Category Archives: Commentary

Milo, Laurie Penny, the Lost Boys, and Toxic Masculinity

 

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Milo Yiannopoulos lost a book deal, a plum speaking gig, and his job this week. Photo: Flickr

I’ve spent a lot of the last three months calling Trump supporters and the alt-right monsters. I did so on this blog. I did so in The Independent.

But there is something missing from my analysis, and it’s something Laurie Penny touched on in a much praised and much derided piece for the Pacific Standard. Before I get into what Penny did and didn’t say, though, let me tell you a story.

When I was 22, I met a young 18-year-old straight boy. We’ll call him Jacob. Jacob was white, blonde, heterosexual, and totally lost in this world. Beyond anything, he was impressionable. Jacob only wanted to be liked. To belong somewhere. Gangly, bumbling, and painfully awkward, Jacob and I met through student government. I took an instant liking to him. He was sweet, goofy, and though intellectually inelegant (as 18-year-olds are apt to be), clearly intelligent.

Jacob looked to me as a mentor, and I to him as a kid I could help. I nurtured him and invited him to hang out with friends and go to parties. Eventually he pledged the fraternity I always hung out with (but didn’t belong to). I didn’t think this a good idea – Jacob was too sensitive, too vulnerable, and frankly too cerebral to really fit in with this hard-drinking, fast-fucking crew. I’ve written about my own college years drinking and fucking my way up and down fraternity row, and I was afraid that blend of toxic masculinity (which at the time I got a high off of) would kill poor Jacob.

Fast forward eight or so years, and he probably disagrees. I still don’t. Jacob was relentlessly picked on, though I must stress not hazed, by the guys in the fraternity. Most of it was the good-natured banter that twenty-something men tend toward. Some of it was a lot crueller. All of it proved too much for Jacob, who began drinking heavily and was prone to becoming violent when intoxicated. It got him banned from some fraternity parties and even, for a time, my house – unless he stayed sober.

Around this time, Jacob took a women’s studies class at my behest, and even began dating a lovely feminist woman. It seemed that he would sort himself out. But a year after I moved to Chicago, I got a call from him saying they’d broken up, and that he was in a very dark place. No stranger to dark places myself, I took a Megabus to see him. He rebounded, and I left.

As friends who live hundreds of miles away from one another often do, we drifted apart. It wasn’t really until last year when I drunkenly called him to catch up that I realised the boy I’d met who entered this world of toxic masculinity grew up into a misogynistic man and Trump supporter. We’ve not talked a lot since.

I’m from Kentucky, so the fact that people I know and even considered friends voted for Donald Trump isn’t all that surprising. But reading Penny’s piece, I thought specifically of Jacob and the strange, drunken, and desperate course he travelled from a dorky college kid to a self-identified feminist to the type of guy who, had he been born a few years later, could’ve been in that car with Penny and Yiannopoulos, evacuating UC-Berkeley.

I’m going to quote at length from Laurie’s piece here, because I think she makes two important points – one clumsily and one cogently. First, this:

It is vital that we talk about who gets to be treated like a child, and what that means. All of the people on Yiannopoulos’ tour are over 18 and legally responsible for their actions. They are also young, terribly young, young in a way that only privileged young men really get to be young in America, where your race, sex, and class determine whether and if you ever get to be a stupid kid, or a kid at all. Mike Brown was also 18, the same age as the Yiannopoulos posse, when he was killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014; newspaper reports described him as an adult, and insisted that the teenager was “no angel,” as if that justified what was done to him. Tamir Rice was just 12 years old when he was shot and killed in Cleveland for playing with a toy gun. The boys following Yiannopoulos are playing with a toy dictator, and they have faced no consequences as yet, even though it turns out that their plastic play-fascism is, in fact, fully loaded and ready for murder.

This is the bit that seems to have gotten Penny the most flack, and to be fair, I get it. Writer Mikki Kendall summed it up best in a Twitter thread, in which she points out that Penny building her argument on the bodies of dead Black martyrs is callous and insensitive. I take that point. (I’m posting the first tweet in the thread below; please read and consider it.)

Still, engaging with who gets to be seen as a child, or an innocent, or have their behaviour excused because of youth is a worthwhile intellectual exercise, because in our culture not everybody gets to have youthful indiscretions. That is, in fact, almost exclusively the purview of straight cis white men.

So while perhaps Penny’s word choice was unfortunate, I don’t think her point was far from the mark. And yes, impact matters more than intent, but I have always believed that intent should be considered when thinking of how we respond, because it does still matter.

I say this not only as a defence of Penny’s own work and intentions, but because it plays right into the next very important point she makes. While, as she writes, “these are little boys playing games with the lives of others,” she also points out that Yiannopoulos

exploits vulnerable young men. Not in a sexual way. Not in an illegal way. Yiannopoulos exploits vulnerable young men in the same way that every wing-nut right-wing shock-jock from the president down has been exploiting them for years: by whipping up the fear and frustration of angry young men and boys who would rather burn down the world than learn to live in it like adults, by directing that affectless rage in service to their own fame and power. This is the sort of exploitation the entire conservative sphere is entirely comfortable with. What happens to these kids now that the game has changed?

If you think that centring white male Trump supporters is the antithesis of everything you stand for and the very thing both Penny and I have dedicated our careers to not doing, well, you’re right. So let me say before we go any further that I will absolutely side with any marginalised community over angry, privileged, adultalescent men – whether 17 or 70 – who leverage their power and privilege to harm the most vulnerable. As I’ve said many times, to many friends, and on many panels, I say now for the first time in print:

Explanations are not excuses

There is absolutely no excusing the behaviour of Yiannopoulos, his fanboys, President Trump, or any of the enablers, gatekeepers, or even voters who propelled them all to where they are today. None. But I do think the left, the resistance, and for that matter American culture generally could benefit from asking ourselves what brought them to this point.

If you read Penny’s piece, it’s clear that it wasn’t economic anxiety. If you look at the polling data on who voted for Trump, it’s clear too. But I think Penny hit the nail squarely on the head when she labelled these groupies “the lost boys.” Because I know a boy like them. I know Jacob.

