Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
— T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets
King Arthur’s table was famously round so that no seat was more important than another. All of his knights were equal.
In Arthurian legend, The Fisher King is the last descendant of a long line of kings tasked with protecting the Holy Grail, a sacred symbol of healing and hope. After being wounded by his own sword, he is resigned to spend his days waiting for a knight who can heal him in exchange for the Grail. He bides his time fishing, but all he catches is the sight of his own reflection.
Such is the human condition; often we are our own worst enemy, and true healing requires looking inward. It also requires sacrifice and the help of others. Indeed, life’s most valuable possessions are shared immaterial, experiential lessons. Belongings are no substitute for belonging.
On the eve of Transgender Remembrance Day, just before midnight on Saturday, 19 November 2022, an armoured 22-year-old carrying a semiautomatic rifle and a handgun walked into an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs called Club Q. The shooter opened fire, immediately killing five people. 25 others were injured.
Reportedly, Club Q has been a safe haven for local LGBTQ community members for over two decades. The venue is one year shy of 22, in fact. Quantifying the reaches of loss and grief aren’t so simple. Indeed, the lasting effects of this horror are immeasurable.
Add to this the revelation that the suspect has been identified as non-binary.
“Will they keep the same energy towards one of their own? [Sic]” I saw a stranger had asked in an online thread while I was researching this piece.
There’s the line. A hard line of division drawn in a distant domain; beyond the realm of reality, communicated in a manner I personally struggled to imagine playing out offline. It struck me how quickly the coin had been flipped, as if it were a matter of flipping a coin. This unfathomable horror had been diminished and absorbed into the shallow, homogenous muck of relentless other side-ism. What did the sender mean by “one of their own”? Whose own? To whom were they implying they belonged? Their family? Their friends? The LGBTQ community? The gun lobby? An incel group? Themselves? Dare I say, the human race? Or—all, some, or none of the above?
This piece is not an attempt to explain this or any other recent event. None of us is able to do that. Trauma can’t be intellectualised in absolute terms, regardless. Nothing can. Nothing is absolute. Nothing is binary.
The influence of digital media, the false binary myth, the depreciation of language, and the worship of weapons and wealth are intersecting themes I have been investigating for some time.
In one single comment, all of these collided in a microcosm of social decay before my eyes. There it was: a public Instagram post—about a shooting—mere days after it happened, and beneath it, amongst a throng of commentators grasping for airtime, a stranger had effectively reduced it to a question of “whose side are you on?” as if there was nothing insensitive about that. Someone had entered another’s territory, in a vast sphere lacking any clear boundaries, with the apparent intent to build a wall.
Another post I came across was a graphic of text that stated gun reform was not the conversation we should be centering right now, as if there is no room to have several meaningful conversations at once; as if there is not the need. As if we aren’t already caught in a crossfire of a war of words that isn’t just words anymore.
What is happening to us? I keep asking myself.
“Identity politics” they call it. “Distraction politics”, more like. All sides are guilty of it, universally. As World Cup excitement escalates, we might ask ourselves not only why there is such heavy-handed insistence that players abandon coloured uniforms in support of LGBTQ rights, but why it is given so much coverage. Coverage. Perhaps it is to cover the horrors that belie such an extravagant event in a place like Qatar, where the stories of workers under the abusive kafala labour regime should be spotlighted, as well as the continued inhumane persecution of its LGBTQ people.
Several things can be true at once.
The Colorado Springs incident is the responsibility of its perpetrator. To blame specific other persons would be unfair. It would be conjecture. However, this event did not occur inside a vacuum. It occurred within this atmosphere of ongoing, global unrest and division. There are several factors which are amplifying polarity, ones which are dangerous enough in isolation, but are inextricably linked: digital media, the binary myth, and disintegrating language amid a climate of violence.
Evil is a broad spectrum. On one end is vitriol, on the other is physical abuse that results in death. Actions speak louder than words, always. Each of us is responsible for our own behaviour, words included. Each of us has a duty to self-reflect. I know I do.
Here are some of my reflections.
The devil is in the details. In today’s world, attention to detail is a dying art. The biggest casualty, however, remains marginalised minority groups. (There’s always an ‘other of the month’, if you hadn’t already noticed.)
