I Don’t Want to Silence College Speakers, I Want a Platform

How Bill Maher failed and helped normalize a Neo-Nazi

On both sides, all too often is nuance lost. Ever since the Black Bloc action at U.C. Berkley there’s been a contentious debate about censorship and free speech. One of the typical seemingly valid responses has been, as Milo stated last night in response to Jeremy Scahill canceling his appearance on Real Time: “if you don’t show up to debate — you lose.” Putting aside the issue that some things (like facts) shouldn’t be debated, the groups in society who have the most privilege tend to dominate the conversation. What fair debate is there to be had when a dangerous (and potentially lethal) statement about trans people had a host, whose usual practice is to counter with hard statistics printed on scattered blue index cards, turn silent and shrug?

For the record, I expect Bill Maher’s crude humor. Whether or not I’m always comfortable with it, he gets away with pushing the envelope as a comedian because he’ll usually say the right thing when it matters (except for when it comes to Muslims.) Like last night, he called out Milo’s views on #BlackLivesMatter as a hate group (it’s not) and disavowing white privilege. But when Yiannofuckoffpoulos’s outright lied, there was the kind of silence that lets fascism seep through. As he said, “well they [trans people] are vastly disproportionately involved in sex crime.”

To be fair, in a way, Milo is right. Transgender people are disproportionately involved in sex crimes— as victims. Personally, I was targeted for being trans and raped on the street in Queens only 4 months after coming out. A quick google search turns up the 2015 National Transgender Discrimination Survey. Bill Maher (and his guests) could have easily cited the fact: 13% of out K-12 students get sexually assaulted while in school; 10% of trans people have been sexually assaulted in only the past year, while 43% in their lifetime; 72% of sex workers have been sexually assaulted. None of these numbers compare to cis people, especially when you consider many in the survey likely came out only a few years ago.

This fabrication is particularly dangerous propaganda traditionally repeated by the hate group Gender Identity Watch, a self-declared radical feminist organization that behaves way more like the alt-right, and Christian extremism groups. Not only do these lies encourage people like Cathy Brennan to out trans kids to their schools or interfere with their healthcare, but if these “alternative facts” succeed in passing one of the many draconian Bathroom Bills, we will see more transgender people, especially young girls, being raped as they’re forced into the wrong bathrooms and into prisons for simply not wanting to get urinary tract infections.

“You just got to accept mean words on the internet don’t hurt anyone…what actually hurts people is things that happen in the real world…like, murder, violence,” Mr. Yiannopoulos added. “That kind of stuff.”

What Milo fails to understand is that words can and do incite violence. Whether it’s state-sanctioned violence like a bill threatening life-saving healthcare for trans people or the epidemic of trans suicides & murders. In between Bill Maher shouting “right” at Milo and halfheartedly calling us weirdos, a few important facts failed to be brought up could have changed the entire mood of the conversation from complacency to critique.

The most disturbing stat of them all is in 2015 we saw murder of transgender women double, from every 2 weeks to every week. Many of these are trans women of color. If Bill is going to support Black Lives Matter he needs to extend that to black trans women. Instead of bonding like problematic brothers, Maher should have followed up and interrogated Milo to see if he felt any responsibility for possibly contributing to these statistics. When you’re transgender these aren’t ratios, they’re people you see on your timeline everyday. The first time I ever heard of Milo wasn’t from a news article or Breitbart, it was in my Newsfeed that someone I know personally was being harassed by him and I watched as they went from distressed to suicidal.

Again, this is personal. I’ve been victimized by alt-right troll Cathy Brennan and I can’t get through the first few sentences of her article without a panic attack reverberating through me every time I’m purposely misgendered. What seems like over-sensitivity to some is obvious violence to us. Which may seem silly, until you consider that only 2 months after meeting my BFF they were chased through the woods with a knife and almost murdered for being trans. These acts of physical violence are motivated by the words we use to describe trans people, the opinions we hold and the apathy we give off.

“If Mr. Yiannopoulos is indeed the monster Scahill claims — and he might be — nothing could serve the liberal cause better than having him exposed on Friday night.” (Bill Maher)

I don’t fault Bill for booking Milo. Unless we want these bathroom bills to succeed, we may need some healthy debate. But too often these conversations are dominated by privilege, not facts, and are all too one-sided. If Maher wanted to make a concerned effort to incite free speech he would have invited a brilliant trans speaker like Laverne Cox or Janet Mock to combat Milo. Not one trans person is scheduled for next week’s episode, which is a complete and utter embarrassment.

Janet Mock has appeared on his show previously, once — exactly two years ago. She’s the last (and as far as I know, the only) trans person to appear on his show Real Time on HBO. Unfortunately their conversations must have fallen on deaf ears, since then Bill Maher has repeatedly stated while referring to trans people: “I just don’t get it.” Which is fine. I don’t expect immediate comprehension. But I do expect his producers, writers and him to give the same research and passion they do for issues of race, climate, gays, GMOs, animal rights and marijuana legalization. After two years, maybe he just doesn’t give a shit.

I mean, why would he? I doubt Maher has even smoked a blunt with a trans person let alone be friends with one.

Although the number of Americans who know a trans person has risen from 8% in 2008 to 16%, those aren’t great odds. Only 1 out of 10 is actually close with someone who’s trans. And although we’re considered .5% off the population, those numbers are likely an underestimate considering nearly half of trans people consider themselves closted, with 12% not telling a single person. And that’s only the trans people in a 2011 study. I hope Bill doesn’t wait until someone he cares about comes out as trans to start advocating. Because these could be your kids, your partner. These are neighbors, brothers, sisters.

I’d love to be proven wrong. To see Real Time be included in Ms. Cox’s press tour for her new show ‘Doubt’ on CBS. Maybe Bill Maher can actually read about the biological basis for being trans, so next time a guest attempts to say we’re simply mentally-ill he can cite legitimate scientific studies. But until then Milo isn’t being exposed, he’s being rewarded. When we start seeing trans people on mainstream TV being able to consistently speak for themselves, we might start viewing what happened at Berkley as an act of self-defense in response to violence.