If You’re Going to Have Milo Yiannopoulos On, Be Ready to Talk Trans Issues
Editor’s note: Since this article was written Yiannopoulos has resigned as the senior editor of Breitbart, lost a book deal with Simon & Schuster and was uninvited to speak at CPAC.
Breitbart senior editor and infamous alt-right celebrity Milo Yiannopoulos was a guest on Real Time With Bill Maher recently, an appearance that brought significant online backlash and the cancellation of regular guest Jeremy Scahill thanks to Yiannopoulos’ hateful, and oft-times rather nonsensical, rhetoric. Those familiar with Maher and Yiannopoulos predicted what we’d get was probably two people notorious for railing against political correctness (or as Neil Gaiman likes to call it, treating other people with respect) backslapping each other because freedom. The fact that mainstream free speech “activism” is almost entirely the domain of white men is a little telling, you know, but that’s a topic for another day.
The headlines the next morning, though, were mostly thanks to another guest, Larry Wilmore, telling Yiannopoulos to go fuck himself. What brought on the expletives from Wilmore was Yiannopoulos going off on a tangent regarding trans people as sexual predators and mental deviants.
People book Yiannopoulos for venues because he has a large fanbase you can always count to spread his gospel, but the stated reason is because the subject under debate is free speech. This is how Yiannopoulous certainly frames it, seeing protests in response to scheduled appearances or his Twitter ban as censorship. Of course, between his book deal, being the editor of a mass media outlet and appearing on a highly popular HBO show, it’s fair to say he isn’t really having a problem getting his voice heard.
So let’s set aside Yiannopoulos’ free speech issue as the made-up thing it is because I have some advice for anyone who wants to have the man in their venue in the future. You need to brush up on your basic reading of trans issues because Yiannopoulos is going to bring them up in a damaging way, and he needs to be rebuked. Anything less would be irresponsible.
One of the things he said on Maher’s show was that trans people are disproportional involved in sexual assaults, with the implication from other comments on the show that they are the perpetrators of said assaults and we have to protect our little girls from them. Thing is, Yiannopoulous is technically accurate, but misleading in a terribly unethical way. Trans people are disproportionately involved in sexual assaults… as victims. Reports show that as many as 66 percent of trans people experience sexual assault, and that number goes up further when singling out people of color or the disabled. Contrary to what lawmakers all over this country would like you to believe, if you’re in the bathroom with a trans person, you are far more likely to rape them than they are to rape your child.
That is a statistic that should frighten and sadden anyone who reads it, and it needs to be shouted at people like Yiannopoulos wherever they go lest someone naively believes him in his scaremongering. There’s no time in an interview to Google this. You need to know it.
Yiannopoulos has a long and vicious history of going after individual trans people in online harassment campaigns and articles. They were regular marks for his GamerGate audience when he was that crazy movement’s media mouthpiece, partly because many prominent GamerGate opponents were trans women and uniquely vulnerable to the hacking of deadnames and outing to their communities. Much of the backlash against his appearances at colleges is because he outed and harassed a trans student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee at one. And contrary to Yiannopoulos’ statement on Maher’s show, that trans woman was still a student at the university, as reported by Breitbart itself. Even his harassment of actress Leslie Jones, which finally got him booted from Twitter, follows this pattern. Jones is cis, but her stature, short hair and brash demeanor clearly offend Yiannopoulos’ delicate standards of femininity, and make her an easy target for the people who share his views.
I don’t know whether Yiannopoulos is sincerely transphobic or if this harmful anti-trans crusade he’s been on for several years is merely deplorable performance art, and I don’t particularly care. The effect is the same either way. What matters is that he regularly uses his platforms to spread poison about trans people, as individuals or as a group. He traffics in the false information that they are dedicated sexual predators looking to infiltrate and hurt the rest of this, and it’s just not true. No case where it is claimed to be true ever checks out. It’s a lie, and it’s a lie Yiannopoulos will not waste an opportunity to tell, and anyone having him on best be ready to throw that lie back in his face like the bloody cocktail of hate it is.
Wilmore was there to do that, and I’m thankful. He was also there to remind Yiannapoulos that a primary problem in marginalized people’s lives is how society treats and considers them. To quote Wilmore, “If society said ‘we’re fine with gay people’ and it’s 1890, do you think in 1990 people are going to have an issue with it?”
That’s the actual free speech conversation that needs to be had, not whether or not a man whose words reach thousands or millions is experiencing censorship because a college cancelled his speaking engagement. The question of free speech is what effect speech has, and how can the negative ones be reduced without compromising basic freedom. That’s a far more interesting and meaningful discussion than whether you can scream “FEMINISM IS CANCER” and not have any consequences.
If you, like Yiannopoulos, need a basic primer on transgender issues, the American Psychological Association has a nice one.
by Van Engen