Jacob graduated university in 2013 and moved to a mid-sized southern metropolis in search of the elusive American dream. He found dead end after dead end, working a sales job he didn’t like which (if I recall) he was eventually fired or laid off from. He found dating hard, impossible even. Women just didn’t seem interested in him.

At some point between 2014 and 2016 he moved back to his parents’ house in a small southern city and resumed working at the fast food restaurant he worked at while in high school. Last I talked to him, which was probably last spring, he was the manager. He was still living at home. He was still single. And he was noticeably and perhaps understandably angry about it.

It was at that time he told me that he thought, like Yiannopoulos, that feminism was a cancer on Western society. It had damaged the natural order of men on top and women subservient. All the social progress we made wasn’t working for him, so it obviously wasn’t working for anyone. Best to go back to 1956.

This is of course absurd. It is also straight up sexism.

Yet – consider one of the young men in Yiannopoulos’ posse, who told Penny that “I think a lot of people in this crew wouldn’t be part of the popular crowd without the Trump movement. I think that some of us are outcasts, some of us are kind of weird. It’s a motley crew.”

This quote gave me pause, and I reread it probably four times before going on, particularly the phrase “popular crowd,” which is one most often heard in high school cafeterias, not political discourse. That phrase in and of itself conjures up adolescence, immaturity, and a childlike longing to be recognised as part of the crème-de-la-crème of your social unit. That is not the phrase a well-adjusted adult uses unironically.

I have often times thanked God that I’m gay, because I think it saved me from going down this darkly bigoted path. Being openly gay in Kentucky from 2001 – 2011 did for me what it clearly never did for Yiannopoulos: it made me empathetic to other minorities. But if you read the essay I wrote for Salon about trying so desperately to belong to Greek life at my alma mater, you’ll see that I tried desperately to fit in with the oppressive class:

But from under them I could still obtain a certain level of social cachet. My reputation as someone who would fuck but didn’t talk grew, and with that, came a certain level of trust. “Put a cock in his mouth and he’ll shut up,” one of my buddies once joked. Suddenly, I was invited to the premier parties, not just from the fraternity I was hanging out with, but others. And I went, because it felt good. Being invited signaled acceptance, even if it was only on their terms. I might not be one of them, but I could hang with them, and that meant something.

I was a women’s studies minor. I knew better. Yet I still fell for the trappings of white heteropatriarchy, which as I said in that essay, is one helluva drug – especially to a working class gay kid who had never found any semblance of social acceptance anywhere else.

The sociologist Paul Kivel has a theory he calls the “act-like-a-man box,” which explains the pressures men feel to achieve, to provide, to dominate women, and to suppress their emotions and how these things can negatively impact not only their mental health but their politics. It’s basically a handy diagram to explain the theory of toxic masculinity, and square in the middle of it can be found Jacob and the Milo Yiannopoulos fan club.

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Paul Kivel’s “act-like-a-man box”

Yiannopoulos first came to American prominence through GamerGate, which was a sexist backlash against women playing video games masquerading as being about journalistic ethics. He built his cult following of basement dwelling, Red Bull chugging nerdy men by tearing down the women who many of them felt were invading a space where they could live out their misogynistic, violent fantasies without retribution or critique. Games were all they had, because for many of these men, they were social rejects. (I can say this with some certainty, as the gamers I know who are well-adjusted adult humans reject GamerGate, Yiannopoulos, and Trump without hesitation.)

Yet these are men who were, for a variety of reasons – whether because they were nerdy, or more effeminate, or overweight, or socially awkward – emasculated by the patriarchal norms described in the act-like-a-man box. Instead of burning the box and liberating themselves, they retreated further into it, where they found Donald Trump and Milo Yiannopoulos waiting to exploit their anxieties and insecurities for profit and for power.

Jacob wasn’t a gamer, but he was in the act-like-a-man box too, and Trump and Yiannopoulos found and converted him too. These Lost Boys, as Penny calls them, were lost because they – for whatever reason, or for many reasons – couldn’t live up to the pressures of socially constructed toxic masculinity. So they turned to people who could help redefine that.

This is probably key to why Milo Yiannopoulos so appealed to these young men. Sure, as Penny points out, they weren’t gay, but Yiannopoulos simultaneously defied the norms of masculinity – camping it up, wearing his pearls, openly talking of sucking dick – while being embraced by the patriarchy. If he could do it, they likely thought, so could they. It actually makes perfect sense that Yiannopoulos was the standard bearer of these Lost Boys. He accessed the social currency they desperately want to possess.

Of course key to all of this is how they viewed what it means to be a man. The toxicity isn’t only what it does to them, but what it does to others. That to them being a man meant dominance, violence, and sexual control of women is exactly what enables rape culture to thrive and domestic violence rates to stay abysmally high. It’s patriarchal, white supremacist bullshit that keeps women, racial minorities, LGBT people, and other marginalised groups oppressed. But – and this is a fact many leftists don’t want to grapple with – it also hurts white cis straight men who are denied agency unless they fit these narrow parameters of what it means to be a man.

It has been pointed out numerous times that Yiannopoulos was brought down not by his bigotry but the bigotry of others, whose homophobia was so triggered by what he said about the pederastic paradigm (and I do believe that’s what he was trying to say) that they exiled him from Trumpland. Whether his Lost Boys continue to follow him remains to be seen. Judging from the comments on his Facebook page, I think many will. I also think, as someone who has followed Yiannopoulos’ career since 2009 (which is around the time Penny and I first followed one another on Twitter), that we’ve not seen the last of him. His career has at least six lives left. What the next one manifests as, though, is anyone’s guess.

If Yiannopoulos can’t rehabilitate his image in the alt-right and even mainstream conservatism, someone will surely rise to take his place. As Penny’s article shows, there are plenty of Lost Boys waiting to play Peter Pan. One of them will assume the mantle in due course.

When they do, though, I hope we have a better understanding of who they are and what they’re all about. Because I think understanding the toxic masculinity – and the denial of it – that gave rise to Yiannopoulos and his cult following is important. Besides the obvious “know thy enemy” trope, if we’re ever to successfully deconstruct white heteropatriarchy, we have to know how it harms men too, and also what it can propel them towards. I chose feminism, socialism, and queer theory, opting to burn this shit to the ground. Yiannopoulos, Jacob, and others chose instead to find alternative means of accessing the power and privilege they felt they were denied. That is the more pernicious and dangerous path, one which has undoubtedly led us to where we are today – an era where the progress we’ve collectively made over the past 50 years is in its greatest peril.