It would seem that people are becoming increasingly less careful, considered and direct when communicating with one another. On one end of this spectrum is unintentional intellectual laziness amid everyday contexts, such as the use of fewer words, incorrect words, hateful words in a reckless manner, or a nexus of these. At the opposite end of this spectrum is deliberate, widespread dissemination of disinformation that incites violence. While the former might look like mild frustration over a misunderstood shorthand text message, the consequences of dog-whistling to an extremist base can be fatal.
There are costs and benefits to just about everything in life. The world of social media is no exception. At best, its instruments connect us, at worst they condition, contort and control us. Unregulated online forums are serving as portals for the unrestricted flow of extremist propaganda, which is radicalising young and impressionable minds. Networking apps, streaming services, digital news, and advertising spaces—which by and large lack adequate systems of accountability for the harm their content can potentially transmit to consumers—form the latticework that would seem to be the real locus of power in today’s world. Combine this with the ways technology is insidiously reengineering the conventions of our day to day lives more broadly: dependence on app tracking software, facial recognition, maintaining multidirectional communication lines (email, text message, WhatsApp, Signal, Instagram, Twitter etc) and having all-hours access to virtually unlimited stores of information—it’s no wonder we are overstimulated. The rate of exposure to artificial material is surely out of proportion with our human capacity to digest it. We’re being pumped full of content, constantly, and we’re consequently misfiring on all cylinders.
The cumulative, growing weight of our collective miscues would certainly seem to be reinforcing polarity. There are both good faith and bad faith examples of this. During his 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump famously said, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best… They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” Just some? I like to imagine Trump personally meeting and backgrounding immigrants, both legal and illegal in his spare time between playing golf, reading one book, and pussy-grabbing. Pardon me, I should specify, that third example is “just locker room talk”. We mustn’t take everything he says literally. I suspect that the one book he has read was not To Kill A Mocking Bird, but it wouldn’t fair of me to make an absolute call.
A recent ticker on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News program read, LIBERALS ARE SEXUALLY GROOMING ELEMENTARY STUDENTS. Earlier this month, well-known Australian drag queen Courtney Act appeared on an episode of the children’s program Play School and read a storybook about a girl who wants to wear a suit. South Australian Senator Alex Antic alleged this was “grooming”. On 11 May, the registered account of US fact-checking organisation PolitiFact tweeted, “In the wake of Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law, the term ‘grooming’ has been used to imply people who discuss LGBTQ topics are not deliberately preying on children. That’s not what grooming is”. Colorado Senator Lauren Boebert retweeted it with the caption, “okay, groomers”.
That’s the word—grooming—the buzzword that is being thrown around like a football.
Let’s back up then, shall we, and examine the play.
First, let’s pause for a quick history lesson. Homosexuality is not a human perversion, nor is it a 2022 “trend” as GAC Media President Bill Abbott would have it. It is a well-researched, natural phenomenon, seen throughout the animal kingdom for centuries. For example, male frogs try to have sex with other male frogs so often that they make a specific sound just to tell each other that while they don’t mind it, it’s a fruitless exercise. The ancient Greeks, Romans and artists of the Renaissance worshipped the male form and were renowned for same-sex antics. Have these people never heard of Freddie Mercury? Is John Waters in hiding? Can they tell me what in the fresh hell Ronald McDonald is?
Of course, some of you reading will be aware that I have skin in the game. It’s on the public record that I am the survivor of a twice-convicted paedophile who groomed me and repeatedly raped me at my high school when I was 15 and he was 58. He taught me for a whole year when I was 14, the year prior. A practising Catholic, he calls himself, but pursuing intercourse during your child victim’s period on the floor to further dehumanise them is called psychopathy. It is called sadism. Sadistic child sexual abuse is in a league of its own. The point I’m making? Label people all you like, label yourself all you like, in the end our actions as human beings speak for themselves. All I ask is that you please, lay down your guns. He was a soldier, you see. He told me he had killed people. He told me he once pretended to be “retarded” on a bus so that he did not have to give up his seat for a pregnant woman. Whether that was true, whether it was part of the grooming, I’m not sure. It certainly didn’t make me feel safe, not when I was a child. “I should’ve been a woman,” he used to say, “because I’m such a bitch”. But he isn’t all that fond of trans people, or people of colour, or leftists, or anyone who doesn’t see eye to eye with him, and he’s over 6’. I’m 5’3”. You may be starting to see that it’s not that binary.
I am also openly bisexual, autistic, and lived in the United States for nearly six years from the age of 18. It is my second home. This time five years ago, I was in Colorado, as it happens. But me, I am Grace, not a label. Neither are you. I see you, for you.
