By Daniel Payne
At some point we are going to have to address two horrifying subtexts from two recent public pseudo-scandals: one, is there a child sex problem in the gay male community? Two, is our society essentially tolerant of it? That seems to be the nauseatingly reasonable conclusion one could reach after the events of the past week involving provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos and actor-activist George Takei.
In a clip of a livestream webcast that resurfaced last week, Milo, the “dangerous faggot” and campus agitator of (former) Breitbart infamy, spoke approvingly of sexual relationships between older men and 13-year-old boys. “In the homosexual world particularly,” he claimed, “some of those relationships between younger boys and older men” give the young boys “security and safety” and “provide them with love and…a sort of rock for when they can’t talk to their parents.”
“In the gay world,” Milo said later, “some of the most important, enriching and incredibly, you know, life-affirming, important, shaping relationships very often between younger boys and older men, they can be hugely positive experiences for those young boys.” “Provided they’re consensual,” he added, “provided they’re consensual.”
During a different interview, with Joe Rogan, Milo talked approvingly of an alleged sexual encounter he had with a priest when Milo was around 14 years old. Milo also described attending Hollywood “boat parties” and “house parties,” where he saw things that “beggar belief.” As Milo put it: “some of the boys at [these parties] were very young. Very young.” Later, he reiterated for the third time: “There were some very young boys around at that time.” In spite of Rogan’s prompting, Milo refused to name anyone at these parties.
The creeping revulsion you’re feeling is perfectly natural: it’s what any healthy person feels when an adult speaks glowingly about sexual encounters between grown men and children (and refuses to name the perverted criminals who have sex with “very young boys”).
But wait: the perversity does not stop there. In a 2006 audio clip that resurfaced in the midst of the Milo debacle, Star Trek alumnus and liberal activist George Takei, who, like Milo, is gay, spoke fondly with radio host Howard Stern (and co-host Robin Quivers) about his sexual experience as a 13-year-old boy with an “eighteen or nineteen” year-old camp counselor.
At one point Stern asked Takei: “Were you molested in a sense, because you were 13?” Takei replied: “No, no…I thought he was pretty attractive.” Stern and Quivers seem captivated and delighted by the story. Quivers prompts Takei for details—“Ahh! Was he gazing into your eyes the whole time? Was he saying anything?”—while Stern cracks wise: “Who wants a hand job without kissing?” Takei describes the experience: “It was both wonderful and scary and kind of intimidating, and delightful.”
Reflect on that for a moment: two adults were listening to a third adult describe an instance of genuine child sexual abuse, and were both happy and jocular about it.
There are two deeply appalling aspects to these sordid interviews. The first is the possibility that, as Milo put it, sexual relationships between young boys and adult gay men occur “very often.” At the Huffington Post last week, “gay conservative” Chad Felix Greene described his own experiences in this regard, having his first sexual encounters with adult men at age 14. As Greene put it, reflecting on the negative effect such behavior has had on his life and the need to stop this “generational pattern of abuse”: “As much as the LGBT world seems to ignore [older gay men having sex with young teenage boys], it seems fairly universal and unfortunately not time-bound to a period when young gay men had fewer options.”
To be perfectly clear, it might not be universal. Maybe Milo and Greene are both wrong, maybe Takei’s experience was rare, maybe there’s nothing to worry about on a large scale. Certainly the vast majority of adult gay men I’ve known do not seem capable, much less desirous, of having sex with 13-year-olds.
Nevertheless, these revelations are unnerving and profoundly troubling, and the implications of these revelations are terrible, especially combined with many years of research showing disproportionately high rates of child sexual abuse against young gay males. Should we not consider the possibility that something both brutal and endemic is going on here, and that we’re simply ignoring it?
Yet there is another, even more troubling idea at work here: the possibility that these stories have been around for a long time, that many people have known about them for a long time, yet nobody has done anything about it, or even cared.
Consider: Milo’s interview with Rogan took place in September 2015, nearly 17 months ago. His statements on the livestream occurred more than a year ago, in January 2016. Yet his remarks and beliefs did not come to wide attention or constitute a scandal until very recently, when they were publicized by a conservative group opposed to his appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
If a grown male celebrity had spoken approvingly of having sex with 13-year-old girls, including having attended a party where “very young girls” were being used for sex, the reaction would have been swift and ruthless. It would not have taken the man in question more than a year to suffer any consequences, as it did for Milo.
Takei’s own tacit approval of child sex, meanwhile, has been on record for more than a decade, and he has suffered no professional or personal fallout for it. What’s more, his radio hosts were jovial and approving when he described having been molested at 13 years old.
Why the seeming tolerance of this perverted kind of behavior, and these perverted beliefs? Are we willing, for some bizarre and inexplicable reason, to give gay men a pass on abusing children? Are we willing to reflect cheerfully on a man’s reminiscence about being sexually abused when he was 13, simply because the man in question is gay?
Maybe these are just flukes. Maybe the hosts of the “Howard Stern Show” are just uniquely perverted, and maybe the dense fog of the Internet hid Yiannopoulos’s own sick ideology until someone brought it to light. Maybe all of this nastiness does not at all reflect wider gay male culture. Maybe.
But what if it’s not? What if we are ignoring, and have been ignoring for a long time, a cultural tradition that sexualizes and victimizes boys as young as 13 years old?