We need to think about how we can reach, maybe not these men who are already lost causes, but other boys and men who could become them. And to do that, we need to grapple with toxic masculinity. We need to include it in our analyses and activism.

That doesn’t mean we stop centring women, people of colour, LGBT folks, disabled folks, immigrants, or any other marginalised group. We can’t. That work is too important – more important – and frankly more pressing. Lives are at stake. When you’re in the middle of a war you don’t ask the soldiers to think about how they’ll rehabilitate the enemy after victory. But for those of us who have the currency to spare, we should start examining these questions and considering how to raise principled and purposeful boys into feminist men.

None of this is to excuse any behaviour. “I was just following orders” wasn’t an excuse at Nuremburg, and it isn’t an excuse here. These assholes need to be held to account, full stop. And they cannot be let off the hook. Again, explanations are not excuses. But to not examine how they became who they are is to risk raising the next Milo Yiannopoulos.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a journalist and essayist based in Chicago. He writes about British and American politics and pop culture. His work has appeared at The Independent, The Huffington Post UK, The Daily Dot, and Salon. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan.

Skylar’s Naughty and Nice List 2016

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Santa’s not the only one who makes a naughty and nice list. So while you all are celebrating Christmas Eve Eve, I’ve been making my list, checking it twice, and drinking some bourbon on ice. While the naughty list  has certainly outpaced the nice list, I was still able to wrangle up five nice people, and narrow it down to five of the naughtiest motherfuckers of the year.

Folks, a holiday tradition continues. Here are my naughty and nice lists for 2016.

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5. Robby Mook

This should have been the year that made Robby Mook. The first openly gay person to run a presidential campaign, it looked like his candidate, Hillary Clinton, had the 2016 election in the bag. But a series of fatal body blows (Russian interference, the FBI – more on that later) proved too much to overcome. Even so, the Bernie Sanders’ staffers were warning the Clinton campaign that the Blue Wall of the Rust Belt was about to be breached, and instead of doubling down in states like Ohio and Wisconsin, he sent operatives to Georgia, Arizona, and Iowa. The campaign called me in September asking me to go to the latter, even though I insisted I was of better use in Wisconsin or Ohio. They didn’t think so, and insisted I go to Iowa. This loss wasn’t all Mook’s fault, but the low margin of victory for Trump in the crucial states we lost shows that just a little more effort and a little less arrogance could have prevented the greatest political emergency since the Civil War. And the buck stops with Mook, who should’ve fucking known better.

4. Nigel Farage

I blame Nigel Farage for literally every bad thing that happened this year. I’m not kidding: I got a hangnail today and blamed the bastard for it. It’s no secret that Nigel hates immigrants, isn’t particularly fond of gay people, and thinks Marine Le Pen is the Thatcher to his Reagan (though I hesitate to use that analogy cos Thatcher and Reagan don’t deserve to be so besmirched). But his Leave.EU campaign, which wasn’t even the official campaign, was on another level of racist trolling. His infamous “Breaking Point” poster had to be reported to the police for stoking racial animus, and earlier this week he made the most despicable comment about Brendan Cox, the widower of MP Jo Cox, who was assassinated by a right-wing extremist many believe was inspired by Farage’s campaign. After the tragic terrorist attack in Berlin, Farage blamed German Chancellor Angela Merkel for the deaths of 12 victims. Brendan Cox tweeted at him that blaming politicians for terrorism is a “slippery slope,” to which Farage gallingly replied on LBC that Brendan would know more about extremism than he did. It was a tasteless, low blow against a grieving husband, but it summarises everything vile about Nigel Farage. While Jo is in Heaven, there’s a special place in Hell for this unimaginable bastard.

3. The Trump Kids (Donald Trump, Jr.; Ivanka Trump; Jared Kushner; Eric Trump; Tiffany Trump)

How Donald Trump, Jr loves his father is beyond me. A story that circulated in the press earlier this year told of how his father once smacked him in front of his entire college dorm because he was wearing a baseball jersey, and not a suit, to a baseball game. The Trump kids all look like vampires with Stockholm syndrome, but the fact that they smiled and nodded as their father talked about banning Muslims and deporting the parents of American citizens was beyond the pale – and being beyond the pale is no mean feat for these pasty ass White Walkers. I hope every gay man in America gets a chance to scream at Ivanka over the next four years. I eagerly await my turn.

2. The Trump Minions: Stephen Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Paul Manafort, Cory Lewendowski

Let’s just get it out of the way: Kellyanne Conway looks like a Stepford Wife and talks like one, too. Corey Lewandowski is a real life Lex Luthor who you just know punched that journalist. Paul Manafort is Putin’s butt buddy; he’s licked so much Russian ass that he’s basically starred in a scat porn. And Steve Bannon is the personification of human trash, literal garbage who should’ve been thrown out in 1965 along with his white supremacist ideology. These twats – and I’m sorry, there’s really no other word for it – got Trump to where he is now. In doing so, they’ve legitimised hate and brought America to the cusp of authoritarian klepocracy, meaning that whilst they get to line their pockets over the next four years, the rest of us are going to have to “bow down” to President Trump, as Conway once said. Seriously fuck them and everyone who loves them. Assuming we don’t all perish in a nuclear holocaust, I look forward to popping champagne when each of these asshats dies.

1. James Comey

Fuck James Comey. I will go to my grave cursing his name. In the most blatantly political move an FBI director has made since J Edgar Hoover tapped Martin Luther King, Jr’s phones, Comey sent a letter to Congress days before the election saying he had new e-mails that were of interest in the Clinton e-mail investigation (they weren’t; he lied) but told the White House not to mention Russian hacking to “avoid looking partisan.” This from the son-of-a-bitch who didn’t even bother having the FBI investigate it when known Russian hackers were in the process of hacking the DNC, instead calling their front desk like it was some goddamn courtesy call and not an attack on American democracy. This man wanted Trump to be president, or maybe he just didn’t want Clinton, I don’t know. But he used his position to undermine the American election and, as far as I’m concerned, is a goddamn traitor to his country. BURN. IN. HELL. Seriously, if you didn’t already have plenty of reasons to hate and distrust the FBI, now you do. James Comey is the devil. (James, I’m sure this will make a good addition to my file.)

