Recently, a right-wing troll masqueraded as a gay man to attempt to give the impression that the LGBTQ community was sheltering and welcoming paedophiles. His statements were, of course, taken at face value by a crowd of gullible right-wingers, some with major platforms, who repeated the lies because they wholeheartedly believed them to be true.
Or… is that actually what happened? As a matter of fact, no. Something slightly more sinister is occurring.
As a content warning, this post will contain examples of homophobic language and discussion of child sexual abuse.
We Know They’re Lying
Masquerading as a member of the LGBTQ community to give the idea that it harbours paedophiles is by no means a novel concept. Right-wing hives like 4chan have been doing this for years.
I don’t really feel, having posted this picture, like I should have to spend any more time debunking the idea. Falsely associating homosexual and bisexual people with paedophilia has been a common smear tactic for decades, and debunking has been done in far more depth and with far more patience than I could ever achieve.
There is not one single LGBTQ charity or political organisation attempting to advocate acceptance of those who are sexually attracted to or who sexually abuse children. Major public figures in LGBTQ rights activism regularly and frequently make statements condemning child sexual abuse, and as far as empirical evidence goes, sufficed to say that the statistics speak for themselves:
A 1994 study, led by Carole Jenny of the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, surveyed 269 cases of children who were sexually molested by adults. In 82 percent of cases, the alleged offender was a heterosexual partner of a close relative of the child, the researchers reported in the journal Pediatrics. In only two out of 269 cases, the offender was identified as being gay or lesbian.
For those of you watching at home, that’s 0.7%. Given that the proportion of Colorado’s population who are LGBTQ is estimated to be somewhere around 4.3%, that actually suggests LGBTQ people are significantly less likely to be paedophiles than the general population.
But the thing is, this isn’t about facts.
They Know They’re Lying
Right-wing ideology isn’t really about facts at all. Right-wingers don’t genuinely believe that LGBTQ people are welcoming and protecting paedophiles.
I would describe this whole affair as a series of “performative falsehoods.” The people from which these rumours originated definitely knew they were false, the major names within the right-wing social media sphere who spread them almost certainly also knew they were false, and I would be willing to bet that the thousands of people who subscribe to them weren’t taken in either. From beginning to end, almost everyone involved knew that this was a lie. It didn’t matter, though, because the truth of that particular statement wasn’t the point. The narrative is the point.
There is something that right-wingers do sincerely believe, and it is that LGBTQ people are inherently inferior as human beings. I don’t need to know the content of their minds to know this; their actions speak clear enough. They have attacked our sexualities and identities for generations. They have denied us protection from discrimination and opposed our right to marry, adopt children and serve openly in the military. They have stood aside and laughed at us as we died from disease. This is a core value, a true belief.
Right-wingers don’t really believe there is widespread support for paedophiles in the LGBTQ community, but they also don’t really disbelieve it either. Whether it’s factually correct or not, it’s consistent with their worldview that LGBTQ people are morally inferior. To them it doesn’t really matter that it isn’t true; it could be true. If LGBTQ people are morally inferior, it’s entirely believable that they could be wilfully protecting paedophiles, and whether that’s actually happening is of secondary importance.
In his video Soy Boys: A Measured Response, prominent YouTuber hbomberguy debunked a common right-wing rumour that soy products cause feminisation in men who consume them. In the comments of that video, he was almost immediately presented with replies such as this one:
In an absolutely scalding rebuke of this comment, hbomberguy pointed out the exact mechanics of this twofold thinking:
Firstly, note the rhetorical conjuring trick that is in effect with the ‘it’s just a meme’ defence. Soyboy is just a word, based on nothing, we know it’s meaningless and has no basis – we never took it seriously in the first place, so you’re an idiot simply for disproving it. What this achieves is an admission that some of these folks fully recognise they have no real basis for their beliefs or dislike of perceived critics and outsiders, but using a veneer of irony, happily continue to believe it anyway.
Their worldview demands they be angry at perceived ‘weak’, ‘effeminate’ outsiders, but they don’t have a real thing to actually be angry about, so they have to make something up, ‘for a joke’. Then, when people criticise this behaviour, the insult is retroactively legitimised – what sort of IDIOT wouldn’t laugh along with me at the angry lies I try to pretend I’m only joking about when I’m called on them?
You can now be angry at the perceived outgroup again, simply for not taking your garbage ‘joke’ on your own terms. Make shit up about people, and then when they respond ‘wrong’, this only proves they really are lesser people – they don’t even react ‘properly’ to being lied about!
Secondly, “it has a nugget of truth” – even though they just acknowledged it’s not real and whined at you for taking it seriously, comes the belief that there still must be some truth to the lie they admit is a lie. This is it. The legendary triplethink: “it’s not true, it’s all a meme, how dare you take it seriously? Oh, by the way, I take it seriously too. I believe it.”
This is how you can get people happily lapping up and believing provable falsehoods because they conveniently validate hatred for ‘the weak,’ ‘the effeminate’ and ‘the left’, but will suddenly complain that YOU’RE ‘taking it too seriously’ if you point out it’s a lie. This is what makes these beliefs so hard to escape from – when they’re proven false, you can simply tell yourself you didn’t actually need them to be true anyway, just ‘a little bit’ true, and really, what sort of idiot would think harder than ‘a little bit?’
