A Partial Defense of Milo Yiannopoulos

Some thoughts on the Milo Yiannopoulos brouhaha. Of course the former Breitbart.com editor’s videotaped comments, in which he seemed to condone sex with young teenage boys, are appalling. And, like many others, I found his denials and apologies to be insufficient.

But I’d like to put some other things on the table to explain why I’m not yet willing to write off Milo—and you shouldn’t, either. I’m not just referring to his ability to outrage liberals and left-wingers, or to his courage—sometimes physical courage—in defending free speech against their occasionally violent reactions. Rather, I’m talking about a series of even more courageous statements that set him apart from other gay conservatives, and even most straight conservatives, as someone willing to challenge liberal orthodoxy on gay and other sexual issues.

Let’s start with some of the other things he’s said about pedophilia. In an article published after Salon ran a sympathetic self-portrait by an avowed pedophile, Milo blasted the left for seeking to “normalise child abuse,” and he did so in language that uncomfortably linked this effort to the previous normalization of homosexuality and transgenderism:

Horrifyingly, there are signs of a new pedophile acceptance movement forming on the Left. [T]he gay rights movement is being used as a template. First comes the argument that pedophiles are just “born that way,” absolving them of any moral responsibility for their desires. Then comes the argument that pedophiles are just normal people, like the rest of us, but somehow impoverished or victimised by their own condition.

Inevitably, our society’s current ostracisation of pedophiles will be portrayed as an injustice: an oppression from which pedophiles must be liberated, or for which they deserve our sympathy.

Milo has called the notion that gays are “born this way”—that there is a gay gene—a “big lie,” stating, correctly, that “the science suggests that it’s a mixture of nature and nurture,” and, provocatively, that “in my own experience it’s certainly mostly nurture.” In the same interview, he spoke with amazing sympathy and open-mindedness about the gay conversion therapy that it is de rigueur to mock (and, in some places, outlaw): “Lots of people say it works, and lots of people say it doesn’t work. But people who say it doesn’t work— it’s always ‘bigoted!,’ ‘hateful!,’ — But there are just as many people who you will never hear about because the media doesn’t want to report them who say ‘yeah, it transformed my life, I’ve got a wife and I’ve got kids and I’m happy now and I wasn’t before.’” Further, he has come to the defense of a professor who scandalized the Society of Christian Philosophers with a lecture arguing that homosexuality is a disability, triggering the hysteria that one would expect.

Most notably, in an uncharacteristically serious and profoundly moving statement last fall he said that he would take a “straight pill” in order to be a father. In honestly confronting this choice, Milo cut to the heart of what troubles many social conservatives about the gay movement and several other modern “progressive” movements—the placement of sexual gratification above the basic human need to create and nurture children.

It’s hard to think of a single other prominent gay person, Left or Right, who would do this. Certainly not the “innocuously mainstream gay Republicans” of GOProud who Robert Tracinski favorably contrasted to Milo in a recent column at The Federalist. For that matter, it’s hard to think of too many prominent straight people, Left or Right, who would own up to approving of what Milo said. Gay or straight, Left or Right, those who parrot the ideological fashions and clichés of the day are far more likely to brand such honesty as “self-loathing,” as gay #NeverTrump conservative James Kirchick did in this attack on Milo.

What particularly strikes me in reading and listening to Milo is that it’s only every once in a blue moon now that one hears—no, it’s not that frequent anymore. One never hears this kind of open discussion about topics like homosexuality or abortion, or race, or a host of other topics about which discussion is now forbidden. It reminds me of the discussions in the late ’60s and early ’70s when I came of age politically. I was on the left side of those discussions, and I might still be, or at least be a lot closer to it than I am—if discussion were still allowed. Then one could actually debate whether gays would prefer to be straight, and would take a pill to do so, without automatically invoking screams about Dr. Mengele. Liberals were still allowed, even expected, to argue for abortion in terms of balancing life interests rather than merely shrieking “reproductive rights!” One could still suggest that perhaps racial understanding was best served by everyone going about their business rather than picking at scabs in ESTian “conversations” in which only one side is allowed to converse. One could even talk about the pros and cons of the emergency wartime internment policy adopted and upheld by those well-known right-wing racists Franklin D. Roosevelt and William O. Douglas.

Exceedingly rare statements like Milo’s are a refreshing injection of genuine and open thought into an increasingly Orwellian political dialogue. And, for all the hand-wringing about his coarsening of the culture, I think this makes him more of a positive than a negative influence on it.

But how do I square these refreshingly honest statements with the interview of him apparently justifying sex with young teens? I don’t, other than to say that Milo is a very interesting work in progress, and direction is far more important in politics than current position. I don’t think the Milo of that video and the Milo who speaks movingly of his desire to be a father can coexist. And given the direction Milo seems to be moving, I think it’s far more likely that a few years from now he will have fully renounced the first video rather than the “straight pill” statement.

Meantime, while it was probably appropriate to disinvite him from CPAC (and maybe even weird of the American Conservative Union to have invited him in the first place), conservatives should not join the Left in piling on and seeking to destroy him.

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About Dennis Saffran

Dennis Saffran is a Queens, N.Y.-based appellate attorney and political and policy writer whose work has appeared in City Journal, The Federalist, the Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere. Follow him on twitter @dennisjsaffran.