Free Speech, Third Rail of Identity Politics: Sex-Positive Youtube Star Shunned by Fellow Social Justice Warriors

A man looks on as opposing factions gather over the cancellation of conservative commentator Ann Coulter's speech at the University of California, Berkeley, in Berkeley, California, April 27, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Laci Green likes to talk about sex. In fact, talking about sex has made the 27-year-old Berkeley graduate a YouTube celebrity, with 1.5 million subscribers on her YouTube channel. Her videos, which run about five minutes and feature Green casually talking into a camera in what appears to be her living room, demystify aspects of human sexuality from a youthful feminist perspective. One video explains the hymen using a toilet paper tube over which a swath of pink plastic is stretched; another delves into the mysteries of the foreskin. Green approaches these, and other potentially squeamish topics, with humor that instantly dissolves any awkwardness.

"Everybody, clench your butt," she says in a video about anal sex. "That's the sphincter I'm talking about."

But it's not that video, or "Squirting 101," that has placed Green at the heart of the nation's seemingly endless culture wars. That's due instead to a video called "Taking the Red Pill?" which Green posted last week. The reference is to the 1999 futuristic film The Matrix, in which protagonist Neo is offered a red pill that will allow him to experience a dystopian reality unseen by others.

"Red pill" is a loaded term on the alt-right, where it is frequently conjugated as as a compound verb in the past participle (i.e., "I got red-pilled by watching Sean Hannity at my uncle's place in Jersey one weekend"). The invaluable Know Your Meme explains: "The term has gained widespread usage online among conspiracy theorists and other advocates of minority views in defense of their radical beliefs and proselytism of new adherents. Conversely, the term 'blue pill' is used to describe the act of choosing blissful ignorance over the harsh truth."

Green's digitally-native audience would likely have known this meaning of the phrase.

At the beginning of the video, Green calls herself "the very pinnacle of a social justice warrior," as if to establish her liberal bona fides before discarding them. She goes on to describe her Mormon upbringing, as well as her Iranian heritage. Her grandparents, she says, were dissidents during the 1979 revolution that overthrew the shah.

"It's actually pretty bad-ass," she says of her Iranian family, "and it makes me feel like rebellion runs in my blood."

In the last couple of months, Green's rebellion has been against the progressive online community to which she putatively belongs. She admits that she'd recently gone "down the rabbit hole of anti-SJW" videos, using a disparaging acronym of the alt-right for vociferous progressives who use social media to condemn what they see as reactionary views. For example, in March, she had a two-and-a-half hour conversation with Blaire White, an anti-feminist YouTuber. Video of that conversation has close to half-a-million views.

The anti-SJW videos, Green says, "make some interesting points, and sometimes I'm like 'yeah, I agree with that' or 'huh, I didn't really think of that.' And sometimes I disagree, but I still feel it's beneficial for me to listen and consider another perspective—it helps me learn. So I decided to reach out to some and I was pleasantly surprised."

"People have been pretty kind to me," she added. "And, you know, I'll be honest, I didn't really expect that. No judgment, no vitriol, I even feel like I have a really good connection to a couple of new friends."

As a result of her forays into right-wing Internet culture, Green admitted that she was starting to understand that its critiques—in particular, of identity politics—were more valid than they'd previously seemed. She took particular issue with the left's silencing of right-leaning speakers on college campuses, usually under the guise of protecting students' sensitivities.

"If we're gonna say a slur is just as violent as punching someone in the face, to me, that minimizes the egregiousness of punching someone in the face," she argues in seeming reference to the violence that accompanied the scheduled visit by Milo Yiannopoulos to the campus of Berkeley, her alma mater, earlier this year.

Fears of similar violence also caused the cancellation of a talk by Ann Coulter on the Berkeley campus in April. Other right-wing speakers have been prevented from speaking at Middlebury College, Claremont McKenna College and elsewhere. Many in the political center, not just on the right, have deemed the left's unwillingness to entertain opposing views as nothing more than a form of intolerance.

"This heightened level of sensitivity is actually resulting in some censorship," Green says.

"I also feel like this approach doesn't very well promote social justice," Green adds, noting that silencing voices of the aggrieved does little to actually address their grievances. "I think we should address things head on," Green says, sounds very much like a dean facing a campus visit by an incendiary speaker.

Green then waded into another cultural/political controversy du jour: an essay on "transracialism" published by a Rhodes College scholar in a feminist philosophy journal. That essay contained what some deemed offensive views on race and gender. The journal that published the essay took it down and apologized, only to incite the ire of those who felt that freedom of thought had been compromised. "This Is What a Modern-Day Witch Hunt Looks Like," said the headline of a withering article by Jesse Singal of New York magazine.

In her video, Green makes her sympathies clear. "Should publications reject papers that don't agree with majority opinion?" she wonders rhetorically. "That makes no sense."

✨ new video! kicking off with some of my thoughts on "anti-sjws" and the feminist approach to offensive ideas:

— Laci Green (@gogreen18) May 11, 2017

Far-right media have celebrated Green's video—which currently has more than half-a-million views—as an instance of a liberal finally acknowledging liberalism's inherent flaws. "The truth is, no amount of the right blasting the SJWs on a situation like this will sway the rank-and-file leftists," said right-wing site PJ Media. "However, Green taking issue with this behavior may have more of an impact."

She also received praise from Age of Shitlords, an alt-right site (the name appropriates a derogatory term used by liberals on social media for those deemed bigots). "To the surprise and anger of her followers and Social Justice pals, Laci seems to be warming up towards people with different views from hers; something you wouldn't usually expect from her or any other Social Justice warrior for that matter," a writer for the site said with grudging admiration.

The site gleefully posted adverse reactions to Green's "red pill" video by her left-leaning fan—or, from the looks of it, former fans.

"I'm not advocating political censorship," a Twitter user named Steve Shives said. "I'm advocating not wasting time making nice with abusive, dishonest, opportunistic people."

A user named BronxJusticeBlogger informed Green that she had become a
"pitiful pander monkey."

Of the 12,622 comments Green's "red pill" video received on YouTube, many are crude and, frankly, entirely unprintable. But many are also supportive of her public affirmation of the freedom of expression.

"Finally," one user said, "some rational middle ground."

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