On Monday, February 20, following the unearthing of video interviews in which he seemed to countenance pedophilia, Milo was disinvited to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), and his forthcoming book, Dangerous (for which he had received a six-figure advance), was canceled by Simon & Schuster. The following day, Milo resigned from the political website Breitbart.com after several employees threatened to walk out if the alt-right publication didn’t terminate him. These events followed months of rampant controversy: a Twitter war with SNL star Leslie Jones that got him banned from the social media site, a riot before a speaking engagement at Berkeley, and an exhausting list of other offenses and provocations. The week of Valentine’s Day, Jeremy Scahill, editor of The Intercept, canceled his appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher because he refused to share the stage with the out-gay-Catholic-alt-right blogger. The show, as they say, went on. Although the interview itself was nothing special, Maher enthused about Yiannopoulos as the second coming of Christopher Hitchens — only gay — and said he would be happy to have the young provocateur on his show again. The Real Time appearance could have been a star-making move for Milo.
Then this snippet from an interview he did on comedian Joe Rogan’s podcast last year, in which he discussed his alleged abuse at the hands of a priest when he was a young teen, got passed around the internet:
Yiannopoulos: If it wasn’t for Father Michael, I would have given far less good head.
Rogan: Was there a real Father Michael? Did he make you suck his dick, for real?
Yiannopoulos: He didn’t “make me.” I was quite enthusiastic about it.
Rogan: How old was he at the time?
Yiannopoulos: I don’t know … He was quite young. Quite hot.
This exchange undoubtedly made a lot of people uncomfortable, but it’s hardly a reason to get booted out of a conference, lose a book deal, and be forced to quit one’s job. It’s not uncommon for victims of sexual abuse to rationalize the trauma as a rite of passage or a learning experience. Milo is not the first person to have said such a thing, not by a long shot. Clearly, the folks at CPAC and Breitbart simply couldn’t stomach hearing their gay minion — who had certainly been outspoken before about his preference for “black cock” — speak out about his prolonged relationship with a Catholic priest when he was 14.
But that was just the beginning of the outrage. Rogan went on to press Yiannopoulos further on the subject of pedophilia. He asked if Milo had ever hung out at any of X-Men director Bryan Singer’s alleged parties. This is where the exchange got really sick. Yiannopoulos started talking, at length, about parties he’d been to in Hollywood — parties where the media elite engaged in unprotected sex with underage boys. Every time Rogan asked him to name names, Milo deferred, saying that he “practices discretion.” This is the same Milo who, at his college speeches, singles out students in the audience in order to ridicule them in front of his adoring fans, the same man who says transgendered women should not be allowed in the restrooms comporting with their gender identity, knowing full well he’s exposing them to further victimization. This same man was claiming to practice discretion for pedophiles who also happen to be powerful Hollywood executives. Milo, who has such a bad poker face, couldn’t hide the fact that he was gloating about the sense of privilege he feels to be welcomed into the company of these elite creeps.
Milo Yiannopoulos is an out gay man. His campus tour is called “Dangerous Faggot,” and it is wildly popular with right-wing students who come out to hear his “politically incorrect” diatribes. But what, exactly, are we supposed think is “dangerous” about him? That he mocks the powerless while flaunting his collusion with the powerful? Doesn’t that just make him another run-of-the-mill — albeit rather flaming — Republican?
There’s another clip of Milo floating around the internet that I find more telling than the Joe Rogan interview. It’s from five years ago on 10 O’Clock Live, a Daily Show–type program on Great Britain’s Channel 4. In the clip, Yiannopoulos debates the subject of gay marriage with none other than gender-bending icon of the ’80s, Boy George. Attired characteristically in a sequined jacket, with tons of make-up and a hat fashioned after the one Burgess Meredith wore as the Penguin, Boy George seems entirely his flamboyant self. Milo, sitting beside him, is a stark contrast: a stiff, mumbling nerd in a shirt and tie that look like they came from Kmart. Moderator David Mitchell introduces Milo as a “writer for the Catholic Herald, who is Catholic and gay.” Then he introduces the other guest as “a musician and singer, who is also — I was surprised to learn — gay.” The joke draws a huge laugh due to the hilarious juxtaposition between the swanky pop icon and the uptight, buttoned-down reporter. Poor Milo — his hair buzzed on the sides, with curly fringed bangs drooping down — seems to sheepishly shrug, “I’m gay, if that’s okay?”
In the debate, Milo trots out the standard conservative attacks on same-sex marriage — e.g., heterosexual unions are the “glue of society” — but the discussion takes a weird turn when he admits to Mitchell, Boy George, and the studio audience that he wishes he wasn’t gay — a strange psychological ball to drop in the middle of a debate. In response, Boy George, in his seriously awesome pink top hat, reaches out to Milo and says: “I want you to be happy.” It’s a touching moment; one can imagine the pop icon has learned how to do this over his nearly 40 years of speaking up for LGBTQ people. Before Milo was even born, Boy George was helping kids who experienced the same self-hatred Milo is very publicly going through. Could anyone picture the Milo we know and hate these days extending that kind of compassion to an at-risk youth?