Dishonourable mentions: Jill Stein; Pat McCrory; Vladimir Putin

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5. Ana Navarro

I don’t think there has been a more vocal, or more effective, #NeverTrump voice than Republican strategist Ana Navarro – who crossed party lines to vote for Hillary Clinton because she’s a patriotic American and decent fucking person. Throughout the year, she has read for filth and dragged Trump supporters for their unabashed infatuation with a misogynistic, racist, demagogue. Never was this better displayed than when she told CNN Contributor and Trump acolyte Scottie Nell Hughes (whom Saturday Night Live correctly identified as a “full blown nut job”) that she would say pussy if she damn well pleased since the candidate Hughes loved so much was allowed to say it. Ana Navarro was a badass all year, and she had remained a staunch critic of that vile man. Her voice will be one of the most important in the resistance, and she is sure to continue speaking her mind and inspiring those of us who still love this country and all it stands for.

4. Kate McKinnon

I was in Sheffield, England for the election. Being away from friends and family who understood the anguish I felt was difficult. I felt like I was living through a national tragedy by myself, until Kate McKinnon beautifully sang “Hallelujah” as Hillary Clinton. Watching it, I broke down in tears at a pub as I watched McKinnon-as-Clinton sing the mournful melody in her white pantsuit. Throughout the year, the out lesbian has proven an inspiration to young women and young LGBT people and has delivered some of the most memorable comedy in a generation. She deserved her Emmy, but her post-election cold open will be what she is forever remembered for.

3. Anna Soubry

Like the American Ana on my list, Anna Soubry has been battling the forces of bigotry for the soul of her party all year. A vocal Remainer, Soubry hasn’t backed down since the referendum, trying to temper the far-right voices within her own ranks, calling out the racism and bigotry being espoused by so many, and championing the cause of liberal democracy at a European level. She has had Nigel Farage’s Leave.EU criticise her appearance, had threads of assassination, and seen her attempts to make sure Britain doesn’t fuck itself over with a Hard Brexit all but rebuffed by the Prime Minister, Theresa May. I’m no Tory, but I have nothing but respect for Anna Soubry and the fact that she’s stuck by her principles and championed a more enlightened, internationalist approach.

2. Michelle Obama

Jesus Christ, will I miss our First Lady when she’s off the public stage. For eight years she has personified grace, classiness, and humility. No First Lady in American history has been as simultaneously glamourous and accessible as Michelle Obama. This year, her barnstorming speeches in favour of Hillary Clinton, whether her speech at the Democratic convention where she coined the most memorable phrase of the year (“when they go low, we go high”) to her amazing speech against the misogyny of Donald “grab ‘em by the pussy” Trump were the most important and memorable of the election cycle. Michelle Obama has come out swinging as a champion for girls and women, and while she has said she’ll never run for office, I am sure her advocacy will continue. She spoke for millions of Americans when she told Oprah that this is how it feels to live without hope, and it’s a shame that just when we need her most she’s losing her biggest platform. But I do have a little hope: that Michelle Obama will emerge as a sane, logical voice of the American resistance.

1. Jo Cox and Lily Jayne Summers

Where to start? The Labour Party lost two of its brightest rising stars this year. Jo Cox, who famously believed we have more in common than we do that separates us, was brutally assassinated leaving a surgery in June, just days before the EU referendum. Her death caused me to exclaim “Jesus, no!” in the middle of our Chicago office. It was a blow to decency in politics, and a blow to her two precious children and her lovely husband, Brendan. Lily, who passed away earlier this month, was one of my dearest friends and the founder of Britain Elects, the preeminent British poll aggregator. Both Jo and Lily represented what’s best about Labour: a stalwart desire to help not just those at home in Britain, or those with whom they agreed, but everybody everywhere. Both of them had spirits which touched the world and changed the lives of those who knew them. Lily told me, after the election, that I shouldn’t give up on America because working class people need me. Jo believed that no gulf was too big to bridge and that no bridge, whether between Brexiters and Remainers (and I’m sure that would extend to Trump and Hillary) was too difficult to build. As we finish this year, I take the lessons both of them taught us to heart and try to internalise the love and goodwill the spread everywhere they went. Jo and Lily will be sorely missed for the rest of our days. We were blessed to have them with us. And I, at least, was blessed to know one of them personally.

Honourable mentions: Joy Reid; Khizr and Ghazala Khan; Katy Tur

Whatever list you find yourself on, I hope you have a very Happy Christmas and a blessed New Year.

Donald Trump’s tweets matter

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Donald Trump likes to tweet. As a candidate, many of us looked on bemused as he ranted about non-existent sex tapes at 3:00 AM. Since winning the Electoral College (but not the popular vote), that bemusement has turned to abject horror as the President-Elect of the United States has continued to tweet like a 20-year-old loner in his parents’ basement. Some, such as Kate Maltby at CNN, have suggested that Trump’s tweets are a “dead cat” meant to distract us from the true issues at play, like his fraud settlement in the Trump University case or his overseas business interests.

I disagree, and wholeheartedly cosign what ProPublica’s Jessica Huseman said to the Washington Post on Monday:

If he had said something similar in a press conference, no one would be concerned that journalists are getting distracted by his absurd language. But because it was a tweet, that’s somehow different? Unfortunately, this president-elect has decided to make Twitter his main means of communicating with the American public, and the American public listens deeply to things that he says on Twitter.

Given Trump’s distaste for the mainstream media and reluctance to sit down for rigorous, adversarial interviews, Twitter is likely to become the primary mode of communication between the President-Elect and the American people. As such, we should listen deeply to what Trump is saying on Twitter, because it tells us a lot about his character – and how he will govern.

