronouns (toyself and fishself):1
Or as another example, there is this one of a person showing their preserved uterus after gender transition surgery:
(There’s much more, but for your mental health I suggest there are probably better uses of your time than spending it there.)
Libs of TikTok makes very good use of the outrage mechanisms coded into social media, just as all other popular social media accounts do. Unless you are already a well-known celebrity, outrage is the only way to draw attention to your social media presence, but outrage itself is never sufficient. Instead, that outrage must fit into a larger narrative, and the most popular and influential social media accounts carefully weave that narrative from outrage itself.
The narrative of that account is quite straightforward: ‘libs’ (liberals, but more correctly the Woke) are completely unhinged people who are being deeply untruthful about their ultimate goals. The recurring topics of the videos fall into just a handful of categories:
Queer/Trans/Non-binary people discussing their gender identity and surgeries
Public school teachers, parents, and others discussing the way they talk to young children about gender, sexuality, and race
Footage of public and unchallenged robberies, other crimes, and urban decay in liberal cities, especially in those which have implemented de-policing.
Here is an example of the third, which is rather close to my heart since I know the specific location it was filmed and even recognise some of the depicted homeless people from my days as a social worker in Seattle:
Reading through the account, one can very quickly get the sense that the United States is in a situation of complete free-fall and near civil war, and its focus on extremism from ‘libs’ has unsuprisingly generated endless ire from progressives and others. The problem for critics of the account, however, has always been that Libs of TikTok wasn’t actually posting any falsehoods or smears, but merely mirroring back the most extreme and ignored excesses of Woke Ideology.
Until very recently, the person behind the account was anonymous. A journalist—who only a few weeks ago publicly bemoaned doxxing2 and family harassment she herself had experienced—just doxxed the anonymous Twitter user after visiting several of the person’s family members in attempts to confirm the identity. Her declared reasons for doing so were specifically that Libs of TikTok has led to harassment of queer, trans, and non-binary people, along with the firing or discipline of several people after their public posts were made even more public.3
There is of course a rather hypocritical stance here in these criticisms,4 as doxxing has been a primary weapon used by liberals and especially Antifa for the last six years. In their uses of doxxing, however, often the names and addresses of individuals are published, gleaned from hacked private chats and servers, infiltration into groups, or mass appeals to help identify conservative or right wing protesters (as for example the Capitol protest on 6 January, 2021).
More important, however, is that the kind of narrative that Libs of TikTok weaves from its postings mirrors the “definition by extremes” that has been until recently the primary political narrative of liberals. Consider for example Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” statement during her failed presidential candidacy. Democrats defined all supporters of Donald Trump by the most extreme examples of his supporters, leading to a situation after his election where liberals became convinced that a full half of the United States consisted of white nationalist homophobes. This occurred specifically because no more moderate or less ideologically captured people who opposed Clinton were admitted into the narrative.
Libs of TikTok does the same thing for liberals. By defining liberalism by the excesses of Woke Ideology, the account creates the sense that schools are full of gender-variant teachers discussing their own genitals and explaining anal sex to third graders.
To see the problem, let’s discuss the Seattle video I posted above. That corner, which is in downtown Seattle just between the largest tourist market and the largest shopping center, has been a nightmarish place for at least two decades. I know this because I actually lived there and walked past it at least twice a week for 16 years. If a person was looking for crack, heroin, or meth, that’s where they would go, and when I was a social worker that’s where my clients went.
From that video, it’s gotten visibly much, much worse, but without that context a viewer wouldn’t know that. Also without that context, a viewer might not know that the police had a longstanding policy of letting that area remain that way because it was easier to contain the problem. Having the vast majority of the open-air drug deals occurring on one city block—rather than letting those exchanges disperse throughout the commercial core—actually makes some sense. That being said, it was also a really terrifying place, and it’s gotten more terrifying.
The same sort of context is missing from the other content of the Libs of TikTok account. These extreme and often terrifying things are absolutely being said by people working with children, and really extreme beliefs about gender and race are absolutely being held and broadcast by some of the Woke. However, just as that street corner in Seattle is not all of Seattle, what Libs of TikTok highlights is not all of liberal belief.
This must also be said for the other side, too. The most extreme and frothing people are held up by liberals and especially by the Woke as exemplars of anyone who isn’t part of their own ideological formation. Everyone else is a white supremacist, or a fascist, or a trans-hating Christian fundamentalist, or whatever else they can pull together as a caricature of evil incarnate.
It’s not true, though. Yes, there are some really nasty people out there, but they’re likely just as numerous as the post-op transsexual bragging about keeping a uterus in a jar. That is, they are extremely rare, and defining entire groups of people by their most extreme examples is both dishonest and useless.
Ideologies cannot be defined this way, either. The solution I’ve found in my manuscript for this problem is to use the framework of religion, because ideology is really ultimately about belief. Some Christians believe the world was literally created in 6 days, but the vast majority do not. Therefore, to define Christian belief about the creation, you have to accommodate both the majority belief while also acknowledging the more extreme versions of that belief. Likewise for communion: many Catholics believe in the transmutation of the host, most Protestants do not. While to each group the other’s belief is heresy and not a true Christian belief, both positions exist within the larger framework of Christianity.
Woke Ideological beliefs about race and gender function this same way. Some of the Woke truly believe there is no such thing as sexual difference, that white people are inherently racist, and that only giving full authority of political matters to oppressed minorities would make society equal. Many others have much more nuanced or even unformed opinions or beliefs. Some of these beliefs are extremes, others of these are core beliefs. Parsing the difference is a very fraught and difficult process, but it’s the only way to understand—and also be truly honest about—what’s happening.
In case longtime readers had any suspicions that what I wrote about in Here Be Monsters doesn’t actually happen…
publicizing private information about a person online.
Examples include several teachers who admitted on social media that they were being sexually inappropriate to children, and a medical student who admitted to purposefully missing a patient’s vein with a needle as retaliation for the patient’s political beliefs.
Angie Speaks has a great short essay on this matter: https://www.newsweek.com/libs-tik-tok-expose-part-new-trend-shaming-private-citizens-who-dissent-opinion-1699120