Today, the Conservative Political Action Conference canceled the speech of professional provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos later this week after the release of taped remarks in which, among other things, he speaks approvingly of “consensual” relationships between “younger boys and older men.” The belief that children can consent to sex is despicable, but the expressions of horror from both liberals and conservatives over much more benign remarks on the tape suggests they’re protesting too much.
In the brouhaha over Milo’s comments, his detractors are relishing the opportunity to use sex to take down a gay voice that has made them uncomfortable. The loathsome remarks should indeed dampen his career, but the same standard should be applied to other aspects of American culture that glorify sexualizing children. To me, the pass given to the romanticized molestation of TV’s Archie on the new CW show “Riverdale” is the worst recent example.
On the show, high school sophomore Archie Andrews is shown having a sexual affair with music teacher Miss Grundy. The show acknowledges the forbidden nature of relationship, but problematizes only the risk of getting caught – not the predation itself. In fact, when Miss Grundy urges Archie to keep their romance a secret, she says “I could lose my job, you could be expelled, we could go to jail!” – as if teens who are victims of sexual abuse face the same consequences as their molesters. Other Hollywood shows such as “Pretty Little Liars” have romanticized relationships between teen girls and male teachers.
Far beyond Hollywood, American society over-sexualizes children. Perhaps worst is “comprehensive sexual education,” in which as early as junior high school, students are taught how to have sex “safely.” Since we have decided as a society that teens under 16 (in some states 17 or 18) cannot consent to sex, talking to them approvingly about having sexual relationships undermines their innocence and gives sanction to non-consensual sex instead of teaching strategies to avoid being victimized, and resources should they be abused.
Clearly Milo shares some of these problematic attitudes in American society, but the fury unleashed at Milo in the last day is disproportionate. Most of his remarks are actually inoffensive:
- He said the age of consent is “roughly the right age,” though “there are certainly people who are capable of giving consent at a younger age.”
Well, of course. There are people who are mature enough to vote at 17, and people who are mature enough to drive at 15. Milo recognized that some children are mature enough to consent to sex before the legal age, but he did not say the law should allow them to do so. What do his critics think, then 100 percent of children one day before the age of consent are too immature, and 48 hours later all are mature enough? Maturity for consent is a spectrum – as for everything, but the law has to pick a number – as for everything. These particular remarks are boringly pedestrian.
- He praised “coming of age relationships, the relationships in which those older men help those young boys to discover who they are, and give them security and safety and provide them with love and a reliable and sort of a rock where they can’t speak to their parents.”
Those comments were in the specific context of discussing his own molestation. In this part of the interview, he proposed no legal changes, instead justifying (later with a crude joke) the role his victimhood played in his own life. If we shame victims who speak honestly about their own experiences but do not condemn them enough, fewer victims will speak honestly.
- He said “You’re misunderstanding what pedophilia means. Pedophilia is not a sexual attraction to somebody 13-years-old who is sexually mature. Pedophilia is attraction to children who have not reached puberty.”
He’s right. The English language has different terms – hebephilia and ephebophilia – for people attracted to post-pubescent boys. I’m not sure why Milo didn’t use those terms to clarify his point, but he shouldn’t be condemned for having a better vocabulary than his critics.
- He said, “I think in the gay world, some of the most important, enriching and incredibly life affirming, important shaping relationships very often between younger boys and older men, they can be hugely positive experiences for those young boys they can even save those young boys, from desolation, from suicide… providing they’re consensual.”
Here too, most of what Milo said is inoffensive. We shouldn’t be afraid of recognizing that people experience victimhood in all kinds of ways. Some former POWs and Holocaust survivors describe experiencing tremendous growth through their suffering. That doesn’t mean torture and genocide are OK! Just because people have complicated feelings about incest and domestic violence, to take two more examples, doesn’t mean we should silence them from trying to articulate their beliefs. So again, speaking as a survivor of sex abuse, Milo should be given wide latitude to describe and speculate about his experience.
The problem comes in the final word of his remarks – that children can consent to sex with adults. They can’t, and with his concluding phrase Milo gives pedophiles an excuse to justify their predation – “the boy agreed!” But consent to sex is not the mechanical act of saying yes. An adult in an advanced of Alzheimer’s may be able to answer “yes” if invited to have intercourse, but that’s not consent. Similarly, young children don’t have enough maturity and judgment for adults to know that their “yes” really is a yes.
Milo’s undermining of the concept of statutory rape is disturbing, but no more so than Hollywood glorifying teachers having love affairs with underage students. Why have so many people chosen to throw the book at Milo?
I think it’s because Milo’s flaunting of his own homosexuality makes both liberals and conservatives uncomfortable, albeit for different reasons. Liberals want very much to side with downtrodden gay people, and when he fights political correctness while calling them “peaches” and other queer terms of endearment the cognitive dissonance is too much to bear. Conservatives, long accustomed to fighting gay marriage and other LGBT causes, have been flummoxed to discover that that the loudest voice attacking political correctness is from a group they haven’t considered natural allies.
I’m not enamored of Milo Yiannopoulos – and not only because “gay Jewish conservative opinion writer” was supposed to be MY thing. He often seems more interested in promoting himself than any particular set of ideas, and his unctuous showmanship rubs me the wrong way. And as I said, I deplore his idea that children can consent to sex. But his dis-invitation from CPAC for remarks that have been misinterpreted, that share attitudes not uncommon in America, and that he has apologized for is a dangerous precedent even for a self-proclaimed dangerous faggot.
Gay people have been unfairly associated with pedophilia for decades, and the latest scandal (as it were) feeds into that association. Milo should be condemned for his comments, and allowed to go back to making us uncomfortable – for good or for bad.
David Benkof is a columnist for The Daily Caller. Follow him on Twitter (@DavidBenkof) or E-mail him at [email protected].