M*lo Might Be Done, But His Transphobia Lingers
Gabrielle Bellot on the Normalization of Hate
A few days before he lost a book deal, a journalism job, and a spot at C-PAC for his comments on pedophilia, Milo Yiannopoulos appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher to talk about sexual predators targeting children—only now, it was transgender people—like me—who were his targets. “I make no apologies for protecting women and children from men who are confused about their sexual identities,” Mr. Yiannopoulos told Bill Maher when asked about why he had publicly outed and mocked a trans student at University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, in December, after also mis-gendering the student—“on purpose,” Yiannopoulos said. “I think women and girls should be protected from having people—men who are confused about their sexual identities—in their bathrooms.”
When pressed about his obvious connection between trans women and pedophiles—note that Mr. Yiannopoulos did not, as even most right-wing supporters of anti-trans bills do, distinguish between trans people and non-trans sexual predators who might “pose” as trans persons—the provocateur, who is openly gay, responded that transgender people “are disproportionately involved in those sorts of crimes… vastly disproportionately involved in sex crimes. Yes, transgender people,” he clarified, if anyone were wondering about who the targets of that claim—which is untethered to reality—were. “That’s not a controversial statistic,” the former Breitbart writer continued. “This is a psychiatric disorder… like sociopathy.”
In his columns for Breitbart, he was even more forthright about these pathetic myths. “Feminists,” he wrote in a column advocating that trans people—the “T” in “LGBT”—be removed from the acronym, “are getting braver about explaining how the transgender lobby is riding roughshod over women’s rights and how it is damaging young children. It’s time gay men stood up to the plate as well… It seems like any time you hear about an LGBT person causing a scene, it’s a transsexual,” he continued, in a statement that now seems ironic. The article claims to be targeted at trans-rights lobbyists, yet frequently switches to casually attacking all of us, alleging that “trannies forcing their way into the high school girls’ locker room courtesy of Title IX, a set of rules designed primarily to assist female athletes” and cites as proof that “crime rates are sky-high” an article in which trans women speak solely about having to do sex work—prostitution—to survive, a misrepresentation of an article so extreme that Mr. Yiannopoulos would find it hard to pass a first-year-composition course. “Nobody thinks trannies are women,” he told Joe Rogan. In a separate piece, Mr. Yiannopoulos asserts that people like me are “terribly broken people. They are some of the most damaged amongst us, besides my ex-boyfriends. They need therapy, treatment, and to learn to live with the gender they are… we’re been discussing trannies, who are mentally ill and not necessarily retarded,” he continues, as if to be charitable.” “When you see companies supporting trannies at the expense of the non-insane,” he continues in a list of advice to his readers on how to “fight back” against trans people, “don’t give them money.”
Perhaps it’s become clear to you why I think Simon and Schuster’s decision to drop Mr. Yiannopoulos after his pedophilia scandal—not after all of his comments about trans people like me—is a bit hypocritical and frustrating. I’m being nice; it’s fucked up. Simon and Schuster had originally given Mr. Yiannopoulos a $250,000 advance on a book that was slated to be published next month; shortly after news broke of comments about the supposedly sometimes nourishing values of pedophilic relationships that Mr. Yiannopoulos had made months before on the YouTube podcast The Drunken Peasants, the company dropped his book. Why was it fine for Mr. Yiannopoulos to say all of the above—all the worst comments of which were made before he was offered his book deal—and be given the advance? Why was it fine for Mr. Yiannopoulos to repeatedly call me and endless others like me pedophiles, but when he makes a brief (though, of course, problematic) comment about his own pedophilic experiences in a self-proclaimed stoner podcast, that’s where we draw the line? Why are trans people okay to attack and insult and besmirch, according to Simon and Schuster? Why is it that in 1990, the then-CEO of Simon and Schuster dropped Brett Easton Ellis’s American Psycho on the grounds of “decency” after public outcry, yet defended giving someone who said all of the above a book deal on the basis of “free speech?”
I’m really fucking tired of it all. Of how, almost every time I enter a public restroom, I must worry that someone infected by the vile propagandistic lies of Mr. Yiannopoulos will tell me to leave, will scream for a security guard to come remove me from the restroom, will call the police to come escort me from the bathroom at best and possibly even arrest me at worst. I’m tired of how every time I teach a new class I must worry that some student will look at me and immediately think I am a sexual predator, that I am dangerous, solely for being trans. I am tired of how people like Mr. Yiannopoulos reduce the fact that I lost my home after coming out as trans to some stupid game of delusion, as though those of us who are disowned and disinherited are simply making masochistic life choices. Of how a caller on C-Span recently suggested businesses have signs outside that say, No trans allowed as they do, the caller said, for dogs. I am tired of crying when, day after day, I hear the same messages directed at trans women: you are a man, you need help, you are a danger to society, stay away from my daughters you fucking pervert! I am tired of rage, tired of tears, tired of being tired. I am tired of being made to feel ashamed of having been born, of being the perpetual Other.
But when a poll suggests that more people have seen a ghost than a person they knew was trans, perhaps this is the problem. I am less visible than a spirit, yet the specter of how dangerous we supposedly are is more visible than any mere specter. We exist in a ghastly-ghostly neighborhood of the public imagination, a favela of phantoms. We are objects, ideas. Of course, when a cis person who has prejudicial or uncertain ideas about trans people do meet trans persons, they tend to lose them; when we become more human than ghost, it becomes harder to hate us, as we are just as human as anyone else. It’s easy to hate a monster; it’s far more difficult to hate a human.
