Looking At Sexual Grooming From A Queer Lens
Trigger Warning: The following article discusses grooming, sexual exploitation, and sexual abuse faced by queer youth.
Before we dive in, let’s get one thing straight: Call Me By Your Name doesn’t depict ‘true love’. It shows the story of an older man toying with a questioning young boy. It’s not romance – it’s abuse. Grooming is a series of acts and behaviors that an abuser uses to gain the advantage of the victim. Groomers initially look like good people that we can trust. Victims are usually children and teenagers. It can happen online or in person, and it can happen to anyone. It’s a type of sexual abuse that is more widespread than you think.
But right now, why don’t we talk about the exploitation of LGBTQIA+ teenagers?
Why Queer teens specifically, if it can happen to everyone?
It is no secret that the LGBTQIA+ community has been historically marginalized, and to this day, is ostracised in all walks of life. Queer teenagers live a life of fear, anxiety, and distress because
1) they cannot understand themselves in a cis-het world and
2) there’s always the fear of being outed, harmed, and abandoned.
Naturally, there is a lot of confusion in the minds of queer youth. Am I normal? What are these feelings? Why am I not attracted to the people I’m supposed to be attracted to? Is there something wrong with me? With the absence of queer-affirmative environments, lack of sensitization in schools, and ruthless stigmatization of the community in general, such confusions snowball themselves into frustrations, psychological and sexual.
The Internet has time and time again proved to be a space for queer kids to form community and friendships with other queer kids. But it has also subjected them to a world of abuse and older people (usually older men) waiting to pounce and take advantage of them.
Dating Apps and Hookup Culture: The Queer Experience
Dating apps and online community spaces have allowed young queer persons to branch out, and has also given questioning youth a chance to test the waters and experiment. Apps like Grindr, Bumble and Tinder offer a variety of options to browse through. Many have commented that the queer dating app scene is… well, it’s complicated. Using Grindr is all good if you are a white, cisgender gay man looking for a casual quickie. Even with the acute shortage of queer specific and queer inclusive dating scene, the existing situation is heavily catered to gay men who conform to the idea of conventional masculinity and are on the hunt for people to send ‘Hey, u up?’ texts to. To aggravate the situation, we have older men on the prowl on apps like Grindr. Posing as younger people, these men reach out to the young, inexperienced queer boys for sexual favours. Moreover, the hookup app Grindr does not have a proper age-verification criterion which allows kids as young as 12 to log in and explore. With the location tracking features of the app, it becomes almost too easy for young kids to be pressured into giving away their location to manipulative abusers wanting to commit statutory rape.
As Troye Sivan puts it in his beautiful song Seventeen,
And he said age is just a number
Just like any other…
Here, Troye talks about an older man manipulating him into believing that his young age is not an issue. Sadly, this is the reality of many.
For queer women, the online dating scene is red flagged by straight men and couples looking for a third member flooding their DM’s and matches. Journalist Mary O’hara comments that for almost all queer women, this predicament is the reason they shy away from dating apps. ‘Mainstream dating apps are not built to meet queer needs,’ O’hara remarks.
Listen Up, Kid! Look out for these signs
Online grooming can happen anywhere where two people can interact. It can happen on dating apps like Grindr and Bumble, or even normal social media apps like Instagram and Twitter. Keep in mind that for predators, it’s more like a game: they’ll invest some time and energy into building trust or making you feel comfortable. It’s a game of manipulation.
If someone you met online does these things, maybe take a moment and analyze the situation:
- They send you too many messages; this is done to make you feel important and special in their life and influence you into believing you owe them your time and energy.
- They ask you to keep your conversations secret.
- They constantly ask you if you’re alone.
- Sending sexual messages disguised as compliments.
- They try to get your personal information; things like your address, your family details, and even things like your personal insecurities, etc.
- Pressuring you into sending your photographs to them, sexual or otherwise.
Online grooming works the same way as in-person grooming by building trust between the predator and the child. Online predators, however, can lie about their name, their age, their gender, their life experiences, and so forth. As such, while the child might think they know who they are talking to, they might not even know who is behind the screen. And, it can be someone you know, someone from your family. The predator can be anyone.
A Word of Advice
Navigating a cis-het world as a closeted queer person is hard. Hell, it’s hard for even the ones who are out and proud. For young kids, there is a lot of uncertainty and doubt; fear and frustration flogging the brain. It becomes almost too easy for predators to hunt them and harm them.
If you are a parent, your child needs you! One of the reasons why they land in these harmful situations is because they are looking for acceptance online. If you are a queer teenager, understand that your fears will pass and you will make sense of your feelings, and while questioning is okay and healthy, we must be mindful of where we are and who we are with.
And to the general reader reading this piece, let’s stop glorifying Call Me By Your Name.
Cover Illustration: Vijaya Srivastava