I became familiar with the name Milo Yiannopoulos when he bullied actress Leslie Jones on Twitter last summer. I had a new baby and did not pay attention to the specifics of what was said. What I did read was terrifying and I felt for her. I didn’t want to imagine what it was like to be her; a woman of color in Hollywood, not a size zero, who was somehow getting all this backlash from Yiannopoulos and his troll brigade because she was one of the new female Ghostbusters and he didn’t like the movie. I am probably one of the few people who didn’t think the first Ghostbuster was all that, it had its moments, but it didn’t do it for me. Maybe it’s the nostalgia that people crave, the film is highly overrated and I didn’t understand the excitement when the reboot was being conceived or the hate that followed when an all-female cast was revealed. Had the remake been directed by a woman, I would have made an effort to watch it on Video on Demand but as a new mother, I barely had time to brush my teeth let alone watch a movie. I wanted to support Leslie Jones and the other women in the film but it’s hard to show up when you are sleep deprived.
I was bullied in seventh grade. All the girls in my class stopped talking to me and one of the boys became physical; pinching, pulling my hair, leaving thumbtacks facing up in my chair. I hated my teacher for not stopping it. Back then I was sure she knew what was going on and didn’t care. As an adult I learned that she was going through a divorce, and maybe she was too preoccupied with whatever was going on in her life to have realized the level of bullying I was going through.
I was one of two new girls in my class, everyone else knew each other since first grade. I don’t know why but a group of girls who befriended me and the other new girl decided, three weeks into the school year to stop talking to me. Maybe I pissed one of them off but there was no explanation given, there was no gossip about it. It’s as if though they got together and decided that all the girls had to ignore me.
Luckily the bullying didn’t follow me outside of school because there was no texting or social media. It sucked to be snubbed but I wasn’t devastated, I barely knew these people and I got to spend my lunchtime reading. That’s not to say that it didn’t hurt to eat alone but I had a high opinion of myself and felt superior to these girls because they didn’t like Wham!, Duran Duran or the Pet Shop Boys.
The next time I heard Yiannopoulos’ name was sometime in December when he got a book deal with an imprint of Simon & Schuster and a group or critics and celebrities called for a boycott not just of his book but of the entire Simon & Schuster corporation. My first thought was of Lilliam Rivera, a writer I’m acquainted with on Facebook and met once at a conference. Sometime last summer she announced that her debut YA novel The Education of Margot Sanchez was going to be released by Simon & Schuster in 2017.
Lilliam is from the Bronx and currently lives in Los Angeles. I met her briefly at Bindercon in 2015 and she was lovely. She was someone I could have easily been friends with growing up. The character of her book is a girl who has to work in her father’s supermarket for using a credit card without permission. I told her that I too had worked at my father’s supermarket, we bonded over that and marveled at how cool it was to talk about where we grew up on this side of the country.
I hoped her book would find a publisher because I wanted to see her character out in the world. I would have felt less alone if I had read books with a character like Margot Sanchez when I was in seventh grade. I hoped this boycott would not affect the sales of Lilliam’s book. I’m sure that like in Hollywood, sales have a strong impact on who gets hired and I wanted this book to do well so that more women of color get signed to big publishing houses.
Earlier this month, this guy’s name was again at the center of controversy again when riots broke out at UC Berkeley. He had been invited to speak at the university but was later disinvited due to the protests against a prestigious university giving him a platform to spew his hate. I’m of the belief that I’d rather have these people on public record. It will easy to dismiss when he’s being considered for a position of power to overlook his Twitter trolling because “it’s just Twitter”. I want to know who my racists are, I want their opinions challenged by smart people from the opposite side and I want a record that’s more reliable than a tweet.
This past weekend, I sat down to watch Real Time with Bill Maher, Yiannopoulos was the front of the show guest. I got the notes on my phone ready, expecting to write down my grocery list during his interview. When he came out on the stage, I was shocked at how young, cute, English and gay he was! Maybe it’s my own prejudice but I expect twitter trolls not to look like they could be friends with Harry Potter.
During the interview I learned that he was an editor at Breitbart, is openly gay but doesn’t hire other gays “because they are too busy partying and are always late”, only dates black men but yet he is a racist troll who calls himself a free speech advocate. I am all for free speech but some people seem to think that hate speech and free speech are the same, they are not.