For example, let’s look at four tweets he’s sent since 8 November:

These sample tweets all demonstrate Trump’s contempt for the First Amendment. The first Tweet, sent just this morning, calls for criminalising flag burning. We can debate the ethics or morality of burning the American flag, but the act—the speech—of burning a flag is protected under the First Amendment. Flag burning has long been a jarring act of protest used to demonstrate profound disagreement with the government of the day. None of us should want to criminalise an act of demonstrating opposition, no matter how repugnant we may ourselves find it. And certainly no reasonable person believes Americans should be stripped of their citizenship for burning a flag. Stripping people of citizenship isn’t what America does; it’s what the Third Reich did.

The second and third Tweets illustrate Trump’s complete disdain for peaceful dissent. The protests that organised in cities across the country were largely peaceful and a normal, rational reaction to the campaign promises Trump made on the trail. They were representative of the majority of Americans who didn’t want Trump to be president. But beyond that, they were a perfectly lawful and constitutional assembly. Similarly, Trump’s tweet about the cast of “Hamilton” shows, in his own words, that he thinks dissent is harassment. This is a dangerous characteristic for a president, who has the vast resources of the Executive Branch to survey and punish opponents and dissidents. If you think this can’t happen, I need only remind you that President Obama is leaving a massive surveillance apparatus to Trump, and that in our history, we’ve seen J Edgar Hoover gleefully violate civil liberties for Presidents Johnson and Nixon.

The fourth tweet is about the fourth estate, and it shows a deeply troubling penchant more reminiscent of autocracy than democracy. Trump thinks that any coverage that is less than fawning is biased, corrupt, or unfair. There is no law that says the White House must brief journalists, and autocrats routinely refuse access to reporters and news outlets who they deem opponents. It is incredibly difficult to do your job as a journalist if you don’t have access, but it is not out of the realm of possibility that Trump could deny access to the Times, the Washington Post, or any other outlet critical of him. Hell, it’s already happened on the campaign trail. Even when he doesn’t outright deny access, he sends his hordes of followers after journalists he doesn’t like; MSNBC’s Katy Tur had to be escorted out of a Trump rally by the Secret Service after he lambasted her at a rally.

Given the fact Trump is likely to continue communicating primarily in 140 characters or less, at least for the foreseeable future, covering his tweets – and taking them at face value – is deeply important. This isn’t a distraction from other important stories, but rather an important story in-and-of itself that should be covered along with policy and personnel decisions. For the time being, at least, we will have to walk and chew bubblegum at the same time.

We should also pay close attention to how Trump’s Twitter habits change (or don’t) over the coming weeks. Following his election in 2008, President Obama was made to give up his Twitter and Blackberry for national security and legal reasons.  Obama does now have his own Twitter, which I assume will be turned over to Trump come 20 January. How he uses the official presidential Twitter, though, remains to be seen. So far, there’s no reason to believe that Trump will temper his tweets and rise to the occasion of the office he holds.  Which means soon, the President of the United States could be a man who officially endorses curtailing the freedoms that have made this country great.

Stop calling me the liberal elite

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The author and friends leading a gay rights march through Chicago in 2013. Photo: Brittany Sowacke/Red Eye

In the days after the general election, I said that I am no longer American. This was prompted by the seeming consensus that to be American one must live in an exurb or rural area somewhere not on a coast. But I have changed my mind. While the media narrative surrounding the rise of fascism in America is, largely, that we on the left have ignored white working class people in favour of the metropolitan liberal elite. The Telegraph even has a fun little quiz where you can figure out if you’re part of the liberal elite.

Let me tell you why this is bullshit.

I am the white working class. I was raised in the Rust Belt by the descendants of Appalachian peasants (and make no mistake, that’s what they were) who migrated out of Kentucky and Tennessee to the factories of the Midwest. Aged 15, I moved back to the coalfields of Eastern Kentucky and then later went on to spend seven wonderful years in Bowling Green, a small city best known for manufacturing Corvettes and once appearing in a Martina McBride music video. Then I moved to Chicago.

Since then, I’ve been told I’m part of the metropolitan elite by people as disparate as the ballet dancer Jack Thorpe-Baker and my own sister. I’m out of touch, they say. I don’t know what “real” America or “real Britain” is feeling, what they need. I’m a gay urban journalist who exists on two continents, or more specifically in two global cities, who enjoys opera and musicals and has a diverse group of friends. I don’t get “real” America, like in Dayton, Ohio (where I was raised) or Sheffield, England (where I just came from). I don’t understand their anxieties, their concerns, or their way of life.

Except, you know, I do. Because I am them. I come from them. And despite having gotten a university education, I am still a part of them.

Your ignorance ignores this. I’ve been told by so many Americans this week to “mind my own business” because the geotag on my tweets says “Walthamstow, London.” Newsflash: Americans travel. They even move abroad. Just because I’m across the ocean doesn’t mean it isn’t my country too. But this illustrates the ignorance and narrow worldview of so many people who voted for that vile man. They can’t fathom an American would ever travel, let alone move, abroad.

I get it. Globalisation and free trade have left behind many, many people in Middle America and Middle England. They’re understandably angry. But this vote wasn’t about economic anxiety, as the media would have us believe. The voter demographics coming out show us that white working class Americans largely broke for Clinton. Rather, college educated white people put Trump just over the threshold in states like Wisconsin and Michigan to get him more electoral votes than Clinton. So stop saying poor white people did this. They didn’t.

Racist white people did this.

This election was about one thing: who gets to be American. Everyone who says this election was “a backlash against the establishment” really means it was a backlash against diverse, cosmopolitan values which are radiating from cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. It’s a reaction against the browning and queering of the country.

Every single person who says I am not a “real” American, that I am not capable of understanding what “real” Americans think or feel or need can kindly fuck off. I’m as real an American as any one of you. Even by the nativist sentiments of the alt-right, I’m as American as Toby Keith eating apple pie in the back of a Dodge pickup while wrapped in the stars and stripes. My ancestors have been in America since before the Revolution. One of them, at least, fought for the Union in the Civil War. We have been farmers, coal miners, factory workers and, yes, now a journalist. My grandparents grew up without running water or indoor plumbing, raised my father up enough to where he got a technical degree, and then I went to a four-year university. I am the definition of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and embracing the American dream. You don’t get to take that away from me just because I have a more open mind and bigger heart than you.

