Sunday, February 19, 2017

On Milo Yiannopoulos

Milo Yiannopoulos has indirectly made life miserable for my department at the University of Washington. The safety of my colleagues remains under threat. You can read some if not all of the story here. I only know what I know from what colleagues have posted on Facebook, an email sent by my department, and what has made the press.

I have my own thoughts about how hate speech should be handled on campus, about the difficulty of navigating an environment in which older professors are uneasy about using gender-neutral pronouns in classrooms while any student can hear faggotcunt on frat row on a Friday night. I have my own thoughts on how Yiannopoulos should have been confronted, and whether or not his invitation from the College Republicans to the University of Washington campus on the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration should have been permitted by the administration. But I don’t want to discuss all that in detail, largely out of respect for my colleagues. Their strategy was different than mine would have been. But they were also braver than me.

I just want to talk about Yiannopoulos for a minute, and the kind of person he is. Although the idea of an openly gay man spreading hatred for black people, women, Muslims, Mexican immigrants, as well as gay and transgender people would be strange for many people, it’s not for me. The Yiannopoulos I just watched on Real Time is a man I’ve met a few times before.

When I was in college, I spent a great deal of time in gay bars where I met many people, among them bigots. Some didn’t like the “gaysians” and a few asked me about the thugs in Harlem, next to Columbia. A late night date told me he didn’t like niggers. People were open about their sexual preferences in regards to race. A favorite line, one which I repeated a couple of times before I grew up: “I’m not racist but my dick should join the KKK.” Follow-up line, “Unfortunately, it no longer has a hood.”   

There was a pattern among at least some of us to define ourselves and each other as sick. I would agree that there was a higher rate or mental illness among gay people, largely due to our circumstances. But that wasn’t the theory I heard. A friend who suffered severe emotional neglect throughout his childhood claimed that all gay men have a genetic propensity to be gay AND a life circumstance that makes them ill. Of me: “The thing about your dad dying when you were a kid.” Asshole.

Where does it all come from? Gay people are all too human, and like black people, Muslims, Hispanics, and Jews, are just as capable of bigotry and self-hatred as anyone else. I don’t believe marginalized people are any more responsible for respecting other marginalized people than are non-marginalized people. But I want to hypothesize that there might be a special character to bigotry among gay people.  

It’s true that we are all on a journey to figuring out our sexuality, a journey that can be life-long for some of us; that is as true for non-queer people as it is for queer people, if not to the same extent. On that journey, you find yourself figuring out ways to define yourself and in the process, in order to make sense of yourself, you need to fall back on stereotypes and tropes. And in the process of defining yourself you end up defining others. It’s not that the bigots I knew among the queers were unintelligent. They read hard books. They were more adventuresome than the non-queer people I knew. But there’s only so much mental energy they could expend when they tried to figure out the world around them. And so eventually you just got allgaymenhaveageneticpropensitymarriedtoabadexperience and idon’tlikegaysians. There was also a frustration with those who nursed their victimhood, partly out of a fierce desire not to be a victim, and the desire to be non-politically correct grew out of that frustration. And then there were the people who were happy to call themselves victims who were playing the Oppression Olympics, and who ripped into other marginalized groups in order to cement their victim status.   

We weren’t all Yiannopoulos. After watching the clip, I see an intellectually impoverished man who likes to tell 100-year-old jokes about black dick, coke-addled fags, and those child-molesting trannies. He likes to hurt other people. He’s incurious. Whatever intelligence you think he has comes from his English accent. He’s empty. He’s got nothing. He is nothing.

The College Republicans I knew loved besting their intellectual opponents. They armed themselves with The Federalist Papers and Edmund Burke, and they avoided The Bell Curve. Message to College Republicans: If this is the person you invite to your campus, this is who you are, and just as Larry Wilmore tells Yiannopoulos to go fuck himself, I will say the same to you.

The gay bigots I knew weren’t Yiannopoulos. If anything, they hated pet gays. They were more than that, you see. They were their own people. Yiannopoulos wants to be the Paul Lynde of Neo-Nazis.

But I guess evil and stupidity are often birthed within the hearts and minds of mediocre, if not terrible, and intelligent, if not too intelligent, men.      

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