“How did we get here?”
This was how YouTuber and centrist political commentator Theryn Meyer opened her funny and informative discussion with her leftist counterpart, Natalie Parrott — also known by her YouTube’s channel name ContraPoints. The event, which was entitled “Theryn Meyer Interviews ContraPoints: Live at the University of British Columbia” was hosted by the UBC Free Speech Club and aimed to investigate political commentary, trans-rights and free speech in Trump-Era YouTube.
Both Meyer and Parrot are transgender women who have formed significant followings in the increasingly polarized landscape of political internet subcultures — attempting to coax some reason and empathy out of the same edgy teens, bigots and outright fascists that have made the likes of Milo Yiannopoulos, Alex Jones and Ben Shapiro established voices in today’s equally polarized multimedia world.
Internet satire and interpersonal vlogging
Natalie Parrott — who has a PhD in philosophy — stages elaborate political and philosophical critiques with a unique sense of humour that you will either love or find a bit too much. Many of her jokes are meant to put a spotlight on people’s discomfort about sex and fixations on heteronormativity.
As ContraPoints, Parrott has dressed as a TERF, a foppish colonial era “race realist,” a Nazi dressed in BDSM gear, a person in a full bondage suite who argues the merits of BDSM (divorced from Nazism of course), a nun, a fascist Viking, a communist cat lady, an ineffectual intellectual and a fetishized anime character. She has also made direct visual references to dystopian/horror fiction in her videos — including many of the works of Stanley Kubrick, such as the The Shining, A Clockwork Orange and Eyes Wide Shut. She even crafted her own short film entitled Gender Dysphoria: The Movie.
I am less familiar with Theryn Meyer’s work, though I have seen her on live chats with ContraPoints before. A South African transgendered woman who moved to Canada, Meyer produces more straight-laced vlogs discussing various topics of interest which speak to what is affecting the political sphere at any given time.
Initially a more conservative and admittedly sometimes reactionary commentator, Meyer has slowly moved more toward the centre, attempting to address and mediate issues between both the right and the left. She more frequently engages in meaningful and friendly dialogue with the likes of Parrott, and seems like a reasonable and level-headed conservative voice who is uncompromising when it comes to defending trans rights — a refreshing take in today’s political climate.
No Nazis were involved
Originally this discussion was meant to include another popular trans YouTuber — albeit one significantly further to the right. Blaire White made videos entitled “Are Traps Gay,” “Triggering Trannies” and “This is Why I Don’t Like the LGBT Community” among others, and has interviewed Ben Shapiro and friends on several occasions. ContraPoints has debated her on live-streams in the past.
Parrott has recently faced harsh criticism and harassment from some of her own fans for even agreeing to being at an event featuring White, with some even accusing her of being a political traitor pandering to the alt-right and raising money for an anti-semitic organization. Most of this backlash came from Twitter communities and subreddit r/gamerghazi.
The uproar ultimately died down when Blaire White dropped out two weeks before the show without any explanation.
The proceeding event was certainly amicable enough, with an attendance of not just Free Speech Club members but also a diverse mix of straight and LGBTQ fans of both channels from all over North America. In addition, the proceeds raised were pledged not towards anti-Semitism as some had feared, but towards the Trevor Project — a suicide hotline for LGBTQ youth.
Gatekeepers, enablers and the alt-right
To begin the night, Parrott addressed the backlash from her fan-base by explaining that her more hostile and hyperbolic followers passed around half-truths on Twitter accusing her of raising money for “a Nazi event,” but also saying that this group was simply a loud minority.
“There is a middle ground that gets drowned out on Twitter from people who immediately jump to ‘why are you enabling fascism,’” she said.
However, she found the way these outbursts are perceived by the media much more concerning.
“Journalists suddenly want to talk to me when an incident like this happens, just so they can talk about crazy SJWs [social justice warriors],” Parrott said. “That’s not really what’s going on and not what I want them to focus on, because there were also genuine criticisms of my work.”
According to her, the media in general seeks only to capitalize on the controversy of perceived social-justice hysteria and “deranged activists” rather than actually addressing the issues at hand. This is especially pertinent for cases such as Professor Jordan Peterson. As Parrott put it, “a man is wrong, in this case by mis-gendering and disrespecting trans students; people overreact; man is then lionized for sticking it to the activists, whilst still being wrong.”
It should also be noted that the main disagreement between Parrott and her fans was about who is appropriate to engage with in the political sphere and in what manner are they to be engaged with. Both Parrott and Meyer agreed that the likes of Yiannopoulos, Shapiro and Spencer should not be given a platform to spout their beliefs because they refuse to engage in good faith — they are simply mouthpieces for bigoted views trying to appear as close to the Overton window as possible. To debate them is to not talk about institutional injustice but instead, “the merits of establishing a white ethno-state,” which will never produce any result other than opening up more people to bad ideas.
At the same time, both speakers acknowledged the inherent catch-22 of the situation.
“Enough people already hold these ideas so if they are completely ignored, their ideas will be allowed to fester. Some type of engagement is warranted,” Parrott said.
But the real dilemma is who it’s okay to invite for debates or discussions on YouTube. There have been many examples over the past few years of YouTubers inviting alt-right and white-national voices onto their channels because they know it will attract views, without considering the negative impact that this could have on people. Parrott and Meyer were very critical of this kind of so called “political commentary.”
“It’s become a genre now: let’s interview Richard Spencer! He’s looking for any platform he can find because major news outlets like CNN won’t take him,” said Parrott.
Though Parrott and Meyer obviously have their disagreements on certain issues, their shared opposition to toxicity and trans-bigotry was the main theme of the night. During the Q&A, that same sentiment seemed to be shared by most of the crowd. This was only undermined somewhat when one student launched into a long-winded diatribe, masquerading as a question, about the orthodoxy of third wave feminism. After eventually being pressed by both the impatient audience and speakers, the student fell back on the age-old semantic debate about what constitutes sex and gender.
Needless to say, both women were more than a little dismissive about people questioning their identity for the nth time. A later question deftly touched on a similar subject of having one’s identity questioned when discussing how many transgender women who were previously stealth (not known to be trans) have become distressed by the prominence of trans-activism today due to the current political climate, which has in many cases outed them.
After discussion was officially over, fans waited in line to thank Parrott and Meyer for bringing visibility to these issues, some thanking them for inspiring courage in their own identity and others for instilling empathy and helping them to reevaluate and change some of their more misguided and ignorant beliefs.
The night was a chance to see people of countless political and idealogical backgrounds meet for a few hours to listen and discuss their opposing views without the anger and insults of your typical YouTube comments section. Hopefully, the Free Speech Club will bring more of these types of events to UBC.