Even back at the time of 10 O’Clock Live, there was more than one Milo. You can practically see Milo the Gay wrestling with Milo the Catholic. Boy George trounces him in the debate, aided by the audience’s clear support for gay marriage. Even Mitchell, supposedly moderating, gets in a few barbs at young Milo’s expense. Through it all, Milo just sits there, stewing like Draco Malfoy, determined that someday people will take him seriously.
Five years later, during the interview on Real Time, Bill Maher, after mentioning that Milo is gay, erupts into laughter, chortling “Spoiler alert!” Milo rolls his eyes and retorts, “What tipped you off?” He’s a changed man now, in appearance. His hair is straightened and bleached, and even though he often wears suits when doing live engagements, his tanned chest is exposed and he is laden with necklaces. Milo now knows how to drop the word “fabulous,” and he waves his hands around a lot. He must have taken a cue from Boy George in that debate: Maybe the key to being taken seriously is to be outrageous! When Bill Maher comments that he “looks like Brüno,” Milo flinches, perhaps suddenly realizing that whoever he’s hired to style him has indeed been fashioning him after the Sacha Baron Cohen character. Milo’s platinum-blond hair, his tracksuits, his gold chains, all went out of fashion eons ago.
While Milo largely behaved himself during the televised interview, in the “Overtime” segment posted on YouTube, he flashed his “politically incorrect” attitudes, getting into nasty spats with the other guests, saying yet again that trans women can’t be trusted in bathrooms, even hitting on the only person on the panel who had his back, former Georgia Congressman Jack Kingston. This is a thing with Milo — going too far; much like Brüno who, in the eponymous 2009 movie, tried to sleep with every man he encountered, even presidential candidate Ron Paul. Milo has the same trouble with boundaries largely because he has crafted his public persona to make the same smirking misjudgments that caused audiences so much discomfort while watching Brüno.
It’s hard to see, frankly, how he thought this act was ever going to work. Five years ago, Boy George may have appeared the more flamboyant of the two, but the most outrageous thing he said in the debate was, “I think gay marriage is a bit conservative.” Perhaps because, like Cohen, he is performing a parodic version of hyperbolic gayness (though without the redemption of self-consciousness), Milo doesn’t know when to pull back. During Real Time’s online segment, both Bill Maher and fellow guest Larry Wilmore had to tell him to shut up. Whenever Milo tried to make a joke, he was the only one laughing.
So who actually does think he’s funny? Supposedly Breitbart hired him to reach a youth audience that may not otherwise tune in to debates about economic nationalism and routine bouts of Hillary-bashing. Milo dropped out of not one, but two colleges, never finishing a degree. He made a name for himself by writing clickbait and internet trolling. He actually fits the mold for a Breitbart blogger except for that gay thing. Surely an out-gay instigator wasn’t going to last very long with an alt-right publication. Whatever symbiosis both parties achieved, it had to have been a volatile relationship from the get-go.
And yet, Milo surely does represent a very real part of the population. He is, after all, an openly gay closet case. While Milo is frank about his desire for men, his Catholicism takes precedence over his sexual identity. He has stated many times that he would rather be straight, if given the choice. This cauldron of intellectual and emotional confusion undoubtedly gives voice to a shadowy subculture of closeted gays. There are men everywhere just like Milo: politically conservative, devoutly religious, who nonetheless engage in sex with other men. If you doubt this, check out Jane Ward’s 2015 book Not Gay: Sex Between Straight Men or just go to the next conservative convention near you, download Grindr, and bear witness to the sea of faceless white torsos looking for “no-strings” encounters. Because these men choose not to be openly gay, they have no real visibility in politics or the media. So, in a way, Milo — like an albino crocodile or some other natural anomaly — is giving the public a glimpse into the mind of a closet-case. I guess we can thank him for that.
I imagine that most gay intellectuals recognize in Milo an unfortunate cocktail of privileged upbringing, too much religion, and sexual abuse. I personally find him a tragic character. He never really seems to understand what he’s talking about, while at the same time trying so hard to get in. No wonder, in the five years since that Boy George debate, he turned to hate-baiting on the internet. This methodology has gotten him compared to Trump, to whom he claims to be fiercely devoted. Milo’s characteristic deflections are the same as Trump’s: anyone who disagrees with him is an “idiot” who “doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” Like Trump, Milo frequently refers to his own array of alternative facts. He even displays little verbal and physical tics when he’s backed up against an argumentative wall and seems to know his opponent has outsmarted him, tics that are more likely than not signs of an undiagnosed psychiatric disorder. “I’m totally autistic or sociopathic,” Milo once stated. “I guess I’m both.” It’s unclear whether he was trying to be provocative or if that was a desperate cry for help — a conundrum that just brings on another headache.
Poor Milo, we might actually feel sorry for you if your ideas weren’t so loathsome. Now go away so we can forget all about you.
Kyle Mustain is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn. His film reviews can be found on the website Film-Forward.