A communist, a feminist and a conservative homosexual walk into a bar. This isn’t the start to a bad joke, but rather my Friday night spent with a group of old co-workers. We are a politically diverse bunch, bonded by the collective trauma of the customer service trenches than any real commonalities. Every few months we meet up to drink away the memories in a demented form of group therapy that only those who have worked in hospitality or retail can really appreciate.
We started with a large group, but as the night went on people drifted off until there was just me and two others left: Rick, a socialist still mourning Corbyn’s election loss, and Amelia, a feminist of the studious Camille Paglia variety, not the green hair megaphone variety. Unwilling to admit defeat to the new adult responsibilities that had claimed our fellow drinkers, we pushed on into the night. As we continued through the city from dive bar to dodgy bar to *shudder* train station bar, the night turned into the morning and conversation, as it tends to do in those small hours, became increasingly philosophical. And so it was at 4 am in an crowded underground hipster bar of astro-turf walls and wooden pallet ceiling panels, that Rick turned to Amelia and said:
You do know he’s a fan of Milo Yiannopoulos, right?
Perhaps he said it out of boredom, having run out of old co-workers to gossip about, perhaps it was in refute of something I said and have long forgotten. All I know is I don’t want to hear that when I’m blitzed off my tits and having trouble telling apart the walls and the floor. After Amelia’s initial horror wore off and I was allowed to explain myself, I was able to produce what at the time I believed was a lyrical, cogent argument, but in retrospect was just a drunken ramble about identity politics. The essential summary was thus:
The point of Milo isn’t what his views are. Many of his views are awful. The point is that he says them and doesn’t back down in the face of the leftist outrage machine that demands apology and restitution from anyone that doesn’t keep up-to-date with the latest social justice trends and tries to destroy anyone that doesn’t comply. Free speech and debate is under attack, and though I don’t like Milo being the face of its defence, he’s what we have right now. Hell, maybe we need someone like him to show what free speech is about it in all its dirty glory.
Amelia still didn’t get it, after all, aren’t some things just non-debatable? While she went to the bar to get another Brunswick Bitter, and Rick gave me a smirk that made me realise he wasn’t a socialist, just an anarchist who delighted in chaos, I formed a new argument. When we were again all around the reclaimed pile of trash bags, or possibly just a pile of trash bags, that was being used as a table, I explained to her about why shutting down the speech of people you disagree with and refusing to debate them because your view is the only ‘humane’ one is wrong. I used her own example from earlier in the night when we were discussing the interaction of feminism and trans issues (and yes it was acknowledged that we talking like a bad millennials parody).
It was Amelia’s view that trans women had hijacked many debates about women, most recently the push for all public toilets to be gender neutral. She believed that the safety of women was being put at risk to spare the feelings of a trans minority. She wasn’t just making things up either. She comes from a small country town where harassment is rife and she is certain that installing gender-neutral toilets in the local pub would result in sexual assaults. I have seen enough harassment in the gender-neutral toilets of trendy ‘progressive’ inner-city bars to know she is not being hyperbolic. Such a thing may work in the bubble of university campuses where it is thought up, but implementing a blanket rule regardless of actual local experiences would be a disaster. The division of toilet facilities is arbitrary, but thanks to deeply ingrained social conditioning it works. Amelia had tried to make this point, about her legitimate fears for personal safety, to a group of new feminists but was shot down. Her argument that trans women had not experienced the life-long threat of sexual violence that would make them truly appreciate the threat was dismissed as ‘cis-privilege’. That’s when Amelia started to get it and Rick pulled out his trump card: Milo doesn’t actually believe what he says, he’s just in it for the money.
Someone certainly read Richard Cooke’s take down of Milo in last week’s Saturday Paper. The piece is titled ‘Australia’s Welcome Mat for Right-Wing Trolls’ in reference to Milo’s upcoming Australian Troll Academy tour and pre-tour interviews on morning TV. The article is about Milo being a character actor, an evangelist promising a new political movement for the disenfranchised but really only in it for the attention and money. The thing is, I don’t disagree with that. And you’d be hard pressed to find a Milo supporter who isn’t fully aware of his ulterior selfish motives. But we don’t care, because someone needs to stand up against what the left is trying to establish as universal undebatable truths in Australia. It’s sad that we are finding an increasingly hostile reaction to the statements:
- Being white doesn’t make you a white supremacist.
- Supporting border protection doesn’t make you racist. Neither does not wanting to #bringthemhere.
- Not believing that you owe Indigenous people personal reparations does not make you heartless or complicit in genocide.
- Acknowledging that there are physical differences between men and women doesn’t make you transphobic, despite what supporters of that trans AFL footballer say.
- Saying that men and women have jobs that they are both less capable of due to physical differences and social conditioning doesn’t make you sexist.
- Wanting a reliable coal-driven power grid instead of an expensive, inefficient and unreliable renewable grid doesn’t make you evil.
- Supporting the Liberal party doesn’t make you white supremacist, racist, heartless, transphobic, sexist or evil.
- (Bonus statement: Not wanting to change the date of Australia Day doesn’t make you a genocidal monster sent to earth by Satan himself to destroy all that is good and pure)
And it’s sad that in the absence of any real resistance movement to this in Australia we need to bring in a scandal-ridden cash cow from overseas. But I’ve bought my ticket to his Melbourne show and I’ll be cheering along obligingly. It was at this point in my ramblings that I really felt like I was getting through to Amelia and while I was in the bathroom I thought of a fantastic argument about how, leaving aside the free speech fervour, Milo is important to me because of his refusal to comply with how a gay man is expected think, act and express himself politically. But when I got back Rick and Amelia were making out with considerable angry passion against the astro-turf. So I quietly took my leave and stumbled home. I think I changed a mind that night, or at least planted the seeds of doubt about leftist political discourse. I count that as a win. Though on the other hand, Rick and Amelia ended up going home together while I threw up alone in the doorway of a Breadtop. Being conservative is weird.