Within minutes of his interview he was name calling Lena Dunham but Bill was very strict with him and told him he would not tolerate him bullying a member of the HBO family. Bill was firm with him and Yiannopoulos backed down which surprised me. It reminded me of something my friend Mari, a therapist, told me to do to stop the ex from harassing and threatening to hurt me.
“Tell him let him there is a man in your life now.”
I told Mari that I felt weird saying there was “a man” around when Matt and I had just started dating.
“Just do it.” She said.
I posted a picture of me and Matt on Facebook, new at the time and on Myspace, ensuring that my ex would see. I was surprised when a few days went by, then weeks with no communication from the ex.
“Now that he knows there’s a man in your life, he’ll leave you alone, it’s typical of bullies.” She was right, the minute he got wind that there was a man in my life he stopped sending scathing emails and leaving abusive voice mails. To this day, I have not heard from him.
During the online Overtime segment of the show, Yiannopoulos joined the rest of the panel and basically called Michael Nance, a counter terrorism expert, stupid and said that transgender people were sick. I was still in shock over how a gay man could be so politically insufferable. There was something in the way he laughed when he was called out on his hypocrisy. That nervous laugh was more than self-deprecation, it was self-loathing. As someone who has been there, I was able to recognize it in this guy. It made me wonder what was done to him to make him this way. I suspected some form of abuse turned him into an abuser. The way he talked about transgender people told me he had no empathy for others, let alone himself.
Larry Wilmore held him accountable, and told him to “Go fuck yourself”. It was gratifying to see the bully put in his place but he just laughed it off.
A few days after the Real Time segment aired, Yiannopoulos resigned from his job at Breitbart, lost his book deal and a speaking engagement at The Conservative Political Action Conference. None of this happened because of his appearance on the show but from comments he made on a video defending pedophilia. Is the far right so desperate they will embrace anybody and hail them as a celebrity? Why are some liberals so easily baited into focusing on the actions of a little troll instead of paying attention to the atrocities being inflicted by the biggest troll of all?
I fear for myself and other people of color in the current social climate. Yes, I’m light-skinned and most days I pass when I’m with my white husband and even whiter baby. Other times, I don’t blend and have been asked for my nannying rates. While annoying, it’s not scary for a clueless person to ask a stupid question. It was one thing to be bullied in junior high, I grew up, I got therapy, I am fine. Hopefully my daughter will never know bullying. I’m afraid I won’t know how to protect her when meanness can go viral so quickly. How do we stop cyber bullying when the current people in power are the biggest bullies of all?
I was supposed to post this on 2/24/17 but I left my iPad at work. I had not saved the latest version of it to the cloud. Instead of beating myself up about it, I let it go, what was the big deal about posting on Friday vs. Monday? I’m already two weeks behind on the #52Essays2017 challenge, two extra days was not going to make a difference I thought, until it did.
Over the weekend a woman I respect posted a picture of an art installation in a public space in her town. The post was about gentrification and outside artists/hipster art invading her community. Most people who chimed in agreed with her comment and had harsh words about the installation, myself included. “It looks like a Sasquatch trap”, I said. It got a few “likes” but something was bothering me. I couldn’t sleep that night. The next day, a friend of the artist replied to the thread and explained what the piece meant to her friend who was born and raised in the community but had gone away to art school, moved back to the community and is enjoying some international success. I couldn’t finish reading. I made myself sick. Yes, art is subjective and I stand by my opinion but no one asked me. I became one of those people who joined the brigade without thinking.
I’m usually pretty good about checking myself before replying or posting something online, sometimes I over think it and apparently, other times, I don’t think at all. The original post was not trolling, or bullying, she had a valid point about gentrification. In my way of showing support for one person, I became an asshole to another. The woman who made the original post engaged the friend of the artist in a civilized conversation, she apologized for her initial reaction. I took the coward way out and deleted my comment. That conversation was not for me to begin with, I am not part of that community.
It was physically easy for me to delete the comment. Maybe no one noticed, maybe someone did. I am going to continue to think about this without beating myself up, and consider it a lesson in progress.