What grooming isn’t.
It’s hard to write something that hasn’t already been said about the insane spate of anti-trans, anti-gay, anti-drag, and generally anti-anyone-except-straight-white-dudes laws being passed in my state and many others. My lived experience informs how I’ve experienced these things in several ways. I’m a college professor in the human sciences in a red state at a public university. I’m the mom of a disabled gender-nonconforming teen in a red state at a public school. I’m a scholar of sociology, psychology, and the psychodynamics of online behavior. I’m a privileged white lady. I will try to write about these issues from each perspective and see what emerges.
So. First, I’m a mom. No, that’s not my primary identity, but it certainly colors how I experience the madness that’s taken hold in my state. My kid uses they/them pronouns. They’ve experienced very little transphobia – a few olds who don’t get it, and some medical people who sucked. Let me say having a nonbinary presenting kid is amazing. By the time I was my kid’s age, I had been sexually harassed, come on to, and creeped on many times by older men, had my body continually commented on by women, and had been harassed by older boys. I had a feminine body, and I’m generally a femme person, which signaled HARASS THE CRAP OUT OF ME to everyone around me. Also, it was the 80s, so feminism was over (hahaha), and we were supposed to be flattered when dudes exposed themselves to us. My kid has experienced none of this. They took a good look at gender and said, “No, thank you.” I love this for them. I love how they develop as a human instead of a girl or boy. I love their gender-nonconforming friends and allies. I mostly love their school and supportive teachers. Having a gender-nonconforming kid is a joy.
This is balanced by the mind-numbing fear and rage imposed on me by a state targeting kids like mine and parents like me. I have a bit of protection since I live in a liberal city (and am privileged). Still, most of the red states are creeping into controlling large, liberal municipalities and stripping what little protection we have. Our doctors are leaving in droves. Our teachers are leaving in droves. Kids who need transition medical care must leave warm, supportive communities and move to new states to survive. And that’s only if the families can afford it. The idea that we somehow maintain freedom and protect families by targeting a small and very vulnerable population of KIDS is nauseating. So let’s get into the science.
I teach a gender and sexuality class at a major university in Texas. Most of my classes have some sociological content, as I am in a Human Development and Family Sciences department, which studies the health and well-being of children and families. The basics of gender are this. Humans are not a particularly dimorphous species. This means that there are relatively minor biological differences between males and females. However, the species have many variations (we look many different ways and have different bodies). That said, species that rely on sexual reproduction need a sex that provides genetic diversity (males) and one that builds new members of the species (females). Not all members of the species can do either of those things. Whether you can fertilize an egg or grow an embryo has exactly nothing to do with who you are, who you love, what you’re good at, or what colors you like. Gender is psychological and psychosocial. It’s a thing we may (or may not) feel and a thing that is imposed on us by our social system. Over the last centuries or millennia, depending on who you talk to, the idea of gender has been used to create harmful and made-up hierarchies. This also applies to race, another idea created to justify exploitation and mass murder.
Some people heavily identify with a gender; others do not. Those of us who do may not identify with the gender associated with our genitals because GENDER IS AN IDEA, NOT A FACT. Some cultures assign roles based on how people function as adults or teenagers rather than on reproductive capacity. Some cultures don’t really define gender at all. What we associate with gender changes constantly, even in cultures as gender-obsessed as ours. Flight attendants and cheerleaders used to be male-dominated, masculine professions. Pink used to be for boys, and blue used to be for girls. All of this stuff is mutable and heavily monetized and marketed.
What we are wired for is connection. Humans are social creatures, and all these ways we create hierarchies around ideas like gender and race interrupt connection. Research shows that our ability to connect with our loved ones and our communities is one of the most significant correlates of longevity. Connection = health and well-being. Disconnection = unhappiness and shortened life span. Tell me again how targeting people for being too different from our made-up, exclusionary norm is better. It’s not. #science
I study things like aggression, trauma, and online behavior. The obsession with policing ourselves, each other, and particularly children has nothing to do with safety and everything to do with maintaining social control. Far wiser people than me have written about this extensively. I’ll summarize what I’ve observed, studied, and found most helpful. The dying ruling class of this country is power-grabbing under the banner of religion, freedom, and democracy while representing quite the opposite. Unfortunately, those of us with proximity to that class often collaborate with them to our detriment to maintain dominance over everyone else. It’s kind of a mass psychotic Tragedy of the Commons. The Tragedy of the Commons is a parable that shows what happens when people overuse shared resources — everybody loses. But when we perceive a shortage of that resource, we have to fight our individual instinct to hoard it and understand how that will ultimately doom us and our community. However, regarding the perception of power in our culture, it’s not enough to hoard it because you don’t want to lose it. We will actually vote against things that are in our self-interest to make sure nobody else gets them, either. That’s a special kind of stupid. Not run-of-the-mill, short-sighted human stupid, but really ugly stupid. This is why our healthcare system is a mess, we have massive poverty and inequality despite being one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and we have mass shootings on a weekly, if not daily, basis. Power and proximity to power seem to rot our brains.
One particularly insane bit of misinformation by the hang-on-to-power-at-any-cost population that has boggled my mind is using the word “groomer” to refer to LGBTQ people. A person who grooms a child manipulates them so they can sexually abuse them without being caught. Grooming is abhorrent. It has nothing to do with being gay or straight or trans or cis. The vast majority of sexual abusers are straight men. The institutions with endemic sexual abuse issues include the Catholic Church, the Baptist Church, and the Boy Scouts. The people spouting the LGBTQ grooming nonsense are equating sexual abuse — nonconsensual sexual activity between children and adults — with being gender nonconforming or gay.
THESE ARE NOT THE SAME THINGS.
Trans people, drag queens, and gay people are not pedophiles. They never have been. You can’t make your kid gay or straight, and you can’t make them cis or trans. They are just themselves. You can only make them feel terrible about being themselves or support them. LGBTQ kids have a much higher rate of suicide ideation than the general population, and that was before Texas and Florida and Tennessee and Oklahoma, etc. tried to legislate them out of existence. History will not look kindly on this era. Kids who sit at the intersection of multiple identities toiling under newly minted human rights abuses like anti-immigrant laws, book bans, and anti-DEI laws will be hit much harder still.
How did we get here? How did we reach the point where targeting children is considered sane and loving and supporting them is not? As a parent, a professor, and a scholar, I have lots of ideas, but really, I don’t know. I know that we have to fight misinformation. We have to stand up for everyone’s rights because “there is no such thing as other people’s children.” (Quote by Glennon Doyle) Your cis-presenting kid is facing similar stuff to what my nonbinary kid is — less protection against sexual assault, no access to reproductive health care, and less protection against racism, hate speech, and dumbed-down education. Kids of color are having their histories forcibly erased from school curriculums and removed from libraries.
Parenting is simultaneously the most joyful and terrifying thing I have ever experienced. All the time. I want a better future for my kid and their peers because that’s what we’re supposed to do. Give our kids a better future. Give them room to grow and develop and spread their wings. Provide a safe base when they need love and acceptance. Texas is making that harder for a whole lot of parents right now, and it’s wrong. Y’all means All. Protect trans kids, Black kids, disabled kids, and immigrant kids, and push back against the assholes who will trade our kids for one more second of useless power.