While “grooming” is not the patented intellectual property of an individual or private company, and its alternate meaning as a practice of self-care is not sinister, I know a bad pass when I see one. If anyone has been used (not groomed—that is not the appropriate term), it appears to be all of these fear-mongering talking heads making baseless accusations. Have they been pressured, I wonder—into being the mouthpieces of the abusers among us who would have us distracted, enraged and confused? Either that, or it’s ignorance or incompetence. I hope it’s the latter. Regardless, it doesn’t matter, the outcomes are the same: hatred and division.
Let us be very clear on what child grooming is. Child grooming is the calculated preparation of a child for sexual abuse. Misusing a loaded term like grooming trivialises the legitimate experiences of traumatised child sexual abuse survivors. Doing so also risks shielding and enabling practicing or potential child sex offenders.
Narrative is the primary instrument of coercive control. Survivor-advocates, academics and experts are already exhausted by the amount of energy we have to spend untangling and readjusting the harmful conditioning carefully designed and spread throughout society by abusers. Be careful with your words. Elite paedophiles will play you like a fucking fiddle and you won’t even realise you’re doing their work for them. While ignorance and incompetence are less than ideal, they are certainly preferable to corruption and conspiracy, or worse—all of the above.
If you want to know what grooming looks like, refer to the cold hard playbook of lived experience. Grooming can look like being made to watch The Graduate. It can sound like hearing the literal Sound of Silence by Simon & Garfunkel over and over to lull you into staying quiet. It can feel like being drawn in by lengthy one on one conversations about art, maths and science. It can feel like being intellectually exhausted by tactical, cruel socratic irony whereby the perpetrator pretends to know nothing about your personal struggles, when in fact they do. It can be anything. Perpetrators can be anyone. Putting limitations or provisions around something as inherently complex as grooming, or attempting to weaponise it as a tool of blanket stigmatisation to discredit a particular demographic only proves ignorance and incompetence.
Please leave it to the experts. Stories of grooming will have common threads that accord with the typical six phases of psychological manipulation: targeting, gaining trust, filling a need, isolating, sexualising, maintaining control. However, each individual child sexual abuse case is different, because every child and every abuser is different. Every human is different. That’s the whole point. That is all the evidence you need that this would-be anti-groomer brigade don’t really know what they are talking about, because if they did, they would at least have the decency to back it up with hard evidence instead of insulting those of us who do and punching down on already persecuted minorities without any apparent accountability to organisations that either support the LGBTQ community and/or fight child sexual abuse. There. There’s your smoking gun.
Pointing fingers and crying wolf isn’t helpful, it’s harmful — to the accused, and to yourself. It makes you look like a Cooker. Organised paedophilia isn’t a fiction. Paedophiles operate in rings. We all know that. They aren’t lizard people. Please, stop shit-coating the truth so we can get on with the real work. It doesn’t matter if you’re on the left, the right, or in the middle; if you’re a cop, a cowboy or a crook. It’s not about that. If you willingly and repeatedly fuck a child, you’re a sex offender, regardless. If you don’t, keep up the good work. End of storybook.
If you’re really fishing for certainty, I can tell you what grooming doesn’t look like. It doesn’t look like empowering children through relationships education. Safeguarding children with knowledge and protective behaviours helps prevent grooming. In any event, children will find out about the dark and distressing details of the world whether you like it or not, one way or another—in the home, the classroom, or somewhere else. That’s part of the circle of life.
Nothing is harmless in the hands of the harmful. A predator is a predator regardless of what label you or anyone else puts in front of them, or what you put in their hands. They can make a weapon out of anything; a gun, a sword, a grail; a fucking song. I mean, my perpetrator put me in a literal closet while he recreated a traumatic event I told him I had experienced as a 6-year-old. And to think, there are some who would have us be afraid of people coming out of closets, who just want to live their lives peacefully and love equally without causing harm to others. If that isn’t a metaphor, I don’t know what is.
There is no Holy Grail out there. It’s within. A higher power above us? It is us. All of us. There’s nothing sacred to protect except life itself, and that is whatever you wish to make of it. Whether you are a member of the LGBTQ community, a person of colour, indigenous, disabled, a person of faith, a refugee, a migrant, atheist, agnostic, a low-income earner, whoever you are—you are a worthy hero. You are a worthy human.
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
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