When people say that this election was about everyday Americans taking their country back, about draining the swamp, they don’t mean that it was about taking it back from Wall Street lobbyists and career politicians. If so, Trump’s rhetoric and transition team would look very, very different. No, this was about taking it back from queer people like me and my Black and undocumented friends. This wasn’t about taking the country back from special interests but from marginalised people making marginal gains in equality.

It also ignores who “everyday Americans” are. “Everyday Americans” include my friend Lily, a Latina single mom who risks losing head-of-household status because of that vile man. “Everyday Americans” include my friend Ajala, a Black woman in St Louis who could lose reproductive healthcare if Planned Parenthood funding is cut. “Everyday Americans” includes my friends Theresa and Sara, a married lesbian couple who just had twins but must now fear that marriage equality will be repealed. “Everyday Americans” include my Dominican nieces whom my sister insists on calling “Spanish” and ignoring their ethnicity and reality as Black-appearing Americans. “Everyday Americans” includes me, a university educated, internationally travelled gay man who does not have time for your bullshit definition of “everyday Americans.”

I’m sick of being told that because I live in a city I am somehow less American than others. I’m tired of hearing that because I like opera and read books and write for the internet and don’t think that people speaking Spanish is that big a deal I’m somehow less American than someone who never left my hometown. I am American and nothing you say will take that away from me. Chicagoans and New Yorkers are as American as Alabamans and Nebraskans.

The problem with the focus on the white working class is twofold. Firstly, it ignores people like me, who grew up solidly working class (or in many cases who are still working class) but aren’t raging bigots who think voting for a proto-fascist is a good idea. Secondly, it pretends we’re the only group in the country.

We. Are. Not.

Black Americans, Latino Americans, Queer Americans, Muslim Americans are just as American as we are. White working class – or to broaden that out, white straight people in general – don’t get to decide who is American or what constitutes an “authentic” American experience. Because there has never been only one American experience. Since our founding we have had a myriad of beliefs, experiences, and cultures. Ask the immigrant Alexander Hamilton, or the slaveholding Thomas Jefferson, or our eighth president, Martin Van Buren, whose first language was Dutch – NOT English.

America has never been homogenous. It’s long been white supremacist and heterosexist, but it has never been defined by just one experience.

So stop calling me the metropolitan liberal elite. I go to work every day. I pay my taxes (unlike our president-elect). I pulled myself up by my bootstraps. And just because I don’t think like a racist doesn’t mean I am not a real American.

I am not the liberal elite. I am an American. And it is my goddamn country too.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Chicago. His work has appeared at the Advocate, Salon, the Daily Dot, the Gay UK Magazine, Pink News, and elsewhere. He is currently pursuing a visa to emigrate to the UK.

*Editorial note: This blog refers to President-Elect Trump as “that vile man” as we cannot bring ourselves to call him anything else.

An open letter to Trump voters, from a gay American

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A protester holds a sign outside Trump Tower and International Hotel in Chicago. Photo: CNN

Dear friends who voted for that vile man*,

I am angry, and I hate you. It would be disingenuous for me to say anything else. The other night I said I hope you die. I meant it. I’m not sure I do now, but at the time I did. I hate you for voting for a man who wants to ban my Muslim friends from entering the United States, deport my undocumented Latino friends, allow the police to shoot my Black friends with impunity, and ruin America’s standing on the world stage. People will lose food stamps, social security benefits, medical coverage, and more under that vile man. People will suffer, and people will die, and I hate you because you are complicit in it.

I also hate that I hate you. I’ve never hated people like this before. I’ve never looked at an entire group of people and found no redeeming quality, no humanity, no commonality. I’ve never looked at you – my family, my friends, my neighbours – and thought of you as the enemy. Political opponents, sure, but not enemies. You were always my fellow Americans, no matter what. Now I think the country would be much better off if you all kindly fucked off.

I’ve been working through these feelings for several days now. I’ve called someone very close to me a bigot and a racist, and she has called me the same. She doesn’t see my point of view, and I certainly can’t fathom hers. This is not a good place for us to be as a family, as a country. But alas, it’s where we are. I hate this person whose blood I share.

Because I’m consumed with a hatred that in 30 years on this earth I’ve never before experienced, I sought out spiritual guidance. Christ commands us to love one another, to turn the other cheek, and as a Christian the hate I feel troubles and saddens me. I needed to make sense of why I feel this way, and how I can move forward with it, even if I can’t move past it.

But before we talk about me, I want to talk about you. Chiefly, why I hate you. Because you seem to genuinely be baffled, and I think you need to understand a few things about where many of us who are so visibly upset about that vile man are coming from. You see, this isn’t politics; it’s personal. We feel personally assaulted, targeted, and threatened by him. This is a man who hasn’t really spoken about policy, but people. Ban Muslims. Deports Latinos. Overturn gay marriage. Discriminate against trans people. Many of you complain about “identity politics,” yet you’re the ones who voted for a man who attacked our identities, the very core of who we are. This isn’t about tax codes, or the economy, or regulations, or Obamacare. This is about who gets to be American and who doesn’t. This is about who is viewed as equal and who isn’t. This is about who gets to feel safe and who doesn’t.

To say that we simply have different opinions is wrong. I have different opinions with people on whether we should reinstate Glass-Steagall, or whether an assault weapons ban is the right way to curb American violence. We do not have different opinions on whether gay kids should be subjected to the torture of conversion therapy (something our new Vice President-elect thinks) or gay people should be discriminated against (something our New Vice President-elect enacted into law). We do not have different opinions on whether Muslims should be banned, or families separated by deportation, or Black people shot. That’s not a difference of opinion. It’s a difference of principles. It’s a difference of morality.

Maybe you didn’t vote for that vile man because of, but in spite of these things. It doesn’t matter. You’ve shown you’re willing to throw me and millions of fellow Americans under the bus to advance your narrow interests. You are willing to sacrifice my basic rights and safety in order to… what? Feel like you’re still in charge of America? That your position as a white person or a straight person or a man is still at the top of the totem pole? Equality isn’t oppression, but you’ve shown me you think it is. You might not hate me, but you have shown you don’t give a damn about me.

