I Was Struck By Teenage Lightning: On Milo's Downfall & The Abuse Of Boys
, February 22nd, 2017 12:21
In the wake of Milo Yiannopoulos' career-ending comments on the sexualisation of young boys, Luke Turner writes that this might be an opportunity to bring the little-discussed subject of male sexual abuse out into the open
I was 14 when it first happened, in the public toilet behind Marks & Spencers. He wheezed, rattling and wet mouthed, as I knelt in front of him in my school uniform. The lights were bright and I can still hear them humming. I can still taste the Pears soap, ever popular with pensioners in the 1990s, in my mouth. He was the first but he'd not be the last. The predators of the Home Counties shopping precinct would follow me from Our Price to the music magazine rack in WH Smiths, hoping that their urgent stares from under bushy eyebrows and tongues darting over chapped lips might tempt me back to the toilet or their car. One even pretended he was a police officer, threatening me with arrest unless I did what he wanted.
I can't remember much of my teenage years, but I can summon all that back alright, as clear as day, which is why this week's downfall of rancid misogynistic Pied Piper of the neo-fascist right Milo Yiannopoulos has been, to use a word he and his acolytes so love to mock, rather triggering. As you'll no doubt be aware, Milo lost his lucrative book deal, job with Breibart and his friends in American conservatism by being caught suggesting that intergenerational sexual experiences might be described as "coming of age" relationships "in which those older men help those younger boys discover who they are." He made a typically brazen joke about his own experiences with the stereotypical bogeyman of pederasty, the Catholic Priest, saying, "I'm grateful for Father Michael. I wouldn't give nearly such good head if it wasn't for him."
It's here that for once and for the only time, I felt a flash of sympathy for Milo. If it's true that a Father Michael abused him as a teenager, then his reaction is a common one. For years I brushed off what had happened to me back there in those public toilets and municipal parks. I too made crass jokes about it, about my "voluntary work for care in the community", or something similar. There are so many myths around male sexual abuse that understanding that you've been a victim of anything is a long, fraught process. It was, I told myself, part of growing up. I never considered that I was a victim, despite the fact that I was seven years below the then age of consent for gay sex and that these men were old enough to be my grandfather, not to mention being ugly as sin to boot. I had put myself in those situations after all. I had wanted it, even if once 'it' had started I often felt I couldn't escape. Milo's normalisation of exploitative encounters between old men and young boys is part of a long history of internalised victim blaming. The ancient Greek vogue for older men having young lovers is frequently trotted out as justification, and smooth young 'twinks' hooking up with older men is a staple of gay erotica and pornography.
These blurred lines are there in gay culture and counterculture too. I adore the music of Coil and their track 'Teenage Lightning' remains a favourite, but it's hard not to wince when Jhon Balance would introduce the song live saying "we always say that teenage lightning is the energy generated by two teenagers rubbed together", or at the aesthetics of some of Sleazy's photography of young boys, often violently eroticised.
Our news has been dominated by child abuse scandals in recent years, from the many misdeeds of the Catholic Church to Operation Yewtree and now the grooming of teenage boys by football coaches. Yet I've often felt that these cases tend to overshadow the quiet, everyday abuse of boys in that great area of puberty, when hormones and exploding libido meets frustration and a lack of a sexual outlet all too easily preyed upon by these common or garden predators. For the victims the standard recourse is, just as Milo did, to joke about it, to belittle what happened, to see it as a normal part of the bi or gay male teenage experience, an initiation rite.
I know this because I did it too. It took me years to realise that what had happened to me had been utterly damaging, the root of depression, anxiety and a difficulty forming lasting stable relationships. Those risky, adrenaline-soaked incidents where getting caught could have untold consequences affects sexuality in profound ways. It's addictive, for a start, the best high I've ever experienced and like any addict, you're left chasing that initial, impossible rush. It's difficult to come down, to find the 'vanilla' palatable again afterwards. Discovering intimacy, and the pleasure and connection and love that comes with it, can be an impossible task. Banishing those men, their eyes and their cold and clammy hands, has been and will be a lifetime's work.
Despite all this I still feel that the sexual abuse of pubescent boys is taboo subject, rarely discussed. Given that the right wing media love to equate paedophilia and pederasty with homosexuality I can understand why it's an issue that's frequently buried, but it shouldn't be. This is a conversation that must be brought out into the open because it affects such a vast number of people, even if statistics are scant and incomplete - research in America suggests one in six men are victims of unwanted sexual attention before the age of 18.
This is gradually changing however. Thankfully there are now far more opportunities for support than there were when I was in my teens and early 20s. Sexual health clinics will ask if you've been a victim of abuse, and can provide free counselling. Organisations such as SurvivorsUK, launched by the Ministry Of Justice in 2015, offer help online and via text and can put men in touch with therapists and group support, though currently this service is limited to London. There's also Clinic26, a safe space and centre for male survivors of abuse, recently opened at the Royal London Hospital. The 1in6 website offers help in the USA.
I am writing this because it's only in recent years, with the help of specialist therapy, that I've begun to unravel what happened in a cold room that smelled of bleach on a dull October day twenty-odd years ago. Milo's (hopefully) career-ending words this week ought to bring this taboo issue out into the open but it's been disappointing to see that the general online reaction has been to let forth a barrage of paedo 'jokes' and gloating. Instead, there'd perhaps be some justice if his tiresome yet dangerous months in the limelight inadvertently opened up a safe space for those struck by teenage lightning to find a means of taking back control of their lives, and moving on.