A Double Standard On Milo?
I received a short time ago this exceptionally thoughtful e-mail about l’affaire Milo from a reader who prefers to remain anonymous:
Your first instincts on Milo are correct, I think. Milo is a degenerate provocateur and conservatives should be very careful to distance themselves from him. He is a deeply unprincipled person who discredits the Christian faith with his flippant use of it as a flag of convenience. That such an individual was invited to speak at a putative conservative conference is a shameful reflection upon what the movement is becoming.
I think it is important to pay attention to the responses on this issue, though, because they can be revealing.
I wonder whether there isn’t something of a double standard being applied to Milo. A number of darlings of the bien pensants have made similar remarks in the past and haven’t been hounded out of public life on account of them. [The UK gay rights campaigner] Peter Tatchell has suggested that the age of consent be lowered to 14 and, in a letter to The Guardian, praised the courage of a book challenging the idea that all sex between adults and children is abusive. George Takei has laughed and joked about being molested as a 13-year-old by a cute camp counselor, denying that it was molestation and calling it cute. StephenFry created a play about the relationship between a Latin master and his 13-year-old pupil which has been criticized for its minimization of the seriousness of what is actually abuse. He has also argued that girls who had sex with rock stars at 14 weren’t victims. Of course, a significant percentage of the rock pantheon is guilty of having sex with underage girls.
The difference between people’s reactions to statements seemingly minimizing ephebophilia when it comes to their heroes as opposed to their opponents is telling. It suggests to me that people recognize that the issue is a lot more complicated than we would like to think and that they are prepared to cut people a lot more slack if they like them, while being merciless if they don’t. I would like to see all sides ratchet responses down a level.
The strength of reactions on this issue seem to arise from the scale of our abhorrence of the abuse of teenagers and young children coupled with the reality that there really are both grey areas and exceedingly controversial facts in this area, facts and grey areas that we would really like to pretend didn’t exist. Some of these facts and grey areas:
1. Our concept of consent is a highly contestable social construction, which differs sharply from other societies, both present and historical, and which relies upon arbitrary lines that determine a lot of sex that people consider consensual to be non-consensual.
2. Young teens’ sexual experiences with adults are nowhere near as negatively experienced as many suppose. This is especially the case for boys with women, who, in the linked research, reacted three to five times more positively than girls with men.
3. There are some significant gender differences here. Discussions of concepts such as consent tend to dissemble the important but unpopular reality of sexual difference.
4. The attitudes to intergenerational sex or sex with underage men held by some in the gay community. As with the scale of the practice of open relationships, it is something that isn’t good PR for the movement.
5. There seems to be growing reason to believe that paedophilia (which is distinct from hebephilia and ephebophilia) is itself a sort of ‘orientation’, a fact which unsettles many of the popular assumptions of the natural goodness of having been ‘born this way’.
There are strong—and, I believe, necessary—taboos surrounding sexual actions towards minors, but I think it is important to lower the temperature of the discussion and to find ways to talk about some of these complicated realities and unwelcome facts. There are important issues here that are ill-served by being addressed through emotional reaction, rather than careful reason.
I think we are seeing in the case of many new ‘affirmative consent’ guidelines the problems that can arise when we are so concerned to tackle abuse that we fail to attend to the messy nature of reality. I think we might be facing similar problems here. Also, when it comes to the case of paedophilia as an orientation—NOT actions of child abuse—I think that we need to remove the instinctive social judgment that the taboo excites (focusing it on abusive actions, not persons with an unchosen predilection) and provide supportive structures so that such persons do not offend.
By the way, in the 1960s, gay icon Harvey Milk took Jack Galen McKinley, a 16-year-old runaway boy, as his live-in lover. I didn’t realize that. According to Milk biographer Randy Shilts, McKinley said he ran away from home and came to New York to throw himself into the gay sex scene. So he was eager.