But the shame persists. Shame is a difficult room to leave, with all its mirrors, when you’ve lived in it for so long that you’ve forgotten you are even in there.
The former Breitbart columnist, like many who hate us, frequently cites a study that claims that suicide rates after one has sex reassignment surgery (a vaginoplasty, for instance) are higher than before said surgery—a claim that the very writer of the study has debunked. That Mr. Yiannopoulos cites this study so often, however, is telling. We are simply test cases to people like him, not complex human beings. In a world where it is so common to hear the demonizing, dehumanizing degradations that people like Mr. Yiannopoulos reduce us to, is it any wonder that some of us can’t take it anymore? In a world where many of us, trans women of color most of all, have had to do sex work to survive because places won’t hire us and we’ve been kicked out of our homes after coming out, is it any wonder that some of us can’t take it anymore? In a world where pieces of shit tell us day after day that trans women will never be “real” women, is it any wonder that some of us can’t take it anymore? Not all trans women suffer, of course; our lives are not narratives of suffering, but are simply lives, like anyone else’s, full of complexities. But many of us do go through a lot. And when we are called pedophiles and dangerous by people who are then given large book deals by major publishing houses, you’ll excuse me if it doesn’t sit right, if it seems utterly hypocritical, if it seems to erase the pain of trans people, when someone like Mr. Yiannopoulos loses a book deal not for what he said about us, but what he said about himself. Call trans women pedophiles, and get a book deal; call yourself one, and lose it. Cheers.
Mr. Yiannopoulos is a master of erecting shields around himself. He can’t be homophobic, he and his fans charge, because he is gay; he can’t be a white nationalist, he and his fans vigorously assert, because the white nationalist website The Daily Stormer doesn’t like him; he can’t be anti-Semitic, he and his fans allege, because he is Jewish (though, religiously, he identifies as Catholic); he can’t be racist, he and his fans point out ad nauseam, because he loves dating black men; he can’t be taken seriously on anything he says, he and his fans imply, because he is openly a troll; he is merely a contrarian, Bill Maher and his fans allege, because he is like a younger Christopher Hitchens (an insult, honestly, to the far more educated Hitchens), so we should not be so shocked by anything he says.
Certainly, nuance matters, and, at times, some of the criticisms lobbed at Mr. Yiannopoulos are based more on hearsay than his actual positions. And it’s unquestionable that you can’t take every word he says at face value; like the best of trolls, he often exaggerates the severity of his claims simply to provoke a reaction, primarily from the left (though Mr. Yiannopoulos, as he himself told Maher, is not necessarily a conservative). But when he is pressed further and becomes more serious, when the troll façade peels away a bit, he often doubles down on his most pathetic beliefs while couching them, briefly, in softer language. What should be clear about all this is that Mr. Yiannopoulos is deeply contradictory, which is most overt on the issue of sexuality, as he is a self-loathing gay man, who has expressed (on the same Drunken Peasants podcast and elsewhere) that gay people wish they were straight, yet who enjoys sex with other men, yet who believes that same-sex marriage only hurts gay people. Mr. Yiannopoulos is no ally even to LGB people; he is on record as claiming that lesbianism is only a phase and that lesbians merely need to find the right dick.
His comments about pederasty in general and having sexual relations at the age of thirteen with a priest—a relationship he says was, understandably, abusive, but which he also said was the kind of relationship that could be enriching—are nothing new. I knew about them months ago, as I had seen the podcast on which he said them. It may come as a particular surprise to a reader to learn I do not particularly like Mr. Yiannopoulos, but I believe in knowing what people I disagree with think and why they think it, all the same. I would have thought Simon and Schuster did, as well, when its CEO was attempting to find justifications for not dropping Mr. Yiannopoulos’s book after the public backlash against its announcement. Perhaps it sounds strange, but I just assumed Simon and Schuster’s CEO knew all of this and still gave him a book deal; after all, his comments about pederasty are not even isolated to that podcast. While Mr. Yiannopoulos is no maniacal sexual predator snatching young boys out of pews, if I had a son beginning puberty, I would feel far better knowing a trans man was in the restroom than Mr. Yiannopoulos.
I was never one of the people calling for Mr. Yiannopoulos’s book to be banned. I do not believe in banning books. Instead, I questioned why he got the book deal in the first place. After all, freedom of speech does not mean everyone gets a book deal; publishing imprints can exercise choice. Even so, I wondered less about why he got his book deal—the conservative imprint that took him, after all, has published people with arguably even more objectionable views, and they wanted the money his name and the controversies they no doubt planned for would generate—than about why the CEO of Simon and Schuster defended him on the basis of free speech, yet a former CEO had denied that right to American Psycho—and Ellis’ novel, at least, aspires to what great literature does by creating a terrifying but human character. I wondered when Simon and Schuster might decide it Mr. Yiannopoulos had bashed trans people one too many times—the sixteenth time? The twenty-eighth? Perhaps the thirty-second will do it.
I still wonder, even as I know the answer. And that answer hurts. For all my indignation, for all the blue flames of my anger, I can’t help but feel a still, quiet sadness, the sadness of forgotten igloos and of roots and of sunken ship’s figureheads. I know the answer. We all do, really. We can say it, but people don’t always hear when ghosts speak.
I just hope no one forgets the question.