Many of you who voted for that vile man are straight, white, and Christian. Most of you, even. You’re not personally attacked by him because of who you are. You might have thought Hillary Clinton was going to take your guns, or was a lying crook, or was owned by Wall Street, but none of that constituted an attack on your personhood or humanity. And that is the difference here. That vile man is a direct threat not to my politics, but to my life. To my freedom. To my place in America.

America. The nation of my birth. A nation I no longer feel welcomed in. Or safe in. I’m in Britain right now, and I’m afraid to go home. I never want to go home (I love this place), but now I’m frightened to get on the plane. I don’t know what awaits me. You think I’m being hyperbolic? Look at the rash of hate crimes, of gay men being beaten and intimidated, and tell me I shouldn’t be afraid. If you do, you won’t be saying it with a straight face, but with straight privilege.

I knew things were bad when my grandmother told me to stay in Britain. In the 15 years I’ve talked of moving here she’s always laughed uncomfortably and said “no, that’s too far away.” Her words on Wednesday night were basically “get the fuck out while you still can.” When a grandmother has to say that to her grandson about the land of the free and the home of the brave, it should give us all pause. America isn’t what we thought it was or should be.

So my hate is justified. My anger is righteous. Thinking it wasn’t, I sought spiritual guidance from a Methodist minister, whom I met with earlier at Sheffield Cathedral. Being in a house of God, where the Holy Spirit dwells and peace is present, I was able to talk through my feelings of guilt and fear. I don’t like hating you. It makes me feel so alienated from God. It makes me scared that I am capable of such evil feelings myself. You’ve brought that out in me. But speaking with him, I realised that my feelings were a natural reaction to the oppression you’ve thrust upon me. They are something I am going to have to learn to live with, at least for the time being. Turning the other cheek does not mean being a doormat. I will learn to forgive you, even as I fight you, because Jesus did both – he turned the other cheek as he flipped the tables in the temple.

This minister reminded me of the story of Jesus in the wilderness. How He went there without a map or an idea of how to acclimate or what was coming next, and how He was tested but ultimately made in the wilderness. This is my wilderness. Jesus learned things about himself and the world that he didn’t like and didn’t know. I am now doing the same. But just as Jesus came out stronger, so shall I. The first lesson I’m learning is there are ways to express it that are less horrible than saying I hope you die, even if maybe on some level I do. That level is not God’s level, and I’m trying to rise to God’s level.

As chance may have it, today is Remembrance Day – or Veterans’ Day back in America. I met with this minister at 10:30, and at 11:00 the country paused for a two minutes’ silence to remember those who gave their lives fighting fascism in the First and Second World Wars. They laid down their lives for justice and for liberty. While reflecting and praying, I realised that if they could make the ultimate sacrifice, I could learn to move forward in Christ while also fighting for a righteous cause. I can be both a Christian and a soldier against this new brand of fascism you have bestowed upon us. I can love you by showing you basic human compassion and empathy while also thinking you’re a racist, sexist, bigot. I won’t wish anything bad upon you, but I won’t wish you success. Not when your success comes at the expense of so many marginalised people. Love isn’t unconditional acceptance, but basic decency. Something you have shown you lack.

I don’t know when I’m going to feel up to talking to someone who voted for that vile man again. It won’t be anytime soon. I’m very sorry, but you need to understand and respect it. Chances are you probably don’t want to speak to me either though. We’re divided, and you divided us. You attacked us. You endorsed racism, homophobia, and fascism. And until you own it, I don’t want very much to do with you unless you can show me tangible proof things are going to be okay. So far, none of you have. None of you can.

This is where we’re at. I hate you, and you at best don’t care about me. I’m sorry it’s come to this. I really am. Maybe we can all move forward together at some point, but today is not that day.

Sincerely,

Skylar

Skylar Baker-Jordan is an American writer based in Chicago whose work has appeared at Salon, The Daily Dot, The Advocate, and elsewhere. He is currently pursuing a visa to move to the United Kingdom.

 *Editor’s note: this blog, until further notice, has chosen to refer to Donald Trump simply as “that vile man” because we cannot bring ourselves to call him “president-elect”

Brexit: It’s time to accept reality and fight for a progressive future outside the EU

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In Campaigners react to the referendum results. Photo: Getty Images/Hulton Archive

It’s done and dusted. The Great British public has spoken, and they have voted—narrowly—to leave the European Union. This is the greatest political upheaval of my lifetime, and probably yours, too. To say we’re in uncharted waters is an understatement; no country has ever left the EU, and there is no map showing where Britain goes from here. The pound has already tumbled to its lowest value since 1985, the biggest fall since Black Wednesday in 1992. David Cameron’s career is unlikely to survive the morning, meaning the country will probably be without a Prime Minister in mere hours. Sinn Fein is already calling for reunification, and the SNP are pushing for another Scottish referendum.

For these reasons, and many more, we should all be nervous. But now is not the time to give into fear or bitterness. Europhiles, particularly Remain campaigners, are understandably heartbroken right now. There has been a lot of tears, a lot of anger, and a lot of disgust at Leave voters on social media. As someone who supported Britain remaining in the EU, I completely agree. It’s devastating. But in the words of Jo Cox, we really do have more in common. There is far more that unites us than divides us.

The In campaign needs to remember this now more than ever. Regardless of why people voted for Brexit—and there were legitimate reasons and concerns—the fact is the Leave campaign has been dominated by xenophobia, racism, and isolationism. Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson have set the parameters of the debate surrounding Britain’s vote. They cannot be allowed to dictate Britain’s withdraw.

It’s time for the In campaign to lick its wounds, pick itself up, and get to the new task at hand: making sure that the brave new world we now occupy is not one dominated by bigotry and fearmongering. It is time for us to look not at the past, but at the future. Britain has left the European Union. There is no going back. For the sake of the most vulnerable—the workers who could lose rights the EU has guaranteed, the sick who depend on an NHS free at the point of access, the immigrants who now feel ostracised and unsafe—we cannot throw our hands up and say “you reap what you sow.” It’s time to shift the fight from keeping Britain in the EU to making sure its exit produces a fair and just society.

