Conservatives have been using the word “groomer” this year to describe advocates of teaching school children (as young as third grade in some cases) about LGTBQ sexual practices and relationships, while presenting them in a positive light. Targets of the word have ranged from defiant LGTBQ teachers exposed by The Libs of TikTok, to libraries promoting drag readings for kids, to the advocates for “gender-affirming therapy” for teens and younger without parental approval, to Disney’s recent obsession with injecting gay sexual issues into its films and TV offerings.
R.L. Stoller objects. He says he is a “child liberation theologian” (?), and a child and survivor advocate with “a Masters in Child Protection”—okey-dokey, let’s take that as genuine authority arguendo. He objects to the use of “groomer” in the current trend, writing in part,
Grooming (or testing) is a word used by child protection professionals to describe the process by which sexual predators manipulate and entrap their victims and victims’ communities for the purpose of sexual molestation and rape. It is not, as a viral social media meme suggests, related to political or social indoctrination. It is a word that means something and it serves a vital purpose: to help protect children from sexual abuse.
We use the word grooming in the child protection profession to help communities and their members, including parents and children, to identify the techniques and tricks of child molesters. We create lists of warning signs and behavioral indicators, or tells, so that communities can know when a dangerous or tricky person is in their midst. Being able to identify grooming is a key tool for proactively protecting children from sexual predators.
When conservatives misuse and abuse this word, they are doing several things:
First, they are muddying the meaning of the word. When grooming can be applied to everything from sex education to theology to being queer to critical race theory to what it actually means (sexual predation techniques), it means everything and thus nothing at the same time. This renders the word useless. Children will grow up without being able to identify the signs of grooming, because adults will be telling them grooming is things it is not.
Second, they are weaponizing the word. Let us be clear about this: many right-wing individuals are weaponizing the word grooming against queer people specifically. This is not new. Conservatives have a long and ugly history of accusing queer people of being sexual predators—even though the average child molester is a religious man in a heterosexual marriage. Indeed, 96 percent of the perpetrators of child sexual abuse identify as heterosexual.
What is new is that conservatives are now emboldened to weaponize the word against anyone who disagrees with them on anything. This is particularly dangerous because of the first reason we discussed: it renders the word useless in the very real and pressing fight against child sexual abuse.
Third, they are enabling and empowering child molesters. Child molesters want exactly what conservatives are doing: for children to be unable to identify what grooming is, for children to not receive sex education, for children to not know about their bodies, and for children to stay quiet if they are queer or different in ways conservatives disapprove of. Child molesters use each of those to their advantage and conservatives are freely giving them every tool they need just to spite liberals and progressives.
Fourth, they are encouraging children to fear helpers like child protection professionals, whether that’s the public school teacher in charge of sex education or the social worker giving a presentation on body safety at church. This is something conservative evangelicals in particular are very familiar with, as they have long promoted myths about helping professionals. When children grow up fearful of Child Protective Services or mandatory reporters or their bodies or their sexuality, they are perfect victims for child predators.
That’s about the end of Stoller’s relatively straightforward arguments untainted by obvious bias in his essay; the rest, which you can read if your sock drawer is in order, is the predictable anti-conservative bile one would expect from a “child liberation theologian.”
I’ll position the Ethics Quiz of the Day here…
Is the current use of “groomer” to describe advocates of pro-LGTBQ education and activities for minors unethical?
- Considering last night’s post about a new definition of “woman,” Stoller’s complaint about “muddying the meaning of the word” can be discarded with prejudice. Only Stoller’s woke pals can redefine words now? If there isn’t a good word that means, “Adults who attempt to introduce children to non-heterosexual practices and culture in order to increase support for and participation in such practices”—and I don’t think there is—then why not add another meaning to “groomer”? It is certain to make more sense than the Cambridge Dictionary’s new definition of “woman” as (I’m summarizing here) “not a woman, but a man who says he is one.”
- His accusation of ‘weaponizing” is similarly absurd. Words are commonly used pejoratively in the course of criticism, and there’s nothing wrong or unethical about that. Moreover, his gay-baiting is just an ad hominem attack on the critics—“They hate gays! They’re transphobic!” No, conservatives and others just don’t think children should be subjected to pro-gay, pro-trans propaganda by authority figures with agendas. Nobody thinks the Disney Corporation is gay. It is just abusing its reputation, power, influence and public good will, because it is misguided. It’s not bigotry to object to misguided and destructive initiatives.
- “What is new is that conservatives are now emboldened to weaponize the word against “anyone who disagrees with them on anything.” His sole link to that proposition is unpersuasive. Conservatives call open-border advocates “groomers”? Opponents of gun rights are “groomers”? Those who want to abort babies five minutes before they can be born are “groomers”? Stoller is somehow under the impression that the Right uses “groomer” the way the Left uses “fascist,” “Nazi” and “threats to democracy.”
- His third argument is a classic “accuse critics of doing what those they are criticizing may be doing” ploy. We’ve seen a lot of it this year.
- Since too many of the professionals Stoller claims should be trusted implicitly have proven themselves to be untrustworthy, the responsibility for the problem is not theirs, but their critics’.
My answer to the quiz? “Groomer” is helpful and ethical when focuses attention on an aspect of the controversy that one side would prefer to ignore, hide, or deny. It is unethical when it is used as an appeal to emotion without fair analysis—and I have seen this use a lot.