It also probably goes without saying that the reason there’s such a fixation on whether anyone ‘really meant’ the soy theory (which many definitely did, so still wrong lol) in the first place is because I appear to have debunked it too handily for them to even try defending it.
I often see talk about “motte and bailey arguments,” in which a weaker but more desirable belief is defended by equating it with a more acceptable core belief that is easier to support. By doing this, the debater in question can champion the latter and act as if their arguments also defend the former. “We need to stop all immigration” is a hard sell for most people, but “we need responsible and sensible immigration controls” is not. If you can point to widespread support for the latter and pretend that both positions are identical, you can pretend that the former also has widespread support.
Philosophically, I feel as though the phenomenon we’re dealing with here is somewhat the opposite: a core belief that is extremely hard to defend, justified through a series of even less credible arguments that can be replaced as quickly as they’re debunked. If I had to give it a similar warfare metaphor, I’d call it “human wave argument.”
We Know They Know They’re Lying
So here we have people who know full well that something is not true, and yet still gleefully repeat it and act as if it is. The fact that it is easy to demonstrate that the LGBTQ community is not harbouring or protecting paedophiles does not in the least prevent them from treating us as if we do.
Anti-LGBTQ activists have directly admitted to making up the bathroom safety argument in order to stigmatize transgender people:
Our side concocted the ‘bathroom safety’ male predator argument as a way to avoid an uncomfortable battle over LGBT ideology, and still fire up people’s emotions. It worked in Houston a few years ago, but the LGBT lobby has now figured out how to beat it. Their lopsided victory in Massachusetts will likely be repeated everywhere else unless the establishment pro-family groups (and their wealthy donors) are willing to change their tactics.
Here we have a direct admission that the idea that allowing transgender people to use the bathrooms that match their gender identity would in turn allow a slew of male predators to sexually harass women was a lie. Not only a lie, however, but a lie concocted with the explicit intent of avoiding a much more difficult-to-win argument over whether or not LGBTQ people deserve rights. They are, in fact, admitting to having lied about it because people keep fixating on it to the detriment of the anti-LGBTQ lobby’s interests. They’ve had to openly admit to lying in order to burn the argument’s credibility enough to make people stop using it.
As they are discovering to their chagrin, it takes a lot more time and energy to debunk a false claim than it does to make one.
They Know We Know They’re Lying
In Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, Hunter S. Thompson attributed a quote to Lyndon B. Johnson:
This is one of the oldest and most effective tricks in politics. Every hack in the business has used it in times of trouble, and it has even been elevated to the level of political mythology in a story about one of Lyndon Johnson’s early campaigns in Texas. The race was close and Johnson was getting worried. Finally he told his campaign manager to start a massive rumor campaign about his opponent’s life-long habit of enjoying carnal knowledge of his own barnyard sows.
“Christ, we can’t get away with calling him a pig-fucker,” the campaign manager protested. “Nobody’s going to believe a thing like that.”
“I know,” Johnson replied. “But let’s make the sonofabitch deny it.”
If the LGBTQ community is brought to the point of having to publicly deny that they’re harbouring paedophiles or peeping toms in ladies’ bathrooms, it nonetheless associates the LGBTQ community with paedophiles and creeps in the public consciousness. The willingness for people to act as if they believe things they don’t in order to hurt people they think are inferior is well-demonstrated at this point.
As long as people believe that women or people of colour or LGBTQ folk are fundamentally inferior, as long as that is the bedrock of their belief, it doesn’t really matter if the things they say aren’t factually true because they can be seen as metaphorically true, notionally true.
How do we deal with this?
There was a pair of articles written ten years ago by a man named Fred Clark called False Witness and False Witness 2. In it, he discussed the concept of malicious disinformation by using the example of a bizarre rumour that the CEO of Proctor & Gamble had publicly admitted to donating a large portion of the company’s profits to the Church of Satan. I would highly recommend you read both of them.
You can’t be doing well if it seems like an improvement to base your life and your sense of self on a demonizing slander that you know is only a fantasy. To challenge that fantasy, to identify it as nothing more than that, is to threaten to send them back to whatever their lives were like before they latched onto this desperate alternative.
That suggests to me that if we are to have any hope of disabusing them of their fantasies, then we will need to recommend some third alternative, something other than the lie or the reality that had seemed even worse.
What, ultimately, is that alternative? We’ve had ten years to think about it, and we still don’t seem to have come up with a workable answer.
Personally, I think the answer lies in making the world a less hostile-seeming place, where an unexpected hospital expense doesn’t doom you to poverty, and the contradictions of your own government’s actions don’t cause you ethical dilemmas. That, however, is a very high-level, long-term solution and it’ll take a lot of work. What can we do in the short term?
The answer is simple: stop taking preposterous right-wing statements at face value. Stop acting as if they’re an equally valid belief. Stop giving publicity, newspaper columns and speaking engagements to the people who regularly make them. Stop being afraid to call them lies, because that’s what they are. Treating falsehood as truth is precisely their game. Don’t play it.