Part of this is accepting that the majority of voters who voted for Brexit are good and decent people. Yes, the Leave campaign has been horrible, but most Leave voters aren’t. I firmly believe in the goodness of the British people. They are fair-minded, compassionate, and wise. One vote does not define a nation.

We have to ask why working class voters opted to Leave, listen to their gripes and concerns, and directly address them. The Remain camp spent far too much of this campaign dismissing their fears instead of presenting the case for how the EU could alleviate them. We can’t do that anymore. We have to listen. We must act.

Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson won tonight, but they do not have to win in the end. Wallowing in self-pity or vitriol is not only counterproductive, but it is a betrayal of the principles so many of us campaigned for over the past few weeks. It is more vital than ever before that we present a progressive, positive alternative to the reactionary, negative politics of Farage. Indeed, UKIP exists for the sole purpose of securing Britain’s withdraw from the EU. Their raison d’être accomplished, those of us in the centre and on the left must now make sure they disappear from power across the country and cease to influence the political discourse.

Britain is great. It was great before the European Union. It was great in the European Union. It can be great outside of the European Union, if only we fight to secure a fair, compassionate future. The worst of Britain may have campaigned to leave, but now is the time for the best of Britain to lead its exit.

So cry your eyes out. Maybe get rip-roaring drunk. Punch a wall if you must. But then, tomorrow, wake up, wipe away your tears, take an aspirin, and ice your first. There’s work to be done, a future to shape, and a country to lead.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is journalist and cultural critic who writes about British politics and LGBT rights. His work has appeared at Salon, The Daily Dot, The Advocate, Pink News, and elsewhere. He founded The Curious American in 2013. He lives in Chicago.

I’m a Brexiter at heart. Vote Remain.

I hate the European Union. It is a bloated corporatist quango run by technocrats none of us have ever heard of who seem to have an utter contempt for the British people and, well, democracy. EU leaders seem committed to further integration and a United States of Europe, except without the republican values of the United States of America. The Eurozone is floundering, the Schengen border area is broken, and—rightly or wrongly—the British people are fed up with the free flow of European migrants into the UK, unable to control who comes into the country or adopt what many, myself included, feel is a fairer immigration system.

As an American, I don’t have a vote in tomorrow’s referendum. As someone trying to immigrate to the UK from outside the EU, a Brexit would, ostensibly, be in my best interests. As a Eurosceptic, I believe it could also be in Britain’s best interests. But if I did have a vote tomorrow, I would vote for Britain to remain in the European Union.

I would vote Remain not out of some love for the European project, or some starry-eyed internationalism. I would vote Remain because the Leave campaign has not done a successful job of demonstrating just what a Britain outside the EU would look like, how it would cope and succeed.

Don’t get me wrong, I certainly think Britain could be not only fine, but prosperous, outside the European Union. But “could” does not mean “will”. The Leave campaign likes to say that anyone voting Remain denigrates Britain, that they don’t believe in or trust the ingenuity and tenacity of the British people. Bollocks. I have no doubts Britain could succeed outside the EU. But no country can succeed without a plan, and nobody in the Leave campaign has been able to articulate one short of “everything the experts tell you is a lie.”

Was President Obama lying, when he warned Britain will go to the back of the queue for trade deals. UKIP’s Diane James, on last night’s BBC Debate, said she didn’t care what Obama thought, but wanted to know what Clinton and Trump think. Clinton also supports the In campaign, while Trump is for Brexit, which speaks volumes about the tone and tenor of this referendum. And what about with the EU itself? Is Angela Merkel lying when she says that Britain “will never get a really good result in negotiations?”

The EU could make an example out of Britain for fear that treating it too kindly post-Brexit could inspire other nations to go their own way. And maybe that would be okay, if only someone in the Leave campaign could articulate exactly how they plan on handling that and preventing total economic catastrophe. But they haven’t. Instead of policy, the Leave campaign has offered platitudes about how great the British people are (and you are, you really are) and how everything will be a-okay because we will it to be (it won’t, it really won’t).  When both the Bank of England and the TUC are warning that Brexit will depress wages and probably lead to recession, we should listen.

Instead Michael Gove compares them to Nazi scientists. This is one of the Leave campaigns favourite motifs, the EU as Hitler’s heir. It’s almost laughably ironic, considering how overtly and covertly racist the Leave campaign has been. The bulk of the Leave campaign has focused on xenophobic rhetoric about European migrants coming to steal British jobs and take British homes and depress British wages. This entire campaign has been made about immigration, and it has been framed in the most disgustingly racist way possible. Like Johnson’s comments about America’s “part-Kenyan” president, or Farage’s “Breaking Point” poster. It’s the anti-Muslim retweets of the Leave campaign, the dehumanising language used to describe refugees. I can’t co-sign on any of this.

If another referendum were to present itself, one not premised on far-right racism and jingoistic fervour, perhaps I’d go another way. And maybe, someday, it will. But David Cameron, Jeremy Corbyn, Ruth Davidson, and Sadiq Kahn have all said, which is that Brexit is a one-way ticket. Once the UK leaves, there is no going back to the European Union. At least not without adopting Schengen and the Euro, which most of agree is no in Britain’s national interest. Britain could always vote to leave in another 40 years, but it can’t come back on such cushy terms.

There are a myriad of other issues at play here too, issues I’ve not touched on but have swayed my hypothetical vote. What happens to the border in Northern Ireland? Will the SNP demand—and get—another referendum? How will we protect the hard-won rights the EU and ancillary bodies have guaranteed? These all need to be answered, and the Leave campaign hasn’t.

I’m not prepared to gamble with the livelihoods of the British people or the stability of the country out of some nationalistic desire to reclaim sovereignty. I desperately want Britain to Leave the EU, but the Leave campaign hasn’t presented a viable alternative. You don’t leave home without knowing where you’re going, and Britain shouldn’t leave the EU without knowing what it’s going to do next.

Instead of presenting a cogent, coherent exit strategy, the Leave campaign played to the basest instincts of the electorate and stirred up a jingoistic, xenophobic atmosphere. Because of this, I don’t know what Britain would look like outside the European Union, but I can’t honestly say I think it’s a Britain I would like. So, reluctantly, I ask you to vote Remain.

(Sorry, Alex.)