Metro Weekly

From Oklahoma to CPAC, the Ethos is Plain Ol’ Bullying

While bullying is a stubborn element of the human condition, so is the universal pleasure of seeing bullies get knocked on their asses.

Nex Benedict in the hospital, as seen in a police body camera video. – Photo: Owasso Police Department

As February comes to a close, we should take time to mourn Nex Benedict, who will never see another one. The 16-year-old Oklahoma student reportedly complained of ongoing bullying before the Feb. 7 bathroom altercation that may well have led to their death.

As Freedom Oklahoma puts it: “While we continue to piece together the full story…we reflect on the growing anti-2SLGBTQ+ sentiments our youngest community members are facing more often, fueled by state law and the rhetoric around it, words and actions of our state elected officials, and the growing platforms those in power are giving to people like Chaya Raichik who continues to use her platform in a way that leads others to threaten real harm at Oklahoma kids.”

That harm is bullying.

The community acronym used by Freedom Oklahoma was new to me, though it was immediately obvious that the “2S” addition stands for Two-Spirit. According to 2020 Census data, Oklahoma has the largest American Indian population. The federal Indian Health Service offers the definition of Two-Spirit:

“Traditionally, Native American two-spirit people were male, female, and sometimes intersexed individuals who combined activities of both men and women with traits unique to their status as two-spirit people. In most tribes, they were considered neither men nor women; they occupied a distinct, alternative gender status.”

How organically beautiful. Organic, that is, as “forming an integral element of a whole.” Thank you, Merriam-Webster. The concept is not, however, universally admired.

Closer to home — by geography alone, absolutely not in sentiment — February also marked the rancid return of CPAC — the Conservative Political Action Conference — to nearby National Harbor. The very well-educated Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) was slated to speak. A couple of years prior, he offered his view on the Two-Spirit community in response to a Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tweet.

“I’m sorry but what the hell is two-spirit? Would love if progressives just stopped inventing words,” Vance wrote, oblivious to a phrase that’s presumably been in America longer than any of his forebears.

That’s how it comes back to Nex Benedict. Vance was attempting to bully progressives and folks who see gender as more than binary. Plain and simple. He managed to earn a law degree at Yale, yet couldn’t spare 10 seconds to Google “Two-Spirit.” Bullying is easier, and surely worth more Xitter likes and reposts.

Considering the company Vance keeps, CBAC would be a more meaningful moniker. Conservative Bullying Action Conference.

According to Psychology Today, “Bullying is a distinctive pattern of repeatedly and deliberately harming and humiliating others…. The deliberate targeting of those of lesser power is what distinguishes bullying from garden-variety aggression.”

Whiners on the right play the victim card nonstop. When they’re attacking the whole Queer community, they’re going after a demographic that is much smaller than the majority. When they’re picking on Trans/nonbinary people specifically, Pew tells us that’s 1.6 percent of American adults, possibly 5 percent if you’re counting just those younger than 30.

How can you possibly feel threatened by a bloc that is so small and so ostracized? Another illuminating percentage, from the Williams Institute is that 42 percent of Transgender adults in the U.S. have attempted suicide. Dear God, hold your Transgender friends and family close!

The deliberate targeting of those of lesser power.

When the Queer community was generally recognized as merely “the gays,” the bullying was as rampant as ever. We wouldn’t have reclaimed “Queer” if it were otherwise. Pansy, faggot, dyke, etc., were all bullying terms. The Stonewall Riots were sparked by a Queer community in Greenwich Village reaching its limit on being bullied by police and the mob, finally fighting back. And now the right wing thinks twice about bullying “the gays” in the political arena. We’re in Congress, governors’ mansions, and presidential cabinets. Sadly, we’re even at CPAC, at least in the form of former Ambassador Richard Grenell, who is undoubtedly not alone.

Moving on, the bullies have taken aim at the Transgender community. Nex, while reportedly identifying as “gender expansive,” falls under this umbrella. From garden-variety gay to gender nonbinary, we’re all guilty of perceived gender-crime by those on the right who believe in distinct roles based on chromosomes or genitals or outward appearance or God knows what. They’re always yelling at us to define “woman,” yet I’d eagerly bet money no random Moms for Liberty missus wants Laverne Cox sharing a men’s room with her husband or son, regardless of Ms. Cox’s declared sex at birth.

The deliberate targeting of those of lesser power.

Gustaf Kilander of The Independent reported from CPAC, observing, “Barely 90 seconds were allowed to pass at CPAC between criticisms of progressive ideas on gender.” He then quoted Lara Trump, destined to be installed atop the Republican National Committee per The Don’s orders, lamenting schools teaching children they “can change your gender like you change your shoes.”

The deliberate targeting of those of lesser power.

Lara’s father-in-law made an appearance. You might remember he was the president who tried to bar Transgender people from serving in our military. Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey was there, presumably for congratulatory fist-bumps for banning care for Trans youth, what he described on Washington Watch with [notorious bullying bigot] Tony Perkins as “woke left-wing ideology, science projects, experimentation on children masquerading as medicine.” Because he’d know, right?

The deliberate targeting of those of lesser power.

Mercedes Schlapp was front and center, even if “center” would be a hard veer to the left in her case. She is, after all, a former staffer of the Trump White House and CPAC senior fellow. Just the sort you’d expect to state on a NewsMax panel, “As a mother, I’m fed up with these corporations pushing the transgender agenda onto us. It doesn’t set a good example for our young girls.” What about Trans girls?

The deliberate targeting of those of lesser power.

What about Trans girls, indeed. In some right-wing quarters, they’d like to bully them out of existence. It’s very familiar. When I was young, with a budding sense of my sexual orientation being outside the majority’s, there was so much talk of it being a “phase.” In more sinister tones, that’s when I first became cognizant of the term “grooming.” Because little gay boys couldn’t naturally exist. There must be some outside sinister influence.

But the world is full of Queer people, even if we are an obvious minority. We’ve lost Nex, but we will nevertheless always be here, as we always have been. Bullying has caused immeasurable harm, but it has not erased us. And while bullying is a stubborn element of the human condition, so is the universal pleasure of seeing bullies get knocked on their asses.

That’s not bullying, that’s comeuppance.

Will O’Bryan is a former Metro Weekly managing editor, living in D.C. with his husband. He is online at

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