I try not immerse myself in American politics. It’s because I don’t care about what happens there (I do, I know better) but because in the last year American politics has become a pool so full of despair that even a cursory glance will sour your mood. This is why I largely missed the ascension of alt-right gay activist Milo Yiannopoulous and his consequent spectacular fall on Tuesday the 21st of February.
Milo had spent most of 2015 and 2016 exercising his privilege as a white, comfortable in skin (cis) gay man to advocate for Islamophobia, homophobia, the denial of reproductive health rights for women and the marginalization of people of colour. He was made senior editor of Breitbart magazine, an online news magazine dedicated to promoting these agendas and began to book speaking engagements around the United States to promote his controversial views. But last week, days before his biggest speaking engagement at the Conservative Political Alliance Conference (CPAC), a video surfaced of Milo excusing pedophilia, citing his sexual relationships as a 13 year old as an example of agency among minors.
By the end of the day, he was dropped from the CPAC roster, his controversial book deal with American publisher Simon and Schuster (which american writer Roxane Gay protested by pulling her book from the publisher) was rescinded and he was forced to resign as editor of the Breitbart News. Bigoted America might overlook many things, but the abuse of children is not one of them.
So how does Milo affect you, or me?
Well, in many ways Milo Yiannopoulos is as much a victim of the views of his time as he is severely disturbed human being, it is possible to be both. He also sheds light on the other-sexual community and how manipulation and molestation of minors is rampant. It would be naive to believe that this only happens in the West, but it happens here in Nigeria too. Being forced to live in the shadows, and hide one’s sexuality puts many young people just discovering their sexual orientation at risk of being manipulated.
Because of the stigma of not having a heterosexual orientation and the unique problems of finding privacy and ‘safe spaces’ where young people can experiment and decide for themselves where their sexualities lie, they are forced to seek out older, financially independent people to provide these safe spaces. Very often these relationships are labelled as ‘mentorships’ and ‘friendships’ but there is always some level of inappropriateness in the best of circumstances, and outright sexual activity in the worst. The onus should be on the older person to set boundaries and ensure that the younger person is mentored in a platonic, filial way. But these older people were also ‘mentored’ by people much older than them, and have been socialized to see sexual activity between them and minors as ‘normal’ provided the minor is an active participant in the seduction or shows traits of ‘maturity’ that their peers don’t. It is a vicious cycle.
I will refrain from using words like ‘molestation’ and ‘grooming’ to describe these relationships because even I know how complicated they can be in real life. But that doesn’t negate the fact that it is wrong.
No matter how ’emotionally’ mature a minor is, the fact that the law restricts them from taking several fairly ordinary decisions without adult supervision or consent suggests that they simply do not have economic and social independence. This means they will never be equal to the adult, no matter how much they drink, or how smart sounding they are. This imbalance of power might be something an adult can ignore, but a minor will always be painfully aware of this imbalance and will make decisions in their relationship with the adult to compensate for this inequality. That imbalance will always make their relationship illegitimate.
It might be too simplistic to dismiss Milo Yiannopoulous’ views on adult/minor relationships as pedophilia, but that doesn’t make it wrong. The LGBT can do better to promote safe filial relationships with minors, they have to.
Edwin Okolo is an author and journalist who has worked with YNaija, TheNativemag and the Naked Convos.